Chapter One

London,

June 29, 1890

In the beginning, there was the voice.

That was how it began on that first evening, with a masculine voice calling out to me in my sleep; a disembodied voice slithering into my dream, a voice of deep tenor and tones, of sensuous growls, and of low, hollow moans—a voice laden with promise and with love. It was as familiar to me as my own, and yet I knew not whether it came from inside my head, from outside me, or from somewhere not of this earth. Hushed like wind through a valley and smooth like velvet, it beckoned me, and I neither had, nor wanted, power against it. The voice was my master.

I have been looking for you, I said.

No, we have been looking for each other.

Then came hands, no, not exactly hands, but touch—the essence of touch, caressing my face, my neck, and my arms, making my skin tingle and awakening something long dormant inside me. Smooth, hot lips gently kissed me and then pulled ever so slightly away. Come, Mina, the lips whispered, and I felt warm breath as the words came out. You called to me, did you not?

Eager to discover the owner of those lips, the giver of that touch, I moved into the darkness, unaware where I was, or where I was being led, or by whom. But I knew that when we were finally united, it would be a homecoming. I felt as if my body were wrapped in warm skins and lifted into the air. Drifting through darkness and toward the unknown, I was not exactly flying but safely held aloft as I floated through nothingness. Something like fur tickled me beneath my chin and all around my neck and back.

After what seemed like a timeless journey, my feet touched mossy ground. Excited and intensely alive, my body was unfamiliar to me, except my heart, which beat with a new ferocity. The rest of me was some tingling mass of energy as I ran toward the hands and the lips with their promises of touch, of kisses, and of love. I saw nothing but felt hands come out of the darkness again and begin to stroke my hair and caress me with great tenderness.

But as I surrendered to the touch and the sensation, the sumptuous fur that had enveloped me dropped away, and the hands on my body turned rough. Suddenly I was clothed not in fur but in something wet. I began to shiver violently. Frigid air blasted my face, replacing sweet warmth. The dampness around me seeped through to my skin, chilling me to the bone. Someone—or something; could it be an animal?—pulled my dress up above my knees. A hand—yes, it was unmistakably a hand but not the hand that had touched me before—a hand so cold that it must belong to the dead crept up my leg, pushed my thighs apart, and found the only warm spot left on my body. I gasped and tried to scream but choked on my own voice as the icy fingers reached that inviolate place.

“Getting you ready is all.” This voice was crass and mocking and not at all like the voice of devotion that had found me in my sleep.

I knew that I needed to resist, but I could not locate my limbs. I willed my legs to kick, my arms to rise, my fists to tighten, my muscles to gather their strength to fight this thing attacking me, but all the power in my body seemed to have disappeared. I wondered if I were dead and if this thing on top of me was the devil.

Yet I could not give up. Surely this mind that could think was still attached to a body. I opened my mouth to scream, but my throat was useless and hollow. Nothing escaped, not even a vibration. I took a breath, and a foul, sour smell shot up into my nostrils making me gag but letting me know that I was still alive. A warm, wet drop fell upon my eye, as if someone had spit on me.

I opened my eyes. I was not dreaming. No, the creature on top of me, reeking of stale beer and dripping his saliva onto my face, was all too real. But where was I? Who was this man, pushing my legs apart with his knees, this fiend with a coarse, unshaven face and bulbous eyes so red that I expected them to start bleeding? He pulled his icy finger out of me, shocking me as much with the withdrawal as he had with the insertion, and began to fumble with the buttons on his trousers. I rolled back and forth on the wet grass trying to get away, but with his free hand he gathered my dress at the neck, choking me.

“Stay put or you will be sorry you were ever born,” he said.

I realized what was happening and I remember wondering what my fiancé would say when I told him—if I ever told him, if I lived to tell him—that I had been raped while wandering, insensible, in the middle of the night. In my mind, I saw Jonathan receive the news, his stricken face turning white, shying away from me in disgust. How could any man, even one as kind as Jonathan, look upon a woman the same way after this kind of shame? At that moment, I knew that I must free myself from my tormenter. My life, or more than my life—as I thought back in those more innocent days—was at stake.

I tried to scream, but the stranger’s fingers were at my throat. He undid the last button on his trousers, and his manhood shot into freedom, red, stiff, and ugly. He took his hand from my neck and put it over my mouth, but I bit hard at it, harder than I thought I was capable of, as if I had grown new teeth. Cursing me, he withdrew his hand.

“Now you are really going to get it,” he said, pulling my thighs apart. He stared and then looked at my face with his glowing red eyes. Mirth had replaced his anger and determination.

“What’s this? A devil’s mark?”

He meant the wine-colored birthmark on my inner thigh that rose in two points like angels’ wings. I tried to clench my legs together, but he was the stronger. “You’ll be a feisty one.”

I started kicking and flailing with all my strength until my surroundings were a blur. I saw nothing but flashes of the smug look on his ugly face against a dark sky. I tried to find my voice, because I had remembered reading that a woman’s best defense against an attacker was her shrill scream. At last and with persistent effort I felt a tremor rise inside my chest, snake through my throat, and find its way out of my mouth and into the cold night air.

“Get your filthy hands off me,” I yelled, and then I screamed again.

“Shut up, little whore.” The fiend hissed, raising his hand away from me to slap my face. I winced, my courage draining out of me like so much air as I shrank from him. But the blow did not come. Instead, I heard a heavy thud against my attacker’s back, and something picked him up from behind and pulled him off me. I saw the shock and terror on his face as he was swiftly lifted away from me and thrown like a heap of rubbish on the ground.

I sat up. I could not see the face of my rescuer, but he wore the tall hat of a gentleman and a black evening cape lined in shimmery white satin. In his hand was a walking stick, which he used to deliver blow after sickening blow to my assailant. It all happened very quickly, as if time had sped up. My rescuer was a whir of motion, a dervish, battering the attacker until he lay still on the ground.

The gentleman did not even stop to consider the limp thing he had beaten but suddenly faced me as I sat on the ground in wonder. Had I blinked and missed the act of his turning toward me? The thought crossing my mind was that I had been attacked by a fiend and saved by a phantom. The angle of the brim of his hat obscured his face, and his features were in shadow because the moonlight illuminated him from behind. Strangely, as if we were old friends, he opened his arms as if to welcome me. He was familiar to me, but I could not place him.

At that point, I could only imagine that he had the same ambition as the first attacker, and I gathered my nightdress around me and began to crawl away. The walking stick in his right hand bore the bulbous head of a golden dragon, mouth wide-open, baring long, pointy teeth. Slinking backwards on my hands and knees, I waited for him to advance upon me, but he stood motionless, arms stretched out as if in surrender. He was a tall man, and, if posture may give away age, I would have to say that he had the lean physique of youth but the stance of a man of maturity. I thought for a moment that I should get hold of my senses and thank him, but the stories in the newspapers of girls being abducted in the night by well-dressed men were fresh in my mind. The potential danger in remaining vulnerable to him far outweighed my curiosity, and when I thought my legs would carry me, I stood up and ran away.

I soon realized that I was on the banks of the Thames, and that it must be minutes before dawn, that time when the world takes on an eerie color, like that of gray pearls; that strange time when the sky is a luminescent brew of moonlight and dawn. A cold air passed my face, and thunder shattered the silence. I felt drops of rain trickle upon me and I could not resist the urge to turn around to see if my savior had decided to pursue me. He had looked so benevolent with his arms stretched out to me, like the image of the Christ welcoming his flock. I wished, in part, that he had followed me so that I might find out who he was and how he came to be on the deserted riverbank so late. But the feral nature of his swift assault upon my attacker made me rethink my wishes.

I needn’t have worried; he was no longer in the place I had left him. In the distance, I saw a shiny black coach with unlit lanterns and two strong black steeds to lead it. Thunder crashed again and lightning darted through the open sky. The horses neighed, one rearing on its hind legs, while the other seemed to call out to the heavens. I tried to see if my savior was seated in the carriage, but its closed curtains guaranteed the privacy of whoever was inside. With no one I could see at the reins, an explosive round of thunder sent the horses bolting, and the huge coach, glimmering in the burgeoning light of dawn, sped away.

###

TAGS: , , , , ,

KAREN ESSEX is an award-winning novelist and journalist and a screenwriter. She is the author of the national and international best-selling novel, Leonardo’s Swans (Doubleday 2006), about the rivalries among the powerful women painted by the great master when he was employed by the Duke of Milan. Continuing in the theme of women’s influence upon culture and art, her latest novel, Stealing Athena, chronicles the story of the controversial Elgin Marbles from the points of view of two fascinating women, Mary Nisbet, Countess of Elgin, and Aspasia, mistress to Pericles.

Essex has also written two acclaimed biographical novels about the queen of Egypt, Kleopatra and Pharaoh, published in 2001 and 2002, which she adapted into a screenplay for Warner Bros. She also adapted Anne Rice’s novel The Mummy or Ramses the Damned into a screenplay for Titanic director James Cameron and 20th Century Fox, and has written a screenplay about Kamehameha, the first king of Hawaii, for Columbia/Tristar. She has written a dance movie for Jennifer Lopez Entertainment and Paramount Pictures, and continues to develop a variety of film projects.

Essex’s articles, essays and profiles have been published in Vogue, Playboy,L.A. Weekly, L.A. Style, and many other periodicals. After being awarded highest honors from the Los Angeles Press Club for her thought-provoking cover story about the missing 1950s pinup icon Bettie Page, Essex co-authored the biography, Bettie Page: Life of a Pinup Legend. Essex is the first and only journalist with whom the reclusive Ms. Page has ever agreed to meet and cooperate.

Essex was born and raised in New Orleans. She was graduated from Tulane University, attended graduate school at Vanderbilt University, and received an MFA in Writing from Goddard College in Vermont. She’s appeared on The Today Show and A Word on Words hosted by John Seigenthaler, as well as other PBS and NPR programs. She’s lectured at the Chicago Museum of Art, and extensively at universities. Her books are taught in many college courses from creative writing to history to women’s studies.

Leonardo’s Swans, a runaway bestseller in Italy, won the prestigious 2007 Premio Roma for foreign fiction. Essex’s novels are published in twenty-seven languages.

Her latest novel, Dracula in Love, will be published by Doubleday August 10th, 2010. She lives in Los Angeles.

7 responses to “An Excerpt from Dracula in Love

  1. Simon Smithson says:

    Wanton Lucy Westenra, eat your heart out.

    Welcome to TNB, Karen!

  2. New Orleans Lady says:

    You are a great story teller and I can’t wait to read more from you. Welcome to TNB!

  3. dwoz says:

    Oh, the BUMMER of being the poor punter that believes he will have a vicarious taste of the juice of a melon in the first chapter of a vampire novel!

    I swear, if I ever find myself between the legs of a sweet young thing, I’m going to stop and see what DAMN CHAPTER I’M IN.

    If it’s number one, I am only going to hope that I get in a stanza of the lord’s prayer before I get my neck snapped by a fellow in a swirling cape.

    bastards. What’s an average punter like me to do? We’re canon fodder.

  4. dwoz says:

    you know, as much as we all like to rag on vampire novelists, it is just such a lot of FUN, innit?

  5. Karen Essex says:

    Oh, rag all you want. You know you love it!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *