With the upcoming release of the third book in my vampire mystery trilogy, The Pharaoh's Mistress, I'll be releasing some sneak peek chapters. Check out Chapter Two below. You can read Chapter One here.
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The Pharaoh's Mistress
I dream of an ancient time. A place in the mountains. A village nestled in a forest of cedars. I’m not myself but someone else entirely – a young girl with long black hair my mother must untangle every morning with a bone comb. It is not morning now, but night time. Lamps burn with a pungent oil that sends dark tendrils through the room. Not a true room, but a space dull and dank. We are in a pavilion, a large tent made from aged leather and coloured like dried blood. Perhaps a dozen people sit in the gloom upon goat-wool cushions and wolf furs.
A small fire burns in the centre beneath a narrow smoke hole. A wizened woman stoops over the flames and stirs the contents of the cooking pot. She wears silver loops on her arms and in her ears, and they tinkle with her movements.
The woman turns and looks at me as she approaches. She grips something that glimmers in the faint light. I shift my gaze from her wrinkled face to her weathered hands and realise to my horror she holds a blade.
A strong hand grips my shoulder and I turn to look upon a man’s solemn face. His dark skin and kohl-lined eyes are strange yet familiar. His hair is long, and he wears a silver loop in his ear. Father.
“You must be brave, daughter.”
I turn back to the old woman who now crouches over me like a crow at a corpse and reaches for my arm. My heart pounds its human rhythm of fear. But the crone’s grip is strong, and the sensitive skin of my forearm soon burns with ice-fire as the blade cuts deep. I open my mouth to scream but my father’s whispers halt my panic; the scream dies in my throat and I let go a whimper in its stead.
The woman holds my bleeding arm over a wooden bowl that fills with the red, hot blood of my small body. I watch it pool in the bowl and marvel at the bright crimson of it, even in the gloom the colour is a miracle. And some other force awakens within me. Hunger.
“Resist, little one,” the crone hisses.
Her eyes are black, and I want to fall into them. I am falling. Speeding down, down, down…
* * *
My eyes snap open and I sit up. It takes a moment to recall where I am – a guesthouse in Alexandria, Egypt – in a large built-in robe with enough space to shelter me while I sleep. Then I recall what I am. Not a little girl, not even a woman now. The dream drifts away and I frown, wondering why I thought I was a child. I force in a breath, though the stale air of the wardrobe provides little comfort. These images I have while sleeping haunt me in flickering glimpses every day. Ever since Greece.
I step from the robe and into the room. Michael and I checked into this guesthouse two nights ago. The walls are whitewashed, the furniture plain. Michael has placed a towel over the mirror, and once again I find his kindness touching. I reach for the thread of silver that lies on the side-table. The silver chain burns the skin on my palm as I attempt to hold to the images from my sleep. Fleeting impressions of tall cedars and a red tent form a momentary picture, and a father who loves his child… but they slip away like smoke from a fire, disappearing into the air.
I shake my head to dispel the grogginess – a feeling I’ve not experienced since I was human when I would wake from dream-filled sleep every morning. But vampires don’t dream.
I must tell Michael.
I close my eyes and clench the silver thread hard. When I place it around my neck, it burns my chest. At least it provides a distraction. Even thinking his name awakens that urge within me. I must be careful.
Straightening my clothes – a black shirt and jeans – I detect the faint stench of death. But there is nothing else. Our belongings were taken from us by Amynta when she imprisoned us in her castle, and we’ve been on the run since, with no time to… I shake my head; we’ve already lingered in this guesthouse too long.
From the small living area, the ceaseless hum of traffic floats through the open window, the red Egyptian sky gloriously wicked. I used to love the sunset, but now it is a cruel reminder of what I have become, and the dusk colours make me think of blood. My eyes find Michael the way a hawk finds its prey. He sits on the sofa, the lamplight streaming over his hair making it glimmer in a halo of gold. From the shadow of the door, I study his angled jaw, the curl of his lips. He would be at home in a Renaissance painting.
The youth is with him – the guesthouse porter. He is that peculiar age, not quite an adult, and the angles of his young face shimmer between the promise of the man he will be, and the boy he is leaving behind. Hany is his name, and I’ve spotted him a handful of times when he delivers Michael’s nightly meal. A tray of hot food rests on the table, and I effortlessly hear the words Michael speaks to the youth – instructions for purchasing new clothes. He hands the boy a small fold of notes.
I step from the shadows. “Aren’t we leaving?”
Michael’s blue eyes connect with mine causing the familiar spark to reignite between us. His emotions hit me – a turmoil of desire and the self-control that keeps it in check. Michael flicks his gaze back to the boy and tells him he may leave.
I watch Hany go. The scent of his sweet young blood makes my mouth water.
“Perhaps you ought to have a vodka?” Michael’s voice is soothing with its calm confessional hum. He was a priest once. He would have been a good one too. A rare thing indeed.
“It’s been a few days now since you’ve… well…” He takes his glasses off to clean them. An action to avoid eye contact with me, something he does increasingly.
“Since I’ve fed you mean?” I snap the words. It’s been almost a week since we fled Amynta’s clutches in Greece, when I drained one of her minions until he was blue. The hunger is returning, but I have not lost control. Not yet.
“Yes. So would you like some?”
“Would you like some?”
He stares at me a moment before getting to his feet and the glow of gold in his hair from the lamp is extinguished like a vanquished flame. “I’ll have a glass of red with dinner.”
He sits at the table and lifts the silver warmer. The aroma of charred meat with Middle-Eastern spices fills the room. Cinnamon and other spices foul the air and I turn from the stench and step to the minibar. It’s been restocked since last night. My instincts are resisting still, but Michael is right, my hunger will awaken with time. The ancient texts we’ve read have told us this, and my own limited experience has validated it. A vampire such as I can last a week, perhaps two, without needing to feed, but I’ve never really tested the theory. In Paris, I fed on pigs’ blood. Every day I would visit Jardin de Lotus, the Chinese restaurant where Liu or Shen would provide me with sustenance, but nothing sates the hunger like human blood. Though the crippling guilt it brings is hard to bear. My last victim was different. He deserved exactly what he got. I open the small bottle of vodka and drink its contents in one gulp.
“Perhaps I should get you a large bottle,” Michael says after swallowing a mouthful of food. “I’ll do that on my way back.”
“You’re going out?”
He sips his wine and nods. “Back to the library. Their section on the occult is extensive to say the least. And to think the greatest library the world has ever seen once stood in this very city. I could spend days, weeks even—”
“We don’t have days.” I chuck the empty vodka bottle in the bin. “Amynta comes for us. I feel her.”
Michael frowns. “You do?”
“I feel something. Like a scent, or a push. No, more like a pull. It must be her. She is coming, I know it.”
Michael sips his wine once more. “Perhaps it’s mutual.”
“In her castle, she told me she could sniff out a vampire. Perhaps the vampire can sniff her out too.” He shakes his head. “I don’t know. All this lore, it grows confusing.”
“There’s something else I must tell you.”
“I’ve been dreaming.”
Michael’s eyebrows rise. “Like human dreams?”
Michael frowns once more as he adjusts his glasses. “What were they about?”
I grab a wine glass from the cupboard and pour some of Michael’s red. The crimson liquid reminds me of something. Something from the dream, I’m sure of it. Blood? A young girl’s blood? “I… I find it difficult to recall. The dreams vanish the moment I wake.”
“That is like a human dream.”
I swallow a mouthful of wine and press my lips together as a memory of pain in my forearm flashes along my skin.
“I just can’t put the pieces together.”
“The books… there’s one that has some detail on sleep.”
“The Foliss.” I had only to read a passage once for it to lodge in my memory. “Well, both it and the one on vampiric infestation, they say the same thing about sleep. The vampire doesn’t truly sleep. It’s more like a stasis, like death.”
Michael shifts on his chair and pats the hair that sticks up at the back of his head. He’s uncomfortable, but he does a good job of pretending to be calm. He’s curious too. He isn’t entirely normal himself. He’s seen things so frightening most people would die from shock. Still, he’s never dealt with vampires. Not before me.
“You’re sure it was a dream?” he asks.
“I believe you.”
“I know.” I can’t exactly read Michael’s thoughts but the impressions they make are clear enough, as are his emotions. His desire still spikes every time he looks at me, but he keeps it under control. Can I do the same?
“Perhaps Amynta is trying to contact you through your sleep.”
“Not very effective if I can’t remember the message.”
“Perhaps it’s all she has. Or it could be Brother Gerold.”
The monk’s name brings a scowl. He was the first to put me in silver, and while I thanked him at the time, I’ve since grown rather weary of strangers attempting to imprison me.
“Brother Gerold had certain… talents that could potentially seed such a vision in a person’s mind.”
I scoff. “You make him sound like a sorcerer or something.”
Michael looks away, his cheeks blushing. “No, not sorcerer. He does have some skill nonetheless.”
“I’ll not go back to him.”
“I wasn’t suggesting you do. I was simply postulating—”
“I’ve told you, we must move further east.”
Michael snaps his attention to me. “You keep saying that. Why?”
I take another sip of wine. “I don’t know. It is a feeling, that is all.”
“A strong feeling. Like my body is being pulled by some strange force. I can’t explain it. All I know is I must go further into the desert.”
“Where? Cairo, or further inland?”
I consider his question and search for an answer. But the truth is I’ve no notion of where I must go. I only know we have not yet arrived at the right destination. The place, wherever it is, awaits me.
“Emma—” the way he says my name, so softly, always makes part of me melt away. But the sharp ring of his phone interrupts the pleasant feeling.
“Georgette?” Michael says into the phone. “What?” A strong sense of panic overrides all other emotions. I extend my hearing, hardly thinking to do so.
Georgette’s voice is quick and panicked. “I’ve been attacked—”
I freeze as anger and urgency combine to make me want to smash the glass in my hand against the wall. “Who?” I sneer, and Michael shakes his head slowly as he tells Georgette to calm down.
“Shleck?” His eyes widen, and I jolt my chin up. Schleck was the detective in charge of the investigation into my so-called disappearance.
“She knows,” Georgette says. “I am coming to meet you, Michael. I’ll be in Cairo in two days.”
“Georgette, it’s too dangerous.”
“I am already in danger, Michael. Perhaps more so here in Paris than anywhere else. No, I will come. I’ll contact you when I arrive. Goodbye, Michael.”
“Georgette! Stay safe.”