Titan books recently released A Dance in Blood Velvet, the follow-up to Freda Warrington's vampire novel, A Taste of Blood Wine, and we have the first chapter for Daily Dead readers to check out:

"For the love of her vampire suitor, Karl, Charlotte has forsaken her human life. Now her only contact with people is when she hunts them down to feed. The one light in the shadows is the passion that burns between her and Karl. A love that it seems will last for eternity - until Karl's former lover, the beautiful Katerina, returns from her grave in the icy depths of the Weisskalt to reclaim her life... and Karl."


Chapter One: The Blood-crystal Ring

He knew only her first name: Charlotte.

When he’d first met her at the concert, she seemed an averagely pretty young woman; medium height, slim rather than fashionably thin, nothing extraordinary. Her hair colour was difficult to define; a warm brown in shadow, the slightest ray of light drew out gleams of pure gold. And then she’d smiled, and her subtle beauty had first begun to enchant, then to obsess him.

Her name, the face in the photograph he carried: too much of a coincidence. Milner was convinced she was the woman he’d been sent to find.

And now – one week since their first meeting – he was alone with her in the moonlight, walking up a long, steep forest path to her house. They’d had to leave his car at the bottom of the hill. Although he considered himself fit for a man in his thirties, he was perspiring long before they reached the top.

“My goodness, you have this walk every time you go out?” he gasped, wiping his forehead.

Charlotte looked cool and not at all breathless, despite her evening coat and fur stole. “It’s impossible to get a motor up here. We don’t mind; we like the solitude. I’m only sorry that it’s inconvenient for our guests… Not that we have many. Do you want to rest a moment?”

Looking up, he saw a chalet through the pines, a shadowy-black structure with overhanging eaves, white window-frames and flowers along the balconies.

“No, no, I’m fine,” he insisted.

“Well, we’re almost there,” she said, striding on without effort.

She led him inside, hung up his coat with hers and lit a lamp. Even in these simple actions she was magically graceful. Milner found it impossible not to appreciate the way her silky dress clung to her hips. The soft warm colours suited her; creamy-gold and clover shades, trimmed with old gold lace and tiny beads of bronze glass.

The chalet’s dark-wood interior was full of unlit alcoves. No electric lights, only golden-dim lamps and candles that she lit as she went. She led him to a reception room, where he stood trying to recover his breath while she rekindled the fire.

The house felt still and quiet. Fireglow licked the dull-pink roses of the wallpaper – a cosy English touch – but failed to reach the rustic beamed ceiling. He noted French doors onto a balcony, and, near the fireplace, an archway to a darkened library. Milner found himself repeatedly glancing in there, like a child waiting for some monster to leap from behind the bookshelves.

He had no idea why he was so jumpy, so feverishly excited.

Charlotte was moving around the room, drawing curtains, winding up a gramophone. No servants? The mournful tones of Death and the Maiden wound softly around them as she came to him and placed a glass of whisky in his hand.

“Would you like a cigarette?” she asked.

He had noticed she didn’t smoke. He needed one to relax him, but was worried she mightn’t like the smell – why did that matter?

“No, no thank you.”

“Won’t you sit down, Mr Milner?”

He sat where she indicated, in a chair by the fire. He couldn’t take his eyes off her. She looked girlish and innocent, but solemn, haunted.

“This is too kind of you, Mrs – or should I say Frau –”

“Just Charlotte,” she said with a brief smile. How her face lit up when she smiled.

Ah, embarrassment over her marital status, he thought, she’s choosing to be discreet, rather than lie.

“Well, then, you mustn’t call me ‘Mr’. It’s John,” he said, feeling awkward. “Isn’t your – er – the gentleman at home?”

“Not at the moment. I don’t expect Karl back for quite some time.”

The way she looked at him sent a rush of heat to his face. My God, would she really proposition me while her lover is off the scene? Though her morals appalled him, he turned dizzy with excitement.

She knelt and prodded the fire. Sparks roared up, outlining her with liquid red-gold light. God, she is so lovely. He gripped the whisky glass hard on his thigh to stop his hand shaking.

He said, “So, er, I trust you enjoyed the opera tonight?”

“Very much. And it’s so kind of you to escort me while Karl is away. But I have a confession to make.”

“Yes?” Milner swallowed.

She turned with the poker in her hand. “I prefer the ballet.”

At last, a safe topic of conversation; she left him damned near speechless. “You’ve seen the Ballets Russes? Pavlova?”

“Yes, at every chance.” He found her manner strange, almost abrupt, as if she disliked making small talk for the sake of it.

“And Ballet Janacek?”

“Not yet.”

“Well, you simply must. Their Giselle is on a par with anything of the Ballets Russes. Wonderful prima ballerina.”

She didn’t respond. The silence purred like static. I never dreamed this would be so difficult! he thought. Must say something. “It’s most kind of you to invite me here, Frau – Charlotte, but –”

“You expressed interest in seeing Karl’s Stradivarius cello,” she said. “Don’t you wish to see it?”

“Good God, yes, of course,” he said too enthusiastically, sitting forward. “I should say so. It’s so good of you to –”

He broke off, because of the way she was gazing at him. Challenging him with wide, clear eyes.

“Well, it isn’t why I asked you here,” she said. “And it’s not really why you came, is it?”

He gulped a mouthful of whisky and nearly choked as it burned its way down.

“What do you mean?”

“There is something on your mind, but it isn’t music, or art, or anything in which you professed to share our interest when Karl and I met you last week. You are too friendly, then, when you think no one’s watching, your face changes and your eyes go cold. Taking everything in, like a policeman.”

Her words were so close to the truth that he couldn’t gloss over them. The scene he’d envisaged was falling apart. She saw through him, and his desire for her was clouding his judgment. A story, quick, think of a story. Then, maybe… well, why did she invite me here, alone?

He cleared his throat. “Can you read my mind?” he said lightly.

“No, or I wouldn’t be asking.” Her voice was low and serious.

His imagination, never powerful, deserted him. The way Charlotte’s large, deep-lidded eyes bore into him made him feel guilty, as if he were trying to deceive a child whose perception and intelligence were greater than his own.

And she was armed with a red-hot poker. There was nothing for it but the truth.

“Is your name Charlotte Millward?”

She stiffened visibly as he spoke. “No. I never use that name.”

“Then do you use the name Neville, or von Wultendorf?”

The look in her eyes showed he was not mistaken. How was it possible for her sweet face to fill him with such unease?

“You had better tell me who in hell you are,” she said.

John Milner reached into his pocket and took out the letter. He hadn’t sealed the envelope because he’d intended to write more after this encounter. With a resigned sigh he passed her the top page. Still kneeling, she replaced the poker in its stand and read aloud, her voice soft and puzzled,

Dear David,

Wonderful news at last! I am ninety-nine percent certain that I’ve found your sister. Can’t claim brilliant detective work, just hard slog. I located her through a mixture of educated guesswork and luck.

No joy in Vienna; as we thought, the chap wouldn’t be so obvious as to go back to his hometown. Still, I had a feeling he wouldn’t stray far. I tried Prague, Budapesth, Rome. You said he claimed to have been a cellist, and that they both liked music, so I’ve been to concerts until the damned stuff is coming out of my ears. Finally, in Switzerland, eureka! Concert in Berne last week, I saw a girl in the foyer who was the image of the photograph you gave me. Your description of her companion clinched it; striking fellow, had all the ladies turning their heads. It was remarkably easy to get talking to them. No apparent attempt at hiding their identities; they gave no surname, very little personal information – hence the tiny doubt – but they openly called each other Karl and Charlotte and gave the impression they lived in the locality.

So, to answer your first question, yes, they are still together. Your sister is charming. So is the man, though I confess he’s also oddly unnerving. Difficult to explain, but I now understand why you warned me to be careful. However, your sister showed no fear of him. Seemed quite the perfect couple. That might not be what you hoped to hear, but it may at least set your mind at rest.

I daren’t appear too pushy in case they grew suspicious, but as we parted, I invited them to an opera this coming Saturday. Charlotte expressed interest. Karl said he’d be otherwise occupied, yet seemed happy for Charlotte to be escorted by me – a man they’d only just met! Odd. Still, fingers crossed she’ll turn up and I’ll have more to share with you.

While I know you didn’t intend to tell –

Charlotte stopped. She’d reached the bottom of the page. “Where is the rest?”

Milner waved the second page uneasily. “I was going to finish after I’d spoken to you.”

She looked stunned, and he was desperately sorry he’d distressed her so much. God, if only things were different and I could draw her down onto the Persian carpet… But her face was like ice.

“I can’t believe it. I thought David had accepted this and let me go. Why – why would he hire a stranger to look for me?”

“I’m not a stranger. I’ve known your brother for years. I was with his regiment in the War. Afterwards, through a set of circumstances I won’t bore you with, I became a private detective; nothing glamorous, just finding errant spouses, hanging around boarding houses in Brighton for evidence in adultery cases, you know the sort of thing?”

“No, I don’t,” Charlotte said thinly. “What in God’s name did David tell you about me?”

“He got in touch out of the blue last year. He said that you’d left your husband – well, it would be eighteen months ago by now – and run off with another man whom he didn’t seem to think at all suitable. He wanted me to find you.”

“Why? To bring me back? He knows that’s impossible.” She leaned anxiously towards him, making his heart leap. “Is there news of my family? Bad news?”

“None that I know of. Your father isn’t well, but I gather you knew that when you left. David didn’t tell me much at all, to be honest. One shouldn’t make assumptions, but it may be that your husband wants to initiate divorce proceedings…”

She sat back on her heels, staring at the fire. “That’s in the past. I have no husband except Karl.”

He continued gently, “Or it may be that David was simply worried and wanted to know you were safe.”

Charlotte fell silent. He studied her neat profile, the enticing pink sheen of her mouth. Then she said, “He doesn’t need to know. As far as he’s concerned, I’m dead.”

She rose fluidly to her feet, walked to the doors and went out onto the balcony.

Milner drained his whisky glass and set it down. It wasn’t drink that made him light-headed. He was unreasonably glad that her “husband” wasn’t here. For no rational reason, he dreaded meeting Karl again. At least his absence gave Milner a chance to mend things with Charlotte.

He followed her and stood in the doorway. “I’m sorry you’ve taken this so badly. You must be furious at me.”

A gorgeous smell of pine filled the spring air. Light from inside outlined her silhouette; the Alps and forest were iron-blue behind her. Charlotte was an indistinct yet perfect, elegant figure of the modern age. Thin straps on creamy shoulders, long pearls, her beaded dress sashed low across her hips, the casual drape of silk emphasising the allure of her breasts. Her long hair was gathered loosely at the nape of her neck.

Milner loved long hair. He hated the fashion for cropping it short. And Charlotte’s hair was so beautiful, the glossy russet waves sprinkled with gold. Under a sequinned bandeau, her forehead was broad and pale, her eyes sea-grey.

“Why should I be angry with you?” she said.

“For deceiving you.”

“You didn’t deceive me. You aren’t good enough at it. I like you, actually; I can see why David trusts you.”

Her expression captivated him. She looked solemn, her deep-rose mouth turned down at the corners, her glorious eyes smouldering like those of an actress on film.

“I wish I could have bluffed it out,” he said. “You don’t want to be found, do you?”

“How perceptive,” she murmured. Milner smiled. He felt a growing rapport between them, warmth swelling into magnetism. “And I won’t be found. Come here.”

She turned towards him, one hand on the balcony; open, receptive. So she had married one man, run off with another, and now while her lover was out she was trying to buy his silence with seduction! So what? She was lovely.

He went to her, drawn by the curve of her arms. More amethyst than grey, her eyes were expanding to fill his vision. Glittering. Was she crying?

“John,” she said.

He put his arms around her. Christ, she was cold! “You don’t have to do this,” he said.

“But I want to.”

“Come inside. You’re freezing.”

“Then warm me.” Suddenly her voice trembled. “Warm me.”

He bent to kiss her but she drew back, avoiding his lips. She opened her mouth as if in pain, and he saw how long and sharp her canine teeth were, seeming to lengthen as he watched. Even then he was too slow to understand.

“This is why he mustn’t find me,” she whispered. She dropped her face onto his shoulder and he felt her lips move against his neck. “This is why!” She was shuddering. The faintest groan came from her throat, “Ohh…”

And she bit him. Not playfully, not even in anger, but with an awful, hungry determination. Her teeth broke through the skin, piercing flesh and muscle and blood vessels. The pain was vicious, frightening, nightmarishly weird. Her mouth was a steel trap on his throat… A sick feeling spread from his stomach to fill his whole body with pins and needles. He was floating and the sensation was unbearable. He was dying.

Lights spun around him, dazzling and blinding. There was a deep, throaty roar all around him, the roar of the Devil as it came to claim his soul. The whole world slopped around him like floodwater. Only one thing remained clear and steady: the woman’s face.

As lovely as the moon, her lips red with his blood, she looked sadly down at him. He clutched at her, but she pushed his hand away.

“I’ll die…” he rasped.

“No, you won’t,” she said calmly.

“I’ll die if I don’t see you again.”

She blinked, her eyes briefly shaded by her smoky lids and luxurious eyelashes. Then she whispered, “You will never see me again. You have never seen me at all. Forget me. Because if you ever tell David, or if you ever cross my path again, I’ll kill you. I promise.”

Who’s David?

He couldn’t even remember the woman’s name. Who was she? She couldn’t abandon him to the Devil who was storming through the night to take him.

“No. Don’t go!” he cried, terrified.

She touched a luminous hand to his hair and said, “I’m sorry.”

She drew away, watching him with sad affection. Then, like the moon passing behind a cloud, she vanished.

To learn more about A Dance in Blood Velvet, visit: