From the USA Today bestselling fantasy author of the House of Crimson & Clover novels comes a chilling new historical fantasy series, Vampires of the Merovingi. Ancient lore, a vidid historical backdrop, and elusive, tantalizing mythical creatures await readers as they dive into the secretive, ancient, powerful world of The Saga of Crimson & Clover.
1789. Saint-Domingue. Hispaniola. West Indies.
Etienne de Blanchefort has seen incredible success as a colonial planter in the Northern Province of Saint-Domingue. Though uprooting his family from France a decade past was a gamble, life in the tropical West Indies has been good to him, his wife, and four children. With France embroiled in their great revolution across the Atlantic, he harbors little doubt he made the right decision for his family’s future.
Until, that is, the arrival of his fiend.
Etienne’s practical nature cannot reconcile what he knows to be true of his world with what he cannot ignore about the abominable creature haunting his family and the island.
Nor can he ignore his wife’s terrifying dreams that slowly steal her vitality.
Or Victorine’s burgeoning free spirit and wariness of their way of life.
Or Nanette’s curious, furtive behavior as she hides in trees.
Or Marius’ secret new friendship with one he cannot name.
Or Flosine’s unsettling drawings of a man from a time long before theirs.
Etienne’s fiend will not stay elusive for long. He has a request. A very particular, very important request, one that will change the lives of Etienne, his family, and his descendants forever.
Nanette rested the quill in the spine of the book, and chanced a recline back into the trunk of the massive pine. The world below her was exotic and charged with briny energy, but up here it was whatever she wished it to be. She could imagine herself a pirate sailing for Île de la Tortue or Port Royal, or a comtesse on retreat from Paris. Adelphe had taught her little about the wide world around them, but Nanette could not be stopped from slipping into her father’s study and delving into his own collection of rare and expensive books.
Books were only words, but words had power. Nanette, on the eve of thirteen, did not yet understand the nature of that power, only that she was entirely under its sway.
Her knowledge of the world was not limited to what she read. Childeric entranced her with tales of kings and bloodlines not ever recorded. Of the hundreds upon thousands of different tongues and dialects. Of golden chalices and wealth beyond even her imagination.
In the beginning, Nanette wrongly assumed the companionship of Childeric was hers alone. Soon enough, Marius begun babbling of a dark-haired prince who helped him tell afternoon tales with his puppets. Shortly after, Flosine began drawing crude scribbles of the same man, standing on their cliff overlooking the sea. This last cut the deepest, as Nanette had first spotted him in the same manner. She’d claimed him as hers in that very moment.
Only Victorine seemed immune to Childeric’s attentions.
Her maman and papa had also been affected by their new uninvited guest, though neither addressed it except through oddness in their behavior. Maman, not sleeping. Papa, taken to jitters and paranoia. Nanette wanted to tell them Childeric was their friend, but was afraid of being whipped for speaking out of turn.
More, she feared they would see the lie in her eyes. She could not tell of Childeric’s friendship without also repeating his warnings. I am the path to the future of the de Blanchefort dynasty. Follow me, and your world will bloom in ways unimaginable to you now. Turn away, and await your own peril.
His words frightened her. There was nothing playful or adventurous in them, as all their other conversations had been. From then on, she feared the moment he might return and repeat them, or offer further elaboration.
Remembering all this in a huff, Nanette swung her left leg up and accidentally jostled the branch holding her precious ink. With a sharp cry, her gaze traveled toward the ground and the inevitable loss of her only outlet.
She was shocked to see Childeric holding the bottle upright in his right palm, his left outstretched to her.
“You must be more cautious, mon cher,” he chastised. His alabaster flesh reflected the bold green of his tunic, and he seemed preternatural to her; a figment of her dreams.
“I am grateful,” Nanette replied with a hasty breath, gathering her leg and skirt to one side to avoid an unseemly disaster. His hand remained high in the air, an invitation.
She had climbed up with the help of several branches, hitching her skirts to avoid a snag. Going down would be even less ladylike, and she had counted on being alone. Childeric settled her ink down on a nearby flat stretch of dirt and returned with both arms wide.
Nanette set her lips in a tight line, unwittingly resembling her mother in that moment. She saw no other choice. He was not leaving, and she could not be seen flashing her undergarments in the presence of a man. Unchaperoned, no less. With a fearful glance around the grounds, she pulled in a breath and dropped into his arms. His embrace was solid, but brief. He backed away before the blush could fully form in her cheeks.
She had never before been so close to him. Now, she could see his eyes were the brilliant violet hues of indigo dye, and his skin was lineless, devoid of the markings of the age and experience someone of his words bespoke.
“Has no one discovered your love of trees?” Childeric teased, his blood-red lips forming a smile that paused her heart.
Nanette shook her head. “I must return to the house.”
Her head pulled to the side, startled by the impudence in his question.
“Your secret will not ever leave my lips,” Childeric said when she found herself unable to form a reply. “As you have kept mine, I shall keep yours.”
Nanette swallowed a lump in her throat. “You’re mistaken. You’ve bade me keep no secret of yours.”
Childeric paced a circle around her, his steps nimble. “So, you have told your maman and papa of the strange man who visits you and tells you tales?”
“I have not!” Nanette exclaimed, indignant, realizing in the moment his point. Her expression turned cross. “Yet, as I am not the only one you visit, it is not such a secret after all.”
“Marius and Flosine know no better. They see me through the visage of a child. Not you, Nanette. Yours is the age of discernment.”
“They have not yet developed a healthy fear of the world. They trust without thought, and move through life with an artless grace. They do not yet understand the consequence that can follow a decision, a split-second choice.”
“They’re seven and five,” Nanette offered, frozen in spot.
Childeric swept one arm of his brilliant emerald tunic toward the Caribbean. Chartreuse waves lapped at the shore, cresting against the crag. “You stand at the cliffs and innately accept that to fall is to invoke injury. Even death. Yet at the bottom also lies a world unknown to you. You see, in your dreams, that I am the cliff. You have not yet decided where I lead.”
The abruptly adult turn the conversation took left Nanette unwittingly stumbling back up the grassy cliff side. The temptation to continue this palaver was stronger than she’d like to admit, for admitting it would be to embrace her maman’s claim she was nearing her journey as a woman. Her fear of being caught without a chaperone outmaneuvered all other competing emotions.
Her eyes moved toward the ink, standing behind Childeric. To reach it, she would need to either cut a wide berth or brush directly past him. His smile broadened, as if he could see through to the darkest thoughts in her heart. As if he enjoyed them.
“Here you are, mon cher.” Childeric’s outstretched palm held the pot of ink. She’d not even seen him move to reach for it. She couldn’t fathom how he’d done it so quickly. She didn’t want to. “Not a drop spilt.”
Eyes averted, Nanette swiped the pot and murmured her gratitude before whirling and fleeing back over the arc of the cliffs, toward the safety of the house, sensing his indigo eyes burning word-shaped cuts into the soft flesh of her back.