Immortal Reckoning

Promise Me - Book 18

by Tara Fox Hall

At the turn of the 19th century, former aristocrat turned lowly vampire Devlin Dalcon gets by on his supernatural charms until he meets bride-to-be Annabelle. Smitten by Anna's forthrightness, intellect, and bravery, Devlin risks his life to spirit her away to Fontainebleau, France. There Devlin begins his ascent to power in a desperate bid for wealth and social standing for himself and Anna.

Forging alliances with other supernatural leaders, he usurps the vampire Lord of Fontainebleau, amassing many enemies during his brief reign. Within a few years, he and Anna are again forced to flee for their lives to America. Living in hiding, Devlin is determined to amend his ways. But when tragedy strikes, Devlin's dark side, never fully extinguished, emerges rampant, securing him the bloody throne of America even as his malevolence and loneliness consumes him.


Chapter One

I am not a nice person.

Let me refine that, as it seems to cast me as a villain from the first line. And I am no villain, having tried for over 400 years to always do what was right. I have always tried to return good for good, to help those that needed help, to champion the underdog beaten and chained by those with power over him. But I am not a savior, and I do not help those who don’t deserve to be helped.

So many fiction pieces dramatize the life of a vampire. I have come across legions who think that the ability to regenerate one’s flesh somehow equals vast wealth, charisma, class, and scads of sex and parties. While there are benefits of a hardy constitution, relative immortality does not guarantee anything. Relative immortality, yes, because a true immortal cannot die. I, a vampire, can easily perish under the right circumstances.

My life has not been the stuff of legends. I admit, some of what you may think you know of me from the Promise Me series of books is not true. It’s taken the love of a good woman to finally heal my heart to the point that I can confess the truth of all that’s happened to me...and all I have done in reprisal. Mine has been a life of wonder, loss, fear, and loathing, and brief moments of true, pure happiness.

* * *

I began my mortal life as a bastard peasant in Western Spain, near the border of France. The Pyrenees Mountains loomed to the east, the coastal merchant trading towns to the west, and the large town of Pamplona to the south. The year was 1584, and the Anglo-Spanish War would not happen for another year. By the time it ended in 1604, twenty years later, my life had changed remarkably.

My father had more than a few bastards, and also legitimate children. I remember nine official heirs, seven of them daughters. I often wonder if my father rationalized all his affairs with the need for more sons. But likely it was just his desire to both seduce and dominate the opposite sex.

My mother, Danialle, did not welcome his affections. But faced with being taken by force, or submitting to his demands, she chose to submit. I did not understand this when I was young, hating the gossip we endured each time we visited town. I thought that she should resist at all costs the dominion of her body and spirit. I finally couldn’t hold back my repulsion, and asked her one night, as we sat before the small fire in the small thatch and mud cottage. “Why do you let Lord Dalcon take you?”

My mother had her back to me, stoking the fire, and she stopped still at her task. “Because to resist just makes it worse.”

“What could be worse?” I asked, scathingly incredulous.

“Having you hurt,” she answered with a steady, reserved gaze.

I knew my father didn’t care for me; unlike others of his bastards, I had inherited my mother’s brown eyes, and not his honey-colored eyes, the self-professed signature of his bloodline. But the thought he might hurt me as a mere means to an end had never even crossed my mind. “Has he made any threats?”

“He did not have to utter them to make them real,” she replied in a very worn voice. “Lord Dalcon expects to be obeyed.” Her eyes fixed on mine. “Be careful, my son. He will not hesitate to take whatever he thinks is his, by whatever means he can. And his sons are the same as he.”

I didn’t reply to her at first. I knew to defend my half-brother, Devlin, would earn me a cold silence of at least a fortnight. So I instead attacked Darius, my father’s eldest. “Darius Dalcon is his father’s son. I saw him earlier today with his mother’s handmaiden.”

“Please,” my mother interrupted. “I will not have tales of lechery in my home, Danial.”

I kept silent, musing as she finished up her work. Darius was as terrible as my mother said, but Devlin had always been decent to me, even protecting me when a crowd of villagers had tried to stone me. My mother was a healer, but there were those that called her a witch, or part faerie, something unnatural. I longed for a day when I could be free of the stigma of being her son, and a bastard. It shames me to say it, but part of me blamed her for my lot in life, that I had been born a bastard.

When my mother died, I left the village, before I could be burned out. While my mother could heal the sick, and tend to the animals farmers brought to her, there was a reason for the villagers to tolerate her and me. After she was gone, my days were numbered. So I took the little that we had, and left in the night, with only a few words at my mother’s fresh gravesite.

I journeyed west, and took work at the first castle I tried. I was surprised when I was offered work as a manservant, as I had no pedigree, only the little book learning and fine manners my mother had enforced from the time I was old enough to understand what was expected of me. I was naïve then. I did not notice the lingering glances of the count. When he tried to embrace me, I recoiled, then fought back.

Stabbing him with a dagger gave me time to escape into the night. I stayed hidden and made my way back to my village. But the only home I had known had been appropriated by another family. While I was now an official killer, and furious that my home was no longer mine, I had no wish to hurt a family, even one that had stolen my homestead. So I went instead to my half-brother, Devlin.

I couldn’t go directly to him at my father’s home, as I wouldn’t have been admitted. I had to steal into the stables, and wait for my brother to visit one of his two favorite lovers. At half past midnight, he emerged from the hayloft, sated and happy. His face fell when he beheld me in my sorry state. “I thought you’d left for good, Danial.”

Do not offend him, you can’t afford to. “I tried,” I said carefully. “But I could not find work. Can you help me?”

Devlin shot me a rakish grin. “Not unless you want to be a groom. Sabine tells me that there is an opening. Baler kicked out this morning while his stall was being cleaned and broke the apprentice’s left hand.”

Baler was our father’s favorite Andalusian hunter. “That would be acceptable,” I said as graciously as I could muster. “I love horses.”

“You’ll have to stay out of father’s sight,” he cautioned. “Darius’s sight, as well. Father will cast you out if he knows you have returned.”

“I can stay out of sight,” I agreed. “Thank you, brother.”

In that way, I earned enough money to live. But it was a hard life, staying hidden most of the time. There was no way to know when or if my father or others of his family would appear on any given day. I began doing most of my work in the night hours, when chance of someone coming in while I was working was small. That would serve me well a little over a decade in the future, when I became a vampire.

* * *

In a few years’ time, I eventually worked my way up to a head groom position. It was in the year I turned twenty that I truly discovered my passion for living.

In the years I had worked in the stable, I hadn’t really lived. I felt as if I were waiting for something to happen, be it some doom or something wonderful. But I had no desire for anything in particular, and one day seemed like another. I had existed this way most of my life.

I worked with two other men of that time, Hamish and Edward. Both were hard workers, and knew horses. What they lacked in intelligence they made up for in friendliness. Often on Sundays, when church services were over, we would sit and talk in one of the meadows off from the stable, remaining close enough to hear if someone called for us.

“I thought you were never getting here,” Hamish said, when I strolled up that afternoon. “Time for your friends is as important as your lass.”

I had been courting a village girl named Beaulah for the better part of two months, an arranged match fostered by the pastor, who was her uncle. “You know that they have been asking me to stay to the noon meal for the last few weeks after services, Ham.” I sat down next to him on the green grass, closed my eyes, and leaned back.

“Do you want to marry her?” he pressed, an odd tone of concern in his voice. “If you don’t, you should speak up now, Danial. Or you’ll find yourself at the altar right quick.”

It was not a question of wanting to marry and have a wife, it was a question of supporting her. “What else is there, Ham? I don’t want to work here in the stable for the rest of my life. And her family has offered me a tract of their land. Thirty acres isn’t a lot, especially with all the rocks in the tract, but it’s enough to get a few cows and sheep.”

“It’s not that she isn’t a comely lass, Beaulah is,” he commented. “But you’re good with the horses, Danial. I hate to see you wasting your talents with farming.”

This was not the first time Hamish had tried this argument. Though I thought he was right, I did not want to tell him that part of the dowry would include a pair of horses for breeding from the pastor, who had gotten them from a deceased rich widow as a gift.

Then I would have to explain the reason for the gift, a secret which I had promised not to divulge to anyone. “Where is Edward? He should be here by now.”

Hamish let out a sigh. “Likely to be in the stocks for the day, if he reported to Master Darius as instructed.”

“Whatever for?” I said in surprise.

“Grain is missing again,” he said, picking at some long grass. He stuck a piece in his mouth, chewing on it. “Second time it’s happened this month.”

My curiosity was piqued. “He never mentioned it.”

Hamish shrugged. “He’s been noticing all along that we run short before we should. But it’s like it’s there, and then it’s gone.”

There must be a reason…and a thief. “Had he noticed anyone in the stables who shouldn’t be there?”

Hamish shook his head. “No one strange, and no one around the storage bins who shouldn’t be there. I think maybe it’s just a hellava big rat family.” He laughed aloud.

Not rats, but someone in the stable who is taking a little at a time, so it’s not apparent.

I watched from that night on, but didn’t notice anyone in the stables at night who should not be there. But instead of giving up at that juncture, as Ed had, I then looked at who was seen late in the night: Devlin and the stable master, Ben. While Devlin had reason to be there (his mistress), Ben’s pretense when I spoke to him in passing was always reasonable yet fundamentally unsound (checking on a new foal, or some other horse’s ailment, something that could easily be done by the day). Tom, the head groom, mentioned all horses going into foal when I took over for him at night. Also, the injured horses Ben used for his excuses were completely sound when I checked them. Moreover, Tom had never mentioned to me that those specific horses had any injuries.

I took my reasoning to the only one I could: Devlin. He took my logistics to his father, saying that he alone had deduced the culprit behind the missing grain. In return for discovering the thief, he was given our father’s prize stallion, Bear, a great blood-red charger. I didn’t care; I had only wanted to solve the mystery, and for Ed to be off the hook for the theft. So when Devlin came to me on the night of his birthday feast, I jumped a foot when he laid a hand on my arm, sure I had finally been discovered.

Devlin laughed, a slow rich sound which I confess I always delighted to hear, even in the times when it was a precursor for one of his cruel actions. “Relax, brother. I only wanted to come out to see how you are. I haven’t seen you in several weeks.”

“Only because your usual reason for visiting has been absent,” I finished knowingly with a wry smile. “Sabine is too pregnant now to attend to her duties, something you had more to do with than her husband-to-be.”

“I know,” Devlin replied with rakish pride. “Father is hoping it will be a boy. He’s set her up in a small country home, until the birth.”

As much as Sabine’s fortunes might change for the better financially if she bore a son or a daughter with gold eyes, I knew how badly it would go for her if her child did not have that attribute. She would not only lose her betrothal, she would be ruined, and likely consigned by her family to the local brothel.

“But I didn’t come here tonight to tell you of Sabine,” Devlin went on happily. He strode down the hall and I followed, knowing he expected me to trail him. “I came to give you a gift. It’s your birthday, after all.”

I paused, curious. Devlin had never made it a point to remember my birthday, or to give me gifts, either. “Why, Dev?”

He turned to me, then smiled widely, strangely happy. “Because we are brothers, and it pleases me to give you a gift, all right?” His smile lessened, his expression determined. “And you earned him more than me, Danial. We both know that.”

I stared, then blinked. “You can’t offer me Bear. You know the consequences if I am seen riding him.”

“I know that you’re a head groom, and one of your duties is to exercise the horses,” Devlin countered stubbornly. “So what if that is usually done in the day? There is no reason you can’t ride at night.”

“Except for the danger of gopher holes, snakes, predators, horse thieves—”

“Bear is a charger first and a hunter second. He is used to defending himself in battle,” Devlin insisted. “He’s fast enough to outrun any horse thief, and the odds that he’ll step in a hole are small. You’re just making excuses, Danial.” He handed me a piece of paper, Bear’s pedigree. “He’s yours.”

I took the paper carefully, as if it might evaporate like a dream if I grasped it too tightly. Yet the paper was real, just as Bear was real, in front of us there in his stall, munching an apple I had given him earlier.

“You think I didn’t know that you always doted on him, with all your apples and carrots?” Devlin slapped me on the back jovially. “He should be yours, as I said, you earned him.”

With that, he left me standing there, and went back to his party. With no one to witness, I threw caution to the wind and entered Bear’s stall. The giant horse whickered to me in friendly greeting, and I hugged him happily, burying my face in his long reddish mane.

* * *

I was careful at first, only riding Bear for short walks in the forest, where the possibility of being seen was small. But as the months passed, I gave into my desire to let the horse run as he was meant to, and went for long treks by moonlight over the fields, exhilarating in the power of the animal and our strengthening bond.

It was after one such ride that I came in close to dawn, Bear blowing hard and covered in sweat beneath me…and ran straight into Devlin’s sister, Delilah. Her eyes widened in surprise, then her lip curled into a sneer. My chest tightened, as her response told me she knew who I was.

We had never spoken, had not even officially been introduced. But I knew who she was, by her golden eyes, if not by the gold and ruby bear shaped pendant she wore at her throat. She was dressed as if she were going to a party, the elaborate cloth-of-gold gown floor length, her red-gold hair upswept into a braided crown adorned with gold ribbons.

“Danny,” she said cuttingly. “Imagine the expression on our father’s face when I tell him that you’re not only still living near here, but riding Devlin’s horse at night without permission.”

“I have permission,” I replied, cautious of each word. I dismounted and began leading the horse to his stall. My half-sister followed.

I began rubbing down Bear, ridding him of sweat and dirt. Delilah stalked in the hall, watching me angrily.

“What is it that you want?” I said finally.

“Who says I want anything?” she snarled back.

“You’re in the stables near dawn, you’re dressed for a party, and yet there is no one here with you, something your father wouldn’t permit,” I replied flatly. “You have been either stood up for a liaison, or you are running away. Yet I see no luggage.”

Her eyes narrowed. “How dare you!”

She is not angry, she is desperate. I turned and faced her. “I asked you once, what do you want?”

Instead of her denial, Delilah cast down her eyes. “You have an unpleasant ability to determine what you should not know,” she admitted softly.


"Immortal Confessions" by Tara Fox Hall



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