The stars may say we are meant to be, but that doesn't mean I have to accept it.
The streets of London were quiet and empty. A thin layer of fog hovered two feet over the ground and the only ones who were out were the homeless and the drunkards. That is, until I slipped down a back street.
I've always been an unconventional woman, prone to breaking the normal order of things. I never apologized for it and I was perfectly fine with being this way. I never thought it would get me into trouble.
I pulled my black cloak closer around my body. I walked leisurely; no one would try to hurt me. Even though I was on a mission of stealth, I didn't bother to hide my face. The clock on the church struck nine and I quickened my stride. The watchmaker had agreed to wait for me until a quarter after nine so I could pick up my father's birthday gift in secret.
Halfway there, I felt like someone was watching me. I looked over my shoulder but the street was empty, the fog undisturbed. I shrugged the feeling off and continued on to the shop. The feeling came back, though, and I stopped completely this time.
"A lovely young woman like you should not be out on the streets unaccompanied."
I nearly jumped out of my skin and turned in the direction of the voice. A young man stepped out of the shadows and I took a step back. He had short black hair and the most amazing shade of blue eyes I had ever seen. He was taller than me by almost a foot and dressed in all black, a similar black cloak clasped at his neck with a golden clasp. There was something about him, though, that made me uneasy.
"I will be just fine, thank you," I said and started to walk away.
"At least allow me to accompany you," the man said, coming to walk beside me. "With that killer on the streets, it is quite dangerous."
I stopped walking again and looked around in slight fear. I had forgotten about the serial killer that haunted the streets of London, preying on young women. Perhaps having an escort wasn't such a bad idea.
"Where are you going?" he asked, offering his arm.
I hesitated. "To the watchmaker's," I answered, finally accepting it. "It is my father's birthday soon and I have commissioned a special pocket watch for him."
The man nodded. "A pocket watch is an important accessory for a man to have." I just smiled. "What is your name, beauty?"
"Camille," I said and he looked at me.
"Not Duchess Camille Abbott?" he asked and I stared.
"You have heard of me, Monsieur?"
"Of course I have! Who has not heard of the lovely Camille? I am most honored to meet you, Madame," he added, stopping long enough to bow slightly.
"And your name, sir?"
"Erik Moreau, at your service," he said.
"It is lovely to meet you."
We walked in silence for a while longer. His stride was slow and I was getting anxious. I had to get to the watchmaker soon.
"I have heard the Duke is in poor health," he said.
I scoffed. "That is a lie, Monsieur Moreau," I said. "My father is perfectly healthy."
He stopped walking once again and I looked at him. I frowned. His eyes had turned red and were swirling in a strange way.
"You do not seem to be in good health, though," he said, his voice echoing slightly and I put a hand to my forehead.
"Oh dear," I murmured. "I feel faint. Perhaps I should get the watch tomorrow. Surely he would understand."
"Walk a little longer with me," he said. "Some clean, fresh air might do you good."
"Clean air," I said. "Yes.... A short walk will not hurt."
He smiled and suddenly the foggy feeling went away. I blinked a few times as we continued down a different road. The stench of the downtown was slowly receding and I took a few deep breaths. We were returning to the wealthy end of London and I figured he was taking me home. Instead, he led me to a wrought iron gate leading to gardens behind an estate that had been abandoned for nearly 30 years.
"I am not certain about this, Monsieur," I said slowly.
He smiled at me, his eyes red and swirling again. "It is safe. This is my estate."
"Safe," I breathed. "Yes. Very well."
He dragged me through and entered a maze of hedges. We walked among them and my mind started to clear again. We reached a bubbling fountain and I bit my lip. Anxiety began to build in my chest.
"I should return home now," I said, pulling my arm from his.
"If you desire," he said politely. "I should stay and tend to my gardens. I do hope to see you again, Duchess."
I just smiled, secretly hoping I would not see him again, and went back the way I came. I took a right but hit a dead end. Surely that hadn't been there before? When I went back, the fountain was gone. I was facing more hedges. Something was wrong....
I went down another path and found something a little reassuring: no dead ends. But I seemed to only be going deeper into the maze. I paused. My mother had once said, if you go north, you will always get out of a maze. I looked up at the stars but they seemed to be blacked out. I began to panic in earnest.
I took a random turn and gasped when I saw something dark dart into a different path ahead of me. I gathered my skirts and started to run, getting very frightened indeed.
"It always amuses me when they run," a voice echoed and I froze, my chest heaving. "It never helps."
I sensed movement behind me and spun. My bonnet got caught on a bit of the hedge and tore off, letting my deep red hair tumble down to the middle of my back. I whimpered, taking another random turn. I sobbed in relief and knelt down in front of the fountain.
I took a few deep breaths, putting my hand over my heart.
"It never helps," the voice repeated and I looked up.
"Monsieur," I gasped, grabbing Erik's arm. "We must go. There is something in your maze!"
His arm slid around my waist and I tried to push him off, scandalized.
"You are very beautiful," he purred.
"Remove your arm this instant!" I yelled. "Let me go! We have to leave!"
A smirk curled on his pale pink lips. "Oh, dear Camille. You truly are confused, it would seem."
"What is that supposed to mean?"
He brushed my hair from my neck and I froze as his fingers brushed my neck.
"It has been many nights since I had one as beautiful as you," he said and I gasped.
"You," I breathed and he grinned, revealing brilliantly white teeth. "You are the one killing women!"
"Very good," he said in a quiet voice. "But I do believe I have finally found the one."
"The one?" I repeated then shook my head. "What am I saying? Let me go. Please. I will not tell anyone. I will keep your secret."
He put a finger under my chin. "No, I am afraid I cannot do that. I have been looking for you for a very long time, Camille Abbott." His eyes turned red and I tried to fight the cloud feeling taking over my mind. "This will hurt, dear Camille. If you are truly the one, as I hope you are, it will be worth it."
"No, please," I begged and nearly fainted when I saw two fangs grow from his gums. I shook in his arms. "Please just leave me alone."
"Bend your neck, dear Camille," he said, pulling me until our bodies were touching. "Be a good girl and do as I say."
My neck bent on its own and I whimpered in fear as he breathed gently on it. His lips touched my neck, just over my vein. He groaned and grazed my neck with his fangs. Without a warning, he sank his teeth in.
My knees gave out but he kept me supported. I could feel my blood leaving my body and the world started to go black. He pulled back with a long sigh of bliss.
"So sweet," he breathed and bit into his wrist. Sweat broke out all over me and he pressed his wrists to my lips. I tried to reject it. "Drink or die," he said.
When I still didn't obey, he forced my mouth open and his blood dripped into my mouth before I could fight more. As soon as the copper taste overwhelmed my tongue, the horror of the situation consumed and I fainted.