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The Vampire Who Loved Me
By Teresa Medeiros
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2006 Teresa Medeiros
All right reserved.
It was a lovely day to die.
Feathers of snow drifted out of the dawn sky, blanketing the park meadow in white. It wasn't difficult for Julian Kane to imagine how that pristine counterpane would look spattered with his blood.
His shout of laughter profaned the hush of the falling flakes. "What say you, Cubby, my man? Shall we sing a few rousing choruses of 'The Girl I Left Behind Me' to spur us onward to glory?" He stumbled as a contrary hillock snagged his foot, forcing him to drape his arm even more heavily over the ample shoulders of his friend. "Perhaps 'Blow the Man Down' would be more fitting."
Cuthbert listed to the right, struggling to balance both Julian and the mahogany box tucked beneath his free arm. "I'd rather not, Jules. My head is aching something fierce. I can't believe I let you talk me into this. What sort of second allows his first to stay out all night getting foxed before a duel? You should have let me put you on that ferry back to the Continent while there was still time."
Julian wagged a chiding finger at him. "Don't scold. If I'd have wanted a nag, I'd have married one."
Cuthbert gave a doleful snort. "If you'd have had the good sense to fall in love and marry some unfortunate chit, Wallingford wouldn'thave caught you nuzzling his fiancée's ear at their betrothal supper and I'd be tucked in my cozy bed right now, dreaming about opera dancers and toasting my feet on a warm brick."
"You insult me, Cubby! I never met a woman I didn't love."
"On the contrary, you love every woman you meet. There is a distinction, however subtle." Cuthbert grunted as his friend trod upon the side of his foot. He had imbibed nearly as many bottles of cheap port as Julian had, but at least he could still stand without assistance. For now.
"Shhhhhhh!" His friend's exaggerated plea for silence startled a flock of starlings from the branches of a nearby alder. Julian pointed one elegant gloved finger. "There they are now, lurking beneath that copse of firs."
From what Cuthbert could ascertain, the gentlemen waiting beside the crested town coach on the far side of the meadow were making no attempt to lurk. Miles Devonforth, the marquess of Wallingford, was pacing a shallow trench in the snow. His tautly controlled strides never varied, not even when he jerked his watch from its fob pocket to glower at its face. A trio of companions hovered behind him--two gentlemen in voluminous box coats and a dour figure garbed all in black. Probably some disreputable surgeon who dabbled in undertaking, Cuthbert thought grimly, summoned to treat the loser of this illegal contest.
Or to measure him for his coffin.
A shiver of dread coursed down his spine. He raked a sandy lock of hair out of his hazel eyes and tugged Julian to a halt, his desperation mounting. "Beg off, Jules. It's not too late. What are they going to do? Run us down in their carriage and shoot you in the back? Why, I'll even go back to the Continent with you! We'll sail the Rhine and climb the Carpathians and conquer Rome. My father will forgive me in time. He's already cut off my allowance because I bought that diamond brooch for that delicious little actress you introduced me to in Florence. What more can he do? I know my father. He'll never disinherit his only son."
Julian stifled his blathering with a reproachful look. "Bite your tongue, Cubby. Surely you're not suggesting that I prove myself to be that most despised of all creatures--a man without honor."
Beneath the sable fringe of his lashes, Julian's soulful dark eyes fixed him with a gaze rife with wounded pride and wry self-mockery. Most women found the combination irresistible. Cuthbert was equally devastated.
Who was he to deny his friend this moment? He was only the slow-witted son of a crotchety old earl, destined to inherit a title and fortune he hadn't earned and die of comfortable old age in his bed. He wouldn't even have survived his Grand Tour if Julian hadn't rescued him from the clutches of a furious creditor at their very first meeting in a moonlit alley in Florence. Julian was a war hero, knighted by the Crown after he and his regiment had defeated sixty-thousand bloodthirsty Burmese soldiers on the outskirts of Rangoon a little over a year ago. This was hardly the first time he had faced his own mortality with such effortless grace.
Cuthbert groaned his defeat.
Julian gave his shoulder a consoling pat, then sought to drag himself erect. "Unhand me, Cubby, my man. I'm determined to march forward and meet the enemy on my own two feet." Shaking his shoulder-length mane of dark hair out of his eyes, he called out, "Devonforth!"
The marquess and his somber party turned as one. Julian had just added injury to insult by addressing the nobleman by his surname instead of his title. Cuthbert fancied he could hear the hiss of the marquess's indrawn breath, but perhaps it was only the bitter January wind rushing past his frozen ears.
Struggling valiantly against the billowing snow, Julian marched forward to bisect Wallingford's path. Cuthbert hugged the wooden box to his chest, a twinge of pride piercing his anxiety as Julian paused at the crest of a knoll to throw back his broad shoulders. He might have been preparing to brave the blinding wind and torrential rains of Burma's monsoon season. No one would have guessed he'd resigned his military commission right after the battle for Rangoon and had spent the past year and a half drinking and gambling his way across Europe.
Cuthbert's pride changed to alarm as the adjustment in Julian's bearing caused him to topple slowly backward, like a felled oak. Dropping the box, Cuthbert scrambled forward to catch him beneath the armpits before he could sprawl full-length in the snow.
Excerpted from The Vampire Who Loved Me by Teresa Medeiros Copyright © 2006 by Teresa Medeiros. Excerpted by permission.
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