I thought it would be fun to post the origin story of A Clockwork Vampire on my blog. That way, those with slow connections can read the story without needing to download the whole Clockwork Companion.
Sometimes being a Good Samaritan has its bennies. Enjoy. But please note that this story includes adult content.
Story behind the cut.
THE CLOCKWORK VAMPIRE
A Steampunk Tale
K. H. Koehler
Author’s note: “A Clockwork Vampire” is a chapter that was edited out of the final version of A Clockwork Vampire. It appears between Chapters 7 and 8, at the point where Eliza is recovering from her gunshot wound at Derek’s penthouse. I originally felt that a break in the action to recount Edwin and Eliza’s first meeting was in order, particularly since Eliza is reconsidering her life with Edwin at the time, but in the end I felt that the chapter slowed the book down too much. As a result, it ended up on the “cutting room floor”. Still, I think it’s a great chapter and so decided to keep it as a “deleted scene”.
A noise had awakened her.
Eliza sat up in bed in her loft apartment above her store, Out of Time, and listened carefully, suddenly on full alert. She heard the clicks of the collection of clocks on the walls surrounding her and the hiss of rain from outside her window, beating down relentlessly on Flatbush Avenue. But otherwise, everything seemed normal and mundane.
Yet something had awakened her. She was sure of it.
The drapes were drawn back, letting in the runny neon glow of the tavern across the street. It allowed her to see in patches of flickering red light. She was alone. Nothing was out of place. Nothing was ever out of place. And yet, the feeling of danger, of a presence, was so strong, that she drew back the bedclothes, being as silent as possible, and climbed out of bed.
She fumbled for the light on the bedside table, but a sharp click, followed by more darkness, proved the storm had finally had its way. In seconds, she was out of bed, rummaging around for a flashlight. That was when she heard the muffled thump from downstairs. She held perfectly still, her ears straining for any new noises. Her heart was thudding in her throat. Slowly she reached for the phone on the nightstand and lifted it to her ear. She listened to the dial tone for a moment before realizing the futility of calling the police. Police officers asked questions. They dug for details. They might ask too many questions. They might learn who she really was. She returned the phone to its cradle. She was on her own.
She moved to her dressing table, carrying the flashlight under one arm, and found a pair of haircutting scissors. Thus armed, she padded silently down the hallway to the top of the stairs. Lights flickered across her tiny shop as cars and cabs flowed by. Taking a deep breath, she started down, her bare feet silent on the curve of the iron stairs. Nothing looked disturbed or out of place. Maybe she’d been dreaming. Maybe. She hoped.
At the bottom of the stairs she looked around the shop, but there was nothing to see. The storm had knocked out even the lights on the avenue now. She might as well be staring down into a black pit. She let out her breath in frustration, her patience frayed. “If someone is here, you’d better show yourself now.”
She steeled herself for an attack, fingers clenched about the scissors. If it was a burglar, or a kid looking for drugs, she could probably handle them. Probably.
No answer. Gripping the steel scissors even tighter, she moved carefully to the door, which was ajar. The lock was broken, the carpeting wet from the rain. Her heart was ticking in her throat very loudly but she refused to be cowed by some drunk or drug addict. Probably they’d meant to break into the pharmacy next door, then realized their error and left just as quickly as they had come. The pharmacy next door was always being tossed; it was one of the reasons she had gotten such a deal on the shop.
A sound made her jump. She turned and shone the flashlight all around the shop, but the light was dim and barely pierced the darkness surrounding her, making her feel like she was swimming in a sea of blackness. The shop was tiny and crowded, everything in muted grey shapes. But there was only one place for a burglar to hide, she knew. She turned the flashlight on the glass display case and heard a faint rustling noise emanating from behind it.
“Who are you?” she demanded to know, now more angry than afraid. She was strong enough, fast enough. She could outmaneuver most humans. “I mean to call the police!”
Still no answer. She took a wary step toward the display case, but a nervous shuffling made her hesitate. Her eyes had adjusted sufficiently enough to make out a manlike form crouched in the corner behind the counter. She turned the flashlight on him. “I don’t know who you are, but you can’t stay here. I’ll call the police and they’ll come for you!”
“Please,” a man said at last, shielding his face with his hand, “don’t.” He sounded hoarse and tired.
“I’m not kidding,” Eliza said, less angry now. He sounded like a man in trouble, a man in pain. Not that she was willing to drop her guard. This was New York City at two o’clock in the morning. “I don’t care what kind of trouble you’re in, I want you out of here now.” She took another wary step toward the display case.
The stranger was very tall, thin, but still imposing, dressed in a filthy wet coat, his damp hair lashed to his face and cheeks. His face, carved in deep shadows, looked like something one would expect to see on an actor out of old Hollywood. It didn’t fit his ragged, vagrant image. More lightning flickered, and the sudden flash of light caught in the man’s eyes, making him blink. His eyes looked like polished mirrors, capturing the light and intensifying it. She saw the flicker of nervous wings…
Thunder churned overhead and Eliza nearly jumped. “You’re a vampire!”
He flinched as if she had thrown something at him. “I’m very sorry, madam. I didn’t mean to frighten you. I was in a spot of bother, you see, and saw your shop, and I thought, perhaps…” His voice trailed away. He spoke with very round vowels and he clipped the ends of his words harshly, like he was pruning weeds. He sounded British, but without the smooth, rolling inflection that she usually associated with actors on TV.
She swallowed, her heart fluttering almost painfully in her chest. “You can’t stay here,” she repeated. Her hand hurt where it was wrapped so tightly about the scissors. She had instinctively raised her hand as if to ward off an attack.
He didn’t take offense. “You’re right, of course.” He tried to push himself upright using the wall as support, but only managed a few inches before he fell back down with a grunt.
She watched him carefully. “I can call for an ambulance.”
“I’m afraid they would be less then useless.” His voice held an amused note. “I’m already dead, you see.” She watched him try to rise again. Again he fell back, this time panting from the exertion. He was clutching his coat closed, but from between his fingers seeped a thick, almost tarry substance. Blood. He was bleeding to death.
She stared at it curiously. “Why aren’t you healing? What’s the matter with you?”
He glanced up at her with those mirror-bright eyes. His mouth was rouged with blood, she noticed, but it was dark, like the substance he was leaking all over her carpet. She thought it was probably his own. “I had a rather unfortunate run-in with an enemy. Not one of my more shining moments, I’m afraid. I thought this might be a pharmacy, not that such a thing might be much help to someone like myself, but one can only hope…” Suddenly his eyes rolled up into his head and he slumped back down against the wall.
Eliza stood there, trembling. Was the vampire dead?
She waited for what felt like an eternity, trying to decide if he was truly dead or not. She had never seen a truly dead vampire before; she didn’t know what one looked like. Slowly, she approached the vampire and knelt down in front of his seemingly lifeless body, shining the flashlight all over him. Despite being a Poppet, and spending three years at her master’s Court, vampires were still a curiosity to her. So perfectly formed and rich of face and voice, and yet there was something so cold and forbidden and alien about them, like beautiful, man-eating reptiles.
The blood was drying on the vampire’s lips. The icy white fingers were clutched about the folds of the coat. Eliza was leaning forward to examine his wound more closely when the vampire’s golden-yellowy eyes flared open and he gasped for air and sat straight up. Eliza squeaked in surprise and fell back onto her bottom in front of him, dropping the scissors and the flashlight. The flashlight guttered out, but at the same moment, all the lights in the shop suddenly flashed back on.
Eliza stared, dumbfounded, at her vampire visitor.
“Well, ‘ello there, madam,” said the vampire, who was absolutely gorgeous—handsome, devilish, unreal. Anyone who could look wet and miserable and disheveled and covered in blood and still be amazing to behold was someone to be admired. “Are you all right?”
She trembled. “You were dead!”
“That seems to be happening to me quite a lot of late.”
“You keep dying?”
“Damned inconvenient, if you ask me.”
He looked so indignant that she almost laughed despite her surprise and her fear. She struggled to keep a straight face. “I take it you’re not here to ravish me, then.” She immediately regretted saying it. She sounded so forward!
He looked her up and down rather sadly, making her acutely aware of the fact that she was wearing nothing but her sensible cotton nightgown. It made her want to cower, but if she did that, the vampire might sense her fear. “Unfortunately, no. I fear my nights of ravishing fair maiden are quite behind me.”
“You’ve ravished many fair maidens then?”
“Millions, at least,” he insisted with a perfectly straight face. Then his eyes rolled up into his head and he slumped back against the wall again.
A few moments later the light flashed back into his eyes and the vampire sat up again and refocused on her. “Hello again.”
“That’s got to be annoying.”
“You’ve no idea.”
“What’s wrong with you?”
The vampire moved a fold of the coat aside to reveal a ragged, seeping black hole at roughly the place where his heart ought to be. Thin black blood bubbled forth from the wound.
“My God,” Eliza exclaimed. “That’s a bullet hole, Mr….?
“McGillicuddy,” he offered.
“Mr. McGillicuddy,” she said with a nod. “It hasn’t killed you?”
“Not yet, though it appears to be working on that little detail, as it were.”
She was leaning all the way forward to examine Mr. McGillicuddy’s wound. It took her a moment to realize that she was practically sitting in his lap. He could have snatched her any number of times. He could have attacked her. Eaten her. Yet she wasn’t afraid, and she didn’t even know why. “Do you want me to remove it?”
He looked surprise by her offer, like a man who was unused to kindness. “Perhaps…” he began, and then he slumped down again.
This time Mr. McGillicuddy the vampire didn’t come round again. Eliza put her ear to his chest, but she could detect no heart beat, and when she took his big, cool hand in hers, she found he had no pulse. Was he really, truly dead this time? How could she tell? She sat back on her heels and thought about her options, which were few. She could call on the police and have them attend to Mr. McGillicuddy or she could do it herself.
Without giving it too much thought, she climbed to her feet, got her arms around her visitor’s waist, and pulled. He was a very big vampire, but she was a very strong Poppet. She hauled the dead weight of his body up over her shoulder in a fireman’s carry and walked him into the workshop at the back of the store, setting him down on her workbench.
The fear was burning away. She was more curious than afraid now. She flicked on the overhead lights and proceeded to examine her patient. Her vampire had skin as white as milk, a stubborn jaw, and a head full of longish coppery hair just a little out of fashion. She touched it, surprised to find it softer than it looked. She started undressing him, taking off first the coat, then the suit jacket, waistcoat and dress shirt. He had been living hard; his clothes were fit only for burning. Naked to the waist, she discovered he was well formed, not like a Poppet with exaggerated musculature, but like a human man who had known hard labor early on in his mortal life—lean, powerful, a natural fighter’s build.
The wound in his chest was open and awful, a large caliber handgun had put a ragged tunnel right through Mr. McGillicuddy’s heart, probably fired at close range, a hit that would have killed a mortal man dead on the spot. But there was less blood escaping the wound now. His body was shutting down, probably for the last time. He was dying by inches. But how did one save the life of a man who was already dead?
She turned and glanced around the workshop at all her shadowy machines sitting on shelves and in deep corners. Just about everything here ran on clockwork—gears operating on a basic, reliable escapement mechanism. Her mind jumped, making schematics in her brain. The idea interested her. She reached for a notepad that she kept on hand for writing down rough blueprints, and started sketching. When she’d finished, she had device much like an implantable artificial pacemaker. Only instead of producing electrical impulses to keep the heart beating, it would need to carry blood in and out of Mr. McGillicuddy’s damaged heart chambers.
She felt a swell of excitement as she went to work. She worked all through the night transferring her vision on paper into the real thing. When she was finished, it was a delicate but powerful little device, and she felt very proud of herself. Wearing a pair of goggles that brought her magnification up to the level of an electron microscope, she inserted it into the hole in Mr. McGillicuddy’s heart, then went to work re-connecting the tubes and valves of his damaged heart chamber to her homemade pacemaker. She certainly wasn’t a surgeon, but years of removing blooding bracelets from Poppets’ wrists helped to guide her hands. In any event, she couldn’t exactly lose the patient. He was already dead, as white as virgin snow with almost no blood left in his body.
She finished near morning and started binding Mr. McGillicuddy’s chest with bandages, leaving just enough space to insert a homemade key into the escapement mechanism and wind it. If this worked, the mechanism would need to be wound daily to start his heart. It should run for approximately twelve hours. After that, the pacemaker would need to rest and rest, after which it could be rewound. She keyed the device until she felt it reach its tension limit. Then she collapsed, exhausted, into a chair and waited, worrying that maybe she had done the wrong thing.
Maybe Mr. McGillicuddy wasn’t a friendly vampire. Maybe his smile and humor was a mask…just a lure to draw in unwary victims. You couldn’t trust a vampire; they were made of blood and deceit.
The escapement turned over, patiently clicking along, the noise strangely loud in the stillness of the early morning workshop. A final click indicated that it had completed its first rotation of the day. Eliza sat literally on the edge of her seat, holding her breath, wondering if it would actually work. In theory, it should be forcing the remnants of the vampire’s sluggish blood through his body and heart and, hopefully, back into to his brain. That should be enough to awaken him.
For many breathless moments nothing happened. Then Mr. McGillicuddy’s eyes flared open, looking pale golden under the harsh lights. He gasped for air, and his back arched as his whole body strained with sudden, forced life. He choked, then fell back on the workbench, looking sick and exhausted. But he was alive, at least. He was aware.
Eliza was on her feet in no time, standing over him like Victor von Frankenstein watching his amazing creation spring to life. Mr. McGillicuddy started gasping, licking his parched and broken lips. He was a vampire. He needed blood, of course. Blood to keep his clockwork heart alive. The next few moments were crucial.
She had to be brave. She reached for a sterilized scalpel and drew the edge through the skin on the underside of her forearm without stopping to think much about it. If she thought about it, she wouldn’t do it, she new. She felt no immediate pain, just the strange tingling sensation of a perfect, smooth-sided surgical incision. She turned her arm and lowered it so the first obscenely bright red droplets of her blood hit Mr. McGillicuddy’s mouth. He licked at it, savoring her taste with closed eyes. She shivered at the sight. She forced herself to lower her arm until he was able to lick her blood directly from the wound. Slowly he reached for her arm, held it to his mouth, and began suckling from her wound. She closed her eyes and grunted at the sensation.
She waited. After a few moments, he released his hold on her arm. He was watching her with something like wonder.
“It’s daytime,” she said. She stared down into his fierce, golden-yellowy eyes. “You should rest now.” She reached for bandages to bind her wound. “I’ll check on you tonight.”
Her day in the shop seemed to drag, each hour a painful eternity. By nightfall, she was jittery with excitement. She closed the shop an hour early and took a steam cab uptown to Market Row. There she shopped for her vampire visitor. She bought a bottle of synthetic blood and a change of clothes for Mr. McGillicuddy. She realized after a while that she hadn’t eaten all day, but it was just as well. There was no way she could stomach dinner when all she could think about was her marvelous invention animating a dead man!
Mr. McGillicuddy was standing by her shelves, amusing himself with her little devices, when she let herself in. He was dressed in his long black dress slacks and open dress shirt, complete with bloodstains. He looked up as she approached, noted the bottle and the bundle of clothes she carried, then immediately turned his full attention back to her face.
“I brought you some things,” she said lamely. She’d had no idea what to buy for him, and his size had limited her options, so she’d just bought everything in the tallest sizes available. It was not very fashionable wear, in distinctively non-vampire colors, but she hoped he wouldn’t mind.
He approached her, filling the small workshop with his presence, making her heart trip in her chest like she was the one with the bad mechanical heart. He took a shirt from her, examined it, and then smiled. “Awful kind of you, madam,” he said in a courtly way. He took her hand and brought the knuckles of her hand to his lips.
She trembled, partly in excitement, mostly in fear. All the vampires she had known as a young Poppet had been just as courtly, at least until they got you in bed.
He let her go. “I won’t harm you, madam, I assure you.” He maintained his smile, close-lipped, revealing nothing. “Unless, of course, you wanted me to.”
She blushed. She knew he was kidding, but it still made her uneasy. She set the bottle down on the bench beside him. This close, she couldn’t help but be affected by his presence, huge, frightening, a mystery. He held very still as he watched her, as if afraid he might spook her by moving. The silence stretched on between them until she said, “How do you feel?”
“Alive.” He moved his hand to his heart with wonder. “You did an excellent job of fixing me, madam.”
“May I see?”
He moved the shirt aside for her inspection.
He had removed the bandages, and the sutures she had used to bind the wound in his chest had already melted away, leaving it whole and unblemished, like he had never been injured. His chest was broad and pale white, with a shallow mat of blond fur several shades lighter than his hair encircling his nipples and moving downward over his chest and belly. He was very smooth otherwise; even the pale reddish beard at his jawline and throat looked like vellum. She touched his chest tentatively. She started to explain about the clockwork heart, how it was necessary that it be wound once daily to animate his body. The torque in the pacemaker was only designed to hold a tension for half a day, much like a clock. At the end of each active period he could expect to fall into a kind of cataleptic sleep, giving the device a chance to rest and reset itself. After a few hours of sleep, he would need someone to apply the key again. She was still explaining these things when she felt his hand go to the nape of her neck and lightly touch her there, the feeling electric.
Somehow, they had drifted closer. She was all but leaning against him when she finally realized what was happening. She tried to draw back, but he had her, and he wasn’t about to let her go. He ducked his head and she felt the coolness of his brief kiss near her hairline, very light, and the brief scratch of his beard. She smelled his subtle, spicy cologne. Her heart jumped and she took a quick step back.
He held very still, sensing her unease. He looked at her solemnly with his fierce, wolfish eyes. “Forgive me, my lady. I am most grateful and would like to repay you in some way for what you have done. He looked at her so intensely that it made her stomach flip over. “I’m afraid I have no money at present. However, I am completely at your disposal.” He smirked and gave her a courtly bow. “A most obedient servant.”
It took her a moment to realize he was waiting for her instructions. “Oh.” She glanced about the workshop, which was a terrible shambles of late. “You might clean the workshop for me. That would be very useful.”
“As my lady commands.” He smiled, showing beautiful ivory teeth and, for one brief heartbeat, very small, catlike incisors.
She watched him steadfastly. “I would certainly appreciate the extra help. But you can’t stay here. I have a bedroom upstairs.”
He went to the workbench and sat down, stretching out his long, long legs. “A bedroom. I see.” He smirked as if she’d just made a witty joke. He sat with his back painfully straight, not stooping like very tall men often do. It made him seem ever larger and more imposing. His wings, when he stretched them out, were a dark, shining wine red. The open shirt revealed his expanse of pale, sunless chest, and the soft edge of hair that glittered gold under the lights. His dress trousers molded about his calves and thighs most stunningly. His smile grew as he watched her examine him. “Will you be there?”
She jerked her attention around to his eyes. “What?”
“We’ll share your bedroom?” he asked, making it sound like a reasonable question when it was nothing of the sort.
She couldn’t tell if he was joking or being perfectly serious. “I thought…you can have it during the day. You do sleep during the day?”
“I sleep when I tire,” he answered. He saw the silent question in her face and elaborated by saying, “I’m very old, madam, and the older the vampire, the less sleep we require. Over the decades our bodies adjust themselves to work on virtually no sleep at all, storing up a sleep debt that can then be paid off by hibernating for years at a time. Things are rather more convenient that way. However, it would seem since I have this…disability…now, and shall have to work on a more traditional schedule.”
“Then we can share the bed.” She realized what she’d just said and closed her eyes and corrected herself. “I mean…since there’s only one bed, you can have it during the day, and I’ll have it at night.”
“Quite sensible.” He continued to stare at her so intently that it made her quiver deep inside. One of two things were going to happen in the next few minutes, she realized. She was either going to have to go to him and run her hands over that smooth expanse of chest and feel that golden hair under her fingers and have him kiss and lick her all over, or she was going to have to run away.
She chose to run. It was the more sensible thing to do. Practical. And she was a very practical woman. “Goodnight, Mr. McGillicuddy,” she said and turned to walk out of the workshop, acutely aware of how he was watching her, his eyes roving over her with every step.
They worked out an amicable schedule between them. During the day, Mr. McGillicuddy slept in her bed and she tended the shop. In the evening, she wound him up and took his place in bed, carefully changing the sheets as soon as he had left her bedroom. She did not want to sleep in sheets that had been touched by a vampire. At night, Mr. McGillicuddy watched the shop and tidied up her workshop, which had fallen into near ruin in the years since she’d opened her establishment. He even cooked well, which surprised her some.
One the third day, he surprised her by making a shepherd’s pie for dinner. She didn’t know what to say as she came down the stairs, led by her nose. The smells were divine and were not known to emanate from her kitchen. She pointed out to Mr. McGillicuddy that the stove cooked for her, but he insisted on doing it “the old fashioned way,” which was, according to Mr. McGillicuddy, the only way one could truly enjoy a shepherd’s pie.
He scooped up a small portion and offered her the plate, carefully warmed in the oven. He was being so sweet that she let him seat her and practically spoon-feed her the warm, creamy potatoes and beef. She ate a few ladylike bites and dutifully thanked him. And then, when he’d gone off to clean the storeroom and she was comfortably alone, she consumed the rest of his pie.
On the fifth night, Raymond called on her. He said he had tickets for the new Faust musical. She had been seeing him on and off for around two months, though nothing serious had come of it, at least not yet. He was the grandson of one of her clients, a very nice young man who worked as a junior partner in his father’s law office. She closed the shop early and spent the next two hours trying to find something appropriate to wear. She was perfectly on the mark with her fashion sense until she had to entertain gentlemanly company. Then it seemed she had nothing in her closet that didn’t resemble a weary, shapeless rag.
She was tightening the corset of her gown when she realized she did not want to go out tonight. She did not want to see Raymond. Her hair was a mess from all the humidity the city was experiencing, and the white moiré gown she had bought for just such engagements made her look like a pale elephant. She did not know why she had bought white. White only made you look fat. For no reason at all, she sat down at her dressing table and started to cry.
She hadn’t cried in a good long time, and the little, useless pity party she was throwing for herself felt very good tonight. At least until she was interrupted.
“Madam, are you all right?”
She looked up. Mr. McGillicuddy was standing in the doorway of her—of their—bedroom, looking concerned. She sat up straighter. “Yes, of course,” she said in a much brighter tone. “It’s just that I received sad news today.”
He looked at her carefully. “I’m sorry to hear. I made you some steak and kidney pie.”
“I’m not very hungry, but thank you,” she told him. She stood up, grabbing up her hat.
“Will you be wanting some supper later tonight, after your engagement?”
She turned and looked at him. He leaned in the doorway, long and lean, pale and devilish, watching her in that way he had, a way that would have frightened her to death had she not known he meant her no harm.
It made her wonder why she was going out to see Raymond tonight.
He had waited up for her.
He had moved the kitchen table to her bedroom and set it for a formal meal. She was astonished by the amount of care he had taken, from the multiple tablecloths layered just so and the tall white candles burning in the candelabrum to the lovely arrangement of tulips in the center of the table. It was both simple and elegant.
She unpinned her hat and just looked at it all.
There were two places set at the table. She felt her heart jump at the sight of it.
“Did you enjoy the opera?” Mr. McGillicuddy asked, suddenly appearing behind her.
She jumped a little, then turned to face him. He was carrying a covered dish that he set on the table near her plate. “Actually, I don’t really care for the opera.”
“Really? I find it amazing pageantry.”
“Perhaps I should have taken you. Raymond hates it. He only goes because his father has seasonal tickets.”
Why was she babbling so? It was all so embarrassing.
Mr. McGillicuddy studied her. His face was impassive, but his eyes looked darker, moodier. He did not smile. “Did you enjoy your time with Raymond?”
Eliza hovered in place, feeling strangely like she was being pinned down. “Raymond is Raymond,” she said only.
He looked like he was ready to comment on that, then changed his mind. He pulled out her seat instead. “Please, sit.”
“It’s rather late to eat a large meal, isn’t it?”
“You realize you’re much too thin, don’t you?” he countered. “And that what you do is dangerous?”
His statement took her by surprise. She stared at him a long moment, going through various stages in her mind. She started with anger, then realized that if she reacted to his words, it would only confirm what he obviously already suspected about her. She would not get angry. Instead, she chose to remain passive, but that only made her look guilty, she knew, like she was confirming all his suspicions. Finally, she could only glare at him as unwelcomed tears formed in her eyes and threatened to spill down her cheeks. She did not know why she was apt to cry so.
This was all Mr. McGillicuddy’s fault. She had never cried so much before him.
“Come, sit,” he said, softly, gently, extending his hand to her.
She looked at it a long moment before taking it. Mr. McGillicuddy’s hand was cool and very firm, much larger than her own. The moment he had her, she felt a spike of fear. He was a vampire, and he moved like one, turning and falling with impossible grace into her chair and carrying her down into his lap before she even realized what he was doing.
She thought about bounding up, telling him off, but he put his free hand across her legs where she sat sideways in his lap, preventing her from rising. “No,” he said with authority. His voice rumbled in his chest where she leaned against him. “Tonight you’ll eat correctly.” With his other hand, he uncovered the dish. The smell of the braised meat and shortcrust pastry drew her like a magnet. He scooped up some with a fork and offered her a bite. She felt ridiculous, he was treating her like a child, yet her entire body strained toward his offering.
It was buttery and savory and sweet all at once. “I wish you could taste this,” she said in a most unladylike way around the hot food she was gulping.
“I intend to,” he answered.
She looked at him, afraid he had some dubious intention toward her. He moved his free hand from her legs to the back of her neck, bent her head a little, and kissed her. It was a very sweet kiss. He tasted like candy apples, her favorite Halloween treat. His tongue moved along her bottom lip, tasting the pie there, but did not venture into her mouth. He let her go and she sat back in his lap, feeling strangely disappointed but acutely aware of the fact that she was sitting in a man’s lap. She wanted to move, but he had her, and he had no intention of letting her go. He scooped up more pie and offered it to her. His kiss followed, more ardent now, his tongue darting briefly into her mouth to taste the food he could never eat.
It took some time for them to consume the pie, but somehow they managed it. Together. There was wine as well, and chocolate-covered strawberries. Mr. McGillicuddy sampled both vicariously through their kisses. She groaned at the sweet and sour taste mingling in his mouth. She felt like she could fall asleep against him. She had never felt so full and content.
“Is my lady well?”
She lowered her eyes. “Yes, of course. I’m just not used to this much food.”
He kept his hand on her back, pushing her relentlessly toward him. “That’s terribly sad. It’s only when you lose the opportunity to appreciate something that you truly miss it.” His hair, cut longer in the front and shorter in the back, fell into his eyes. The sight of him, and his glittering amber eyes, made a warm dampness pool in her lower half, part fear, part excitement. She wanted to brush the hair out of his eyes, feel its softness in her fingers.
He was close enough now that she could see all the little details, his smooth, white, concentrated face with its sharp, stubborn chin, his old-world beauty, his wiry auburn hair with its blood red highlights, his pale, yellowish eyes trained on her like the eyes of a predator sighting down prey from the long dry grass of the Serengeti. She shivered violently at the way he watched her, devoured her with his eyes. He said, smoothly, in a hoarse baritone, “Is my lady cold?”
She shook her head.
“Is my lady afraid?”
“Good.” He licked his teeth, and the sound of his tongue churning in his mouth startled her all the more.
She swallowed and took great pains to stop her thudding heartbeat and rapid breathing before she started hyperventilating right there in his lap. “Why are you doing this?”
He looked thoughtful. “I want you.”
Those were the words that Raymond had spoken earlier in the evening, while they were enjoying drinks at his dad’s favorite white-collar bar. Sitting across the table, he’d taken her hands as any proper gentleman would, and asked her to stay with him tonight, to go back with him to his penthouse apartment. He had put so much time into it, explaining how everything about them was compatible as if he had charted it all out, connected all the dots. They were both successful. Both ambitious. He had it all figured out. But she hadn’t gone home with Raymond, who was handsome and wealthy. Raymond, who could protect her, hide her inside the inner circle of the upper crust. Who could give her anything she wanted.
She looked deep into Mr. McGillicuddy’s eyes and saw only more depth. “Do you…plan to hurt me?”
“Are you a virgin?”
“No,” she said sadly. She hadn’t been a virgin since she was eighteen years old, when her master had come for her.
“Then I shan’t be hurting you.”
She frowned her question at him.
“I mean to have you tonight,” he said, moving his hand from her back to her side. He was able to cup almost her entire waist in his one hand. “To take you. To be inside of you.”
His words only made the desire worse. She steadied her hands on his shoulders. She countered it by saying, “And if I protest?”
His narrowed his amber eyes as he played the game. “Then I shall have to seduce you. I warn you, madam, you won’t get away. Some have tried, none have succeeded.” He smiled to show he was kidding.
She smiled in return, then gasped when he stood up with her cradled in his arms. He was very strong, very determined.
Seconds later, they were in her bed. He pounced atop her so she was awash in his scent. It reminded her of Halloween, her favorite holiday, apples and candy and sweet fall leaves. His head dipped and his mouth first tickled the corners of her mouth, then kissed her in a way that was almost chaste. Desire saturated her. Eliza groaned in frustration. She didn’t want chaste, brotherly kisses. Those she got from Raymond. She reached up and gripped his shirt, kissed Mr. McGillicuddy hard, so hard that she knocked teeth with him. He drew back, startled. “Oh my,” he said in wonder.
She was starting to feel stupid. “Sorry,” she said.
He smiled. “I rather like a woman who can take initiative. There are far too few young women in the world who know how to properly seduce a vampire, you see.”
That encouraged her. She reached up and ran her hands down the back of his neck and between his shoulder blades, pushing down the shirt. His wings stirred at her touch, both warm and cool at the same time, utterly strange. She kissed him fully, the first real kiss. His tongue curled past her teeth to brush the sensitive roof of her mouth. It sent shocks of sensation coursing through her body. She turned her head and kissed the side of his neck, first gently, then not so gently. Her teeth nibbled his skin there. She moved upward, over his chin and cheek. When she finally reached his ear, she licked and nibbled that too. “Oh my,” he said, sounding breathless. His hands roamed freely over her body, touching her intimately through her now badly wrinkled opera gown. She noticed that the level of aggression in his touch seemed to be directly proportionate to how hard she was biting his ear. It was almost a fetish. She made a mental note to remember the ears.
Finally, he laughed uneasily and pushed her away.
“Did I find your kitty cat spot?” she asked, running her fingers over his hair, fine and thick and soft like the fur of an animal.
“The place that makes you meow.”
“You saucy wench.” He leaned down to capture her mouth, driving his tongue deep into her wetness there. No more brotherly kisses. He kissed her like he meant to eat her. She groaned and ran her hands down his sides, gripped his hips and pulled him tight against her. He was very hard. She smiled against his mouth as he kissed her. Together, they fumbled to undo his pants. But there was something about the mechanics of his button and zipper that made his trousers as impervious as a chastity belt; even two pairs of hands made it no easier to undo. “Bloody hell,” he growled against the side of her throat.
Thankfully, she was a mechanic. She pushed him over, hoping to get him onto his back so she could work on his trousers at her leisure, but they were too close to the edge of the mattress, and before she could stop them they’d tumbled over, she on top and Mr. McGillicuddy beneath. He fell, grunting, to the floor, his wings outstretched.
“I’m so sorry!” she said from atop him, covering her mouth with both hands.
“You’re going to kill me, woman,” he complained. “Which would be a might unseemly, seeing how you’ve brought me back to life.”
“I am so sorry!” She wanted to cry, and she hated crying. She started climbing off Mr. McGillicuddy’s prone body, but he reached up and gripped her by the hips, holding her in place atop him.
“No,” he commanded. “Stay.”
She stayed, straddling his hips. Mr. McGillicuddy smirked evilly up at her. He ran the palms of his hands up her body, then down again, lifting her gown up and away so she was dressed in only her chemise and sliding her underthings out of his way. She felt her face flush with embarrassment when she realized how wet she was. Surely he could feel it as he disrobed her. She had never been on top before. Her Vampire Lord had not liked women on top; neither had Derek. Her memories of sex with them was of a lot of straining and pushing inward, but not much fun, at least for her. No comedic misadventures had ever been involved, that was for sure.
Watching her expression very carefully, Mr. McGillicuddy slid his hand down her naked hip, along her belly, then deftly inserted first one, then two inside of her, testing her wetness. She groaned at his touch. He smiled and narrowed his eyes. He withdrew his fingers, drawing them up into the soft nest of raven black hair at her groin, up further up to encircle her navel with her own wetness, then down again so he could reinsert his fingers. He moved his other hand up her spine to the back of her neck, forcing her to bend forward so he could kiss her mouth and insert his tongue while he touched her inside, moving ever deeper. Eliza undulated her hips. It was an amazing feeling, having him inside of her in two places. He placed his hand behind her head and held her in place while he churned his tongue in her mouth and simultaneously moved his fingers in slow deep circles inside of her.
She was nearly to the edge of her own release when he suddenly stopped. He kissed the corners of her mouth, then slid his tongue across her lips, over her chin, then down her throat. She tensed when she felt the hard imprint of his teeth grazing her collarbone. “No,” she begged, feeling the awful onslaught of tears. She hated biting, the invasive pain that was never pleasurable, no matter what the paperback lies said. She didn’t want to be a Poppet tonight; she wanted to be a woman. A woman being loved by a man. “No biting…please.”
He moved his mouth obediently on, down the sweating hollow between her breasts until he was tonguing one of her nipples through the almost sheer white chemise. She was glad it was sensible cotton. It was soaked through almost immediately, and when he finally began to suckle her in earnest, it was like there was nothing between his mouth and her flesh at all. He moved to lavish attention on her other nipple. His teeth grazed her, but he did not bite. His lips on her and his fingers playing inside of her made an amazing counterpoint that had her undulating and gasping, a primal, rhythmic dance that pushed her ever further toward the edge until she felt her face and throat flush and the pleasure shot hot and fierce through her entire body, bowing her back and exposing her throat to him. She made little embarrassing noises like hiccups as she shuddered atop him. When it was over, she realized he was smiling up at her.
“Don’t laugh at me.” Her face flushed a deep crimson. She covered her face with her hands.
“I’m not laughing. It’s sweet,” he said. “I like the way you come.”
Her Lord had said she was too sweet, too bookish, too inexperienced. She wasn’t seductive and wild like the other Courtesans. For that reason, she had never attained a higher position at Court. She didn’t know why it should sadden her now, but it did. It was like there was something broken inside of her.
“You’re very sexy,” Mr. McGillicuddy said.
“No, I’m not. You’re just saying that.” She rubbed her tearstained face with the backs of her wrists. She wished this had not happened—she felt like a fool. “Not sexy…silly.”
“Silly can be very sexy.” He reached up and pulled her hands away from her face. “Why do you cover your face? Let me look at you. I want to see your eyes when you come.” His words only made her want him more, which saddened her because she wouldn’t have blamed him if he’d wanted to quit. He watched her carefully, brushing away her tears with his thumbs. “Shall I stop?”
She shook her head.
“Do you want me, my lady?” he asked with genuine interest.
She nodded. As if he couldn’t tell.
“Then take me.”
“I don’t know what to do.”
Resolved, she went to work on his trousers again. This time, sitting atop him, it was much easier. But there was really no romantic way to get a man’s pants off. She tugged on them until she had them down his long, lean legs and his shoes off and all that remained were a pair of boxers. She knelt beside him on the floor. He looked her over with those hungry eyes of his. He reached up and ran his thumb over her mouth, following the crease in her lips. “Now, my lady, have your wicked way with me.”
“What would you like me to do?”
“Do whatever you want to do.”
“Do you want to try the bed again?”
“Nah,” he said, lying flat on the floor, his wings whispering against the carpeting, “I’m good.”
She ran her fingers lightly across his chest, through all that golden hair. She found it pleasingly soft, like his skin. She rubbed her cheek against it, then leaned down and started kissing him, starting with the hollow of his throat and working her steady way downward, stopping to linger over his heart. She could feel the clockwork mechanism ticking along under his skin when she put her ear against it. He was all softness over hard, flesh over mechanics, the first clockwork vampire, she realized. She smiled. She stared kissing him again, this time following the narrow line of soft, golden hair down his belly until she reached the edge of his shorts. He wore very funny shorts with the Bat Signal on them. She bit back a smile.
“What?” He looked down on her with mock severity. “I like comics. Sue me.”
“I’ve never met a vampire who liked comics.”
“Now you have. Please continue.”
She started licking around his navel, then down further, pushing his shorts down his hips a few inches to accommodate her exploration. The hair at his groin was soft and golden, with highlights of red, almost the mirror opposite of the hair on his head—a rich, almost wooden auburn, with splices of gold.
“I don’t dye my hair, no,” Mr. McGillicuddy said, as if fully expecting the question. He’d probably encountered it often enough in the past. “I’m Gaelic. The drapes have never matched the rug. Sorry about that.”
She laughed then, suddenly, and he smirked in response. She straddled his hips and moved her kisses back up his long lean body until she found his mouth. She kissed him softly, pushing her tongue past his lips, controlling the kiss. He kissed her back, his tongue flicking over her lips, but made no move to grab her or direct her; it was her turn to seduce. She moved back down his body until she’d returned to the funny Batman shorts. She’d enjoyed the way his warm wet mouth had felt on her nipples through the thin cotton of her chemise so she started licking him through the shorts. They were, fortunately, made of cotton as well. It didn’t take her long to wet them through and through.
He groaned and undulated his hips. He ran his fingers affectionately over her hair. “I don’t mean to interrupt your expert ministrations, my lady, but if you continue this way, there will be no grand finale, if you know what I mean.”
“Oh.” She hooked her fingers in the boxers and pulled them down. She was pleasantly surprised. She kissed and licked him all over until his eyes had rolled up almost completely in his head. Only then did she position herself atop him. She rolled her chemise up like a wreathe and tossed it aside.
“Oh my,” Mr. McGillicuddy said breathlessly, staring up at her with wide, awestruck eyes. He put a fluttering hand to his heart. “Be still.”
“You’re funny, Mr. McGillicuddy,” she said, feeling much better, more relaxed now. For the first time, sex wasn’t about a perfect grand performance or trying to be a beautiful seductress; instead, it was about feeling good and having fun with her partner. And, she found, she was having quite a lot of fun with Mr. McGillicuddy!
“You are absolutely gorgeous, madam. A sight for these poor, weary traveler’s eyes.”
“So silly,” she added.
She bit her lip. “I’ve always thought of sex as serious.”
“Sex is serious.” He watched her closely as if he could never drink her in completely. “But making love can be fun and silly.” He ran his hands up her ribs, cupped her breasts, and thumbed the peaks until they were as hard as little stones. Then he ran his hands down the sensitive undersides of her arms, took her by the hands, and slowly guided her down upon his erection. He smiled and said in a soft voice, “I can tell that you’re the kind of woman who enjoys making love.” Holding her hands, he let her take him slowly, an inch at a time, at her own pace, until he was completely ensconced within her. He felt just right there.
He watched her carefully, bringing her hands to his lips. “Now ride me, my love.”
Eliza rode him. Slowly at first, but then with a steadily increasing rhythm. She stared down into his eyes and felt him dragging her down into them, mentally and emotionally. He moved his hands to her hips and held her firmly in place as he thrust upward. “Now come for me,” he panted, and she came hard and fast, gasping with the effort but never breaking eye contact with Mr. McGillicuddy. At the end he groaned, thrust upward as far as he could go, and his eyes turned all black as his seed flooded her.
They both finished, gasping and laughing and clutching each other.
They decided to give the bed another try. They lay side by side, and at his insistence she touched him, her fingers wandering everywhere, her touch as much exploratory as sexual. Despite her history as a Pleasure Poppet, she had never actually seen a man completely naked. She had always performed in the dark. Even with Derek, what they had done had been in the dead of night like an act of shame. Mr. McGillicuddy was absolutely lovely…and shameless. She put her hand over his heart, leaned up and kissed him lightly, deeply, all kinds of ways, but always carefully, because his teeth were surprisingly sharp in his mouth. He was the first vampire she had encountered who did not cut his teeth; even her Vampire Masters cut their teeth because it was au courant among the Courts.
“You’ve never been on top?” he asked, a note of outrage in his voice. They must have been discussing it. She couldn’t remember. She shook her head, thinking of her times with her Lord, and even those times with Derek. Sex with them had been clinical—sudden, quick, a bodily function. She remembered another Courtesan describing sex with her Vampire Lord as masturbating inside a warm body, which was appropriate. They never let her touch. They never let her talk, or laugh like a real woman.
Mr. McGillicuddy held her, coddling her like a real woman, running the smooth of his fingernails over her face and hair with exaggerated tenderness. “What else have you not done, madam? I shall need the list.”
One week of perfection. One week of feeling like a real woman.
Mr. McGillicuddy changed his schedule to accommodate their new relationship. During the day, he introduced himself as her employee to her clients and customers and did the menial tasks of keeping the shop clean, the workshop orderly and the clocks dust-free. At night he stole into her bed and into her body. She would wake in the middle of the night with his familiar weight pressing her into the mattress and his bruising kiss upon her throat. Their lovemaking made a warzone of the bed and left them both breathless and laughing like old friends.
And yet, she was miserable. After Mr. McGillicuddy had pleasured her until she was sore from want of him, she would turn over and bury her wet eyes in the pillow. He was a wanderer. On day, soon—perhaps the next day, or the next—he would leave her. He would move on in his travels and she would be but a footnote in his history. She would never see her clockwork vampire again.
On a night two weeks after they had met, she closed the shop early and stepped into the workshop. It was empty; Mr. McGillicuddy was busy dusting the clocks. She wandered around the shelves until she reached the workbench. She touched his clothes, the old bloodstained shirt lying there, and felt a great well of sadness opening up inside of her, threatening to suck her down into despair.
Behind her came the sound of the door closing softly, and footsteps approaching. Mr. McGillicuddy came up behind her, very close, and slid an arm around her waist. He pulled the pins from her chignon so her hair showered down upon her back and shoulders. He pressed familiarly against her, begging entry into her. She didn’t say anything. No words were needed. She leaned against the workbench, her hands balanced on the edge, and felt the chill of the room as he lifted her skirts, parted her underthings, and ran his hands across her nakedness. He bent her even further forward, until her breasts rested against the workbench, leaned against her back and rump, steadied her hips, and thrust deeply inside of her, quick and satisfying. She bit her lip, straining against him as they found a now-familiar rhythm that was not only erotic but strangely comforting. In just two weeks she had learned to love the feel of his strength pressing into her, possessing her, but also protecting her.
She groaned. He was as hard as iron inside of her.
“Yes,” she answered, nearly whimpering when he increased his rhythm. She arched her back and ground her hips against him as they finished together, quickly, harshly, leaving them both panting with exertion. He leaned down to tenderly kiss the back of her neck. “We should get married.”
She fixed her clothes and turned to look at him. She thought he was kidding, making a joke in poor taste, maybe even making fun of her, except that his eyes were clear and focused as he leaned against her, trapping her against the workbench, preventing her from running away. “Married?”
He played with the buttons of her dress, undoing one. “Do you think it’s a very bad idea?”
She stared at him, stunned. “Not bad, just…abrupt.”
“Perhaps you’re right.” He smiled wickedly at her. “You realize, of course, that your society lady clients are already talking about us.”
“Indeed. I can hear them right through the walls as they enter the shop. They think they are being clever. They think you are frightfully scandalous to have a vampire as a servant…and a lover.” He undid another button.
She felt a jolt. She had noticed an influx in clients and customers this past week, mostly women, all of whom fluttered around Mr. McGillicuddy like handmaidens. It made it very difficult for her to be civil to them when what she really wanted to do was to take a parasol to the floozies eyeing up her clockwork vampire. “Maybe you’re right. But marriage?”
He lowered his head, biting briefly at the bodice of her dress. “It would undoubtedly save your reputation. And then I could make certain you ate correctly.” He eyed her sternly.
She blushed furiously. In the past two weeks she had gained almost ten pounds. In the past, such a thing would have horrified her. But so much had changed. She ate with Mr. McGillicuddy every night and then they retired to her bed to make love. There was no time to slip away to the bathroom and evacuate her stomach when he was loving her so thoroughly and completely. And afterward, she was usually too exhausted to do more than drift off to sleep.
He looked at her carefully. “Does marriage frighten you, madam? You smell worried.”
She shook her head. “No, I rather like the idea of marriage.” She hesitated. “But what do you mean about smelling worried?”
“Different emotions produce different pheromones. Vampires can easily detect those pheromones.” He reached out and touched her hair lightly with just his fingertips. “If we don’t know what a victim is feeling, thinking, it makes it very difficult to seduce one.”
Sadness clutched her heart. “Is that what I am? A victim?”
He gave her a poignant look. “Madam, if you were my victim, I would have been feeding on you every night, despite your protests. I would be the one growing nicely round.” He moved his hand down her side to clutch her hip. He loved touching her, molding his hands over her.
She felt ashamed. He was right, of course. “Well, what do I smell like?”
He brushed her hair aside and pressed his face against the side of her neck, inhaling her scent, which raised shivers all along her skin. “Mostly you smell like me.”
“It’s quite fetching. “I’m pleased that you smell like me, like mine.” Mr. McGillicuddy’s hand moved to brush her face, his eyes guarded as he read her. “You smell like desire. You want me, which is understandable. I can bring you great pleasure. You enjoy having me as your lover. But you also smell of fear, as if you do not trust your own instincts. Perhaps you’ve come to regret our nights together?”
“It’s not that.” She shook her head. “I’m not afraid of you, Mr. McGillicuddy. And no, I don’t regret our nights together. In fact, this past week has been the happiest I’ve ever been in my life.”
“I’m flattered.” He moved his hands back down to her hips, holding her gently and yet possessively against him. She was coming to understand that about Mr. McGillicuddy. He did not easily relinquish what was his. “Are you fearful you may have acted foolishly…impulsively? Vampires cannot foster children on anyone, undead or alive, if that’s what has you concerned.”
She knew that already. Vampires did not have viable sperm, and Poppets were not even born with working ovaries. It would take a miracle of titan proportions for them to conceive a child. It would never happen. Her real worry was that he didn’t know that she was a Poppet, a runaway, something created for the pleasure of vampires, not a real woman, not like he seemed to think. “No.” She lowered her eyes. “I’m not worried about that. I…there are things about me that you don’t know. Things that might offend you.” It was the perfect opportunity to explain, she knew. Yet she hesitated. What if he saw her for what she truly was? A mindless sex toy. A thing. She didn’t want to be a thing.
He took her chin in his hand and raised it so their eyes were level. “Madam, I am a vampire. I assure you, it is very difficult to offend me.” As the soft lights of the avenue seeped into the room, she saw the perfect snow of his skin, the flickering pale gold of his eyes, the tousled red hair that looked spiky and sharp but was fine and soft under her fingers. I love him, she thought. I want him. It wasn’t just the pleasure she experienced, but the pain. She had never loved so much that it felt like pain. He took her hand and brought it to his lips, kissing her in that genteel manner that he had that was from another era. His eyes pinned her with a look she recognized as easily as reading a book. Desire. He desired her.
What amazed her was how easily they spoke to each other, not just in words, but in touches, in glances. Mr. McGillicuddy was like a part of herself that she had misplaced, or simply never found. Everything about him was familiar, as if they’d met in some other life. “I feel like you’re a lost piece of my soul,” she admitted shyly. “And it frightens me.”
That made him smirk. “The Greeks believed that human beings were originally created both male and female, but that the gods grew afraid of mankind’s strength and independence and the souls were divided into men and women. They believed that all men and women walked the earth, driven to find and join with the other half of themselves. The Gaels believe the same thing.”
“A soul mate.”
He nodded. “But a soul mate is more than your perfect lover,” he told her, running his hands over her hair as if he could not stop touching her. “The Gaels believe it is the one who can challenge you as well as complete you. Anam Cara. The one who speaks the language of your heart. The one who is in love with who they are. The one who radiates presence but may be hard to live with. Not a perfect relationship, but a complete one.”
He lifted her up and set her down on the workbench, parted her legs and joined with her there. She sucked in a sharp breath, enjoying the pleasure that was just this side of pain, his voice a growling vibration against her throat. He thrust inside of her, harsher and deeper than anyone had ever gone before, until she thought that she would scream from the force of it. And then, finally, she did scream, not the funny hiccupy noises that she usually made but a real scream that echoed around the workshop and left her feeling demolished, renewed and complete when he finally withdrew from her.
He leaned over her and kissed the side of her nose sweetly. That was something else about him. His kisses were not just full of hunger and desire but also love and understanding and forgiveness. She put her arms about his neck and tried to imagine her life before he’d come into it, a life without him, the life she had known only fourteen days ago. It seemed a much longer time. An eternity. The sadness returned in spades. The thought of him leaving her struck her blind with panic. There was the fear. That was its origins.
She clung to him. She felt she might cry.
They were going to have to do something about this situation.
Marriage. It was a ludicrous idea…and yet, suddenly, the most perfect solution in the world. It would fix her tarnished reputation. It would fix what was broken inside of her. It would mean that he would never go away. “Yes, Mr. McGillicuddy, I think I shall marry you. I think I shall enjoy being married to you.”
He lifted her into his arms, cradling her weight with no trouble at all. “In that case, madam, it might be a sensible idea if we exchanged given names, would it not?”
“Oh.” Funny, how that little detail had slipped her mind completely over the past fourteen days of their courtship. She snuggled against his shoulder and closed her eyes as he carried her upstairs to bed. “It doesn’t matter. Just call me Mrs. McGillicuddy.”
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