Hiding from a dangerous man, Tess Crawford thought The Wiggons School for Elegant Young Ladies would be the perfect place to disappear. Or it would be if the local villagers weren’t on edge because of the vampire in their midst.
Vincent Latimer, Viscount Atwood, is not a vampire, no matter what the villagers believe. When a storm thrusts Tess into Vincent’s path and destroys the school, both of their pasts collide.
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Frequently of a night, instead of retiring to his
consort's chamber, he repaired to Brunhilda's grave,
where he murmured forth his discontent,
saying: "Wilt thou sleep for ever?"
Wake Not the Dead
Johann Ludwig Tieck
Cornwall England, 1802
Lightning flashed in the distance and Tess Crawford gripped the ladder tight. The wind whipped hair across her face and skirts against her legs. This was a perfect night. She looked up toward the open window. It was past ten and her students should have been asleep by now. At the very least, all lights should be extinguished, but candles flickered in Rosemary’s room.
With slow deliberation, Tess inched her way to the destination. Upon reaching the top, she ducked to the side and listened. It would do no good for the girls to catch her.
“At length Walter, heated with wine and love, conducted his bride into the nuptial chamber:”
Yes, that was Eliza reading. Why wasn’t she surprised?
“…but, oh! horror! Scarcely had he clasped her in his arms ere she transformed herself into a monstrous serpent, which entwining him in its horrid folds, crushed him to death.” The voice rose with further anticipated horror.
Tess peeked around the corner of the window frame. One candle sat on the table and flickered with the breeze. Further into the room, three girls sat huddled together, their robes wrapped around their legs. A lamp burned brightly behind Eliza’s shoulder, casting a halo around her red curls. Tess grinned. Her timing could not have been more perfect.
“Flames crackled on every side of the apartment;” Eliza continued. “in a few minutes after, the whole castle was enveloped in a blaze that consumed it entirely: while, as the walls fell in with a tremendous crash, a voice exclaimed aloud -- "Wake not the dead!"
Tess blew out the candle by the bed and ducked out of sight. In her most dramatic voice, she moaned, “Not the dead.”
Screams erupted from inside the room. One of the girls slammed the window shut, apparently too frightened to notice the ladder or Tess, and yanked the curtains closed. Tess bit her lip to keep her laughter inside. She edged down the ladder when pounding erupted on the door. “Girls, is everything all right?” Natalie, her friend and also a teacher, called.
The wind grew stronger as Tess hastened her descent before Mother Nature helped her to the ground in a most unpleasant manner. She tipped the ladder so it lay on the ground and raced to the door. She could not wait to hear the explanation the girls offered for their screams.
Sophia sighed and shot an irritated look at her cohorts. “They thought the monster was at the window.”
“Monster?” Tess tried to hold back her laughter as she walked into Rosemary’s room.
“Yes. The creature that lives in that old manor.” Eliza explained. Tess knew exactly which one she meant. Lord Atwood’s house must date back at least a century or more, and it did look a bit spooky with its gabled windows and grey stone exterior with dark ivy creeping up the side and the gargoyle overlooking the portico entrance. Of course, she would never admit such a thing to her students.
“It’s just like Wake Not the Dead,” Rosemary whispered.
This time Tess couldn’t help but laugh. “Are you saying a vampire lives in Atwood Manor and he came here?”
“Yes,” Eliza insisted and the other two girls vigorously nodded their heads in agreement. Their curls bounced in rhythm to the movement.
“Whatever gave you that idea?” Natalie asked and settled onto the bed. If Tess didn’t know better, she would think her friend was giving some credence to the girl’s irrational fears.
“Lord Atwood never goes out during the day,” Eliza answered, all knowing.
“Is that all the evidence you have?” Tess crossed her arms over her chest and tilted her head, eyebrows raised waiting for the girl to continue.
“No,” Eliza retorted. “He died only to return from the grave after his wife willed him to. Just like Walter did. Except Lady Atwood perished upon his return and now Lord Atwood is doomed to be alone on this earth.” Eliza sighed, placing a hand over her heart and glanced toward the window. She returned her focus to Tess; color high in her cheeks and eyes lit with excitement. Eliza continued the tale, or rumor rather, that circulated around their small village. “Everyone knows he visits her grave every midnight because there are fresh flowers every morning. Lord Atwood has not been able to bring his beloved back from the dead, yet.”
Too bad Eliza was the daughter of a viscount. Had she been common-born, no doubt she would make a nice living trodding the boards on
Tess leaned down and whispered, “But why would he come here?”
Eliza glanced toward the window. “Because he is hungry.”
Rosemary turned alarmingly pale.
Tess bit her lip. Perhaps she had taken this too far? No, she argued with herself. They were being ridiculous and the girls should know better. Still, Tess made a mental note to once again go through the library and remove any book that could possibly resemble a horrid novel. She thought she had found and hidden them all a week ago, but apparently Wake Not the Dead had been overlooked.
Tess clapped her hands to get their attention. “Enough of this nonsense. Lord Atwood is not a vampire, nor did he come here tonight.”
“But, who was at the window?” Sophia asked, her big blue eyes round with fear.
“The wind,” Tess said dismissively, not about to reveal the truth. “That will teach you to read horrid novels when you should be asleep.” Tess tapped her finger against her chin. “This gives me an excellent topic for our literature lesson tomorrow.”
“Are we going to discuss Wake Not the Dead?” Eliza bobbed with excitement.
“No. We are going to discuss the difference between fiction and nonfiction.”
Vincent Latimer, Earl of Atwood, pulled the collar up to his ears. Wind whipped the greatcoat out from his body. He grasped the front and buttoned it in haste while he glanced up to the overcast sky. Not even one star could be seen, but he knew they lay just beyond. Lightning flashed. There would be a wicked storm tonight. He grinned and stepped onto the road and turned toward the cemetery.
The walk was not long but he was glad he did not bring his hat. It would have blown off his head as soon as he stepped out from the protection of the front portico. Thunder rumbled behind him. No doubt he would be soaked with rain by the time he left the cemetery.
Nearing the church, he stopped and looked around. The houses were closer here and each held well-tended gardens. Who should he steal from tonight?
A grin pulled at his lips. Mrs. Harpy had a lovely selection. He hopped the low fence and strode into the back garden. However, since he was taking a bouquet from the woman’s gardens, he should at least think of her by her proper name, Mrs. Harper.
He shook his head and withdrew the scissors from his deep pocket. No, Harper was too kind of a name for her. After all, Harpy was the one who first fueled the gossip when his wife died. The flame ignited, and ever since he had been deemed the most feared monster of history and lore. On the other hand, it did benefit him. Everyone knew he took the bouquets from the gardens in the neighborhood, yet no one would ever reproach him. They were too afraid.
It also served his lifestyle well. By using the gardens owned by his neighbors, he did not have to employ a gardener for his own. The less people who lived on his estate the better. Besides, what would the neighbors think if he did not visit his wife’s grave at midnight? What else would they have to talk about?
The hairs stood up on the back of his neck. He glanced toward the house. Harpy stood in the upstairs window watching him. She stepped back into the shadows, but he knew she could still see him. Vincent flashed his teeth at her and growled. Her silhouette disappeared. The woman was probably cowering in her bed, or her husband’s. He doubted Mr. Harper would thank him.
Vincent turned back to study the garden. There was little to choose from as fall was descending and many of the fragrant summer flowers he preferred were long dead. He selected mums, asters and late blooming roses. From his pocket he withdrew a pink ribbon and tied it to hold the arrangement together.
Tess paced in the front parlor, too on edge to sleep. It was easier to control her anxiety over the storm brewing in the distances when she was focused on the student or conversing over tea with the other teachers in the school, as she had done tonight. However, everyone retired a short time ago but she knew she would not find rest tonight, not when she was now alone with her thoughts. She grabbed her cloak and stepped out on to the porch. Leaves flew, carried by the fierce winds. Energy surrounded her and she could not stay inside. She glanced up at the house. The lamp still burned in Rosemary’s room. She would need to speak to the girls about their late hours, but knew she had brought on their fright tonight.
With a shake of her head, she started down the road. Tonight was no different from the night her life irrevocably changed.
No, she would not think about that now. If she did, she would never sleep. What she needed was a walk. The storm was a little ways off to the southwest, coming in off the Channel, and she had only the wind to contend with at the moment. Once she strolled the area, she would be able to retire.
Tess pulled the hood of her cloak over her head and walked down the lane toward the village. Nobody was out at night and she preferred it this way. The others did not understand her need for these evening strolls nor did she wish to explain. They each had their own secrets that brought them back to the school where they met, to become teachers.
In truth, Tess did not go out at night all that often. Only when there was a storm brewing. It helped to chase her demons away. The demons that only visited her on nights such as this.
All of the houses were dark, for which she was grateful. Her cloak was black so if someone peered out a window, they might not even see her. If they did, the hood covered her head and hid her face. It would not serve the school well if someone reported that she was seen out and about alone so close to midnight. If someone did catch her, would she be labeled a monster as well? A smile pulled at her lips at the ridiculous thought.
She started to pass the cemetery, but did not glance in that direction. Tess did not want to know if Lord Atwood actually visited there each night and she refused to give credence to the rumors. Besides, if the man had any intelligence, he wouldn’t be walking around on a night like this anyway.
Thunder rumbled and the wind picked up and whipped around her, blowing the hood off of her head. Perhaps she should return home. It appeared the storm was much closer than she realized.
An ominous crack, sharper than thunder, sounded overhead. Tess looked up but before she could determine the source a large body flattened her.The trapped air left her body in one great whoosh. Though from fear or being crushed to the ground she couldn’t tell. She looked into the almost black eyes of Lord Atwood. His cloaked arm came up and covered her face in blackness as his head descended to her neck.