Lady Killer

Three years ago Miles Loredan believed he had killed the bloodthirsty fiend known as the Vampire of London. When a beautiful sleuth named Clio Thornton stumbles upon what can only be the Vampire’s latest victim, Miles is drawn into a terrifying race against the clock. Captivated at once by intelligent, lovely Clio, his first impulse is to protect her. And every clue points to the Vampire’s next victim: Clio herself.

Learn more about the Arboretti Family


Chapter 1: London. Friday, 22nd June 1590

It was no use. Clio Thornton had tried squinting, closing one eye, and glaring at the book lying open on the desk in front of her, but nothing made it look any better. The two rows of columns refused to add up to the same thing, or even anything, besides nothing. She was broke.

The squealing of door hinges interrupted her thoughts and she just had time to shove the ledger under her desk before a woman in a silver gown rushed into the room.

“Today is the day,” the woman trilled. Her steps were being dogged by a monkey in a dark blue velvet doublet with two gold medals pinned to it.

“Don’t you dare say that word to me, Clio Thornton, that word you are always saying, impossible. I am completely sure. I princess Erika have seen the portents in the bottom of the water jug.”

Princess Erika set the jug down firmly in the middle of Clio’s desk.

“Look for yourself,” she offered and Clio leaned forward. The monkey, having taken up a post on Clio’s shoulder, looked also.

“Its cracked,” Clio said. The monkey nodded.

Princess Erika, whose nation of sovereignty no one-including the Princess-seemed to know, drew herself up to her full height and demanded, “Clio, what am I going to do with you? You call that cracked? That is a sign. A great sign. A very very great sign. Today, this very morning fortune comes knocking.”

Despite the state of her finances, Clio received this news with great calm. During the two years that they had been neighbors, Princess Erika’s prophesies had become legendary throughout London, because whatever she predicted could be counted on with certainty never to occur. In her career as a seer, Princess Erika had only once made a correct prediction, and that only by accident. Her reliability was held in great esteem by many-travelers had begun to frequent her rooms to receive her solemn assurance that they would die on their next voyage, and merchants sought her recommendations on which ventures she guaranteed to fail. But Princess Erika longed, more than anything, to be a true prophet, and she continued singing out her predictions dauntless in the belief that if she just found the correct vessel for her portents, all would come right.

This morning she had returned to the water jug, which explained her enthusiasm. Once, two years earlier, Princess Erika had looked in her water jug and correctly predicted that the heavens would shower diamonds over London. But since then-barring a wild prophesy about Clio’s future which was more poetic than predictive-the jug had remained silent. Despite its past success, Clio was not optimistic about its results.

Which was why, when at that moment there was a knock on the main door of the house, she was so surprised that nearly fell out of her chair, sending the ledger thumping to the ground and disturbing the monkey who had settled in for a nap.

For an instant, all time seemed to stand still and the two women just stared at one another in euphoric disbelief. Then Snug, a former, highly unsuccessful, liberator of other’s possessions, and now the head steward-gardener-cook-tinkerer-majordomo-house-keeper-fix-anything-man of Clio’s household, showed their guest into the study.

Many people had come to Clio for help during the years she had lived in London, but none of them appeared less like a harbinger of good fortune than the dark haired boy who entered now. He looked as though he were not merely unfortunate but almost anti-fortunate, as if he had not smiled in years and had no plans to do so any time soon.

Above all, he looked hungry. Without waiting for him to speak, Clio rose and began to move quickly in the direction of the kitchen. But she had not taken three steps when she felt the boy at her side, tugging insistently on her arm. Clio remembered reading about boys that if you once showed weakness they would never respect you. Although this boy was as tall as she was he was only half her age, which Clio felt gave her the clear upper hand, and she determined not to go anywhere with him until he yielded to her superior authority and ate something. But to everything she suggested-a piece of bread, a bowl of jam, even a little meat pie (which Toast, the blue velvet clad monkey, indicated he would be willing to consume by snapping his fingers and pirouetting)-the boy simply shook his head and pulled harder at the fabric of her gown.

It did not take Clio’s years of experience with people in trouble to realize that the boy was either unable or unwilling to speak. And that unless she went wherever he wanted to drag her, he was not going to leave off tormenting her sleeve until every thread on it gave way, which would not be long given that the gown was almost as old as the boy. With a sigh she persuaded him to come into the kitchen just long enough to stuff two meat pies into a cloth bag, thrust it into the boy’s hand, and set out at a run behind him, trailed by Toast.

The crowds grew thicker as they progressed down Knightrider Street, changing from dark coated men of business to rowdier soldiers and sailors as they crossed Water Lane. Several people stopped to stare at the strange procession of boy-woman-monkey, but Clio did not notice, her mind completely taken up with wondering what this mad dash might mean. As they approached Alsatia-the quarter of London referred to by the respectable as Devil’s Keep, and by its denizens as Little Eden in honor of the number of houses of pleasure located there-she had the sudden, sickening thought that perhaps the boy was one of Captain Black’s minions, sent to waylay her. Just then the boy turned down an alley and stopped in a bare courtyard that fronted a tiny building, so small it looked like a child’s play house. He stood next to the door, trembling, as if afraid to enter.

“You keep our visitor company out here,” Clio instructed Toast, whose eyes never left the bag of meat pies in the boy’s hand. Assured that her young charge was going to be closely watched, Clio pushed the door open and stepped inside.

Her stomach rose into her throat and she had to steady herself against the cupboard next to the door as the sight and the stench hit her like an invisible punch. A hundred hands stretched out toward her, a hundred eyes stared unblinkingly at her above red-gash mouths. A severed ear lay on the table in front of her, next to a nose, a golden braid, and what looked like it could have been a face. There were only empty sockets where the eyes should have been, and a large swath of beige matter showed where the ribbon hair had yet to be sewn on.

The dolls hung in rows along three walls of the room, the hooks in the backs of their gowns making them lean forward, leering, grasping, casting crazy shadows across the planked floor, but it was not these that made her knees sway and the knot in her stomach tighten in a way that had nothing to do with the ink she had digested. Beneath a window against the far wall there was a mattress. And on the mattress, dangerously still, lay a girl.

Clio felt a spasm of sadness and horror when she registered that the girl was dead, and then stopped feeling anything at all as her mind took over. This was not the first mysterious death she had been involved in-her solution to the mystery of Ellis Wittington’s drowning two years earlier and her role in catching the notorious Butcher of Buckinghamshire that past April had earned her two the medals from the Queen that Toast now wore on his doublet-and she knew what to expect, but she never got over how clear her thoughts became in the face of tragedy. Unnatural girl, thrives on the misery of others she heard her grandmother’s disapproving voice say in her head, and pushed it aside, turning back to the task at hand.

Clio looked around the room, memorizing it. She noted the dolls, arranged by dress color, then the small statue of a saint at the foot of the bed, the warn-through boots, the bug infested straw mattress covered with a patterned piece of fabric-no doubt to brighten the room-and the bouquet of flowers on the window sill, undoubtedly put there with the same end. She noted the two sets of muddy footprints on the floor, one made by the sort of small feet Clio had always longed to have and appearing to correspond with the boots next to the mattress, the other set larger but following the same path from the door to the mattress.

Finally, when she had taken everything in and her nose had adjusted to the smell of death enough to keep from gagging, Clio crossed the floor and stood next to the body. Deep green bracelets of bruises circled the girl’s wrists, but no other wounds were immediately apparent. Bending, Clio brushed aside the plait of dark hair that covered the girl’s face.

She recoiled. Huge, glittering eyes stared out at Clio with an expression of acute terror and the dead woman’s mouth gaped open in a silent scream. No Clio could almost see the words forming the syllables. No, don’t please no, NO.

Clio tried to close her own eyes but she could not. She could not free her gaze from the lifeless one of the corpse, and as she looked, she felt a prickling fear crawl over her. It started at her feet and swam slowly up, until her entire body was tingling. She heard a scream in her ears, in her head, and felt a line of clammy perspiration form down her back. Her heart pounded as she struggled to swallow, but she could hear it over the screams.

There was a noise behind her. The cupboard! She had not looked inside the cupboard and he had been hiding there. The girl’s face, her scream, had been a warning. There was something coming for Clio. She heard a board creak. The hairs on her arms stood up. She could smell his sweat as he moved up behind her. Another board creaked.

She wrenched her eyes from the girl’s and swung around. A sound rose in her throat, then stopped. From every wall the dolls leered at her, grinning ghoulishly. But there was no one else in the room. She was alone. The door to the cupboard was closed. Her heart thudded. She had imagined the whole thing, there had not been anyone there. She was alone. Her heart slowed. Alone. She swallowed hard and turned back to the bed.

That was when she really knew terror. The hideous death-mask of moments before had vanished. The girl was laying on her back peacefully. Her eyes were closed. Her lips were pressed together, and almost curved into a smile. She was still dead, and there were still bruises on her wrists, but there was no sign of the horror Clio had seen in her face.

Clio forced herself to breathe to keep from screaming. Breathe, think, breathe. It was a trick of the light. An illusion. It was nothing, a fake-it had looked so real-there was a logical explanation for it. There was, damn it-but the fear, the fear had been real, it had been the girl’s fear, locked, somehow in the air of the airless room. She knew it, the fear of someone about to die.

It had looked so bloody real.

Clio shook her head, shaking away the feeling that she was lying to herself. She had never had a premonition in her life, she did not even believe in them, but she knew with unwavering certainty that something horrible had happened in this place. She concentrated on focusing her thoughts, on pressing the chilling vision down into the darkest corner of her mind. It had been so real. She would consider it later, rationally, logically, objectively. Right now she had work to do. She still had no idea of how the girl had died, she reminded herself, let alone who she was. Work to do. Seizing on this, Clio moved her eyes from the serene face. Behind the girl’s head, wedged in the corner between the mattress and the wall, was what appeared to be a dark blue silk kerchief, similar to one Clio had at home, its fine fabric looking startlingly out of place in the humble room. Clio reached across the dead girl’s body to finger it-

And froze.

What stunned her was not so much what she saw, but how unsurprised she felt seeing it. It was as if she had known-had known even as she mistook shadows on the girl’s face for a scream-what she would find. She blinked twice, just to be sure, but this time there could be no trick of light. Just at the point where the woman’s neck met her collarbone, on the smoothest, purest part of her neck, were two dark brown dots, slightly larger than pin pricks, but much much more deadly.

Although Clio had never seen anything like them, she knew instantly what they meant. The Vampire of London was back.