They called him crazy. A lunatic, out of his mind, madder than a March hare.
That had never stopped him before.
They would never understand, Jacob knew that. Their interests fell into the most carnal of categories, sexual favors and the taste of fresh meat... He knew the value of a good kill, the sound of a neck snapping. He knew how easy it was to hold a life in your hands only to snuff it out, crushing vitality like a moth between your fingers, clutching a valuable so close that the pieces shattered, yet casting it so far away, non existent as it permeated reality…
Before that, he knew how to love.
The theater had been abandoned for a few days now. The manager was more insane than he, or so he'd heard, closing its doors because of one foul tempered dancer. The papers had a field day with this event, declaring his humiliation in condescending, black ink, asking if this the end of the ballet - would no more drama fill the lonely, English nights with displays of candle light and silks?
... Oh, but it was so, so much more than that.
He had seen her, and when he did, his breath stopped, eyes gliding across her body like they'd never known sight before. A goddess broke the ice of his vision, his cocoon around the world. She reminded him of someone, a woman he knew so long ago, a touch just as gentle and reserved...
Jacob palmed the object in his pocket, once again greeted with the coldness of metal. Smooth, soft sensations. It was supposed to help him maintain his control. That's why she'd given it to him in the first place. Now he could always carry her with him, even if just a faded, sepia memory...
The locket glittered in the dim, forsaken light, dust swirling around him as he knelt on the stage floor, falling like hail. The last performance of sorrow.
The industrial revolution left him behind in its tidings, but everything would be alright now. She had died before, that one winter's day, icy winds ripping through his coat, turning her blood to ice in his teeth. Times had changed. Now she'd found a way to return to him. Not just a memory, something real, some one who he could hold and taste and touch...
Sophia would want it to be this way.
The hinges of the locket let out a high pitched squeak, revealing a woman sculpted as perfectly as the golden filigree, roses and vines united in perfect bliss across the cover... Consummating a heart. Even time could not hinder her. She was marvelous. A master piece, if one would. Something that Leonardo Da Vinci could not hope to recreate.
And up until then, when he'd seen her flooding down The Refuge's stairs, he'd thought her gone.
She wasn't, not entirely.
She drifted in realms not unlike this one, lending her fibers to a young ballerina, one that he thought he'd left for dead. How long had he begged and pleaded for a second chance, without hope, without expectation? Then it came. This was it. His one opportunity to make things right.
He snapped the locket shut and turned towards the door.
She could kill her. It'd be quick. Just a nice, quick, twist of the neck -- but Daphne didn't truly hate her that much. Just a little jealousy, that spoiled brat inside of her rearing her ugly head, demanding everything, not just a taste.
She'd heard them. The desperate gasps of Arabella, the whispers of Evander as he huskily breathed into her ear, no doubt peeling her clothing away... The down parting for their bodies as they collided together on the bed.
She nearly shattered the bowl in her hands, setting it on the table with a clatter.
That damn whore, triumphing where she had failed so many times.
... And there was that jealousy again.
Arabella was out, putting those delicate hands to use. The neighbors could probably have heard Evander and his new pet arguing about this... He contended - for whatever reason - that it was not proper for a woman of society to toil so hard. And she, stubborn and argumentative to her very core, insisted that she was not a first class dame, that it was only fair that she earned her keep, refusing to be supported by any other means. Interesting; he never complained about her own employment.
Why was he so willing to finance this woman?
Her frustration was shattered by a helpless moan, a voice just beyond her, struggling to take flight. A fever... Yet another person unable to bear their search for a cure, unwilling to cling to their shreds of life for just a little bit longer. As she pressed a cold clothe to his forehead, red hair swathed across his face like patterns in desert sand, she wondered if there even was a cure in sight, if this wasn't all a vain pursuit, the sunlight burning holes through their shudders.
... Sunlight. She stopped in her footsteps.
She had never once seen Arabella feed, nor had she been harmed by the sun's rays as she went in her search of work, gold pouring down that slender dancer's body.
Evander was furious.
Not a new emotion to him, one that never grew old with age. He paced before the women, fingers clenching and unclenching, wringing the comfort out of the air like juice from an orange. "We have discussed this. I argued, and my God, I reasoned. I agreed to let you..."
"... You reasoned? You did no such thing! You threatened to tie me up and leave me in the baseme --"
"Our negotiations were a bit churlish, yes, but how does that permit you to conduct yourself this poorly?"
Her eyes narrowed like a falcon on the prowl, slits of sapphire deep within a mine. "You are the one, sir, who elected to invade my privacy in the middle of the night. Your words on this subject are hardly worth considering."
Daphne raised a brow, trying not to stain the carpet with scorn, vampiric eyes practically glowing in the illumination of the night. Exhausting day. Perfect for a debate. A toss of her auburn locks brought around the words, "I seem to remember some odd noises, Evander..."
The gentleman shot around, black hair lashing about his broad shoulders like cobras. "Nothing happened, if that is what you are asking."
The woman relaxed with a smug grin, watching as Arabella tried to shield her humiliation as if with a sun parasol, folding her arms as the tension flooded away. "I am not, but thank you for sharing." So they hadn't done anything. Nothing terribly… Unscrupulous.
Arabella paid the exchange no mind, too saturated by defiant anger towards Evander to focus on anyone else, watching muscle ripple beneath that shirt as he walked, disturbing the linen. "... And since when is it your business what line of work I choose, Dr. Fielding? I could be a street walker, and the matter would be entirely out of your hands."
He nearly snarled. She saw his eyes flash, turning to ice within their sockets. "You may as well, Arabella! It would have precisely the same status."
She leapt to her feet so forcefully, luck alone kept her from shooting through the ceiling, and Evander battled to keep his thoughts on the current topic, not the elegance in her actions, smooth and uninhibited. Years of training in the theater. Of course. And how snugly that dress held her torso... "Selling flowers is not a capital offense!"
"It is lowly. You would degrade yourself just to spite me?"
"It would be degrading to allow myself free lodgings! I will not accept your charities again."
Most females would have been flattered, but this one? She was more ravenous than a hell cat, taking offense at her own whim, determination over powering any hint of good sense, rejecting any offer of help. Seeking employment as a textile mill worker and a flower girl - had she no idea what this would do to his reputation? How quickly rumors spread in High Society?
He rubbed his forehead, stress eating away at his last nerve. Even Daphne had never been so persistent.
"I will continue to work as I see fit, Evander: with as little dependence upon you as possible."
He couldn't believe this. In his own home, even... Wasn't the whole reason these dames got married was to be cared for? To be supported by their husbands riches? He stopped that thought abruptly, finding it far too close for comfort; too intimate. The touches that he would be allowed as her husband, the gasps, the lascivious smiles and sighs… "You are most infuriating."
Her grin brightened. "Then we are alike in one way, at least. I will see you in the morning."
A look of confusion stamped his features, contorting those slender, handsome peaks with unease. "What?"
"Have you forgotten that I am not nocturnal?"
He resisted the undignified gesture of an eye roll, trying to find the bleak room more fascinating than the frontal lobe of his brain. "Go on, then."
She made a show of stomping up the stairs, eyes squinted into tiny, blue shards. What cheek that man had, demanding an explanation for everything! Either he was too protective or simply mad. The bedchamber door bolted her frustration into one room, sealing away her flames, leaving Daphne and Evander to their own thoughts...
Her chestnut haired companion had many.
"Why does this bother you so much, Evander?" She quirked a brow, propping her hands on her hips like a solid, roman statue, opulent, feminine curves flaring to the side. "You seem to have no problem with my line of work."
"Helping the sick is nothing but respectable," he replied, voice betraying his flattery, hammering against the walls like one million pounding fists. The remark made her stomach lurch. Respectable; he thought of her as grand in one respect. Her spine straightened and a slight bit of pride shown in her eyes like a lantern, creasing her lips into a satisfied grin.
"Anything is respectable, Evander, so long as she is earning her keep."
He gave her a glare that could have liquefied stone, making the strongest of structures tremble and fall like dominos. "Anything? Suppose she was seeking employment at a brothel, Daphne. Can you speak of decency there?"
She gave a shrug. "So long as it pays the bills."
The fire in his eyes became an inferno, voice lowering to a deadly growl. "I will see to it that she is never known in such a fashion."
Daphne resisted the urge to wince, feeling her skin crawl beneath his gaze, body shaken to its very core. The gift of intimidation was his to keep, even before he was a vampire. It did not take sharp fangs and claws for this man to seem overpowering - over whelming, even, with those penetrating gray eyes, holding back a storm. "Does it anger you? Picture other men touching her flesh?"
He could not hide the snarl rising in his throat.
".. Caressing her?"
She saw his hands ball into fists, knuckles whiter than bleached cloth, bones stronger than bars of steel. His wrath was almost palpable, poisoning the air, making it difficult to breath... All because of that damn gaze.
"... Perhaps even..."
A roar broke free from his throat, fangs springing from their hiding places like switchblades, his accomplice leaping back with a yelp. He was terrifying. A predator, dangerous and silent, reclusive by day and unstoppable by night. Yet here he was, insides boiling from these remarks, hardly controlling the urge to tear the room apart. "Daphne, if you value your life, I suggest you never bring such images to my mind again."
Her hands were the color of blood.
Fingers choking from the suffocation of chemicals, skin begging for mercy against the dyes, she had worked for hours on end, not stopping to eat or drink, for there was no time. Seventeen yards of fabric had to be brightened in less than ten minutes. No stopping, no breaks. Just dunking the fabric as the salty, putrid odor filled your nose, steam leaping up to scrape your eyeballs like fingernails...
... Finger nails? Even those were in agony. She looked at her own, all cracked and dry from today's work. They had once curved delicately like crescent moons, shining against the daylight with a healthy glow. Now they were more chipped and broken than ancient pottery, painful to even look at, the tips of her fingers stinging with softness. Her toes were calloused and used to constant battering, ankles toughened from years of diligent practice - not her hands. They were soft, angelic, and sweet at one point...
Arabella pulled her legs close, tucking her head to her knees, feeling as helpless as a baby sparrow. Constance was dead, the only family she had left, flying with angels as her job was scattered to the winds. The one place she'd loved - the smell of velvet curtains, the squeak of ropes and pullies unveiling her to the world, everything coming alive to the dulcet hum of the piano - now an empty tomb. A burial ground for everything she'd hoped to achieve. Gone.
Then there was Constance. Her younger sister had loved the ballet, catching glimpses of Arabella practicing whenever she could, far too poor to afford actual tickets. Her sky blue eyes would light up when she landed a turn correctly, hands clapping together, even as a sixteen year old girl. Childish delight, now abandoned and cold.
All she had left was a certain controlling fellow by the name of...
... Evander. Of course it was him, that infuriating man. Why did he puncture her thoughts so easily? Would even her sorrow be invaded by his presence? Eyes so cold they could have made winter ashamed, yet his hands were so warm, burning with passion, heart pounding the rhythm of their eroticism.
He made everything so much worse.
She ran a hand along her shoulder, across the place he'd so desperately clawed at, sliding her clothing away. Those hands were strong. Even as he was trying to be delicate, she could feel the tension, the silken strength his grasp beheld... This man deserved someone beautiful. Perhaps the soft fingers of an aristocrat, encircling him in the most intimate of places. He should have a damsel of riches, perfumes, and satin, not a lowly factory worker who spent her free time peddling flowers. No wonder he wanted her to stop laboring.
She shuddered as a chill slithered down her spine, a few stray hairs catching slightly in the... Wind?
Her gaze shot behind her. Someone had opened the window. Arabella had been gone all day, she did not have the chance to complete the task - even her muscles ached with the thought. Such a heavy contraption for an exhausted body. Perhaps Daphne? But why? When Evander's face flashed across her mind, she quickly swished it away, burying it in the darkest of recesses. Not a chance. Why would such an over-bearing, controlling, protective home owner leave an open entrance for thieves?
She took a few slow steps towards the window, hair flickering behind her like a candle flame.
Perhaps one of their patients had completed their transformation, looking for an easy escape?
The ballerina inhaled deeply, the slight scent of burnt bread surging into her nostrils, fingers running cold with worry. She felt her legs tremble, but that could have been from fatigue, or perhaps from the remnant of something human – baked goods. They'd lost their flavor. Only red meat drew her eye, no matter how much it pained her to admit it. The odors of blood echoing from the butcher's shop tore through her system like a pack of wolves, and she always, no matter where she was, had to turn away. Had to remind herself that she was still human.
She heard scuffling sounds, the rustling of grass beneath the window, but darkness clouded the air, forbidding her sight. A struggle of some kind…. Was some one hurt? Spying? Attempting to abscond Daphne's careful eyes? The noise put a pit in her stomach.
Footsteps sounded on the stairs.
The door knob turned.
"Get away from the window," he commanded, and she should have known those words before they shot from his lips. His feet padded the ground in decisive strokes, urging – practically ripping! – her body from its perch, hands slamming the window closed.
Yet relief did not melt from him, teeth set on edge as if they were about to tear apart every shred of life he found, and perhaps they were. He turned from the young woman, shirt rustling, heading toward the door.
"What on earth was that about?"
She slammed her body in front of the egress, refusing his passage. "Excuse me?"
Evander halted. Of course this would not be easy. His eyes skidded down her frame, aggression flaming, lungs sharply inhaling breath… There was no stifling the annoyance he felt, face hovering dangerously close to hers, lips perfect for snapping retorts. She inhaled the scent of clean linen, the skin of his neck laced with peppermint… The taste of it still burned in her memory, kisses lapping hungrily against his skin.
Their gazes burned into one another.
"Burglars frequently come at night, Arabella…" he cautioned, but she did not like the ice in his tone, the slight whiff of something else. "Keep this window closed." The night crawled with something that he did not particularly like, and Daphne, stubborn woman that she was, needed to know. Not burglars. Those would have been easy to handle.
"You are most deceptive."
He raised a brow, posture erect, unwilling to cripple before her like an autumn leaf. "Come again?"
Her hair fell around her shoulders as she leaned closer, hands barring the door knob. "Do not pretend for one moment that your intentions are regarding thieves, Dr. Fielding." Such blue eyes. Dangerous blue eyes. You could fall in and drown like an insect.
The vampire greeted her bonmot with the chill of Antarctica, mere inches away from her skin, muscles tense with the possibility of danger. "I am not pretending, Arabella. Sleep well, and stay out of trouble." Must talking with her always be such a difficulty? Fleeing the scene had suddenly become more than appealing, hand removing hers from the doorknob, fingers so powerful compared to her own. This woman was driving him insane, turning every urge he had inside out, annoyance peeking into irritation…
… And something more than that.
He pushed passed her and locked the door, traipsing down the stairs, seeking Daphne from her usual place.
The cheek of that man, commanding her about like a dog!
"I told you that she was fine," his confident retorted, rolling her eyes. "Stop being so concerned."
"There is reason for it, Daphne," he managed to stifle a growl, pulling on his coat. "Those were not burglars outside of Arabella's window."
The vampiress let out a sigh and scanned him with caution, feeling every surge of urgency that coursed through his body. "I know who was there, Evander, and they want nothing to do with Arabella."
His ears perked up. Never had Daphne had his attention so acutely, and she took a moment to savor everything. He was focused on her, for a change. And it felt damn good.
She folded her hands at her waist, shaking her head in slow and deliberate strokes. "They're after you."