Genre: Urban Fantasy
Number of pages: approx 450.
Word Count: 120,000
The 19th century's most infamous party-girl is undead and on the loose in the Big Apple.
When 23 year-old Parisian courtesan, Marie Duplessis succumbed to consumption in 1847, Charles Dickens showed up for the funeral and reported the city mourned as though Joan of Arc had fallen. Marie was not only a celebrity in in her own right, but her list of lovers included Franz Liszt – the first international music superstar, and Alexandre Dumas fils, son of the creator of The Three Musketeers. Dumas fils wrote the novel The Lady of the Camellias based on their time together. The book became a play, and the play became the opera La Traviata. Later came the film versions, and the legend never died.
But what if when offered the chance for eternal life and youth, Marie grabbed it, even when the price was the regular death of mortals at her lovely hand?
In 2014, Marie wonders if perhaps nearly two centuries of murder, mayhem, and debauchery is enough, especially when she falls hard for a rising star she believes may be the reincarnation of the only man she ever truly loved. But is it too late for her to change? Can a soul be redeemed like a diamond necklace in hock? And even if it can, have men evolved since the 1800′s? Or does a girl’s past still mark her?
Blood Diva is a sometimes humorous, often dark and erotic look at sex, celebrity, love, death, destiny, and the arts of both self-invention and seduction. It’s a story that asks a simple question – Can a one hundred ninety year-old demimondaine find happiness in 21st century Brooklyn without regular infusions of fresh blood?
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Excerpt III -- Heat Level: Hot
(Author's Note: Most of the novel is set in contemporary times. This is from a small section that is set in the 1800s)
She was too ill to work, and the money would soon be gone.
There were two possible outcomes. She would recover, and there would be more money, or she would die and then it wouldn’t matter. Clothilde, her maid, insisted she would get well.
The doctors looked away when she asked, and said she must save her strength and not worry about what was in the hands of God.
She spent a good part of most days in her boudoir. It was late fall, but as cold and damp as winter. From her window, it looked as though the city had been drained of color. Sometimes when she was restless, but had a little strength, she would walk through her flat. It felt cavernous without the presence of others. She was haunted, not by ghosts, but by absence – the music that wasn’t being played, the passionate conversations not taking place, the love not being made.
She was determined to live till the end of January. She reasoned they could hold off the creditors till then. Besides, she wanted to see her twenty-third birthday.
One evening when she was feeling less awful, she had gone to the theater, accompanied by two nephews of Clothilde, who acting as escorts supported her as she walked from her carriage to her box. Early in the second act, she asked one to find her coachman. She’d been coughing, and didn’t want to distract the actors.
Traveling the familiar boulevard back to her flat, she spotted a few people she knew emerging from or entering restaurants and cafes. They either didn’t notice her carriage or looked away when they recognized it.
She saw the back of a man walking ahead. He was slim and tall. There was something about him that seemed familiar. She looked back as they passed him. She’d seen the face before, but wasn’t sure where, which bothered her – as it was a very handsome face, and she should have remembered.
He was well dressed, certainly a gentleman, with a fine hat, a walking stick, and a frock coat. He was not in the first blush of youth, but was far from old. There was a bit of grey in what she could see of his dark hair. She wondered why he wasn’t in a carriage, why he was alone, whom he was going to see.
She caught his eye. There was something disconcerting in the way he looked at her. She was used to the gaze of men. This was different. She was sure his mouth hadn’t moved, and if it had, she wouldn’t have heard him, yet there was a message received as if it had been whispered directly into her ear.
“I will come for you.”
The fevers sometimes played with her reason. Nevertheless, when she arrived at her building, she instructed the doorman to allow no visitors that evening.
She felt a bit better once she was settled in at home. She didn’t dine, but ate some leftover bread and jam Clothilde had saved for her. She attempted to read, but her attention strayed. She tried to practice the piano but found it frustrating. Why were her fingers so clumsy?
She moved to her desk and read a letter. She started a reply, but couldn’t concentrate, and so retired to her bed though it was still early.
Lying in the darkened room, she remained awake. She felt death coming on almost as if it were a season, arriving little by little. Would it be eternal sleep or would her agitation follow her to the grave? A coughing fit started, and she reached for the basin. There was a bell she could ring that went to Clothilde’s alcove, but she didn’t wish to disturb her. After the spasm passed, she found the tin box and lit a match, then a lamp, which she carried into the parlor, planning to pull a book down from the shelf and pass the night reading.
In a corner, sitting on a chair, with her copy of Don Quixote opened in his lap, was the man she had seen earlier. Before she could say anything, she heard his voice. Again it was only in her mind, but this time he was saying, “Don’t scream,” and it became clear to her she would not have been able to.
He stood up, and she swooned. She felt his firm hand on the small of her back breaking her fall. He lifted her, carrying her in his arms. She felt terribly weak, but still aware as he took her back to her boudoir and placed her gently on her bed. He had the most pleasant and unusual scent.
He touched her cheek with refreshingly cool fingers. “You’re burning up,” he said softly. She was sure this time he’d really spoken. His lips moved. There was kindness in his voice.
She signaled for him to bring her the basin, then pointed to the freshly laundered handkerchiefs on top of her dresser. He brought one to her. She dabbed at her mouth and watched his eyes travel to the bloodstained cloth.
He started to stroke her hand, telling her to relax. The spasm stopped.
“I can end this for you,” he said aloud.
She understood immediately he was talking about killing her, and that if she died in his arms it would be without pain.
“I don’t want to die,” she told him. “I want to be well.”
“That too can be arranged.”
She looked at him unable to find words.
He continued, “Other lives would need to end for you to live.”
“Are you … Death?” She asked, suddenly remembering old tales she’d heard as a girl. “Have you come to bargain with me?”
“No,” he said. “I am not Death. I’ve come to offer you life, but I need you to accept knowing what it would mean.”
“Others? What others would die?”
“Innocents and the guilty alike. Many over time, and you would be … directly responsible, but you would never get old, never be sick, and I can promise you, you would most definitely, never be poor.”
She couldn’t help smiling at that. She decided she was dreaming. It was the only explanation for this absurd conversation.
“Would you be willing to trade the lives of others for immortality, Alphonsine?”
Alphonsine. No one called her that. She had been known as Marie for nearly five years. It was a simple name, but it had belonged to her mother, and therefore it was beautiful to her. Yet, when he called her the old name, it was as though he were speaking to her very soul.
“I suppose not,” she said softly. Even in a dream, taking the lives of others was not a choice she could make. “I’d rather die, but not tonight.”
She closed her eyes, and when she opened them next, it was mid-day. While she didn’t feel well, she felt stronger than she had in weeks. She was certain the night visitor had been nothing more or less than the figment of an overactive mind, an effect of her illness. Yet, this strange vision brought her peace. There were, after all, worse things to fear than death.
Certainly, to become a creature that lived through the destruction of others would be one of them. She asked Clothilde to see if she could find the priest, Father Bernays, from the Church of the Magdalene across the street. They had had several talks recently. He had assured her it was not to late for her to confess her sins and repent.
Clothilde sent the porter’s son, and Father Bernays soon arrived. Alphonsine dressed and met him in the parlor. Coffee was served along with fresh pastries from the boulangerie nearby. The priest, a sandy-haired, freckle-faced man, not much older than she was, spoke with the cadences of her native Normandy. Although she had worked hard to perfect a Parisian accent, five minutes in his presence and she sounded like a farmer’s wife.
She wanted his opinion of the strange dream she had had. Had she drawn the correct lesson?
She described her encounter, repeating for him to the best of her memory the odd conversation. She watched him place down his plate, discarding the half-eaten cake as though it had suddenly lost all its flavor. That was something she hadn’t seen before.
“So Father, please tell me, what am I to make of this?”
“You are correct my dear,” he said after a brief hesitation, “There are worse things than death.” He looked around at the paintings on the walls, and asked, “Have you no crucifixes?”
She smiled. “Most of what you see were gifts. None of my patrons has ever thought to give me a crucifix.”
“So you have none in this house? Not even by your bed?”
Alphonsine laughed, and before she could answer, she noticed the priest was blushing. “I’m sorry, Father. It just struck me as …”
“You might place one there,” he suggested quietly. “It doesn’t need to be the finest silver. There’s a small shop that sells such items on the street behind the church. You could find one for only a few sous.”
“But whatever for?”
He hesitated a moment. “It will remind you of your repentance … should you face …
temptation.” After another sip of coffee, he added, “It will protect your soul.”
The following week, she accepted a visit from Count Olympe Aguado. He was only eighteen, her youngest suitor, and lately the only one who called though they had no formal arrangement. His features formed themselves in a way that was not quite handsome, but he had dark curly hair and full Spanish lips, and reminded her of a portrait she’d seen of young Lord Byron. She was his first mistress, his first great love. She felt sad for him, knowing the intensity of his feelings and the grief they would bring him.
When she received him, she saw at once a look of horror on his face and understood immediately its cause. The previous afternoon, she had answered his request to call, writing she was feeling stronger. He had only just returned to Paris, had not seen her in more than a fortnight. Her gauntness and pallor must have shocked him.
“You look … beautiful,” he said after a moment.
“I am a terrible influence. You are learning to lie almost as well as I do.”
Her lover had not yet come into his majority and had little money to help with her debts, but as her illness progressed, he made no demands, and was sincerely concerned for her wellbeing. He provided for her as best he could. The noble thing, the right thing, she was sure, would have been to send him away. There was no point in his ruining himself. He was young and sheltered. Her death would devastate him. She didn’t love him. Couldn’t bring herself to. It was as though those feelings, those attachments to the world of the living were past her now. Yet, she couldn’t bring herself to give him up.
They sat on chairs directly across from each other, their hands touching on the small rosewood table that separated them. She asked him about his visit to his aunt in Provence.
He told her about riding, and walks with his cousin. She teased him about this “cousin” who was only sixteen, and reportedly quite pretty. Might he be proposing to her soon?
The poor boy stammered and swore he had been thinking only of her.
He wanted to take her out to dine, but she wasn’t up for it. They did, however, make it to the opera. From her box, she was sure she spotted the man who had come to her in her dream, but when she tried pointing him out to her companion, he was gone.
Olympe accompanied her home and offered to stay the night, if only to sit by her bed and attend to her needs, but she told him she was tired and preferred to be alone. There was no point in her coughing fits keeping both of them awake. The following afternoon, at Clothilde’s insistence, messages were sent to the doctors. There were three of them. She was no longer sure who was paying for which, but hoped Clothilde was not pawning the jewelry, as she wanted to be able to pass something along to her sister’s family besides debts and shame.
Dr. Leclair, the Breton, stopped by first. As was his habit, he examined her briefly, and asked if she was taking her enemas. Then he went into the parlor where he stayed – drinking coffee, eating pastries, and chatting with her neighbor, Clarice. Clarice, stout and middle-aged, whose circumstances were reduced after her waistline increased, came often in those days.
Dr. Elgin, the Englishman, arrived later. He also gave her a cursory examination, followed by a short lecture. His accent was so awful she was never sure what he was saying, but she nodded through his admonishments like an obedient child. Then he retreated to the parlor to consult with his colleague and any other vagabonds who had managed to gain admittance. The door of her room was slightly ajar. There was a hallway separating her boudoir from the parlor. She could recognize voices, but could not quite make out what they were saying.
By evening there was the sound of someone else at the door. She was sure from the heavy footsteps it was Dr. Hoffman, the Prussian. He was a large man with a booming voice. He had a kindly smile, and a white beard. She couldn’t look at him without remembering a jovial old priest who had once entertained the children of her parish dressed as Père Noël.
The other doctors thought he was a fraud. They denigrated his odoriferous elixirs and vibrantly colored tinctures. She was inclined to agree with their assessment of his medical skills, but she didn’t believe he knew himself to be a fake. He seemed absolutely sincere, and while he couldn’t save her, neither could they, so she saw no harm in having him around. He was at least entertaining, with no qualms regarding gossiping about other patients, particularly those of the highest social caste.
Usually, he would come straight in to check on her, but that evening she heard the voices getting louder, arguing. Finally they all came together, pushing each other through the door like something out of a farce. They began speaking at once.
She raised her arm with some effort. “Gentleman, please. I must hear from you one at a time.”
There were a couple of false starts. Finally, she had to choose. “Hoffman, why don’t you tell me what is so important?”
The Prussian began and was almost immediately interrupted by his colleagues.
“Ssh,” she told them, waving a delicate hand. “Allow the man to speak. I’ll hear your objections later.”
“My dear girl,” Père Noël began, “I have met the most extraordinary gentleman.” He went on to tell her about a young doctor, a Russian, who could be credited with many complete cures throughout the continent – some of his successes had been in even worse condition than she.
“Worse condition? Really, doctor? Does he revive the dead then?” She asked.
The others insisted they’d never heard of the man, and would have, had there been any validity to the claims.
“Will your doctor entertain me?” She asked. “Does he sing? Or play the piano, perhaps? Is he good-looking? Charming? Witty? If he’s any of those things, you may tell him to drop by, but also let him know the magistrate has been pounding at the door, and I don’t have an extra sou to pay him.”
“He is right out front, mademoiselle la comptesse,” the Prussian said. Though she had been technically married to a young man who would one-day inherit a title, and even now was likely standing outside catching his death in the rain, well aware she had no intention of ever seeing him again, very few indulged her by referring to her as a countess, and the Prussian was the only one who managed it with such conviction. It was another reason she was so fond of the sweet charlatan.
“Well, let him in then, before he drowns out there.”
Père Noël went to fetch him while his colleagues expressed more skepticism. When the so-called Russian doctor entered the room, there was complete silence.
Perhaps the other physicians were simply in awe of his beauty, because he was indeed one of the most astonishing creatures she had ever seen. Close to two meters tall. His thick dark hair was flecked with gray though his face was barely lined, and there was a boyishness about his features. His hazel eyes had a stare so piercing she could feel it burn. There was something about his mouth as well, a subtle expression, nothing so obvious as a smirk, but she sensed that like herself, he found the absurdities of the world très amusant. Alphonsine nearly gasped, as he was none other than the gentleman she had found in her parlor the night she’d gone in to read.
That it was he, and that she had not dreamed his previous appearance, was immediately clear. She instinctively turned to the small silver cross, which now hung on the wall beside the bed. His eyes followed hers to the object, and she saw the slightest smile part his sensuous lips.
“Good evening, mademoiselle. I am Dr. Anton Kerensky, at your service.” He clicked his heels, a tad dramatically. She understood he meant the gesture as a joke that only she would understand. She had met Russians before. Those well off enough to visit or stay in Paris usually spoke the language quite well, but he spoke it better than most Frenchmen.
“Good evening, monsieur le doctor,” she said putting out her hand. She didn’t know how he could have gotten into her flat the night she’d found him there, or what he was after then or in the present, but she didn’t believe he meant to harm her.
The doctor took her hand in his, and touched his lips to it. She felt a shiver of pleasure run through her body, to the point that she moaned involuntarily.
“Are you in pain?” The British doctor asked.
“No, no pain,” she said, and turning to the Russian added, “You look familiar. Have we met before?”
“Not formally. I did catch a glimpse of you at the opera last night. I came to France, to Paris, specifically to see you, having heard both of your beauty and your plight.”
He asked the others to leave the room so he might examine the patient privately.
All of them objected, but she sent them out. England harrumphed, while France spoke of impertinence, and Prussia simply shrugged.
He shut the door and locked it. Then he sat down in the chair by her bedside.
“Who are you?” She asked softly, aware there might be lingering ears nearby.
“I told you. I’m here to help.”
“And the other night?”
He took hold of both of her hands. “You aren’t shaking,” he said. “You aren’t afraid?”
“Of you? What’s the worst you might do? End my suffering?”
His lips didn’t move, and not a sound came out of his mouth, but she heard the next question in her mind as clearly as she had ever heard anything. “Is that what you’ve decided?”
She answered him back with words, “I have no wish to hasten my death, nor to live on the terms you’ve offered.”
“I have no desire you make any decision with which you are not comfortable. I only hope to continue our negotiations. You might change your mind,” he said quietly.
Impulsively, she reached up, embraced him, and pressed her lips to his. It was not a calculated gesture on her part. The inside of his mouth tasted cool and clean, and as he wrapped his arms around her frail body, she felt both comfort and intense desire.
She reached out to undo his suspenders. Even in her weakened state, she was quite capable of taking down a pair of trousers with one hand. He gently pushed her arm away.
He lifted her peignoir, under which she wore nothing. First he began to massage her décolletage, working down to her breasts. She coughed a bit when he pressed on her chest, but felt the beginning of a release, a lightness. His strong smooth hands continued to travel down her body, reaching her abdomen and finally below. He placed his fingers inside of her, expertly moving them as he looked into her eyes. She started to moan softly and begged him to take her.
“You aren’t strong enough,” he whispered. “Just allow yourself to be pleased.”
He seemed capable of reaching places inside of her that no one had touched. With her eyes closed she imagined herself as a piano being played by a maestro.
“You’re quite the virtuoso,” she murmured. She thought she would lose her mind with happiness. Young Olympe was eager, but lacked these skills, and most of her lovers had never been particularly concerned with her pleasure.
“Some people believe,” he said in a voice that managed to be soft, but deep and masculine, “that there are certain … healing humors of the body that may be released by pleasure.”
Her sighs she feared might be loud enough for someone listening by the door to overhear. She couldn’t help herself. With his free hand, he placed a finger on her mouth, gesturing for her silence, and when she could not control her murmurings, he muffled the sound with his hand.
Her climax was long and intense.
After she had had enough, he lifted the hand that had been working so diligently, and began first to lick his own fingers. Then he offered them to her to suckle, which she did as greedily as a grateful kitten.
She sat up in her bed. Her breath was short, and he brought the basin over to her in case she needed to cough.
“Thank you. It’s not so bad now.”
He touched her cheek. “There’s no need to suffer like this. You should never have to.”
“Who are you?” She asked him again. “What are you?”
“If you accept my offer, there will be time for you to learn everything. If you do not, it’s not worth wasting the time you have left to explain.”
“How could I see others destroyed so that I might live?”
“I can only tell you, you would feel no pangs of conscience. You would be so above these creatures it would be no different than slaughtering a pig for Christmas.”
“Creatures? Am I such a creature? You would take my life so easily?”
He caressed her, beginning at her forehead and lingering over her neck. With his hand hovering by her chest, her breath began to feel freer as though he were somehow lifting the blackness from her lungs.
“There is none like you. That’s why your death would be such a pity. Beauty such as yours is a gift to the world. I only wish to preserve it.”
“No, no monsieur. I cannot accept your terms.”
“I should like to visit you again, to attend you as a doctor. May I?”
She took his hand in hers and brought it to her lips, kissing each of his fingers. “I would love for you to attend me, though I doubt I’d have the strength to …”
“It doesn’t matter,” he said. “I can comfort you even if you have little strength left. It would give me pleasure.”
“I’ve had men give me jewels, and great amounts of their fortunes, but I’ve met no man as generous as you.”
“Then might I suggest you’ve been with the wrong men?”
“I shan’t change my mind if that’s what you are hoping.”
“I won’t force you to,” he assured her.
“Will you stay a bit? I could send for some dinner?”
“Another time. There are matters to which I must attend.”
“When will I see you again?”
“Soon. A la prochaine, madame la comtesse,” he said, taking her hand again, and kissing it gently before taking his leave.
About the Author:
VM Gautier is a pseudonym. This is not VM's first book, but it is VM's first book with fangs. VM is no one you've heard of and is not trying to fool anyone. All will probably be revealed soon, but meantime VM is enjoying the masquerade.
We are never more ourselves than when we wear a disguise.
We are never more ourselves than when we wear a disguise.
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