So a few days ago, I announced that Ivory Terrors is now finished and will be published on the 1st May. As a little celebration, I’ve posted the first chapter (not including the prolgoue, which I’ll explain more about in a few days time) below. Enjoy!
“Where are we actually going? I think I’ve proved I’m on your side, whatever side that is. You must be able to trust me now.”
“Richard will explain everything when we arrive. Until then, it’s not my place to tell you.”
“I still can’t believe you’re the inside man. I’d have guessed almost anyone else. I suppose you can be a little bit renegade at times, but you’ve always seemed so dedicated to the Cavalier cause.”
Harriet listened groggily to the voices around her. George’s aristocratic drawl and her mother’s clipped voice were unmistakable, though she struggled to understand what the latter had to do with George’s kidnap attempt. The other voice reminded her of her uncle’s broad Yorkshire tones, but that would make no sense at all.
She tried to force herself into full wakefulness, but couldn’t quite make her eyes open.
“She’s waking up,” her mother said, sounding genuinely alarmed. “Put her back under.”
George sighed theatrically. “Is that really necessary? Couldn’t we just let her come to and explain things?”
“Explain what? I don’t have a clue what we’re doing, never mind being able to explain it to my daughter. Let’s get to safety, and then we can talk.”
Harriet managed to open her eyes for a split second, long enough to tell that she lay in a narrow bed, with George leaning over her. She tried to speak, but George put his finger to her lip then touched his forehead to hers. A blast of mesmerism radiated through her and she blacked out again.
“How long do you think it will be until Augustine realises we’re gone?” In the time that Harriet had been asleep, her mother’s tone had become more panicky.
“From the alarms at the Party, I think he realised before we even made it to Richard’s jet. But don’t worry about that. Another hour and we’ll be at his stronghold, and even Augustine can’t reach us there.” Despite his reassuring words, George sounded faintly hysterical.
Harriet tried to think logically about the situation. She’d been mesmerised into attending the Summer Party against her will. Nick had been turned and had tried to drain her, but she’d turned his mesmerism back on him. Then Rupert had forced her to wake Nick up by threatening Catherine and Katie, at which point, he’d killed Julia.
Beyond that, things got hazier. George had lured her into the woods, and offered her revenge on both the Cavaliers and the Roundheads. She’d thought she could resist him, but when he kissed her, she’d let her guard down, and then he’d mentally knocked her out.
She had no idea what George was planning or where he was taking her. She should have known better than to trust him even for a moment. But why was her mother involved? And who was the third person? She’d never heard a vampire speak like him before.
“Can’t you wake her up?” the stranger asked. “I’ve waited for twenty years to speak to my daughter. I can’t say I like you treating her like this.”
Even with her eyes closed, she could sense George leaning over her again. “She’s almost woken up naturally. It’s a little alarming. She’s becoming more and more resistant to mind control. Frankly it’s exhausting to keep her under.”
“One more blast,” her mother said. “That should last until we arrive. And darling, you’ll be able to speak to her soon. Think how much nicer it will be to have that moment on a balcony over a river, safe and plotting, rather than on this old jet, panicking and fleeing.”
Harriet understood the individual words, but the context barely made sense. His daughter? Augustine had claimed to be her father, but in her view, she only had one dad, and he’d been dead for years. Yet in her head, he always spoke like the stranger.
Once more she tried to force her eyes open, desperate to see whether the stranger looked like the man pictured in her locket.
“I’m sorry,” George whispered, touching his forehead to hers. “Just one more time, I promise.”
“What do you know about this?” Augustine said.
On the surface, the leader of the Cavaliers seemed to be as poised as ever, but Tom could sense the interior breakdown taking place under his calm facade.
Rupert sprawled in a chair, pinned there not by ropes but by the sheer force of Augustine’s will.
“Nothing. Of course I knew nothing, my Lord,” Rupert said, speaking too fast, too loud. “I’m one of your most loyal servants. And I’m the last person George would confide in.”
Augustine paused for a moment before replying. “You have a point, I suppose. But Adelaide was always close to you. Think carefully. Did she say anything that suggested she was planning to flee?”
“No my Lord, I swear. Whenever I spoke to her, she seemed more in love with you than ever. I refuse to believe she can have gone willingly. George must have taken her too.”
Augustine took a step back, and allowed Rupert to stand. “I’ve locked down the clearing,” he announced. “So don’t anyone think about trying to leave. My wife is gone, my stepdaughter is gone, my prisoner is gone, and one of my most powerful lieutenants has disappeared. I will get to the bottom of this.”
Caroline’s turn in the chair came next. One moment, she was clinging to Ben for dear life. The next minute, she sat in the hot seat. Vampires could only be mesmerised by their makers, but in this, as in so many things, the rules clearly didn’t apply to Augustine.
Caroline, usually always so self-assured, started to cry before Augustine even began his interrogation.
“I don’t know what happened,” she said immediately. “Harriet hasn’t spoken to me in weeks. I’ve had the odd telephone call with Adelaide, when she felt I needed extra support, but not the sort of conversation where she would confide in me. And as for George…”
“As for George, you seem to have been spending rather a lot of time with him,” Augustine said. “Enough time that I thought you’d have been top of his confessional list.”
“Well he didn’t tell me he planned to abandon me and run off with Harriet,” Caroline said, still sobbing. “It’s not exactly the best sort of pillow talk. Everyone always said not to trust him, but I thought that I was different. I’m a vampire after all. I’m not one of his interchangeable human girls. But once again, he seems to have chosen her.”
“We don’t know what he’s chosen,” Augustine snapped. “I don’t think this is an elopement. Young lovers don’t generally invite the mother-in-law along.”
With a shrug, he released Caroline and she fell into Ben’s arms. Ben’s willingness to support Caroline after her weeks of absence made Tom smile even through his pain. In his experience, a crisis tended to reunite a couple like nothing else could.
“Tom Flyte, I need to speak to you next.”
The wood, with all its torches and fairy-lights, blurred for a moment, and then Tom found himself in the chair. Augustine’s powers never failed to astonish him.
“Do you know anything about this?” Far from tiring him, each interrogation seemed to increase the force of Augustine’s power.
“How can you even suggest that I have anything to do with this?” Tom said. “I would never be that disloyal. And how can you think for a moment that I would support any plan that involved Harriet running away with George? He’s a total psychopath. He doesn’t care about her, he doesn’t care about anyone. Let me help. I swear that I’m on your side. I love Harriet. I want to save her from this.”
Augustine gave him an appraising look. “I believe you. Perhaps you alone understand some of my pain. Tell me – do you think my Adelaide has gone freely?”
Tom looked him in the eye. “No more than my Harriet. I blame George for all of this.”
Augustine nodded. “I’m letting down the defences. You can all leave, and I’d suggest you do so quickly, before the sun comes up. Rupert, Tristan, Tom, you’re coming back to London with me. We have plans to make.”
Katie dragged her shaking body out of bed. She wanted to sleep for a hundred years, but she had to get up and face the day. She resisted the temptation to run out onto the street, screaming about what she’d seen. The brain that had always plotted for the most prestigious internships and eligible men knew that that would be counterproductive. Go to the police with her hair wild, her make-up undone and her breath smelling of alcohol, and her story would sound like the ramblings of a madwoman. But have a shower, brush her teeth, put on her best interview suit and a subtle string of pearls, and maybe someone would listen.
She forced herself through the old familiar routine of washing and preening, trying to get her story straight in a head that just wanted to break down. She wouldn’t use the term vampires, she wouldn’t. No one would buy that.
She tried to think of the most rational way to put it. She’d been at a party. Some of the guests had bitten some of the others. Some of them had died. She’d been bitten herself, but she’d survived. Julia Jenkinson had died. Sofia Calvinos. She wasn’t sure of the other names.
She downed a strong black coffee that did nothing to quell the tremors that had overtaken her, and then strode out of the door before she could change her mind. In the quad, she hesitated. It would be better if she had someone who could collaborate her story, but who could she ask? Caroline had stood there watching it all. Harriet had all but ordered Julia’s death. And her darling William, the nicest man she’d ever met, had plunged his teeth into her neck. No. She had to do this alone.
The twenty minute walk to the police station seemed to take hours. Aside from the mental trauma, the blood loss had left her physically weak. Once she’d dealt with the police, she might just have to visit the hospital.
When she finally made it, the young desk sergeant gave her a friendly welcome. Between her pretty face, her imposing voice and her obvious wealth, Katie generally expected people to treat her with that sort of respect, but today, his politeness hugely relieved her.
“How can I help you?” he asked.
“I’ve been attacked. At least four people have been murdered. Probably more.”
The sergeant’s mouth fell open. He’d clearly been expecting her to report a stolen purse.
“I think you’d better come through to the back and sit down.”
Katie nodded and followed him in silence, still debating how to make her story sound sane. Someone fixed her a cup of tea, and then the man from the desk left. He returned a few minutes later with his superior in tow.
“So you say you want to report four murders?” the senior officer asked, staring at her through narrowed eyes as though she were the criminal.
“Have you ever heard of the Cavaliers? They’re a dining society. One of them is or was my boyfriend. I went to their party. For a while, it was lots of fun, but then they started their initiation ceremony. I don’t quite know how to explain this, but basically, they bit people. They bit the boys they’d chosen first, but they were okay. All the girls seemed totally out of it. At times, so was I, but for some reason I kept snapping back to consciousness. Then when the boys woke up, they bit us. And most of the girls there died.”
The two police officers looked at each other. “I think I’d better get the Chief Constable,” the more senior one said. “Stay here with her.”
Katie desperately tried to engage the young sergeant in conversation, but he wouldn’t look at her. After a few minutes, the other officer returned, accompanied by a severe middle-aged man, who waved the other two out.
“Tell me,” he said, when he and Katie were alone. “What do you think happened last night?”
“I suppose they were crazy,” she said awkwardly. “I’d heard weird stories about the Cavaliers, but I put it all down to bravado. Turns out they really are psychopaths.”
The Chief Inspector laughed. “No need to be so coy, my dear. Tell me what you really think happened. Say the word you’ve been so carefully avoiding.”
His calm acceptance blindsided her, but she forced herself to continue. “Fine. They’re vampires. The Cavaliers are a society of murderous vampires. Now what are you going to do about it?”
The Chief Inspector smiled, but his eyes remained blank. “I’m not going to do anything about it. I’ll leave that to the special team at Scotland Yard. Unfortunately they won’t be available until nightfall, and until then, I’m going to have to take you to the cells.”
Josh stared at the news website, barely able to comprehend the words his eyes were seeing.
“A 21-year old girl died today in tragic circumstances.”
The words swam on the page. His eyes couldn’t focus on anything but the picture of Julia the BBC had selected to accompany the news story. He recognised it as one that he’d taken the previous summer at the ball. They must have copied it from Facebook. She looked beautiful and fragile in equal measure.
He wanted to close the page and pretend that none of this was happening. Instead, he clicked on the video news story.
“Julia Jenkinson, a popular student at Oxford University, was the victim of a stabbing, after stepping in to save a child from an attempted kidnapping. A forty year old man is helping the police with their inquiries.”
The presenter’s solemn words drifted over him. He reached into the top drawer of his desk and drew out a letter. When he’d found it in his pigeonhole a few days earlier, he’d considered it as a cry for help from a girl who seriously needed the support he so desperately wanted to give her. Now, it seemed all too prescient.
“I’m writing this in a brief moment of clarity. I don’t believe I’ll survive the Cavaliers’ party. If I die, don’t believe their lies about my suicide or accident. The society will have killed me, just like Stephanie and Alice and so many other girls.”
He forced his attention back to the screen. A striking middle-aged woman with red hair, easily identifiable as Julia’s mother even without the caption underneath, tried her best to answer an interviewer’s questions through her tears.
“I can’t believe this has happened,” she sobbed, echoing Josh’s thoughts exactly. “My beautiful, clever daughter.”
“It must at least be a comfort to you that she died saving someone else,” the newscaster said.
Julia’s mother nodded. “It helps a little. That sums my darling girl up. Always helping others.”
The camera diplomatically panned away.
“Harriet told me the truth, and the more I see of them, the more I believe the unbelievable – they are vampires. If I don’t make it back from the party, go to her. Make her explain. Make her help. Avenge me.”
“I’m so grateful to her,” an equally tearful woman said, cuddling a small boy to her. “She saved my little boy from God knows what. I’ll bring him up to remember her. I hope the man who did this rots in prison.”
Josh looked back and forth between the letter and the computer screen, unsure what to believe. The news report sounded a thousand times more likely than a gang of vampires. And yet, what were the chances of Julia predicting that she’d be murdered on a certain night and then dying in an unrelated incident? Besides, her strange behaviour over the last few weeks took some explaining.
“I’m sorry I’ve been so distant, scathing even. Rupert does something to my mind, I can tell. Most of the time, he’s all I can think about. I feel as though I love him more than I thought possible, and I utterly detest you. But then there are nights like tonight, when I haven’t seen him for a few days and he’s out of town, when my real feelings come back. I want to come to you tonight, but I don’t dare. So I’m sending this letter before I change my mind.”
The news report went on and on, almost as if someone wanted to ensure no one had any questions in their mind about how Julia had died.
Rupert appeared on the screen and Josh looked away. At best, Rupert had stolen Julia from him, at worst he’d done something terrible to her mind and probably been responsible for her death. He’d never wanted to hit someone so badly. Rupert looked artfully distressed, his stupid posh face arranged into a tragic frown. His stuck-up voice stumbled over some words as though he could barely control his distress.
Josh had hoped that the filming was live, so he could see Rupert standing in the morning’s bright sunlight, and put aside the ridiculous idea of him being a vampire. There was no such luck. The news crew had clearly filmed his segment last night, soon after Julia’s death.
“It was terrible,” he said to the obviously enthralled female interviewer. “We hadn’t spent many weeks together, but I really loved Julia. I thought we’d have years to get to know each other better. All I can think of are the things I should have said to her and whether I could have done anything to save her from that madman. ” He wiped away a tear. “I’m sorry. I can’t go on.”
Josh had seen enough. He slammed down the lid of his laptop before he put a fist through it. He read the last line of the letter for the hundredth time.
“Please believe that I still love you. I’m sorry I’ve put myself in so much danger and I’m sorry I made you help. You’re the most wonderful man I’ve ever met. If they kill me, don’t let it be in vain.”
Since he’d first heard the news, Josh had been too shocked to cry, but now the tears fell freely. He wanted to crawl into bed and never get back up, but that would be the ultimate betrayal. He’d do what Julia had wanted. He’d speak to Harriet, make her tell him the truth, and then get revenge.