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By Georgia Evans
KENSINGTON BOOKSCopyright © 2009 Rosemary Laurey
All right reserved.
Chapter OneGuildford, November 1940
"Something the matter?" Paul Schmidt asked Weiss, looking across his unheated sitting room.
Something the matter? Hans Weiss wanted to spit. He'd say there was. Their masters in Germany were baying for results and blood-he gave a twisted smile at that last thought-and here he was, facing the hardest assignment they'd been given, with the last and feeblest member of their cohort as his only help.
The nagging knowledge that someone or something in the area had the power to annihilate Vampires didn't add anything but another layer of anxiety to his prospects.
The world was wrong. He'd been the next thing to invincible for five centuries and now he was reduced to serving his petty masters in Adlerroost and watching his fellow Vampires disappear among the accursed peasants. "We need to take action," he said.
"I wouldn't argue with that," Schmidt replied, "but what? Do we have orders?"
Schmidt raised a blond eyebrow. "And?"
"Our masters are changing their plans and our mission." Weiss paused, as if considering the impermanence of mortals. "With the onset of winter, the invasion is postponed until the spring."
Schmidt nodded. He'd worked that much out for himself. "So what do theyask of us now? To keep on sowing discontent and unease?"
"That's a given but, naturally, there is more. The High Command have decided the best way to disable this wretched and stubborn country is to remove the leader."
"Kill the king? That's regicide!"
Weiss permitted himself a little smile. "Indeed it is, but the King here counts for nothing. He is a figurehead, a tool for propaganda. They mean the leader: the one who has convinced these Inselaffen, these puny island monkeys, that they are of the fabric of heroes, that their pathetic armed forces will prevail against the might of the entire German war machine, and getting bombed out of their homes is nothing more than a mere inconvenience."
"Gott!" Schmidt leaned forward, his eyes wide. "You mean Churchill?"
"Yes," Weiss replied with a nod. "We are to kill Churchill." And sat back in the lumpy armchair to enjoy Schmidt's surprise.
He was not disappointed.
Consternation, incredulity, utter amazement, and finally stunned disbelief played across the younger Vampire's face. "They are insane!" he said at last, shaking his head.
Weiss inclined his head. "Think it would be wise to share that with our masters? Would the Führer welcome your candid opinion? There are how many of your blood kindred in their hands?"
Frustration blocked out Schmidt's other emotions. "It is close to impossible, even for us," he replied, shaking his head again. "He'll be protected, surrounded by police-or the army-at all times."
"I note you said 'close to impossible,' not impossible," Weiss replied. "Nothing is truly impossible." Not even learning who or what in that village could destroy a Vampire. "It will not be easy, but it is possible. Attacking in London would be reckless and suicidal. Instead, we will strike when he is less defended."
"And that will be when?"
Weiss paused. Pathetic really, almost mortal to go for effect, but since he could ... "Soon. He frequently spends weekends in the country, at Wharton Lacey with his loyal friends, Sir James and Lady Gregory."
Schmidt's jaw dropped in a highly gratifying manner. "The old fool who commands the local Home Guard?"
"The same, although 'old fool' might be less than accurate. But fool or not, he is trusted. He and Churchill were at school together. The prime minister takes his secretary and a couple of policemen for protection. Sometimes cabinet ministers and representatives of friendly nations join him."
"And you know this how?"
Skepticism was to be expected. This had not been part of the master plan. "One of the parlormaids at Number Ten is our agent, plus I have suborned the family cook at Wharton Lacey. She's told when and what to cook, as seems the prime minister is a hearty trencherman."
"Brilliant, but how did you manage it? Surely she didn't volunteer."
The creature had his moments of wit. "Hardly! Propitiously, she is a native of Jersey and has relatives who did not flee before the invasion. She will provide the information I ask, to protect her family left behind."
"You don't have the power to protect them!"
"She believes I do."
Schmidt had to smile. There was a reason, other than his age, that the mortals at Adlerroost chose Weiss as their leader. He was devious, focused, and implacable. Not that Schmidt felt sorry for the duped cook, or the damned Inselaffen. But he made a mental note to never earn Weiss's enmity. "Excellent!" He meant it too. Eliminating Churchill would definitely leave the country in chaos and was the perfect opening for the Vampires to take the upper hand. "You will kill him?"
"Only possibly?" What did Weiss have in mind?
"Eliminating him would send the country into confusion, which would be admirable, but if we could control him it would be even better."
Better but far riskier. But Schmidt would keep that to himself. "Do we have instructions?"
Weiss raised an eyebrow. "We followed instructions before and look what happened to Eiche and Bloch."
In point of fact they did not know what had happened. "You are convinced they are dead?" If such a word was precise enough to describe the extinction of an immortal creature.
"It appears they are no more," Weiss replied, "and that, in itself, is worrying. I intend to find out what happened to them while you ready the way for Mr. Churchill."
He might have guessed this was coming. "And I do what?"
Weiss smiled, always a bad sign. "The undergardener at Wharton Lacey had a most unfortunate accident early this morning: multiple fractures to his left leg. Tripped, careless man. He will be incapacitated for weeks, and you, my dear Schmidt, will fill the position."
Just like that? "How do we manage that? I'm an ambulance driver."
"Not any longer. You are now the good cook's cousin, who had his lungs severely damaged through childhood pleurisy and therefore cannot serve in His Majesty's Armed Forces."
Marvelous. Working as a laborer by day and a rescue worker by night. The things he did for the fatherland. "Wharton Lacey is a good distance away. How am I supposed to get back and forth, and where do I live?" He did not want to sound desperate, but a Vampire needed shelter and if he was expected to work out of doors ...
"Your dear aunt, the cook, will arrange for that."
Indeed. "And have you considered the daylight factor?" Most likely not.
"Of course, my dear Schmidt. Firstly, I do consider your age. The Crusades, wasn't it, when you were turned? You can endure a little sunlight. If you're not impaled on a tree." Nasty that, but he'd let it pass. "In any case, sunshine is so unusual at this time of year and the days so short, I think you need not worry. You are in chronic poor health. The mortals will expect you to be weak."
There was something wrong with this entire scenario. Several somethings in fact. "How close is this Wharton Lacey to Brytewood?"
Another smile. A good reason to be cautious. "Four miles, my dear Schmidt. Four of their English miles. Distant enough for you?"
It was going to have to be. The last thing he needed was encountering that good Samaritan doctor. "I hope so. Doubt I'll have any reason to go into the village anyway."
"Better you do not," Weiss replied, "unless summoned. I will be there, from time to time, investigating this Vampire killer."
A shiver snaked down Schmidt's back. Not many things gave a Vampire anxiety, but those with power to destroy could. "Anything else?" Might as well hear the lot while he was here.
"Not altogether." Which meant there was. "Except ... that Fairy creature who works for our masters?" So Weiss had noticed too, had he? "Has been conspicuously absent, hasn't she?"
And he hadn't missed her poking in his mind one little bit. "Yes. I wonder why?"
"Most likely they killed her."
"Why would they do that?"
"Beats me. I can't read mortal minds. Perhaps she refused to cooperate. Maybe her powers waned over time. How should I know?" Or care. "If she's not prying into our minds, the less the mortals in Adlerroost know about us."
"Damn good thing too, if you ask me." Not that Weiss had or was likely to.
Weiss stood. A clear signal the summons was at an end. "You have ambulance duty tonight, I believe. I suggest you miss it and use your time to study your new cover." He nodded at a thick envelope on the table. "Should be simple enough."
Paul Schmidt stood and picked up the envelope. Weiss wasn't telling him everything, that was a given.
He wished Weiss luck in that village that had already consumed two Vampires, Eiche and Bloch. Still, with Weiss occupied, he'd have the field clear for his own ambitions.
"Here you are, Nurse, with Lady Gregory's compliments," Edith Aubin, the cook from Wharton Lacey, said as she handed Gloria a large hamper.
"This is so incredibly generous," Gloria Prewitt replied, as she lifted the lid and saw two roasted chickens, a good-sized ham and an almost complete Cheddar cheese. No wonder Miss Aubin had needed the driver's help to carry it into the village hall from the car.
Miss Aubin nodded in agreement. "Not too much for a returning hero," she replied. "Lady Gregory said to let me know if you're short on bread or tea."
"We should be alright, Mr. Whorleigh has donated tea." From under the counter, Gloria suspected, but she wasn't going to quibble over that. "Bread, someone is fetching from Leatherhead."
"Of course," Miss Aubin nodded. "Your baker disappeared, didn't he?"
He'd disintegrated at Gloria's hand, or rather under her teeth, when she'd been in fox shape, with a little help from Andrew Barron, her intended. Not that she was ever mentioning that to anyone who didn't know already. "We certainly miss having fresh bread." But disposing of a Vampire of nefarious intent made the whole of England safer.
"Would you believe it, he did a moonlight flit?" Mrs. Chivers, mainstay of the Women's Institute and Mrs. Burrows's knitting circle, added her ha'pennorth. "Shocking, just walked out and left. Obviously forgot there's a war on."
No, he certainly hadn't. He'd been a very real part of the war but that, too, Gloria kept to herself. She was keeping a lot to herself these days.
But despite the war, the heavy black curtains that covered the windows and doors, and the scrimping and saving to put together the wartime equivalent of a groaning board, Brytewood was ready for a party.
No doubt the women in ancient Greece or Babylon put on feasts to welcome home returning warriors. And here they were, following the ways of countless women who waited and wept and wondered if their sons and brothers and lovers would return from the wars.
She was getting positively maudlin. Her lover, fiancé and light of her heart, was brushing aside the blackout curtain that covered the door.
"Andrew!" She restrained the urge to rush across the hall and wrap her arms around him. Didn't need to really, just meeting his eyes and knowing that smile was hers was enough.
"Hello, Gloria." And that was a smile and a half. "Brought you something." He placed a battered cardboard box on the table.
She lifted the top and peered inside. "Corned beef?"
He grinned and a sexy grin it was. "Best I could manage."
"Purloining government stocks?" Mary LaPrioux, the evacuated schoolteacher, asked.
"What a suggestion!" Andrew managed to look shocked whilst grinning. "It fell off the back of a lorry."
"Never mind where it came from," Gloria said. "We can use it to make shepherd's pies. Someone brought in a couple of sacks of potatoes, or we could try that rissole recipe from Lord Woolaton."
"Stick to shepherd's pie. You know what's in that," Andrew said. "Or better still, what's wrong with bully beef sandwiches?"
A lot easier too. "Pity we can't make chips with the potatoes."
"Have Mrs. Burrows organize a dripping drive around the village. Bet you'd have enough to fry several hundredweight of potatoes."
Behind Gloria, Mary laughed. Andrew was right. Mrs. Burrows was a force of nature-of course few people knew the doctor's grandmother was a Devon Pixie. It rather gave her the edge over mere mortals.
"How about ..." Andrew went on, but broke off at the crash of a breaking window.
Miss Willows, one of the schoolteachers, looked up from counting out cups and saucers at another table. Her eyes met Mary's.
"Bet it's one of mine," Mary muttered, and ran out of the door.
The cold, damp, night air hit her immediately, but she wasn't going back for her coat. She ran forward, looking around as her eyes adjusted to the dark. She caught sight of two boys running, and set off after them, knowing she hadn't a hope of catching them unless one or both of them tripped. Until a tall man stepped out of the shadows and grabbed them both, hauling them, squalling and wriggling, back to the village hall.
He set them both on their feet a few yards from Mary. "Here you are, Miss LaPrioux. What do you want done with them? Should I boil them in oil? Send them to the coal mines? Or would the galleys do better?"
She had never appreciated Tom Longhurst's wit, and most likely never would. "Thank you for nabbing them, Mr. Longhurst," she said, eyeing the pair of them and noting, with a wave of relief, that they were village boys. She shouldn't be pleased, but she was. Seemed her Guernsey evacuees and the few remaining London ones got blamed for almost everything. "What are your names?"
They hesitated, looking at each other, obviously debating silently the wisdom of answering. "Well?" she asked, tapping her foot. "You do have names, don't you?"
Brothers, or maybe cousins of some sort. "So Messrs Polson. Who broke the window?"
"Didn't mean to, miss," said Mike, the taller of the two. "I was aiming at the drainpipe."
"And you had a good reason to throw stones at the drainpipe?" The scuffed toes of their shoes became of paramount interest to the boys. "Trying to get a stone to rattle all the way down, were you?" Mary suggested.
Two pairs of eyes snapped open. She'd almost swear she heard them gulp with surprise. Did they never realize that teachers had once been nine years old too? The trick of getting a small stone over the top and into the drainpipe so it rattled all the way down wasn't exactly their personal invention. "Besides, shouldn't you be home after dark?"
"Mum's in the hall, helping," Jim said. "She told us to play quietly."
So they weren't even June Willows's responsibility. "Then I suggest you go right into the village hall and explain to your mother what happened."
They didn't exactly rush to follow that direction.
"Better get a broom and clean up the broken glass too," Tom Longhurst added.
Good point. Mary watched the two boys drag themselves toward maternal retribution. It was getting downright chilly. She wrapped her arms around her chest as she followed the boys back inside.
"Take my coat," Tom Longhurst said, unbuttoning his tweed jacket.
"No, don't bother. Thank you, but I'll be inside in a jiffy." She darted forward and grabbed the door. "Were you heading here?" She hoped not. On his way to the Pig and Whistle most likely.
"Yes, I was. Mother wanted me to check numbers. She's baking apple pies."
As if Mrs. Longhurst couldn't guess how many pies might be needed. Honestly! Flimsy excuse wasn't the word. "How kind of her. She's a wonderful baker." He'd nipped ahead of her and had the door open and was lifting the blackout curtain. Would be downright rude and silly to not go in. "Better tell Gloria or Mrs. Chivers," she said quickly. "They're organizing this shindig. I'll keep an eye on those boys."
She darted across the hall, full steam ahead as the irate teacher, to find that Mrs. Polson had done the job for her. The two boys were fairly quivering under the scolding. "And now you'll clean up the mess and cover the broken pane and on top of that, pay for the new glass out of your pocket money."
Mary almost began to feel sorry for the pair of them, heads hung and shoulders slumped under the weight of guilt. "Clean up and find a piece of cardboard to cover the hole and I expect Mr. Simmons could fix it," she said. The school caretaker was pretty adept at replacing panes broken by cricket balls, and other flying missiles. (Continues...)
Excerpted from BLOODY RIGHT by Georgia Evans Copyright © 2009 by Rosemary Laurey. Excerpted by permission.
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