I watched the party from the shadows. They were my home, though I could hardly call my cloak of darkness new. Inside the pool of light just beyond my gaze, men and women that had once been my peers
danced and laughed. Gaily colored silk skirts swung in time to the rousing music and tapping of mens' shoes, and I drank in the noise of human laughter and clinking glassware. Closing my ruby eyes,
I breathed in deeply, fighting the iron hunger in my stomach that the scent of their blood always brought. In the ten years since my passing I had gained control of my monstrous nature, though I
still found more struggle than my maker, who seemed to glide effortlessly through our very unnatural life.
"You know it gives you fits to watch them, Sweet." A familiar voice floated to my ear on a cool breath at the nape of my neck, and rough fingers stroked my brunette curls, held fashionably in place
by pins and ribbons. If I was in a dour mood before this unexpected visitor, it was certainly not improved with his sudden appearance.
"I'll not have your hands on me, Jack McCray! You will ruin my hair," I said evenly through my teeth, ducking away from his attention and turning round, only to nearly hit the solid wall of his
body. In death he retained the fit frame of a youth spent enlisted in the service of his country, good looks and charm and strength brawny enough to make me feel like a child beside him,
immortalized forever. Pursing my lips, I gathered the skirt of my dress and slipped past him, ignoring the cocky smirk on his face.
"Where would you rather I put my hands then, Mattie my darlin'?" he asked as he followed, and I felt my back stiffen in offence.
"My name is Mateline, you will call me that or nothing at all! I won't have you address me on such familiar terms." Whirling, I lifted a hand to slap him, only to have his fingers close round my
wrist in an iron grasp, though he didn't hurt me. Instead, I found my back against one of the stone pillars that supported the covered veranda we stood on, and Jack's tall body pressing entirely
too close to mine for my own personal comfort. "I wouldn't, if I were you," he murmured huskily, releasing my wrist and stroking back a stray tendril of my hair. If my heart had been beating I'm
certain it would have fluttered, but it wasn't, and I forced my interest away in favor of scowling up at him. "I'd ask why you insist on torturing yourself by watching them, but I know already." My
stomach clenched briefly at his words, I knew what was coming next. We had discussed this before, as he found my lingering ties to the community I had once been apart of, well, morbid. Even my
short span of years after death had dulled the love and connection I had once felt with the mortals dancing in the room just beyond us, and that bothered me a great deal.
"And I supposed your great knowledge tells you how the sun rises and sets as well?" I replied wryly, desperately wanting to steer the subject away from my own pain. Casually, he rested an arm on
the pillar above my head, bringing us within kissing distance, and for a moment I thought he would do just that. Instead, he studied me, dark eyes tracing a line from the crown of my hair, to my
eyes and nose, down to the curve of my lips, to the gentle path of my throat down the valley of my breasts. He spent none of his usual amount of time crudely ogling my substantial bosom before
returning to my face.
"You can't fool yourself any longer, Mateline," he said quietly. "That life is behind you now. Far behind you. It will only end in pain if you keep skulking about the edges of their light. We are
the dark, now."
"Do not lump me in, with you!" I pressed my lips together and looked away in distaste. One of his rough hands cupped my jaw, and forcibly turned me back to meet his blazing eyes.
"Oh that's right, you fancy yourself a lady!" he practically sneered. "D'you think you're above the monsters like me? Just because you take blood from painters and musicians and the like, you think
you're better than me and the prostitutes I take?" I blushed at the blunt truth of his words, and bit back a yelp of protest when he forced his mouth down on mine. His tongue snaked into my mouth,
and a shudder took me as I tasted the fresh blood he still carried. Ashamed, I kissed him back, parting my lips willingly and feeling- savoring- the hard crush of his body on mine, demanding that I
yield. My thighs were parted by one of his, rubbing crudely against my core, and with this rude intrusion came the return of my sense.
Shoving him back, I slapped his cheek and hissed, "Don't you ever touch me again!" As I stalked off, half driven to tears and fury, I heard his mocking laughter float through the air behind me.
"My whores taste the same as your nobles, Sweet. The sooner you realize that the better!" He called softly after me, and I was grateful that he made no move to come after me.
In the villa by the river, which I shared with my maker and a handful of mortal servants, I swept through the door to my chambers in a fit. Curtly dismissing my maid Analise, I yanked at the laces
of my dress, sweeping through them like tissue paper in my anger. I was left with the shreds of my ruined dress between my trembling fingers, and as the tears came, I let them fall freely down my
cheeks, sobbing unashamedly and burying my face against the torn silk. After a moment, cool hands cupped my shoulders, turning me into the chest of my maker, Gaston.
"What has upset you so, my lamb?" he inquired gently, and I turned tearful eyes into his delicately featured face.
"That wretched man Jack McCray!"
"Oh, come now, what has he done this time?"
"He kissed me without permission Papa, and he said- he said some very hurtful things." Gaston nodded, taking my dress and tossing it aside before setting me down in front of my vanity and beginning
to unpin my hair. It was a soothing routine between the two of us, though our closeness was odd among our own kind. I knew he had made another before me, and lost him, and I think it was the reason
he doted on me so. "I suppose that's not entirely fair." I muttered morosely after a moment of silence. "It was not his words that stung so much as the truth behind them."
"That is often the case with dear Jack." Gaston replied calmly, setting aside the last ribbon and picking up my favorite brush to begin working through my hair in long, measured strokes. "He's a
very perceptive lad. Again with the issue of your taste in blood?" I nodded, and heard him chuckle behind me. Though it made me want to scowl, I resisted, trying hard not to sound petulant as I
protested, turning around in my seat to look up at him.
"I do not choose artists out of disdain! I love what their blood brings me. There's nothing compared to drinking from a high musician and spending the rest of the evening lost in the notes of
symphony," I said, a faint smile touching my face as I remembered so many warm evenings spent in just that manner. "It is hardly my fault that a simpleton like Jack McCray can't appreciate such
pleasure." As soon as the words left my lips, common sense chided me in the back of my mind, and I offered a small smile. "I must sound so childish right now. I apologize, I was just upset." That
made Gaston laugh out loud, and he cupped my face, smiling down at me.
"Oh lamb, you do bring me such joy. Try not to let Jack upset you. I will speak with his maker tomorrow evening. Martha has challenged me to a game of chess, and I was hoping to bring you along."
That came as no surprise, my maker and Jack's were quite close, and seeing as we lived a mere street's length away from them, quite often our evenings were spent together. "And while I have you,
our dear friend Delilah is having a soiree two nights from now. She returned to our city this past night, and wishes to greet her old friends." I smiled, as Delilah was a favorite of mine despite
being well over a hundred years old, and took his advice. Putting the evening's events out of mind, I stood and kissed his cheek, bidding him a restful day's sleep before finally allowing my maid
to help me into my evening gown in preparation for the coming dawn.
I woke as dusk fell, cloaking the city in the feathery gray before true dark came. Slipping a shawl around my shoulders, I glided to the window, dragging back the heavy stone shutters that guarded
me in my daytime rest. There was a last glow of orange on the horizon still, and a sigh drifted through me.
"May I come in, Miss?" A voice intruded my thoughts, and I motioned Analise in without looking back. She curtsied lightly, then set about finding me an outfit for the evening, nothing but light
summer gowns. Turning away from the window, where that last glow of sun reminded me of the coldness my skin now carried, I discarded all of the choices she had made and found something of my own
At the villa down the street, Gaston left me to my own devices as he joined Jack's maker at the same table they always played on, set with a chessboard of inlaid pearl and ebony stone. I wandered
outside again, to the covered back porch, laid open to the moon's silver light. Standing at one corner, I looked out over the river that flowed sluggishly behind the stately home, half hidden by
weeping willows, trailing tender fronds into the water and adding tiny ripples along the surface. A small scrape of movement reached my ears, shortly followed by the rustle of skirts as Martha
joined me on the porch. I inclined my head to her with a small smile, and we stood in silence for a moment.
"It's a lovely night, Mateline."
"Yes Madame it is." She gave me a measuring look, and I half wondered what she might think of me. Now it sounded so foolish asking Gaston to speak with her about Jack, like a child running to her
father when a boy pulled her braids in the schoolyard.
"When I found Jack, he was dying on a battlefield near my home." She spoke evenly, and I listened until she finished. "I had just lost my mate, and I was half blinded by my grief. I thought I'd
never be the same. At night, I took to walking the battlefield, telling myself I was merely hunting, while some part of me inside knew I was looking for my dear Edward. Instead I found Jack. He was
barely alive, but the silly boy still found the strength to go for his rifle as I came to him. That was something Edward had possessed too, that stubborn will to survive...I admit it may have
clouded my judgement." As she spoke, her eyes still drifted over the river and trees, though I could tell she was not really seeing them. No, she was far away, back on that blood-soaked field. "I
took him on the spot, turned him, and brought him to live with me. He wasn't even afraid when he woke, and found what I'd done to him. We learned to love each other, in our own way, though I have
bailed him out of trouble more times than I care to remember. Comes from choosing a soldier as a companion, I suppose." Martha lapsed into silence, a faint smile crossing her face, and I stayed my
lips, making sure she was finished. "I tell you this in the hopes that you will understand some small part of my offspring. He's wild and rough, and very used to taking what he wants. You, on the
other hand, firmly refuse to stand for any of that, and I believe it puzzles him a bit. Go easy on my lad, he's still figuring out how to be gentle and even if he won't admit it, he needs your
guidance along the way." With that, she leaned in and kissed my forehead lightly, then plucked up her skirt in one hand and glided back inside, leaving me alone with my thoughts.
The evening of the party found me in my best silk gown, an affair done in shades of cream and pink that complimented my figure quite nicely. In the years since my turning I had only seen Delilah a
handful of times, but she still greeted me warmly, taking my hands in hers and kissing each of my cheeks.
"Darling girl! It has been too long!" she cooed. "If I get a moment of time you must tell me all about the latest news and fashions." Smiling graciously, I nodded, and we moved on into the small
gathering of our kin that had come to her lavish mansion. Gaston soon pardoned himself to go and stand by the fire with the other men, lighting a pipe and smoothly joining whatever mechanical
conversation they were having. That left me to the womenfolk, and I was soon immersed in talk of silk merchants and gossip until it was time for the dancing to start. At that point I drifted to the
row of plush chairs along the wall, dropping neatly into one and sitting with my back straight like mother had taught me, fanning myself lightly. Barely a beat went past before a handsome man
blocked my view of the floor. Tall and well formed, he kept his suit immaculate as well as his pale blond hair, tied back loosely. Bowing formally, he gave me a charming smile along with his
"Pardon the intrusion, but you are far too lovely to remain seated. My name is Colin Cromwell, may I have the pleasure of this dance?" Flattered, I gave him my hand and stood, fighting back a
girlish blush as he pressed his lips ever so briefly against my knuckles.
"You may." I accepted his invitation and joined him on the polished marble floor where other couples were waltzing. Placing a hand on one of his shoulders, I allowed him to cup my other hand in
his, and followed his lead gracefully. "Gracious, where are my manners. I am Mateline DeLuc, present with my maker, Gaston Echarpe." Colin smiled again, showing off a delightful set of dimples in
his cheeks, and inclined his head to my maker over my shoulder.
"Truly, your maker shows excellent taste. Am I wrong in guessing your country of origin is France? My mistress Delilah and I were recently there on holiday. Lovely place, if I do say so myself."
For the rest of the song we were immersed in quiet conversation, and it wasn't until the middle of our second dance that I finally realized what had been bothering me. We were being watched. In the
process of my natural movements I happened to meet a familiar set of eyes, and found Jack positively glowering at Colin! Now what was that about? Dismissing it, I focused on my enchanting partner,
determined not to let Jack ruin a good thing. At the end of the dance I asked a polite pardon from joining him in a third number, claiming pain in my feet, and Colin, delightfully mannered as he
was, escorted me to a chair along the side and left with another gentle kiss to the back of my hand. Almost immediately he was snatched up eagerly by one of the other young ladies in attendance,
and I was pleased to see that though he was polite, he showed her none of the special interest he'd taken in me. My glowing mood was halted though, as Jack appeared in front of me.
"Have a word with me," he said tersely, and I frowned at him.
"Not with that tone I won't!" I sniffed, folding my arms and regarding him through half narrowed eyes. There was the distinct sound of him grinding his teeth, and a short sigh escaped him.
"Very well then. May I request a short walk in the garden with you...please?"
"That's better." I inclined my head to him cordially, if a little stiffly, standing and accepting his arm in order to escort me outside. The night was warm, pressing intimately against my skin
almost like a living thing, and I breathed in the perfume of Delilah's garden with a smile as we walked among the rose bushes and carefully groomed flowers. For awhile Jack didn't say anything,
until we were far back among the shadows. There, he turned me to face him, and I gave him an expectant look.
"I apologize," he said bluntly, and my brows raised in surprise. Jack McCray apologized to no one! Yet here he was, with a distinctly reluctant look on his face, like a child that had been
chastised. Which, in light of my maker's words last night, the comparison was not all that far from the truth. "My actions last time we met were rude. I was right...but I probably could have found
a better way to tell you so." A short burst of laughter startled out of me, and I shook my head a little. Martha's words rang in my ears, half amusing in their truth.
"I don't think you have it in you to admit you were wrong, so I'll take your apology at it's best intention. Thank you. But was it necessary to haul me all the way out here to tell me?" Still in a
good mood from Colin's conversation, I couldn't resist teasing Jack a little. "Or were you simply trying to keep me from accepting another dance with my new friend Colin?" His expression went dark
again, and I saw his shoulders stiffen at the same time as a surprising revelation struck me. "Jack...are you jealous?"
"Of that self important git?" he snorted derisively. "Hardly!" Ignoring his language, I rolled my eyes at him and placed my hands on my hips.
"Then why were you glaring a hole in the back of his head?"
"Because a blond pretty boy like that wouldn't know what to do with a woman like you." Sarcasm crept into his tone as he added "And I just hate to see you waste your precious time with someone
who's more'n likely to fancy your maker over you." My mouth dropped open in shock, and he took full advantage of that by kissing me without permission, again. While I was still reeling from the
sudden contact he kept me off guard by thrusting his tongue into my mouth, and this time he helped himself to a double handful of my pert bottom as well. That brought me directly against his body
on more points than I cared to think about, though it didn't seem to bother the animal part of my brain much- seeing as I was suddenly giving serious though to letting him to take me right there in
the garden! My fangs extended in excitement, and I felt his own prick my bottom lip lightly. Hunger and lust mingled in my body, causing me to grip him tighter and crush our mouths close with a
very unladylike growl of encouragement.
Thankfully, there was a merciful interruption before I was entirely lost. This time, in the form of Colin stumbling upon us. Immediately I disentangled myself, turning bright red and threatening to
hit Jack, though more out of embarrassment than real anger.
"Will you kindly desist from kissing me every time I stand still long enough!" I scolded, seeing his usual bravado come back up at the presence of another man- especially one he seemed to have
taken a dislike to.
"Sure, when you stop looking so inviting." He winked. "And when you stop melting every time I kiss you." I made some small noise of outrage, and Colin apparently picked up that this was not my
idea, because he scowled and took my arm very gently, leading me away from Jack.
"Now, see here, that is no way to speak to a lady!" he said on my behalf, momentarily endearing himself to me with yet another shining example of how a gentleman should behave.
"Ladies don't use their tongue the way she does," Jack replied, obviously prodding my rescuer's good will. Indignant at the affront to my honor, Colin stiffened, a hint of fangs flashing from his
mouth in anger as he spoke next.
"I will not hear another word against her." he said in an even tone. Taking my arm again, he started us back up the path to the mansion. This time there was more insistence to his actions, irking
me a little. There was no need for him to herd me about like this; as commendable as his words in my honor had been, I was perfectly capable of handling my own affairs. Silently I prayed for Jack
to keep his mouth shut, but as usual that prayer went unanswered. As new as Colin was to me I still did not wish to see him hurt, and my sensibility told me that any further remark from my errant
companion would incite a duel.
"Bold words from a coward." Jack said, and I felt our progress along the trail stop. Colin didn't even look back as he responded.
"Then find steel where your actions have none, and I'll show you how much of a "coward" I am." We continued on, and I pressed my lips tightly together, fighting between irritation at Jack, and
irritation at Colin. Charming as he was, there was no need to take this to such lengths!
In the mansion, Colin announced his intention, and while servants were finding sword and clearing the dance floor, I glared at Jack, anger tight in my belly. Freeing myself from Colin, I stalked
over and came within kissing distance of the ruffian.
"Stop this now! You are goading him and you know it. Why have you such a problem with Colin?" I hissed.
"Easy, Sweet, because he's interested in you." I had no time to respond appropriately before both men had swords in hand, and I was forced to back away as they faced each other. Colin's face was
set, while Jack was smirking as usual. I joined Gaston, and quickly found Delilah on my other side. Mortified that I was the cause of such a fight, I tried to make my apology, but she was having
none of it.
"Oh no no no Mateline, this is quite exciting!" She brushed it off in the same whisper I had been using, so as not to jar the pair's concentration. Her cheeks were flushed, eyes lit up like an
eager schoolgirl's. "Colin is a master swordsman, I do hope your boy gives him a sporting fight. It would be a lovely change from the usual quick defeat he serves." Crossing my fingers, though I
didn't know in whose favor I did it, I watched the men circle each other. From the way his mistress spoke Colin had a clear advantage with a blade in his hand, but if I knew Jack- and I did- he
would quickly even the field by cheating and going for a boxing match instead. No one bested Jack at bare knuckles.
Jack moved first, rocking smoothly into a thrust which Colin quickly rebounded, spinning the sword blade off easily and countering it. Thus began the intricate dance of swordplay, bringing with it
the music of clashing steel and rapid steps. True to my expectation, barely five minutes in, Jack was disarmed, sending his sword skittering across the floor. Colin leveled his blade at Jack's
throat, but instead of surrendering the other man merely chuckled.
"Jack don't you dare!" I spoke, though it was out of place. "Please, just admit you were wrong!" I pleaded, not wanting to see either of them hurt, though they would heal back to perfection with a
round of blood and a good day's rest. He ignored me, batting the blade aside and moving in with lightning fast blow to Colin's gut, doubling him over in surprise. I gasped, along with several other
onlookers, but Colin would not be fazed. Tossing his own sword aside, he went after Jack, driving a hard fist into his mouth and bloodying them both against the sharp fangs there.
"I see you'll take your whipping by doubles then!" he crowed, shortly before Jack put a hard shoulder into his stomach and drove them both to the ground. I pressed my hands to my mouth in dismay,
watching in stunned silence as Colin rolled them over, pinning Jack down by the collar of his shirt and using the other hand to batter his face with well placed blows that made me cringe with the
accuracy of their strikes, drawing the ugly crunch of breaking bones. Jack finally managed to get a grip on Colin, half tearing his shirt open in the process as he swung the man to one side,
locking their legs together. Swinging at him, he made contact in several places, each sounding with a thud of flesh meeting flesh, until Colin swung forward and actually headbutted him right in the
forehead! Jack's eyes rolled back, grasp going limp, and Colin disentangled himself, barely breathing hard. His lip was bleeding, fangs extended, and blood streaked the front of his white shirt,
torn down to his belt and exposing an indecent amount of his toned chest and belly, but other than that he was clearly unharmed.
"Oh good show Colin!" Delilah cooed, clapping her hands and going to meet her offspring. He grinned victoriously at his maker, and I then found his arm encircling my shoulders. Uncomfortable with
the show of possession, I tried to shrug away, not that he noticed as he accepted his congratulations from the others who had been watching. The decent piece of me glowed that I had such a
gentleman to fight for my honor, but another, disturbingly prominent, piece reminded me of my ties to Jack where Colin had none. My torn mind was made as my eyes darted between the victor- standing
surrounded by admirers- and poor Jack, who was just regaining consciousness. Disentagling myself from Colin's grasp, I rushed to Jack's side, dropping to my knees and cushioning his head in my lap,
stroking away strands of his dark hair and peering down in worry. Catching the eye of a servant, I snapped my fingers.
"Fetch my carriage boy- quickly now!" He scurried away with a clumsy bow, and I returned my attention to the man bleeding all over my favorite dress. "Stupid man, why didn't you listen to me?" I
murmured as his maker joined us. Martha was one of the few of our kind from the Colonies, newly migrated several years ago, bringing Jack with her.
"You know he's far too stubborn for such common sense," she told me, taking his hand in her own. "Try not to speak darling, I do believe he may have broken your jaw." Jack made some sort of mushy
sound, more blood trickling from the corner of his mouth, and she sighed, pursing her lips briefly at him, though I could see my own worry mirrored in her pretty features.
"If you will allow it, Martha, I'll tend him tonight." I murmured as I spotted the servant boy heading our direction. "After all, it was my fault this silly duel even took place."
"Are you sure, dear? I'm more than happy to drag this sorry lout home to do it myself," she replied, ever practical, but I insisted, helping him to his feet and looping one of his arms around my
neck to help him keep balance. Colin gave me a surprised look as he placed me in the crowd, and I gave him an apologetic smile before making for the doors. Not even halfway there, I was intercepted
by my "rescuer", who was now scowling.
"Let his mistress take him home." he said, and I wisely lifted a hand to secure it firmly over Jack's broken mouth in case he decided to retaliate, which I knew he would like to do if the way he
was glaring out of his good eye told me anything. "Have you forgotten the insult to your honor?"
"Thank you, Master Cromwell, but my honor is quite intact." I replied as tactfully as I could. "Alas, the same can not be said for Jack's face, and I've told his mistress that I would tend him."
Colin's mouth thinned, and a very displeased look crossed his face as he took a step towards us.
"You are embarrassing me!" he spoke in a low tone through his teeth, and I felt my lip twitch a little. "I fought-"
"An unnecessary fight!" I cut him off. "Get hold of your temper, man! Now kindly move, before you make an even bigger ass of yourself!" He looked surprised at my language, which had taken me by
surprise as well, and stepped aside. Thanking him in clipped tones, I continued on, dragging my wayward soldier along with me to the carriage awaiting us outside.
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