CRIMSON HOUSE BOOKS
BY SUSANNA SHORE
PARANORMAL AND CONTEPORARY ROMANCES, COSY MYSTERIES
Moonlight, Magic and Mistletoes. A Two-Natured London Christmas Special
Escape on a Moonless Night
Artois, northern France, 1660
Cheer up, Father. This is your marriage negotiation.
The voice of his son Gabriel speaking inside his mind startled Alexander Hamilton, Lord Foley, out of the annoyed contemplation of the fine Gobelin that was hanging on the wall behind their host, Aubert Desroches, Vicomte du Bernaville. The wide tapestry was sorely needed, as the ancient castle the vicomte insisted on living in was built for defence, not for comfort. The thick sandstone walls had stored the cold of the winter and were now releasing it into the living quarters, making everyone miserable.
One would think the vicomte would have redone at least part of his castle with comfort in mind. Alexander himself had only recently torn down the stone edifice his father had built in the thirteenth century and constructed a large and comfortable manor in the style favouring the late Queen Elisabeth in its place.
Well, recently if one considered seventy years to be a short stretch. Alexander, with centuries behind him, did. Though had he known the human population of England would succumb to Civil War soon after it was built, bringing chaos near to his manor too, he might have postponed the change.
Not that humans could ever penetrate the defences around the Crimson Manor.
But it was 1660 now, the king of England was back on his throne, and Spain had ceded this part of northern France back to the French. For once, humans weren’t at war with each other. They were, however, preparing for a war against the two-natured. And they were doing it here, in the region previously governed by Spain, and therefore a recent subject to the Inquisition. When the Catholic Church had run out of humans to persecute, they had turned to the two-natured. That the hostilities of the past century hadn’t broken out as an all-out war yet was a wonder. Alexander would do everything in his power to keep the war at bay.
It might not be enough.
That was what had brought Alexander and Gabriel to northern France in the middle of one of the bitterest winters he had witnessed in years. Had he known he would be spending it in a castle this … spartan … he would have stayed home and searched for a bride there. But his marriage wasn’t just about him. He needed allies on the continent. He needed warriors to fight in the upcoming war, to defend the vampires and other two-natured against humans, just like the Crimson Circle had done for centuries.
I’m not sure I want to go through with this anymore, he answered to his son mind to mind, his face as inscrutable as ever. He sounded like a grumpy child even to himself, as opposed to an old vampire lord—a powerful vampire lord, the leader of the Crimson Circle and its fierce vampire warriors.
We’ve been through this before. You need a son.
I have a son. You.
And a wonderful son he was too, physically strong and growing constantly stronger in Might. He would eventually surpass his father.
And I have Marcus too.
The war is about to break. I’m not about to sit aside, and I doubt Marcus will either. If something were to happen to us, you’d have no heirs.
I’ll marry someone then, should that ill fate befall me.
As if you’d stay out of this war.
Fine, you marry and provide me with a strong grandson.
He could practically feel his son shudder in disgust in his mind, though nothing showed of it outwardly. Gabriel’s whole attention was on the marriage negotiations, as it should be. He was his father’s matchmaker after all. The negotiations had reached the part about provisions to his wife in case of his death. Always a cheerful thought. But with the war coming, it was a possibility, as Gabriel had pointed out—repeatedly for the past decade or so.
Alexander didn’t want to marry again, and not like this, for power, wealth and a strong child. He had done that twice already, first in his youth with a human woman when his promise hadn’t been fulfilled yet, his father fearful that he wouldn’t make the transition to a vampire. The marriage had produced five children that had lived to adulthood, none of whom had carried the promise, to his profound disappointment. After his fulfilment, it had been his sad lot to watch his children and their children grow old and die.
It wasn’t until Marcus, a great grandson a few times over, was born that his line produced a vampire—and a strong vampire at that, equal to Gabriel. By then he had married Gabriel’s mother, a good woman with a strong vampire lineage. But he had barely got to know her before she died giving birth to their son.
He hadn’t despaired. His son had the promise, and in time became a strong warrior and a powerful vampire. Now, at 150, Gabriel was a worthy heir to the Crimson Circle.
Strong and stubborn, Gabriel wouldn’t marry just to please his father. And he was right. One of them had to produce sons, and since Alexander held the more powerful station, the duty was his.
If only Marcus’s mate and child had survived the birth, he wouldn’t have to do this.
Would it have been too much to ask that I be allowed to find a woman I like this time? Maybe a true mating even, a bond created by our riders?
You’re centuries old and it hasn’t happened yet. We can’t wait for such an unlikely occasion.
So Alexander remained at the table in the cold stone room, wasting precious Might energy to keep warm as the negotiations droned on. If he hadn’t been so aggravated, he would have been impressed with how well his son handled everything. Gabriel came across as reserved; a fierce warrior with a starkly beautiful face, a man of action, not words, but his mind was sharp and shrewd.
I hope to gods the daughter doesn’t resemble her father, Alexander observed, almost startling a laugh out of his son.
You’re pretty enough to compensate any sort of gargoyle. Look how I turned out, and Marcus.
Your mother was a perfectly handsome woman.
But Gabriel was right. His offspring tended to resemble him greatly. Just not where it mattered—having promise to make them strong vampires.
“And how many men can you provide for us?” Gabriel asked just then, the only issue that truly mattered in these negotiations.
The matchmaker for the vicomte gave a regretful shrug. “Not many, I’m afraid. We’re surrounded by human lords. Who would defend us if we gave our best men away?”
“We would,” Alexander said, speaking for the first time during the negotiations, his deep voice echoing in the stone hall. “That’s what we’re here for: your daughter for our protection.”
“It’s not that simple.”
Alexander felt his temper rise, and contemplated letting it show in Might, the energy that surrounded the living, the source of everything that made the two-natured special. None of the vampires here were his equals in power, so it might work for his advantage to show how strong he really was.
But he refrained. The insult of it would wipe away the day’s goodwill.
“Make it that simple.”
His tone made it clear that he would not give quarter in this matter. If a broodmare was all he needed, he could have found one closer to home. But he had travelled to France for allies, and men. When war broke out, it would break here.
A new round of negotiations ensued, exhausting for both the flesh and the spirit. By suppertime, Alexander was ready to retire to his room and skip the formalities, but their host had invited people over for a banquet in his honour. He had to attend. And it wasn’t like he was tired; he was simply fed-up with the company.
The Great Hall was already filled with people sitting in two long tables that ran the length of the high-ceilinged stone room. Tapestries and other heavy cloths covered as much of the walls as possible, but they couldn’t keep out the cold the walls emitted. Only one fireplace warmed the room, and it was behind the dais on which the vicomte led Gabriel and Alexander. The vampires didn’t really need that much warmth, but it conserved their Might reserves when they didn’t have to warm themselves with magic. However, most of the guests had covered themselves with layers of fine furs. Curious, he scanned them and cursed to himself.
There are humans among these people.
That’s bold, considering we’re practically at war with them. What’s going on?
I don’t know, but you’d better be prepared for trouble.
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