Scandals With Bite, Book 5
She was thrown into an insane asylum for believing in vampires...
Now one has come to rescue her.
Eight years ago, vampire Justus de Wynter fell in love with bluestocking, Bethany Mead, and suffered the consequences. He was sentenced to exile as a rogue vampire, and she was imprisoned in an insane asylum.
After years of searching, and dodging patrolling vampires, Justus has finally found his love. But even after he breaks Bethany out of the asylum, the dangers that face them have only begun. For Justus is still a rogue, with no territory to grant them safety, and Bethany is a fugitive.
As they flee across the English countryside in search of refuge, Bethany and Justus must overcome the challenges of their past and find out if love is possible on the run.
Morningside Asylum for Lunatics
Manchester, England, May 1825
Bethany Mead cringed against the stone wall of her cell. Greeves was guarding the female ward this night. She hated Greeves. The way he looked at her, like he could see through her shift, and the way he held her too long when guiding her back to her cell, both filled her entire being with sick dread. She’d been in this hell long enough to know what unscrupulous guards did to female— and sometimes male— patients.
“I’ve got most delightful news, love,” Greeves spat through the bars. The man was incapable of speaking without emitting a shower of spittle. “The good doctor will be taking a holiday at week’s end. That means we’ll have more time in private to get to know each other better, you and I.”READ MORE
Bethany made a small, choking sound, but knew better than to scream. That would only get her thrown in the quiet room for at least two days. Doctor Keene wouldn’t believe her. Greeves acted like a kindly Samaritan in the physician’s presence. At least the doctor may have thus far kept her safe from being violated from his frequent unexpected checking in on her, but his prescribed treatments for her hysteria were agonizing. She was rarely allowed outside, never allowed to look at a newspaper, and could only read novels that the doctor had perused and decided they would not “overstimulate” her. She wasn’t even allowed to read the bible, for Keene thought that the demons and bloody violence were too extreme for a lady of her condition. That resulted in very insipid reading material. The most passion she’d read was a kiss on a gloved hand. The most intimate touch, the hero lifting the heroine from her horse.
Never could she read of heated embraces that lingered in her memory. Never could she read of kisses that inflamed her dreams.
So Bethany often pushed the dull romantic novels to the side and accepted the equally dismal literary novels offered to her, full of bland musings, but no story. Though every once in a while, Eleanor, another patient, would smuggle gothic novels and stories to her. Bethany’s favorites had been written by Alan Winthrop, who was reputed to really be the Duchess of Burnrath. The tales of ghosts and witches tickled her fancy. John Polidori’s short story, The Vampyre, had also captivated her and she had been distraught when Dr. Keene caught her poring over its pages and tossed her back in the quiet room.
For Bethany was absolutely forbidden from speaking, hearing, or reading anything about the supernatural, especially vampires.
That was what had landed her in this prison in the first place.
Greeves’s sibilant voice pierced her musings. “That’s what I like about you. Yer so quiet. I wager you’ll be quiet when I have ye as well. But I’ll try to get some noise out of ye.”
Nausea roiled through her belly at the thought of Greeves’s filthy hands on her body. She’d once planned on giving her maidenhood to a dashing, crimson-haired viscount whom she’d believed had loved her, a man of secrets and dark magic beyond her most fervent imaginings. Now, after eight years of hell, her virtue would go to this wretched lout.
Eight years. The words scratched her mind like a fork on slate. Had she really been here that long? The first four years hadn’t been so bad, as her parents sent money to ensure she had a decent room and meals, and her mother came to visit from time to time. But as she increased her pleas for her parents to take her home, her mother’s visits dwindled. And once Lord and Lady Wickshire had the son they always wanted, both the money and visits stopped completely. She hadn’t even received a letter in over three years. And without funding, Bethany had been moved to the pauper’s wing, subject to rougher patients and lecherous guards. Doctor Keene also refused her requests to free her and threw her in the quiet room when she’d vowed to find a lawyer. The one time she’d tried to escape, running off when the patients were herded to the chapel, the guards had run her down and she’d spent a week in the quiet room, so intoxicated from Keene’s tonic that she couldn’t tell up from down. After that, she’d not been allowed outdoors for two months.
Bethany cringed as Greeves leered at her. More than ever she longed to leave this place. Every day in captivity increased her fear of going mad in truth.
Tears burned hot on her cheeks and a strangled sob tore from her throat.
“Oh yes.” Greeves clasped his hands together. “I like it when you—”
He halted abruptly when Doctor Keene came round the hall. “How is Miss Mead this evening?”
Greeves cast her a smirk before turning to face the doctor. “Overwrought, it seems. I tried to comfort her, but she won’t have it.”
“Oh?” Keene lowered his spectacles and peered at Bethany. “I’ll see to her then. You run along and make sure the doors are locked before you return to your station.”
“Very good, Sir,” Greeves replied before tipping Bethany a wink on his way out.
Dr. Keene opened her cell door and approached her, brows drawn together with concern. “What ails you, Miss Mead?”
Bethany bit her lip. Keene had already dismissed her complaints about Greeves, and if he thought she was having hysterics, he’d lock her up in the quiet room for a day or two. She hated the quiet room, a small, coffin-like chamber that isolated her from all light and sound.
“Very little, Doctor.” She forced herself to smile. “I am only missing my mother.” She wiped the tears from her eyes. “I feel better already.”
Dr. Keene regarded her with a skeptical frown as he patted her on the shoulder. “Are you certain? Your hands are shaking. Perhaps you should spend some time in the quiet room.”
Bethany shook her head vigorously. She’d experienced inexplicable tremors and aches for the past year. This time, her shakes were justified, but Keene refused to believe her. “I only need some rest. I will go to bed now.”
Keene smiled and reached into his pocket. “Yes, rest is the cure for many things. A dram of my soothing tonic will help you sleep.”
She bit back a grimace. Keene’s tonic was anything but soothing, making her feel off kilter and sometimes bringing her hallucinations and vivid nightmares if he felt a higher dose was necessary. But the doctor had neatly manipulated her into making a choice: the tonic, or the quiet room.
“Whatever you think is best, Doctor,” she said as demurely as possible.
Thankfully, he only gave her one teaspoon of the bitter potion instead of two. One time he’d given her three, and Bethany had spent countless hours trapped in a barrage of bad dreams, unable to wake.
“I will look in on you tomorrow morning, Miss Mead,” Keene said as he strode out of her chamber. “If you are calm, perhaps you may take a turn through the gardens with the other ladies. Won’t that be nice? Until then, sleep well.”
The door shut with a clang that reverberated through her ears with undulating waves. Already, the tonic was taking over her senses. At least Keene had the mercy to slide the privacy panel closed on the door so Greeves couldn’t peek in at her. Bethany stumbled to the small straw-stuffed cot and sat down hard on the prickly mattress, rubbing her arms as a draft swept in through the small barred window. She’d forgotten to shutter it. But the sight of the full moon in the sky gave her comfort, reminding her that there was a world outside, a world she had faint hopes of rejoining.
Wrapping her thin wool blanket around her shoulders, Bethany twisted her fingers in her lap to distract herself from the dizzy sensations the tonic wrought. Counting back from when the patients had last went to chapel, it was Tuesday. Four days until Doctor Keene went on his holiday. That left her little time to come up with a plan to save her from Greeves.
She wished she knew how long Keene would be gone. If it were only for a few days, she could muster the courage to get herself thrown in the quiet room for that time. Only Nurse Bronson was trusted with those keys, so Greeves wouldn’t be able to get to her there.
But a sennight, a fortnight? She shuddered, unable to fathom torment of that duration. Such a long time in the dark might break her. Yet what Greeves had in store may also drive her truly mad.
But her family had abandoned her, she had no funds for herself, and he never came for her like she thought he would. Justus, Lord de Wynter. Although she’d finally come to understand that he wasn’t a vampire. Somehow she had imagined that part, but now it seemed she had invented Justus’s ardent love for her too. From the moment she’d been committed to the asylum, she’d believed he’d come to rescue her, to marry her as they had planned beneath the boughs of the apple tree in her family’s orchard. Even when Dr. Keene convinced her that Justus couldn’t have been a vampire, Bethany still thought Justus cared for her.
But as days turned into weeks, then months, then years, Bethany’s hope for Justus to rescue her gradually dried up like the last pool of water in an arid desert. He wasn’t coming. He never cared for her. He’d just been a rake like her parents had insisted.
And Bethany had paid the ultimate price for falling in love with him. Her family had thrown her in the asylum and abandoned her. If only she’d obeyed them and kept her distance from the man who’d fascinated her from their first fateful encounter.
Swallowing a lump in her throat, Bethany pulled the scratchy blanket tighter around her body. She needed to bring her tormented thoughts under control before the tonic turned them into nightmares.
But the moment she closed her eyes, they came anyway.
Greeves grasping at her, the guards locking her in a tiny box, screaming, struggling to get out. The lid opening only to see Justus standing over her, laughing with blood-drenched fangs before closing the box, shutting her in darkness.
Bethany jerked awake and took several deep breaths, trying to think of Chaucer, of Camelot, of a book she’d read long ago about a Fairy Queen.
Just as her eyes began to close, a voice echoed in her cell.
At first she thought Greeves had returned, but then she heard the voice again, rich as marzipan, and achingly familiar.
The hairs on the back of her neck stood on end. It couldn’t be!
She then heard a soft rapping on the bars of her window. Bethany turned and gasped as she saw a face peering in at her. Her heart clenched like a fist at the sight of crimson hair, pearl-white skin, and glittering green eyes.
A strangled cry trickled from her throat. She was dreaming of him again. “You’re not real.”
More than ever did she loathe Keene’s horrid tonic. What kind of evil substance was it to inspire such heartbreaking hallucinations?
The vision made a noise that sounded like a cross between a laugh and a sob. “Of course I’m real.” Arched lips curved in a small smile. “Look at me. Touch me.”
Long pale fingers reached through the bars toward her. Bethany cringed back against the wall. How long would this drug delirium last? “Not real,” she whispered again.
“Then take my hand and feel for yourself.” The vision crooked his finger, beckoning her, daring her. “Come on now, I never before knew you for a coward.”
That old, not quite mocking, slightly daring tone held the same compulsion as it had in real life. Without thinking, Bethany swung her legs over her cot and slowly shuffled towards the window. The bare stone floor felt cold beneath her feet. Moonlight reflected on his skin, turning it luminescent and casting an angel’s nimbus over his fiery locks. If he was a hallucination, it was the most vivid one she’d ever experienced. Had Keene changed the recipe of his tonic?
With trembling hands, she reached out to touch his fingers outstretched towards her. Warm and firm, they slid across her skin with solid tangibility. Frissons of heat sparked at his touch, just as when they’d first met that fateful night long ago.
Once more, she dared to meet his eyes and study the face that had haunted her dreams. As if transported back in time, she saw the same love, longing, and touch of melancholy in his gaze that had lingered in those green depths the night he asked for her hand.
“Justus?” she whispered.
“Yes, Bethany.” His lips curved in a broad grin. White fangs gleamed in the moonlight. “I’ve come to take you out of here.”
Blood roared through her ears before the world went black as pitch.COLLAPSE