It was Christmas morning; the blue sky above the glorious snow covered grounds with the weak winter sun that was spreading its feeble rays softly across the land created a magnificent feast for the eyes. It had been snowing during the night again but now the snow stopped at that hour of the day, as if for a quick assessment of what had been achieved so far; the rare days of sunshine seemed to serve much the same purpose-the flurried died down and the sun's glare attempted to melt the clean and pure surface of drifted new snow.
There was a deadly silence everywhere. People stayed inside their cosy and warm houses and beside a cold wind that was blowing gently, there was no movement anywhere when the peace was broken by the sound of a horse's hooves galloping on icy grounds to get its rider to his destination. The wind was whipping rider's handsome features and penetrated his flesh to reach his bones, but he did not care. He was anxious to get to village's inn.
As he crossed the empty icy road he prayed that he was mistaken but deep down he was certain he was not. His time was running out and he needed to take care of things quickly. He was not familiar with the area but the inn could be found easily as it was the biggest building in the village. He pulled the animal's reins when he caught a glimpse of its wooden sign to make it slow down. All of a sudden, he felt cold and self conscious, unsure of how he should react if his suspicions were true. The cold that he had been ignoring this whole time, started to get to him. The smoke coming from the inn's chimney seemed inviting enough so after a short struggle with himself, he set aside the doubt and walked inside.
A wave of warmness welcomed him as he opened the door. The small reception area was empty but he could see that there was someone seating behind a table in the big tavern next room. His heart was pounding fast as he slowly made his way towards the man who seemed to have a drink in front of him and sipped it once in a while without taking any notice to his surroundings. Then suddenly, he lifted his head and smiled at the sight of him.
"General Balman, what a wonderful surprise! To what do I owe this unexpected pleasure?"
Henry's heart skipped a beat at the sight of him, he had not been mistaken after all, even though he only caught a quick glimpse at him last night at church, his grotesque features assured him of what he saw. He looked at the man's small eyes, disfigured nose and scarred face before opening his mouth.
"What are you doing here Frank? I thought I told you that I need more time and you gave me until the end of season."
Frank smiled, showing his yellow grin.
"I assure you, I am not here on business general, can't a man take a break in one of the most beautiful places in England?"
Henry got closer to his table, now his tall and muscly body shadowed Frank, but he did not seem intimidated as his smile continued to remain on his lips.
"I do not believe you, you little weasel! You have come here to put more pressure on me."
"You obviously have a very low opinion of me General. I generously gave you time and I am a man of my word, but you have to admit, 500 pounds is not a money that I can just let go that easily. Now, I do trust you of course, you are a noble and I am sure you have every intention of paying your debt, but still it never hurts to be too cautious."
With each word coming from his mouth, Henry became more furious. How did he end up dealing with this disgusting creature with no morals at all?
He opened his mouth to protest but Frank brought his hand up and stopped him.
"From what I am seeing here General, you are not making good progress here and this makes me worried. I thought you said you will be betrothed to Duke Wilmer's daughter by the end of season, but what I saw last evening did not look convincing. Not only the girl did not talk to you, she ran outside before you even approach her. And I thought you had a way around ladies!"
Henry felt deeply insulted. He was concerned about Leila's behaviour himself, but to be ridiculed by a man like Frank, was intolerable.
"Shut your mouth, I told you that I shall repay you and I will, it is no business of yours how I am going to get my money you immoral despicable.."
Frank suddenly stood. There was something in his evil eyes that made Henry swallow the rest of his words. He was almost the same height as Henry but his bony body seemed small in compare to his hard bust. He grabbed the collar of his brilliant coat and drew Henry's face close to his.
"Profanity will get you nowhere you know. Your business is mine as long as you owe me the money, now you can curse and swear all you want, and I take them as a gentleman, but if our deadline is passed and you don't pay what you owe, I will be exactly what you are describing me now. Without morals or my gentleman belief, I will make sure everyone in England knows your dirty secrets General before breaking every bone of your handsome jaw. I hope you understand me now." He let go and puffed his foul breath into Henry's face before sitting down and drinking his tea as if nothing had happened.
Anger was boiling inside Henry, he wished he could just kill that man right there and then, to cut his tongue and fill his stinking brain with hot bullets, but he knew it would not end his misery. This man had accomplices, and they would chase him and take revenge so he had no way but to endure him. For now at least.
He damned his luck as he turned to the door to leave. He had chosen to come here for a reason, and that reason was Duke's daughter. He had met Annie Wilmer before and knew it would be a hard task to seduce her, but her younger sister, shy and timid Leyla seemed like a very easy prey. All his life, girls like Leyla had fallen head over hills in love with him and he thought by marrying her, he would hit two birds with one stone. He would pay his debts and get rid of a scandal that was hovering around his good name, but now she did not seem that easy.
What was he to do? That loan shark was going to be at his throat until he was paid. Duke's younger daughter would have a remarkable dowry that could easily get him out of his trouble. Even if they were not married soon, just the rumour that he was courting her would suffice for now because then he could get his credit extended on the basis that soon he would be Wilmer's son in law and would have access to an unlimited fund. But Leyla had made the mission more complicated that it was supposed to be, she was supposed to be an effortless target and that, she was not.
As he stepped out to get on his horse, he noticed a group of villagers approaching the inn, looking distressed and anxious. They ignored Henry and burst into the inn, calling for the inn keeper. Henry's curiosity got the best of him and slowly, he returned inside to see what had happened. The man in front of the mob headed straight to the kitchen behind the tavern to find the owner and it did not take long for them to return together. Henry stood in a corner and watched quietly as the inn keeper wiped his hands on his dirty apron and addressed a man in the middle who had a wretched and fearful look in his eyes.
"She did not come home last night?"
The man shook his head and replied in trembling voice.
"No, she was supposed to stay the night with her aunt and left after church but this morning Laura sent his son over, asking why she did not show up. I searched everywhere and asked all my neighbours but there is no sign of her, she has disappeared my poor little girl, and I don know what to do."
The poor man's voice cracked.
"Her mother is devastated. What if she has run away with that bastard? What would I do then?"
He covered his eyes and sobbed miserably. The inn keeper put his hand on his shoulder.
"You don't know that George, she might be somewhere in the village, staying the night at one her friends', we are going to search everywhere and find her." The man however, continued to sob.
"I knew that boy was evil, I have warned her not to get too close to him. He is going to ruin her! My reputation has gone to hell!" He cried.
The men started talking at once, trying to comfort their unfortunate friend but to no avail, his daughter was lost and if she had fled with a man, she would lose her reputation as well as her family's good name. Henry sneaked out and got on his horse, he had more important issues to worry about than a village girl running away with her lover. He had to figure out a way to deceive Leila and have her fall in love with him. He was so deep in his thought that he did not see the strange black carriage riding towards the cottage by the woods.
I must be sleeping now, but I lay here in darkness of my coffin, wide awake, unable to shut off my mind. Earlier today, I dreamt of my beloved in my bedroom, in my own castle in Romania. She was lying on my majestic bed, with red velvety curtains and high Mahogany pillars. Her beautiful hazel eyes were closed, but I knew she was not really sleeping; she was waiting for me to love her passionately. Her small body was covered under the fine bedsheet up to her shoulders, but the naked flesh of her neck and cleavage revealed a hint that she might be fully exposed under the blanket. I sat on the bed and took her image in as I played with her brown locks of hair and caressed her innocent face.
She opened her mouth and let out a breath, it was not a moan though, it was an impatient reflex, something that suggested she wanted more. I drew my head close and let her scent drawn me. I could smell her blood behind her natural scent mixed with perfume and it ravished me beyond anything I have ever felt. I abruptly lost control of my fangs, just like my other organ, as they came out to claim their pleasure, but not yet, I was going slowly, I did not want it to be over so soon. I caressed her neck with my fangs to give them a little taste, not too harsh to break her skin or even scratch it. But then, little by little I start to add pressure as she moaned and tilted her head to give me a wider access to her delicate neck. I could no longer hold back, it was like all those desires that I had suppressed for centuries finally over flew and now it was time to set them free. The thrill was beyond my control as I take a bite but then, I woke up without having a taste.
I am too ecstatic now, my body is overly excited and my insatiable thirst has increased dramatically since last evening, so even though I have just drained a new prey out of sweet pure life elixir, I am still aroused and agitated. Suddenly I am alarmed for something else, I sense him coming.
I feel him riding his carriage this way, I see him approaching the cottage, his heart beat and blood smell fills my head as he walks in cautiously and lets the light inside the pitch black house. He walks gently and tries not to make any noise, absorbs his surrounding with the little light coming from outside. He sees the shape of my coffin and approaches quietly, and stops only a step away. Then he kneels.
"You are late." I say in a dry tone.
"I am sorry master. Please forgive me but I needed to sort things out in Persia before coming as you requested." He says without lifting his head.
"How did you do?"
"Just as you ordered Master. A fire was set to your mansion that destroyed everything, and a man with your clothing who was scalded beyond recognition was found so everyone assumed it was you."
I feel a slight sadness within, I loved my mansion and I wanted to live there for at least another ten years, but I could not.
"Why did it take this long then? You were supposed to arrange things months ago."
He pauses, I know him too well to realise something is bothering him.
"There were complications master. Lady Zara... She killed herself."
I take a moment to digest the news. Her image comes before my eyes, with fresh young face, large black eyes and long raven hair. She was too young to die, barely 16, and she ended her life for my love.
Things got out of hand in Persia; I recklessly hunted and killed a man that turned out to be a very important courtier and a friend of king's, and to increase my bad luck, a suitor to Lady Zara. She was the king's grand daughter and I played with her once or twice out of boredom, just tricking her mind and smearing her innocence by visiting her dreams, alas she fell madly in love with me. I had to get away then; I could not just take the girl and kill her while they were already looking for the murderer of another courtier I had drunk. So I left and asked my faithful servant, Emil, to stage my death. And now she was dead.
I wonder for a moment if this is the fate of everyone who loves me. They eventually die a bloody death, either by my hands or someone else's, but this is not going to happen to my Leyla, she is destined to stay with me forever, even if she lives as a walking dead.
Emil is still kneeling, but his eyes have wondered around and landed on Leila's coffin as he tries to make it out in darkness.
"I have found her." I explain briefly, but his eyes widen in surprise and disbelief.
"Here? In England? Who is she?"
He asks without being able to stop himself but then realises his defiance and bites his tongue.
"Forgive my frivolity master, It is hard to believe that after so long that you have sought her, she was found here in England."
I think of the irony too, I lived in England four times before and never thought I would see my mate here. A smile creeps its way to my lips at the thought of Leyla.
"I have brought your main belongings with me my Lord, the rest shall be here soon, but I see that this cottage would be small to fit everything so I need to.."
"Do not worry about that, we shall not stay here long. Arrange for my belongings to go to the main castle in Rucar-Bran and also contact the circle of guardians and let them know of my decision. Tell them I will bring my bride with me and I want the castle safe and secure."
He listens and nods as I continue to give him my commands.
"Also there is a body of a young girl here, she is local so it should not be discovered by villagers, bury her under the black rose bush. Those flowers are going to need nourishment to blossom in this frosty weather and I need them to be as enchanting as ever for my purposes." His eyes search the room for the body and fill with grief as he sees her. I suddenly feel exhausted, the sun will set soon and I have a special plan for tonight.
With my silence, Emil stands to get to work, but then I remember something else.
"And Emil, prepare the cottage for tonight, I need lots of candles and rose petals. I want you to make this place dreamy and bewitching."
He bows and heads out to work and my mind gets foggy as I whisper behind him:
"I am having a very special guest this evening."