Hunting Prince Dracula Page 3

“Wadsworth. I’m sure you… perhaps I should—” He shook his head, then laughed. “You’ve truly possessed me. Next thing I’ll be penning sonnets and making doe eyes.” The unguardedness left his features abruptly as if he’d stopped himself from falling off a cliff. He cleared his throat, his voice much softer than it had been a moment before. “Which is hardly the time since my news is rather… well, it may come as a slight… surprise.”

I drew my brows together. I’d no idea where this was headed. He was either going to declare our friendship unbreakable or cast it aside for good. I found myself gripping the edge of my seat, palms dampening my satin gloves once more.

He sat forward, steeling himself. “My mother’s f—”

Something large crashed against the door of our compartment, the force nearly cracking the wood upon impact. At least it sounded that way—our heavy door was closed to keep the clattering noise from the nearby dining car at bay. Mrs. Harvey, bless her, was still fast asleep.

I dared not breathe, waiting for more sounds to follow. When no noises came, I inched forward in our booth, forgetting entirely about Thomas’s unspoken confession, heart pounding at twice its normal speed. I imagined cadavers rising from the dead, striking down our door in hopes of drinking our blood, and—no. I forced my mind to think clearly. Vampires weren’t real.

Perhaps it was simply a man who’d indulged in one too many spirits and stumbled into the door. Or maybe a dessert or tea cart had gotten away from an attendant. I supposed it was even possible that a young woman had lost her footing with the motion of the train.

I exhaled and sat back. I needed to stop worrying about murderers stalking the night. I was becoming obsessed with turning every shadow into a bloodthirsty demon when it was nothing more than the absence of light. Though I was my father’s daughter.

Another object banged against the walls outside our compartment, followed by a muffled cry, then nothing. Hair stood straight up on the nape of my neck, craning away from the safety of my skin, as Mrs. Harvey’s snores added to the forbidding atmosphere.

“What in the name of the queen?” I whispered, cursing myself for packing my scalpels in a trunk that I couldn’t readily reach.

Thomas lifted a finger to his mouth, then pointed to the door, forestalling any more movements. We sat there while seconds passed in painful silence. Each tick of the clock felt like an agonizing month. I could scarcely stand one more breath of it.

My heart was ready to burst from its confines. Silence was more frightening than anything as it stretched seconds into minutes. We sat there, focus fixed on the door, waiting. I closed my eyes, praying that I wasn’t experiencing another waking terror.

A scream rent the air, chilling my bones to their very marrow.

Forgetting about good form, Thomas reached for me across the compartment, and Mrs. Harvey finally stirred. As Thomas gripped my hands in his, I knew this was no figment of my imagination. Something very dark and very real was on this train with us.




I jumped to my feet, scanning the area outside the train, and Thomas did the same. Sunlight tarnished the brassy world in sinister shades of gray, green, and black as the sun rose past the horizon.

“Stay here with Mrs. Harvey,” Thomas said. My attention snapped to him. If he thought I was going to simply sit back while he investigated, he was obviously more unhinged than I was becoming.

“Since when do you believe me incapable?” I reached past him, tugging the compartment door with all my might. Blasted thing wouldn’t budge. I kicked my traveling slippers off and braced myself, intent on ripping it from its hinges if necessary. I would not stay trapped in this beautiful cage a minute longer, no matter what was waiting to greet us.

I tried again, but the door refused to open. It was like everything in life; the more one struggled against it, the harder it became. The air suddenly felt too heavy to breathe. I pulled harder, my too-smooth fingers slipping over the even smoother gold plating. My breath hitched in my chest, getting caught in the stiff boning of my corset.

I had the wild urge to rip my underthings off, consequences of polite society be damned. I needed out. Straightaway. Thomas was beside me in an instant.

“I do not… think… you… incapable,” he said, trying to wrench the door open with me, his leather gloves affording him a bit more control over the smooth plating. “For once, I’d like to be the hero. Or at least pretend to be. You’re… always… saving… me. One more tug on the count of three, all right? One, two, three.”

Together we finally heaved it open, and I thrust myself into the hallway, not caring what I looked like as a crowd of passengers stared, and slowly backed away from me. I must have appeared worse than I imagined, but I couldn’t worry about that yet. Breathing was much more important. Hopefully no one from London society was traveling in this car and would recognize me. I bent over, wishing I’d gone with a corset-free gown, as I dragged in uncooperative breaths. Whispers in Romanian reached my ears: “Teapa.”


I drew in another quick breath and stood taller, immediately recoiling when I spied the very thing the passengers were transfixed by, their faces drained of color.

There, between the narrow corridor and our door, a body lay slumped over. I’d have thought the man was intoxicated if it weren’t for the blood leaking from a large chest wound, staining the Persian rug.

The stake protruding from his heart was a glaring indication of murder.

“Saints above,” someone uttered, turning away. “It’s the Impaler. The story is true!”

“Voivode of Wallachia.”

“The Prince of Darkness.”

A fist clenched around the area near my heart. Voivode of Wallachia… Prince of Wallachia. The title rolled inside my mind until it landed on history lessons and staked itself to the area where fear lived. Vlad Ţepeş. Vlad the Impaler.

Some called him Dracula. Son of the Dragon.

So many names for the medieval prince who’d slaughtered more men, women, and children than I dared to think of. His method of killing was how he received the surname Ţepeş. Impaler.

Outside the Kingdom of Romania, his family were rumored to be devilish creatures, immortal and bloodthirsty. But from what little I’d learned, the people of Romania felt very differently. Vlad was a folk hero who’d fought for his countrymen, using any means necessary to defeat his enemies. Something other countries and their beloved kings and queens did as well. Monsters were in the eye of the beholder. And no one wanted to discover their hero was the true villain of the story.

“It’s the Immortal Prince!”

“Vlad Ţepeş lives.”

has the immortal prince returned? The newspaper headline flashed across my mind. This truly couldn’t be happening again. I wasn’t ready to be standing over the body of another murder victim so soon after the Ripper case. Examining a cadaver in the laboratory was different. Sterile. Less emotional. Seeing the crime where it occurred made it too human. Too real. Once it was something I’d longed for. Now it was something I wished to forget.

“This is a nightmare. Tell me this is a horrid dream, Cresswell.”

For a brief moment, Thomas appeared as if he longed to take me into his arms and soothe each of my worries. Then that cool determination set in like a blizzard descending the mountains.

“You’ve stared Fear in its nasty face and made it tremble. You will make it through this, Wadsworth. We will make it through this. That is a fact more tangible than any dream or nightmare. I promised I’d never lie to you. I intend to honor my word.”

I couldn’t tear my gaze from the growing bloodstain.

“The world is vicious.”

Undeterred by the watchful passengers around us, Thomas brushed a lock of hair back from my face, his gaze thoughtful. “The world is neither kind nor is it cruel. It simply exists. We have the ability to view it however we choose.”

“Is there a surgeon on board?” a dark-haired woman around my age cried out in Romanian. It was enough to yank me free of despair. “That man needs help! Someone get help!”

I couldn’t bear to tell her this man was past assistance.

A man with rumpled hair clutched the side of his head, shaking it as if he could remove the body with the force of his denial. “This… this… must be an illusionist’s act.”

Mrs. Harvey poked her head into the corridor, her eyes wide behind her spectacles. “Oh!” she cried out. Thomas quickly escorted her back to the bench in my compartment, whispering soft words to her as they went.

If I hadn’t been so stunned, I might have screamed myself. Unfortunately, this wasn’t the first time I’d come across a man who’d been murdered only minutes before. I tried not to think about the corpse we’d found in a London alley and the raging guilt that still gnawed at my insides. He’d died because of my wretched curiosity. I was a gruesome monster wrapped up in delicate lace.

And yet… I couldn’t help but feel a buzzing sensation under my skin as I stared at this body, at the crude stake. Science gave me a purpose. It was something to lose myself in other than my own mad thoughts.

I took a few breaths, orienting myself to the horror before me. Now wasn’t the time for emotions to cloud my judgment. Though part of me wished to cry for the slain man and whoever would be missing him tonight. I wondered whom he’d been traveling with… or traveling to.

I stopped my thoughts right there. Focus, I commanded myself. I knew this was not the work of a supernatural being. Vlad Dracula had died hundreds of years before.

Muttering something about the engine room, the passenger with the disheveled hair ran off in that direction, probably to have the engineer stop the train. I watched him weave through the gaggle of people, most of whom were struck motionless by horror.

“Mrs. Harvey fainted,” Thomas said as he exited the compartment and smiled reassuringly. “I have smelling salts, but I think it’s best to leave her until this is…”

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