Bloodsucking creatures of the night take a bite out of the professional dancing world with dire consequences when vampire Charlotte Neville gets a taste of ballerina Violette Lenoir in Freda Warrington's The Dark Blood of Poppies, her follow-up to A Dance in Blood Velvet. Titan Books has provided us with an exclusive excerpt that sees Sebastian Pierse facing sinister seductions in 1700's Ireland.
"The ballerina Violette Lenoir has fallen victim to the bite of the vampire Charlotte. Her fire and energy have fuelled a terrifying change and a dreadful realisation; that Violette has become Lilith, the demon mother of all vampires. Haunted both by what she has done and by Violette's dark sensuality, Charlotte and her immortal lover Karl are drawn towards the dancer and the terrible destiny that has fallen on her shoulders. But other, far more dangerous shadows are gathering around Violette. To the vampire Sebastian and to the dark heirs of Kristian, she threatens to wreak havoc with their plans to bring all of mankind under their dark wings. Innocently embroiled in the endgame, courtesan extraordinaire Robyn Stafford finally meets her match as she is torn between the two ultimate lovers: Sebastian, and Violette..."
To learn more about The Dark Blood of Poppies (available beginning October 14th), visit:
On the night the vampires came, Sebastian Pierse was thinking of vengeance, grief and fire. Perhaps it was his anguish that drew the vampires to him. He gripped his injured right arm but hardly felt the pain, or the hot blood running from the gash to mingle with rain on the cobblestones. With sweat and rain running into his eyes, he put back his head and uttered a raw scream of desolation.
His cry rang off the walls and was swallowed in the downpour. The courtyard was the heart of the magnificent house he had built for his wife, Mary, but in darkness it was forbidding: a roofless prison.
Eight years he had worked to create the mansion beside the River Blackwater: the grandest house County Waterford had ever seen. He’d dreamed of taking Mary from their draughty tower house to the residence she deserved. The house was days from completion. And now he was going to burn it to the ground.
He’d planned to name it Mary Hall after her. Not now. They would never live here now.
Nothing left but to reduce the dream to literal ash.
Sebastian stared at rows of lightless windows above him. His overwrought mind played tricks; he saw shapes moving across the panes. Who’s inside? Those damned shadows again!
What will it take, he wondered savagely, to set this place afire? An English army, Cromwell’s or William’s, adepts at gutting tower houses and castles – where are they when they’re needed? Can one man do this alone, with only peat and firewood to set the blaze?
Yes, he told himself. I’ll burn the place, whatever it takes.
But he could barely move his arm. He was shivering. His shirt clung to him, linen and lace soaked with watered blood.
When Mary had told him the truth in the old house, that primitive stone pile, he felt no urge to punish her physically. Nor even to seek out her lover and take revenge with a sword-thrust. No, his first thought was the house, symbol of their future. But in a few words his wife had turned the future to winter.
The child isn’t yours, Sebastian.
The sight of her haunted him: her long, wheaten skeins of hair, the curve of her belly under a white chemise, her face blanching as she confessed. Her hand had groped for a pair of scissors, as if to defend herself, even though he’d never once shown her violence. Instead he’d run out into the night, across the fields and woods of his estate, as if running could purge the grief of betrayal.
Shadows followed him, like shapes cut from the night. All his life he’d been self-contained, unemotional – until tonight. Tonight he’d gone insane.
He had tripped on a rock, gashing his forearm. The cut went to the bone but he didn’t care.
After all we did, he thought, to keep our property out of English hands! His ancestors were Anglo-Normans: Catholics who’d come to Ireland in the twelfth century and intermarried with the locals until their English overlords saw them as indistinguishable from the native Irish. Yet Sebastian’s family had resisted all attempts to confiscate their lands.
My forefathers bested Elizabeth and Cromwell, he thought. God forgive me, I even turned Protestant to outwit William of Orange. So much effort and sacrifice – for nothing! But if I have no descendents to inherit this house, I’m damned if anyone else shall have it. Not Mary, not my brothers, not some accursed English nobleman.
He swayed, his vision blurring. Now the shadows were moving around the courtyard walls.
They’d haunted him for years. In the corners of the tower house, flitting between trees when he rode to see his tenant farmers, even writhing on the freshly plastered walls inside the mansion after the artisans had gone home.
Sebastian planted his feet wide apart to keep his balance. His heart pounded. The eternal presence of the shadows had shaped him into a brooding introvert who showed his wife too little affection.
“You are never here!” Mary had cried. “Always on your farms, or cloistered with your architects and builders. No wonder I couldn’t get with child. I never see you!”
What defence was that against the sin of adultery? Set the fire, he thought. Quickly, while I can still stand. The black sky split open and the rain became a deluge. Cursing, he ran, his boots slipping on cobblestones, to a cellar door behind the kitchen. There were logs and kindling in the cellar, he knew. Wait until the rain stops, he thought, lifting a latch and stumbling down the steps. Then I’ll do it. And with luck I’ll die in the blaze.
Inside the darkness was absolute, but he knew the cellar’s shape: a chamber like a long, curved tunnel with recesses for storage. Racks were set ready for beer barrels and wine. Just a store-room... yet it held an atmosphere of intense menace, like an ancient torture chamber. Sebastian sank against a wall, cradling his right arm. All he could see was a patch of stormy sky outside.
Then someone shut the door. Hinges creaked. The strip of grey gloom narrowed and vanished. Sebastian scrambled to his feet. “Who’s there?” He spoke in English and again in Gaelic. No reply. He started forward, then heard a footstep.
He was trembling as much with rage as fear. How dare anyone interrupt his plan? And why had he been foolish enough to rush out without a sword or pistol?
His arm was very bad now. He’d lost feeling in his hand.
“Sebastian,” the intruder whispered. A woman’s voice, with an unknown accent.
“Who is it? Show yourself!”
He saw eyes in the dark, a faint gold aura... Then came a wash of candlelight, painting the walls ochre and throwing lurid shadows from the feet of three overwhelming figures.
Sebastian couldn’t breathe. In that annihilating moment, all human concerns fell away.
Standing before him was a magnificent golden man with extraordinary yellow eyes, like a cat. He shone.
“Sebastian.” His voice was beautiful yet metallic. “I am Simon. Don’t be afraid. We have come only for your blood and your being.”
In blinding terror, he knew. This was a fallen angel, Lucifer robed in glory. And for his sins, they were about to dispatch him to hell.
He crossed himself with his good hand. The golden man laughed. His gaze fastened on Sebastian’s bloodstained sleeve.
“What have you done to your arm?”
In panic Sebastian looked around and saw the other two behind him, trapping him in the centre of a triangle. One was an attenuated man with snow-white skin and hair. The third, who held a candle, was female. He’d never seen anyone like her, even in Dublin or London. Her skin was dark brown like a nut, her hair a long fall of blue-black silk.
They wore satin robes, heavy with embroidered symbols, befitting their unearthly nature. They were too perfect, frozen in beauty like painted statues. Yet, paradoxically, they appeared so vital and full of fire that humans were flabby sleepwalkers by comparison.
Sebastian’s mind evaporated. “Is this punishment for what I did?” he breathed. “What did you do?” said the golden one, Simon, amused. “Renounced my religion. Became a Protestant. A sin, I know, but the only way to keep our estate out of English hands!” “We have nothing to do with that,” said Simon. He came closer. “God recognises no sects. No, Sebastian, we are not here to punish you. We have watched you for a long time.” Simon placed his hands on Sebastian’s shoulders. His eyes were new-minted sovereigns, spellbinding. He lifted the injured arm, peeled back the wet sleeve and began to lick the wound. Sebastian, horrified, could do nothing to stop him. “Why?” he whispered. “What are you?” But as he spoke, he knew. Not angels or devils but the faerie folk, the old Irish gods who existed for thousands of years before Christianity drove them out. Children of the goddess Danu...
“Vampires,” said the woman. From behind, she put her arms around his lean waist. “Immortals. Others. My name is Rasmila and our friend is Fyodor. Don’t be afraid. Why are you here alone, in such pain?”
Hypnotized, Sebastian answered. “Tell me, how better could I love my wife than by building her this house? But she says I never loved her. Ten years we’ve longed for a child. When she gave me good news, I was so happy, I wanted her to live like a duchess as she deserved... until I found out the babe isn’t mine. A servant told me she has a lover in Dublin, that she took him because I couldn’t give her children. So I asked, and she confessed. She says I’m at fault, that I’m never with her, that she had to prove she isn’t barren. But I was working for her while she acted the brood mare with another man! And now she loves him and I have no wife, no child, nothing. I built the house for nothing. Now it must be destroyed.”
“Poor Sebastian,” Rasmila said into his shoulder.
“But what are you thinking?” said Fyodor, stroking his neck. His eyes were silver, pitiless. Their hands felt hot like the sun, cold like porcelain. “Destroying this house is not revenge. Bloodshed is revenge!”
Simon lowered the arm from his lips. Sebastian looked at the torn, discoloured skin as if it did not belong to him.
“Fyodor is right. The house is innocent. If you burn it, you only hurt yourself. But if you desire true revenge – we’ll give you that.”
“How?” Sebastian shivered with awe and fearful excitement.
“Give yourself to us, and receive all the power you desire,” said Rasmila.
“What’s the price? My soul?”
“You think you possess a soul?” said Fyodor contemptuously. “You are only a thought in God’s head.”
“But His thoughts can live forever.” Simon’s large hand, with fingers like gold rods, hovered over his chest. Sebastian felt his life caught in a metal-cold balance.
“You were my choice,” said Rasmila. “Mine. You are beautiful and perfect. We love you, Sebastian. Whom do you love? Mary?”
“I love...” His knees buckled. “This house.”
Fyodor grinned. “Then sweep your enemies from your path, and you’ll be free!”
“Free?” “To follow another path,” said Simon. “I don’t understand.” “Give us your body and your blood. In return we shall grant life eternal.” “No,” he said weakly. “No.” He knew they would have their way. Yet he sank into their embrace still half-resisting, thinking, God help me! Save me! God remained mute. “We are the wings of heaven,” whispered Rasmila. Her kohl-lined eyes ensorcelled him; her warm mouth met his, igniting all his nerves.
As she began to make love to him, he couldn’t resist, even with Simon and Fyodor watching. He let her unlace his shirt and breeches, barely aware of his injured arm. He felt her fingers slide against his bare skin; he kissed the silky flesh of her neck and breasts. Astonishment and desire took him in a flash flood, extinguishing all the frustration of his poisoned love for Mary. In an unholy dream he pushed her down onto the flagstones, running his hand along the firm thigh beneath her robe. Underneath she was softly, sweetly naked.
Oh, she was human. Oh God, she was.
He entered her urgently, oblivious to the fact that two deities, like gold and silver flames, bore witness. Perhaps he was failing some test, giving in to temptation, but he didn’t care. The fire was everything. She clutched him, kissing his throat, laughing and gasping encouragement. He could not hold back.
The fire peaked, so complete and perfect that he sobbed. But it was over too soon.
Then his whole body ached with cold, and terror reclaimed him. His only impulse was to haul himself out of her arms, out of this madness.
Rasmila held him fast, seeming angry. Such strength, for a woman! He hadn’t satisfied her but he didn’t care, only wanted to escape the eerily dispassionate ferocity with which she gripped him, her arms around his back, her legs locked with his. Then – she bit his throat.
The attack came from two directions. Rasmila’s teeth sent pain plunging so deep that it pierced his heart. And the pale one, Fyodor, closed his mouth on Sebastian’s arm. He did not lick the wound as Simon had done, but savagely re-opened it and sucked hard until blood flowed again.
Sebastian began to choke for breath. He knew this faintness was the beginning of death. He tried to fight, but couldn’t. He was fading. Dying.
“Yes, you will die.” Simon’s voice echoed down a great tunnel. “But you will live again. You will be like us.”
A god, he thought, as he was jerked out of his body and into a burning, gold and purple firmament. A milk-skinned betrayer with the jewelled eyes of a saint.
When Sebastian returned to the old house, he found Mary fully dressed in her room, throwing clothes into a trunk. Her lover was there: a thin-faced, overdressed milksop of a man he’d never seen before. He’d come to take Mary away. Cheek of the Devil!
Seeing him, they both shrank in terror, clutching each other. How cold and bare was this stone chamber, but Mary had forfeited the luxury of the new house. He wondered how he looked; demonic, he imagined, his clothes ragged and bloody, his face luminous with the light of undeath.
“There’s nothing to fear,” Mary told her lover. “My husband can’t stop us. Tell him I’m going with you!”
Sebastian killed the man before he opened his mouth. Simply tore out his throat with his fingernails, stating, “I’d rather she’d had some peasant under a hedgerow than you.”
Mary screamed. She tried to escape but he held her easily with one hand, even though she was a tall, strong woman. Even though his hand had been useless a few hours earlier. Now there was no sign of injury on the flawless skin.
Sebastian felt completely calm. Unmoved by her terror, or even her infidelity. Such human concerns no longer mattered. Only her beauty moved him; she was still magnificent with her luxuriant hair and the sweet rosy glow of her skin...
“All I wanted was to give you a son!” she cried. “I would rather have had you, and no son.” “I loved you, but you never wanted me!” “You are mistaken,” he said quietly. “Let me show you how I wanted you.” And he bit her throat. Tore her abdomen, until his whole world was a scarlet sea.
Then he wept. His tears flowed out with her blood; and all the passion he hadn’t realised he felt, all the passion he’d neglected to show her, was distilled in the crimson heart of that moment.
His need sated, he let her lifeless body slip to the floor. Servants came running in, screaming, but he walked past them as if nothing had happened. Walked into the darkness and vanished.
Afterwards, he stood on a hill with Simon, Rasmila and Fyodor, looking up at the stars. Nets of light webbed a clear deep sky. Never before had he seen with such clarity, never dreamed that such crystalline beauty was hidden from mortal eyes. He could see for miles: northwards to the River Suir, the towers of Cahir Castle, the Golden Vale of Tipperary and Cashel of the Kings. Close at hand lay his own estate: the stump of the stone tower where Mary lay dead, and the unnamed Hall, a great, pristine mansion like a gold casket swathed in deep blue twilight. He saw the River Blackwater flowing on its dark way; the peaks of the Galtee and Knockmealdown mountains; and in between, a quilt of pasturelands and luxuriant woods, steeped in tints of green and violet and silver. Night-colours he’d never seen before. The air was sweet and icy, like wine.
“And was your revenge satisfying?” Simon asked. “It was meaningless,” said Sebastian. Simon nodded as if he understood, but Fyodor said, “To milk your enemies of their blood – meaningless?”
“I thought it would be a great, affecting tragedy, but it wasn’t. The only thing that mattered...” He struggled to explain, as much to himself as to them. “All that mattered was the blood. I realised as I drank my wife’s blood that no other affection, nothing can hold a candle to that red passion.”
“Exactly.” Simon spoke intensely. “And now you’re free of your earthly bonds.”
“Free?” He looked at Simon; awed by his beauty, yet no longer afraid. “What does that mean? I don’t care about Mary, I don’t care about the house or anything, not even the dead infant. If the price of revenge is to care for nothing but blood for eternity, I might as well be dead. You three have done this to me, and I don’t even know why!”
“Don’t be angry.” Rasmila slipped her hand through his arm. “You’ll find other passions. What will you do now? Stay here, or leave?”
“What?” Sebastian looked at her, amazed. “I thought you meant to take me with you.”
“Ah, no,” said Simon. “We are immortals, not nursemaids. We’ve bestowed glorious powers on you, but to learn their use – you are alone.”
“You can’t leave me like this!” Sebastian felt the absolute terror of abandonment. “Why have you done this to me?”
“Once or twice in a century,” Rasmila replied, “we choose an individual worthy of our gifts: power over humans, eternal life, a glimpse of heaven. You were my choice, Sebastian. You will be a wonderful immortal. Don’t let me down.”
Terror subsiding, he realised he was glad. He did not want these divine, malevolent creatures around him. More than ever, he wanted solitude.
“You want me to prove myself? Or rather, prove to your comrades that you made a good choice?”
“Of course,” she said stiffly, withdrawing her hands from his arm.
“Well, you can go to hell, all of you,” he said. He became aware of his blood thirst as a sprawling, uncontrollable entity, his future a wasteland. He sensed nothing of paradise or the faerie realm. “Hell. That is surely where you’re from, is it not?”
They looked at him with hard, cold eyes, displeased by his ingratitude. He thought, Perhaps they could kill me as easily as they changed me, but I don’t care. I’m not afraid of them anymore.
“We did not transform you to win love or hate,” Simon said sternly. “Your feelings mean nothing. We are only God’s instruments. You’ll learn that this existence is both a blessing and a curse. The pleasures of immortality carry a severe price: to be alone forever.”
“Good,” Sebastian said harshly. “You have it the wrong way round, my friends. Solitude is the blessing, blood-hunger the curse.” Simon and Rasmila looked at each other; exquisite demons with eyes of flame, disappointed yet amused by his insolence. Sebastian decided to leave before they abandoned him. A small act to show he was not their victim. He walked away through the long grass into the endless dark...
No one came after him, not even Rasmila.
He already knew he must leave Ireland. A new world was opening up to him; no longer the one he knew, but a dark twin of its daylight self. So before he left, he paid a last visit to his mansion.
How often had he walked through these cavernous rooms? First, the entrance hall and kitchens; then up sweeping stairs to the great salon with a double row of long windows, then the library, drawing rooms and dining rooms, and up again to the bedchambers, the nursery... All silent, shadowy, empty. Scents of fresh paint and new timber infused the air. The workmen’s clutter was gone and the rooms were naked, aching to be filled by carpets and furniture, paintings, books and ornaments. To receive the imprint of a new family.
He’d strolled these rooms with pride. He’d run through them in anguish, cursing as if Mary’s infidelity were their fault. Now he haunted them in a quiet reverie, saying goodbye.
Someone will live here, he thought, but not me. Some other family will shape these spaces to their own design and it won’t meet with my approval, but...
A revelation. He still cared about the house after all. The human urge to destroy it had passed. He didn’t even begrudge the place to strangers.
Euphoria gripped him.
“It doesn’t matter,” he whispered. “This house still belongs to me. It will always be mine in spirit. Whoever lives here will never be at ease. They will know they are only tenants of an unseen landlord.”
Time to leave, he thought, but one day... I shall return.
They’d seduced him with the Devil’s promises, the old gods, then flung him into purgatory. He brooded as he walked away from his house and lands... but in truth, he realised he had wanted this. He’d invited it, drawing the three to him with his love of solitude, the heat of despair and his yearning for fire and vengeance.
Sebastian was new-born, but he felt ancient. The vampires had only given him what he needed.