Before someone dies, their blood races, pounding through their veins, filled with everything that makes them human—adrenaline, fear, the desire to live. It’s a sound like no other, a sound I used to listen for eagerly, in anticipation of the kill. But the pounding that echoed in my ears now wasn’t caused by a human heart. It lacked that frantic sensation that made blood so irresistible. It was mine … and my brother’s.
We had both been at the very edge of death, again, and were now fleeing back to London.
The London I’d seen was a city of deceit and destruction, where innocent lives were lost, and blood ran through the streets like water. And now, Damon and I were headed there to stop it. I only hoped the price wouldn’t be too high.
Mere hours earlier, I had been attacked and left for dead by Samuel, a truly cunning and vindictive vampire. Damon had saved me. It had seemed like a miracle when my brother burst into the cottage and dragged me to safety just before the entire structure burst into flames.
But I stopped believing in miracles a long time ago. What it had been was luck. And now I needed luck on my side more than ever. Relying on instinct wasn’t enough. My instincts had failed me countless times, always leading to someone’s death. And if they failed me again, I knew that the ensuing death would be my own. All I could do was throw myself into the battle against evil and hope that my luck hadn’t run out.
The train whistle pierced the silence of the carriage, startling me out of my reverie. I sat up, suddenly alert. We were in a first-class cabin, surrounded by every comfort imaginable. A plate of untouched sandwiches sat on the table between two plush red velvet benches, and a pile of newspapers was stacked beside them. Outside the window, the scenery rolled by, lush and full of life, the fields occasionally dotted with herds of cattle. It was hard to reconcile the calm and beauty of my surroundings with the horror and confusion in my mind.
Cora sat across from me, a small, leather-bound Bible lying open in her lap. She stared out the window, unblinking, as if the world outside could offer her the answers I couldn’t. Cora, an innocent human girl wrapped up in the vampire world through no fault of her own, had just witnessed her sister turn into one of the bloodthirsty demons she feared.
Just one week ago, my life was as pleasant—I would hesitate to say as good—as I could have hoped. After all, being at the mercy of my cravings tempered simple pleasures like golden-hued sunsets and Sunday night dinners. But my life was peaceful. And, after years of running from my enemies and my own guilt, peace was perfection.
A week ago, I’d been employed at Abbott Manor where, as the groundskeeper, my biggest concern was whether the pasture fence needed repairing.
A week ago, I’d been sitting in a comfortable red-velvet chair in the Abbotts’ sitting room, a glass of brandy on the table next to me and a book of Shakespeare in my lap. Even though I’d have to feed on the blood of a squirrel or sparrow to be satiated, I was enjoying the scent of a roast being prepared by the family’s housekeeper, Mrs. Duckworth.
A week ago, I’d watched as Oliver Abbott ran indoors, trailed by his older brother, Luke. They were both filthy from playing in the forest. But instead of scolding them, their mother, Gertrude, had leaned down and picked up one of the orange maple leaves they’d traipsed in with them.
“Beautiful! Isn’t fall enchanting?” Gertrude had exclaimed in delight, examining the leaf as if it were a precious jewel.
My heart twisted. Now, because of Samuel, Oliver’s little body was buried under the leaves, drained of blood. Gertrude and the rest of the Abbott family—their father, George, Luke, and the youngest, Emma—had been spared, but I could only imagine the terror in which they now lived. Samuel had compelled them to believe I had been the one to kidnap and kill Oliver. It was his attempt to even a score I wasn’t aware existed—I still wasn’t sure how it came to be.
I squeezed my eyes shut. Damon had just left the carriage, most likely feeding on a fellow passenger. Ordinarily, I didn’t like my brother’s insistence on feeding on humans. But now, I was thankful for the quiet. We’d fled the farm several hours before and I was only just beginning to relax. My shoulders dropped and my heart had stopped hammering against my rib cage. For now, we were safe. But I knew London would be a different story.
I glanced at the Bible, still open on Cora’s lap. It had been well read by someone; the cover was frayed and the pages were dotted with smudges. But there was nothing in the Bible that could help her—or any of us in this car of the damned.
In the distance, I heard footsteps coming down the aisle. My heart quickened. I sat up, ready to defend myself against whoever came around the corner: Samuel, Henry, some other vampire minion I had yet to encounter. I could feel Cora tense beside me, her eyes growing wide with fear. A hand reached around to pull the curtain of the carriage open. I recognized the ornate lapis lazuli ring that matched my own, and breathed a sigh of relief. It was Damon returning, his eyes wild and bloodshot.
“Look at this!” he sputtered, waving a newspaper in front of my face.
I took the paper from his hand and read the headline: JACK THE RIPPER IDENTIFIED BY EYEWITNESS. Below the block letters was an illustration of Damon. I quickly scanned the first few lines: Society man discovered to be unholy killer. Man about town Damon DeSangue has been positively identified in relation to the Miller’s Court murder last week.
The train lurched toward London, the city that would now believe Damon was Jack the Ripper. We were like mice on our way into a snake pit.