Understanding came to him in a sudden, terrible realization that compelled him to run through the rain, his garments moving behind him, leaping across flooded streets and ignoring the right of way for the milk carts that would soon be traversing the narrow streets. It seemed further than ever before, the distance to Coraline's house unimaginable, but it loomed in front of him in the storm, a faint glimmer of light penetrating one of the near windows. He did not hesitate, but entered, the door slamming against the wall with a resounding thud as he called her name. Silence flourished in the house, but he could sense her presence, as well as that of her companion, and moved down the corridor cautiously, appearing in the doorway of the parlor, where a fire blazed cheerily in the hearth, forcing the cold to linger in the shadows. Robert Prentiss, the fourth Duke of Redsmont, sat contentedly in a chair nearby, a cigarette in one hand. Coraline rested on the floor at his feet, her eyes full of resentment and pain, unable to move for the narrow silver instrument against her throat.
"Josef, I wondered when you would join us," he said with a smile, flicking the ash from his cigarette in the direction of the grate. Intentionally, he cast it toward Coraline and she flinched, the smoldering sparks landing inches from her slender fingertips. "You both had me fooled for a time, you know. In fact, if I had not encountered you in that alley, I might have never suspected the truth—not about you, or this pretty little creature." He tilted her chin up to look into her exquisite features, smiling as he took note of the hatred flourishing beneath her calm resolve. "It's a shame, really," he added. "Two of the most fascinating individuals I know belonging to such a horrific gathering. I found you both invigorating, one to the physical senses and the other on an intellectual basis. Tell me, Coraline, now that I know the truth about you, what did you want from me? Was it my blood or something more?"
"Robert, you are mad. I don't know what you are talking about." She rested her hand on his knee persuasively and he pressed the instrument against her throat, threatening to slice into it, one of only two ways to kill a vampire. There was a faint pinprick of blood that came to the surface, shimmering in the candlelight, the room darkened with the storm that raged in the heavens. It would be dawn in an hour or so, but it was unlikely they would see the sun that day. Removing his cloak, Josef laid it across the back of the nearest chair, his movements as unthreatening as possible as he considered his companion, and the swiftness with which the knife might slice into her slender neck.
The duke sensed his train of thought and looked at him keenly, his eyes glittering like those of a cat in a darkened corner. "Will you risk it, do you think?" he asked softly, the flames crackling behind them. The fire was burning hot and bringing a flush to Coraline's features, for she was seated too near it for her personal comfort. He had clearly come in the early hours, for she was clothed only in her night garments and dressing gown, a vision of white with luxurious dark curls framing her slender shoulders. There was no evidence of a struggle beyond one of her collectables knocked onto its side on the little round table where it sat, having been jostled as he pushed her past into the room. "I told Caville he was a madman for wanting to bait you," the man continued after a significant pause, as his companion unbuttoned his coat and sank into the nearest chair, his mannerisms deliberate but restrained. "Once he saw you in the alley, once he knew what you looked like and who you were, he could not contain his exhilaration at the thought of killing your little trollop. I told him I would have no part of it, but knew you would discern our partnership sooner or later, and came here."
He threw his cigarette away and stroked the top of Coraline's head, his caresses gentle but singular in its mocking candor, for it was evident that he cared for nothing but his own amusement. "Now I know what your kind are like," he continued, "for I have experienced the charm of your companionship, of your flattery, of your indifference and your pursuit. I have always been a man of unique interests, my fascination with anything abnormal, with the occult, with legends and lore, with vampires. Even as a child when I was told they did not exist, I never believed them. Caville came to London already obsessed with their presence in Europe, and I met him at one of our séances. Imagine my surprise to learn his story, and to see the scars the little tart left on him, just here."
Tracing Coraline's throat, he turned his attention once more to her companion. "I told him that everyone would know the truth, that everyone would discover who you are. But I never anticipated such magnificent specimens. How old are you, Josef? Old enough to remember the Revolution, I daresay, perhaps older than that. Did you see the court of Elizabeth, or hear the works of William Shakespeare when they first came upon the stage? Tell me, for I am most intrigued—to live so long and yet live on draining the life from others, it must be a cursed existence." His eyes were away from his captive, but Josef could see her from his position on the narrow settee and saw that her eyes had shifted, their color lessening as she opened her mouth just enough to reveal her teeth. Robert had subdued her temporarily, but now that Josef was in the room, she had the confidence to silently scheme with him for her release.
Knowing she wanted him to maintain a distraction, Josef answered, "I have been abroad for many years, three hundred or so, but am no use to you dead. A vampire looks the same in death as any mortal." It was true, for their color faded and their eyes returned to normal, their teeth retracting instinctively. He had seen many of them over the years, numerous corpses, and it was impossible to distinguish between them without the use of scent, without knowing which had been powerful in life. He appeared at ease but in reality was tensed, preparing for what he knew would amount to a fight.
"I do not intend to kill either of you, if I can help it," was the easy response. "No, no, in order to be convincing, both of you must be alive."
Moving so swiftly that he had not time to anticipate her assault, Coraline twisted away from him, ripping her hair out of his grasp as she knocked the blade from his hand. It spun away in the firelight, flashes of light revolving in its path across the carpet, a snarl accompanying the form that launched itself across the room at the intruder. Josef slammed into him with such strength that it sent them both into the window, which gave way beneath their weight and spilled them out into the garden, glass falling in pristine shards as they hit the mud. Robert rolled away from him and sprang to his feet almost as swiftly as his adversary. He lifted a sharpened piece of wood, a remnant of the frame that had come with them into the downpour, and there was more excitement than fear on his face, streaked with mud, already drenched from the rain.
"There is no place for your kind here," he said, shouting to be heard over the water foaming in the gutters. "But I would have everyone know of your existence!" He was hardly formidable now, like a child waving a stick in front of a ravenous lion, but still the vampire was careful as he approached, gauging the distance and then launching himself across it. He caught the duke around the throat and hurled him twenty feet; the man hit the high stone fence that surrounded the garden and dropped to the ground, still clutching in his fingers the wooden stake. Remaining motionless for longer than Josef had anticipated, the vampire approached, wondering if he had harmed him, cautious but sensing the slowing of the man's heart. He reached down and turned the duke's face to the light, the eyes staring into nothingness. Damp dripped down the side of his face, and the vampire straightened up.
"Is he…?" Coraline had come out into the storm and stood on the lower step, just under the eaves so that she would not be drenched, appearing like a ghost in the surrounding darkness. The ruin of the window gaped open beside her, broken glass littering the ground beneath it, and she hugged her slender frame out of concern more than the cold as she stood on her toes to see past him, to the slumped form at the foot of the garden wall. Josef turned to look at her, and that is when his companion struck, with a movement so swift and violent that he could not prevent it, bringing up the narrow shaft of wood and pushing it up into his ribcage. It missed his heart by mere inches but sent him slamming to the ground, Robert's face eerie in the gloom as he rose to his feet with murderous intentions.
Then, the gunshot rang out, echoing in the tumult around them and elation was replaced by disbelief as the duke sank to his knees and then fell forward into the earth, the scent of newly spilt blood mingling with the stench of gunpowder. Josef looked up to find Coraline standing behind him, the revolver still held out in front of her, her features like marble, cold and resolved. Thunder rumbled overhead and the rain continued, the sound of it suddenly much louder than it had been before. There was no response from the surrounding houses, convincing them the shot had gone unnoticed. Lowering the pistol, Coraline came to assist him indoors, pulling the edges of his shirt back to reveal the angry-looking wound. It was warm in the kitchen, and she retrieved a decanter of blood from near the stove. She did not speak as she wiped the blood away from the wound, Josef draining the decanter. It was a sweetly tasting blend, a mix of Creole and aristocracy, but its healing abilities helped reduce his misery.
"We have only a few hours before dawn," Coraline said, thinking of what yet had to be done. There was no emotional response from her, nor remorse or even anger over what she had been through, not even disappointment in what she had lost, her one potential means of escaping her brother's domineering influence. Her parlor was in wreckage and the duke lay unmoving in the mud, but even if she managed to maintain her resolve, Josef could sense that Coraline was not as calm as she outwardly appeared. Beneath her capable fingertips, his wounds healed and left him whole again, the entire night no more than a blackened memory in the recesses of his mind. All he had witnessed and participated in were distant to him, from the Ripper in his horrific little room of horrors to the body of the poor girl who had trusted him, who had stood up for him among her companions. Her voice echoed in his ear. "Because you wouldn't… you are different from the others…"
Flickering candlelight surrounded them as each were lost in their thoughts, Coraline moving slightly away from him in the shadows, her slender form pale beneath the white lace of her dressing gown. Josef remained leaning against the edge of the table, his eyes brooding as he confessed, "I could not save her. I thought of her too late, just a common country girl. He butchered her like she was a calf in the slaughterhouse, and I could do nothing to prevent it." The fierceness of his eyes connected with hers for an instant and then lowered, concealing their nature as she considered him from across the room. Coraline stood awkwardly and then came toward him, placing her arms around his trim waist and resting her chin against his shoulder.
"It is not your fault, Josef. You once told me that you hold no regrets, that everything in your estimation is just a passing reference, and can never arise to haunt you unless you let it." Drawing back, she looked him in the face and touched his cheeks with her hands, cool against the warmth of the blood passing through his veins. She smiled. "Now, what do you say we something about the body and then leave London for good? Suddenly, I am missing the streets of New York. There's a ship leaving at noon. Will you come with me, and leave all of this dreadful business behind?"
Her offer was nothing more than a gesture of friendship, of mutual escapism, of even a meager form of friendship, and normally it would not have appealed to his solitary nature, but Josef had seen enough solitude in those long months to last him a lifetime. Coraline was nothing if not precocious, her ruthless determination shaken but not defeated, a smile lurking at the corner of her luscious lips as she allowed him time to consider what they might conspire toward at sea. It would be paramount to traveling with a madman, for she was dangerous and unpredictable, just the way he liked his companions—more vampire than humanity. She was still looking at him with avid anticipation lurking behind her bewitching brown eyes, her fingertips resting on his lapels as she awaited an answer.
"You merely want my financial assistance," he said presently.
"How true, but come now, is not your life considerably more interesting with me in it?"
"Undeniably so, but I have yet to determine whether or not it is a positive change."
"Then allow me to make up your mind for you. We are leaving for New York on the noon ship, but first, something must be done about Robert." She indicated the prone form still resting in the mud, the rain lessening as the morning approached, with the promise of another beautiful autumn day in Britain. With much consideration, Josef found a solution that amused as much as entertained him.
"Let us leave Robert Prentiss as a gift for a friend of mine. Let's put him on the steps at Scotland Yard, with a note addressed to the honorable Inspector Abberline." There was a hint of maliciousness to it that delighted her, and it was a plan done without much thought or grave intention, the delivery of a body in a small trap to the low steps of the mightiest police force in London. How it transpired, no one ever knew, nor did it make the front page, even with Henrietta snooping about for information, only that when the morning watchman came to relive the other officer on duty, he found Robert Prentiss where they had left him, muddied up and considerably unrecognizable beneath his cloak, perched against the gates. Beside him was a single pearl-handled revolver that Coraline was loathed to part with, and a note tucked inside his waterlogged waistcoat addressed to the leading inspector on the Ripper case. All it said were, "There will be no more murders."
"Surely not," protested the police commissioner when he was told, "no, it cannot have been the duke! He is fourth in line for the throne, outside the royal family! No, no, this must be silenced! Hush it up! No one must ever know, if indeed it is true."
Shortly before the noon sailing, a young man strolled the length of the dock and approached the newspaper boy standing on the corner. He bought one of the editorials and unfurled it to witness the gruesome front page headline, the vicious indoor murder of a prostitute in Whitechapel. On the fourth page, in the left column, was the announcement that a distant member of the royal family had been murdered in what the police assumed had been a shoddy case of thievery. Investigators had been assigned and it was with much grief that the public mourned the loss of one of their greatest patrons, a supporter of the arts, an opera attendee, and one of the wealthiest men in London. The newspaper boy watched the young man as he read it, walking away across the weathered wood of the dock. There was something unusual in his stance, in the manner of his carriage, also in the form of the remarkably beautiful woman that awaited him at the foot of the gangplank.
As he folded the newspaper and placed it beneath one arm, she said, "Anything significant?"
"No," he answered carelessly, and up they went.
The newsie watched them as long as they were in sight along the foreword deck and then turned back to the customers milling about the docks, his pristine voice resounding through the air. "Latest news: another murder in Whitechapel! Get all the gruesome details here! Read all about it!"