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North of Paris, 1785
Slammed against the carriage wall, Viviane La-Mourette braced her forearms against the padded interior. The impact forced her to bite her lower lip. She swore sharply as the carriage tilted. Her body was wedged against the wall, one hand slapping the glass window. The fragile glass cracked and sharp edges lacerated her palm. The scent of blood imbued with wine and dust tainted the small compartment.
She could tell from the coachman's agitated yelp that he had fallen from his box. It was the middle of March, yet the weather had been unseasonable. Snow as high as a man's knee blanketed the countryside. The country roads were barely traversable, save for a few major routes directly to Paris.
The brass foot warmer beneath her seat had slid against the wall and now spilled out white coals. The wool blanket draped over her lap had become tangled in her arms and the lace engageantes at her elbows.
Struggling against the meddlesome twist of fabric, Viv-iane tried with futile effort to keep blood from smearing onto her damask gown. The fabric was the color of deep forest moss, and she had only brought along one additional gown for this visit.
She licked the blood from her palm. The cut had healed.
A gut-clenching scream paused Viviane from her preening.
Accompanying the coachman's hideous cry rose snarling, growling, andViviane's bile rose with recognitionthe sound of tearing at human flesh.
The horses stirred, tugging at their restraints and jostling the carriage. The commotion stopped. The snow muddled the clod of retreating hooves. The coachman must have cut loose the team of two.
Why release their only means of transportation? She would never make Paris now, and most importantly, not before dawn.
Instinct prompted her to assess her clothing. She wore a satin underskirt that could be used as a hood to protect her head, if she needed to start walking. Gloves covered her hands and wrists, and she did have a leather mask that covered all but her eyes.
The letter Henri Chevalier had sent her weeks earlier crinkled against her breast where she'd tucked it between her chemise and corset. He'd written in expectation of her visit this spring. The mention of Constantine de Salignac had almost kept Viviane from making this trip. Henri had intimated Lord de Salignac, leader of the esteemed tribe Nava, desired her hand in marriage as a means to strengthen tribal bloodlines.
The abominable suggestion now distracted her. Vivi-ane would marry no man, even if he were a tribe leader. Salignac could only have his eye on her because she was bloodborn. She did not care to be any man's chattel.
The fact Henri had patroned her for two centuries following her parents' cruel deaths and yet had granted her great freedom had probably spoiled her.
Better spoiled than enslaved.
"I will never arrive in Paris to even face the presumptuous Salignac if I do not extract myself from this detestable situation."
A low growling snarl set her heart racing.
With her shoulders crushed against the tilted carriage wall, Viviane now listened attentively. Tearing flesh sounded as if a dull blade was cutting through leather. It wasn't an awful sound, save for the context.
More growls trickled dread up her chest and thudded at the base of her throat. "Wolves."
But fear did not follow. Fear was for the weak, those lacking in discretion regarding their personal boundaries.
Shoving the blanket away, Viviane flinched at the sound of a pistol and then gripped the broken windowpane.
The wolf barked. It must have been hit. She concentrated and listened. Heartbeats. Two of them. Neither was humanwhich left herself and the wolf.
If it were not badly injured the animal would next come for her.
"I am not prepared for death tonight. I suppose I must see to this matter myself. Curse the bloody animal for my shoes!" Her shoes were new, and the velvet matched the color of a rich chocolate. A former lover had carved the porcelain roses that dotted the toes.
Stepping up and pushing open the door set the carriage to a wobble. The warning creak of wood and snow indicated she had made a wrong move.
Viviane pressed herself against the seat and groped for a hold on the padded fabric walls as the carriage fell completely to its side. The landing snapped her head against the windowpane.
Outside, the mournful whines did not cease. Wolves in France were abundant, but someone had once told Viviane there were as many lone wolves as there were those who traveled in packs. Pray this one was a lone wolf.
The struggle out through the door facing toward the sky was difficult with the hindrance of skirts and corset. Her long dark hair, which she had unrolled from the curling papers an hour earlier, impeded her movements as heavy curls slapped her face and got caught under her elbows.
Perched upon the carriage sidewhich was now in position to face skywardViviane's breaths clouded before her. Snow crystals falling from overhead branches sparkled in the darkness.
Divining the warm scent of human blood, she could not see carnage from this angle.
Jumping into the loose snow beside the overturned carriage, she landed with a curse. Snow sifted over her face and under her skirt. Her night vision proving quite fine, she sighted the coachman. His neck had been torn. Blood soaked his dark wool greatcoat, jabot and face. One hand extended above his head, loose fingers still held the pistol atop a bloom of bloody snow.
The wolf limped and wobbled, stepping on three legs, and collapsing in the snow. It had taken a bullet in the shoulder for the bloodied brown fur.
"Be gone with you!"
The creature dodged the fist of snow Viviane tossed at it. It snarled, baring fangs. Viviane bared her fangs.
Mourning yips echoed across the countryside. She couldn't risk a pack discovering her alone with little means of protection.
Stalking through the deep snow, and losing one shoe in the process, she gained the wolf. It was large, perhaps as long as she from head to knees, and strong of muscle.
Thick black fur streaked the brown. It would certainly make an excellent trim to a woman's gown or hat.
"A fine replacement for my ruined shoes."
Blood spurted from the bullet wound near the animal's neck. It would bleed to death.
Not quick enough for her peace of mind.
Grappling the beast's head securely, Viviane twisted it under her arm and along her side, making sure to pull up so the skull moved sharply away from the neck. An alchemist who studied dead bodies had once told her that severing the spinal cord caused instant death.
The wolf dropped lifeless to the ground.
Viviane wiped her bloodied hands in the snow. Glancing south, she sighted whiffs of smoke curling from dozens of chimneys. Paris. The comfort of a warm home and Henri Chevalier, her loving patron, called.
"So close," she muttered. "And now I shall have to walk. Without shoes." She heeled off the remaining shoe. It would hamper. "Insufferable wolf. You got your just."
Picking up the coachman's pistol, she then rummaged through his coat pockets, finding two balls, powder and a short iron ramrod. Making quick order of reloading, she tossed aside the ramrod. She may need to fend off another wolf. The pistol would give Viviane the advantage of distance but once.
Bending over the coachman, she pressed his eyelids closed. "Rest in peace." She thought to make the sign of the cross over his body, but the detail seemed bothersome.
Pistol in hand, Viviane tromped through the snow. The wolfshe paused, struck by what lay on the snow where once the four-legged creature had been.
"Sacre bleu" It wasa werewolf.
A man, bare and bleeding at the neck, lay sprawled where she had snapped the wolf's neck. In human form he was called were. Dark glassy eyes sought hers. Alive yet, despite what she'd thought a spine-severing move.
"I did not know," she offered, nervous suddenly, whipping her head about to scan the periphery. No wolves lurked nearby.
The were's eyelids shuttered. His head sank into the snow and his muscles relaxed with death. Blood spilled from his mouth to stain the scrap of white fabric he'd torn from the coachman's neck.
Minneapolis, modern day
Rhys Hawkes moved through the Irish-themed pub with a swaying stride. It was past midnight, but O'Leary's stayed open until two. The owner, not an Irishman but rather a German who'd married into the family, granted him carte blanche. The high-tech, temperature-controlled cellar was always open for Rhys to select a bottle of wine, whiskey, or to relax in the cool darkness after a long day at Hawkes Associates.
More than just a bank, Hawkes Associates stored treasures, housed certain volatile objects of a magical nature and offered the various paranormal nations, Light, Dark, Faery and otherwise, a safe and lasting place to keepand exchange for new currencytheir money and valuables as they passed through the centuries.
His firm was the only of its kind and had offices in New York, Minnesota and Florida, four more in Europe and one in China. The Paris office served as his home base.
He didn't own this pub, but he was considering buying it.
Rhys didn't get involved in the daily management details of the clubs he collected as if they were baseball cards.
They were investments. And rarely did he mingle with the crowds. He was a lone wolfmake that vampire.
Still clinging to the same excuses.
Not an excuse, just an easier summation.
Tonight he was in business mode, eyeing the place for potential.
At the blue neon bar, two college guys exchanged what Rhys had decided were urban legends. The one about the man with the hook instead of a hand was common. But he'd never heard the one about the mermaid swimming the Gowanus Canal in Brooklyn. He kept the men's conversation in peripheral range for the humor.
A waitress clad in a shimmy of green satin and beads snuck past him and slipped behind the bar. The scent of alcohol made Rhys nostalgic for the real whisky he'd once drunk in Scotland. Not his homeland, but a safe hiding place when the vampires had sought to extinguish the werewolves from France during the Revolution. He hadn't been hiding; he'd been in mourning.
The world had evolved over the centuries, but the disease between the wolves and vampires could never be healed. Most days Rhys was fine with that. Other days he wished he could have done more.
Of course, his situation was the stickiest. There was no definite "side" for him. He had once been persecuted for his differencesby those of his own blood. He and his nemesis had battled for decades. Neither had claimed victory.
Until she had become involved. She had changed everything. And since then, nothing had been the same.
It was rare Rhys thought of her, and always those azure eyes.
But for a man who had walked the earth two and a half centuries it was easy to pine for a long-departed lover who whispered ghostly sonnets in his thoughts.
Rhys smirked at his wistful memories.
"Heartbreak," he muttered. It clung like a bitch with fangs.
With one ear taking in the legends, Rhys's ears perked up when he heard the men start talking about a Vampire Snow White.
"Yeah, you know. The chick buried in a glass coffin by some prince."
"That was a cartoon, dude."
"I know, but listen. They say a vampire chick fell in love with a man who was a vampire or maybe he was a werewolf. I'm not clear on that detail," one of them said.
Rhys slid onto a bar stool. He smiled at the men and pushed the crystal peanut bowl between his hands. They regarded him with nods.
"Vampires and werewolves are fiction," one man said.
"Whatever. So are urban legends, but you wanted one you'd never heard for tomorrow's blog."
"All right, give it to me. So she fell in love with a guy who might have been a vamp"
"Or maybe a werewolf. But she was being courted by a vampire, too. An evil vampire."
Rhys's fingers curled into a fist. He felt the muscles at the back of his neck tighten. He wanted to grip the man and shake the rest of the tale out of him, but he checked his growing urgency.
"Anyway, so this vampire chick falls in love with the man who wasn't what he seemed and they get married or something. I don't know. I'm foggy on that detail. Only the evil vampire is pissed, see. So something happens to separate the twothe chick and her loverand the evil vampire locks her away in a glass coffin and buries her like some kind of Goth Snow White."
"That's a dorky legend. Couldn't she have broken the glass?"
"No, dude, get this. The vampire had a warlock put her under a spell. She couldn't move, but would live forever. So she can see out the glass coffin, but can't move or scream. So the legend says she went mad, and she's probably still buried somewhere beneath the streets of Paris. You know they have all those tunnels under Paris."
"Huh. So what if she escaped?"
"Don't know, man. That'd be one freaky bloodsucking chick."
The men tilted back swigs from their beer bottles.
"Sweet. But, dude, so not true."
"Tell me about it. Vampirella gone mad."
"I'd offer my neck to Vampirella any day. She is so sexy."
"She's a cartoon, too." The storyteller swiped an arm across his lips. "You going to put it on the blog?"
"Yeah, we'll see. Buy me another beer, dude, this one's tapped. So what's with the man who was a vampire or maybe a werewolf?"
"I don't know. That's how I heard it told."
"So you mean he's different, like, where his hand should be" the guy assumed a melodramatic tone "was a stainless-steel hook!"
"No, dude, he was
not right." The crystal bowl in Rhys's grip cracked in half. The men turned and delivered him wonky looks. "Delicate," Rhys offered sheepishly. Not right. The words stabbed Rhys's heart with bittersweet memory. He could hear them spoken in her voice. He pushed the mess aside. "Interesting story."
"Yeah, dude, it's an urban legend. You can read all about it tomorrow at my blog."
One guy handed Rhys a business card that simply read: UrbanTrash.com.
"Wouldn't it rock if werewolves and vampires existed? We could all like, live forever."
"Forever is not always appealing." Rhys strode away.
The Vampire Snow White. Once loved by an evil vampire and another who was maybe a vampire or maybe a werewolf. An urban legend?
It was rumor.
But the details were too familiar to disregard. "Mon Dieu, I thought she was dead."