The reflection staring back at him appeared sad and grim with a hint of nostalgia for happier times. Lord Bloodgrin stood before the full-length mirror, adjusting the white cravat at his neck, waving his insistent valet from the room. Tonight, Mars needed to prepare without the usual help or interference. He reached for his gray silk waistcoat and slipped it over his white shirt. After buttoning his vest’s buttons and adjusting the cuffs, Mars shrugged into a dark gray tailcoat, completing his ensemble for a gentleman’s night on the town. The opera would offer him the best cover as he slipped from the last seat in his box to attend to this evening’s business.
A lopsided grin settled on his face as Bloodgrin placed the tall black top hat atop his curly brown hair. As he stepped from his suite, Mars grabbed his trustworthy cane, useful as a fashion accessory and for defense with its retractable blade.
Hurrying through the hall, Mars called to his housekeeper, who hovered nearby, “I’ll be home late tonight. Don’t bother with dinner.”
The stout woman ran after him as Bloodgrin descended the staircase. “But ye will eat?”
Mars turned his head as he reached the front door. “I’m meeting friends.” Lord Bloodgrin tipped his hat to his butler, holding the door open for him, then hurried to the carriage, waiting at the front steps. A sigh escaped his lips as he settled into the cushioned seat. He was impatient to execute the plan he’d put into action years ago.
His mind drifted to Elizabeth Manchester as he’d last seen ten years ago. Her wavy black hair wrapped in a tight bun fought to be free as cascading tendrils swept around her face. Her fingers attempted to confine the wayward strands, but they couldn’t be controlled, just as her blue eyes refused to stay cool and disconnected as they watched him. Each time he stared into her eyes, the blue irises darkened and danced to the frenzied pace of his heartbeat. When Mars had gazed at her ruby red lips with undisguised passion, those lips lifted in response, causing him the intense agony of desire. She had taunted him, but he’d been powerless to fight back.
Lord Bloodgrin fought to control his thoughts, shoving the image from his mind. He grimaced. She made him powerless. Tonight, he would face her again. Rumors circulated of her wild followers, women who danced at night, enticing men to their rooms. Mars refused to believe Elizabeth had become wanton in the ten years since he’d last seen her. In 1888, she’d been pure. An intellectual who’d studied medicine and the ways of the human mind. Such a person couldn’t fall as far as the rumors speculated. A picture of Elizabeth bathing in blood repulsed him. As his carriage brought him closer to the opera and Elizabeth, he damned himself and whatever evil had befallen his one true love.
With a swipe at the curtains of the coach, the steps of the London Opera House appeared busy. Carriages lined the crowded road. Colorful flashes of gowns and jewelry darted between dark suits of men in top hats. One of these women was Elizabeth. As Bloodgrin descended the carriage steps, his gaze darted through the crowd. Red. A lover of blood would wear blood red to showcase her passion. But none of the gowns belonged to his beloved. He followed the throng inside and upstairs to his box. He nodded to his friends, seated in the first two rows, then settled in the third row. As Mars sat in his plush seat to watch the opera, the lights dimmed. He moved farther back into the shadows. The music started. The curtain lifted. Lord Bloodgrin disappeared from his seat.
Bloodgrin drifted through the seats at a speed that enabled him to stay undetectable by mere mortals. His shadow roamed row after row until he spotted Elizabeth, his Elizabeth. In a dark red gown, rubies glittering at her neck, she sat between two young women, wearing white gowns and no jewelry. Mars stood in the shadows, watching Elizabeth smile at her women as her blue-eyed gaze wandered to the other guests. Her black hair, pulled back from her face with jeweled hairpins, flowed in waves at her back. She hadn’t aged one bit. If possible, Elizabeth looked lovelier than she did years ago. Mars experienced the same frenzied heartbeat and pang of lust. He stepped forward.
Elizabeth’s startled gaze met his. The smile slipped from her mouth. She turned to whisper to the young girl at her side, then came to her feet. Elizabeth moved through the row with grace as she nodded her thanks to the elite of the ton. In moments, she stood before him, a questioning look on her face.
“Hello, Elizabeth.” Bloodgrin lifted his hat and nodded to her.
“Mars.” Her whisper floated in the silence between them.
“We should talk.”
A grimace marred her smooth features. “Not here.”
“Meet me outside.” Elizabeth turned and hurried through a side curtain.
The young girl, sitting in the seat beside Elizabeth’s empty one, stared at him through light green eyes. She tilted her head and smiled. Mars felt her innocence; it called to him. Betrayal. Elizabeth took these girls’ trust and betrayed them. This must end. No matter who she’d been to him, Elizabeth must be stopped.
Mars shoved aside the curtain and strode through the narrow hallway. He took the staircase, leading outside the opera house. Emerging in an alley, Mars drew the blade from his cane, ready to meet Elizabeth.
A hiss came from behind him. As he turned, a glancing blow hit the side of his face, throwing him to the ground. His head pounding, Bloodgrin struggled to his feet and came face to face with Elizabeth. She resembled his Elizabeth, but this one showcased an evil grin on her face. A blade in each hand, the creature stalked him.
“Who are you?” Mars ducked the long blades that flew near his face.
“Elizabeth Bathory at your service.”
He charged at her. “What happened to my Elizabeth?” Bloodgrin wasn’t ready to show his true face yet.
She sidestepped his cane with a snarl. “I was reincarnated.”
“What are you?” After the last swipe of her sword, blood gushed from Mars’ upper arm. He fell at her feet.
Her foot on his chest, Elizabeth stood over him.. “I’m the same as you. A scion of Cain.”
“Damn.” Mars lost consciousness.
Lord Bloodgrin awoke in a dark room, chained to a wall. As his eyes adjusted to the darkness, he spotted bars on the window. The rest of the room appeared empty. He still had time.
Footsteps sounded outside the door. He had less time than he’d hoped. Mars held his breath as the footsteps passed the door. He closed his eyes and prepared himself for battle.
His body heated as his face stiffened. After the transformation, Bloodgrin lowered his head to reach the chains at his wrists. Blades tore through the metal like they were paper. His fingers pulled blades from his mouth, using them to slice the shackles at his feet. Satisfied, he rose to his height of six feet. No more games. His transformation complete, Lord Bloodgrin loosened the bolts on the door with bare fingers. He grabbed his cane from the ground and strode to the dark hallway.
Mars followed the sounds of laughter, emanating from the closed door ahead. He stepped into a scene of young women, food, and blood. A lot of blood. As Mars wove through the dead bodies of girls, pale from being blooded, many headless, he averted his eyes. Needless death sickened him, while the flowing blood from the damned filled him with joy. His Elizabeth understood his sickness. This Elizabeth didn’t. She lounged in a swimming pool of blood while young girls fed her food and played music.
“Damn you.” Bloodgrin strode forward. “This must end tonight.”
“And who made you a god?” Elizabeth stood as blood dripped from her naked body. “I’m in charge.” She stared at him. “You are ugly with blades replacing your mouth. You’d been a stud.”
“Go to hell.” He halted before her.
“I’m already there.” She climbed from the pool and grabbed the towel a girl handed to her.
Mars pulled a blade from his cane and lunged at her.
Elizabeth stepped back, her stomach gaping open, revealing her twining intestines. “Oops,” she said, shoving her organs into her body. The gash began to heal, and the wound closed. Her eyes raised to his, she smiled. “I regenerate.”
Bloodgrin froze in place.
“You can’t kill me.” The creature walked to him. Her eyes glittered, and her nails elongated to sharp blades. “But I can kill you.”
Continued next month.