ZM_CH2: In Which Nickie Nick Dances by Rote

NickieCVR4WebContinuing in the Victorian tradition, enjoy today’s installment of The Zombies of Mesmer: A Nickie Nick Vampire Hunter Novel.  Every Friday a new installment of this YA Steampunk ParaRomance is published free for your enjoyment. Leave a comment and be entered to win an author-signed copy of the sequel, released Summer 2013.

Follow Nicole Knickerbocker Hawthorn (Nickie Nick) as she discovers her destiny as The Protector, a powerful vampire hunter. Ashe, a dark and mysterious stranger, helps Nickie and her friends solve the mystery behind several bizarre disappearances. Suitable for teens, enjoyed by adults, the story is full of interesting steampunk gadgets, mad scientists, bloodthirsty vampires, and mesmerized zombies. This paranormal adventure is sure to appeal to fans of Boneshaker, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and The Vampire Diaries.

The Zombies of Mesmer is a Gothic Young Adult Paranormal Romance novel set in Victorian London. Appropriate for teens.

Get your very own copy of The Zombies of Mesmer in paperback or for your Kindle (FREE for Prime Members)! Don’t have a Kindle? Kindle apps are available for smart phones, PCs, and tablets. Have another eReader? Email me about other formats.

-_Q

Chapter 2: In Which Nickie Nick Dances by Rote

Upturned, expectant faces filled the room below as I stood at the top of the staircase unable to move. The muscles in my cheeks complained as I held a plastered smile on my face. My gloved hand rested delicately on the wooden banister, but my mind was still back in my bedchamber.

Me? Really?

I was supposed to fight vampires? And demons?

Had I heard that right?

Surely Fanny was joking, or maybe she just had had too much whiskey.

“May I present,” a loud booming voice filled the room, “Miss Nicole Knickerbocker Hawthorn.”

Fanny did enjoy a taste every now and again, but the strength and, for lack of a better word, power surging through me was no mistake. It was no joke. Something was quite different indeed.

“Nicole,” my mother chided in a harsh whisper through her own plastered smile. She was standing a few feet away from me on the second story. “Nicole. Move!”

This jolted me out of my thoughts. The music had already started again, which was my cue, so I began my slow descent of the staircase. Mother had made me practice this several times a day over the past week, so I knew just how slowly to move and just how wide to smile. I really had hated all those stupid rehearsals at the time. I mean, I could walk down a staircase and smile without practice. Now, however, I was truly grateful that my body could do this all without my brain being in gear. Because my mind certainly was not operating properly at the moment.

As I reached the bottom of the staircase, the guests gathered around to greet me as I made my way through the foyer. My mother was right behind me with her hand at the small of my back, guiding me.

Again. Grateful.

A rather large, old, and particularly pasty woman stopped us on our way to the dining hall which had been converted into a ballroom for the party.

“So lovely,” she said, then added to my mother, “You must be very proud.”

“I am, indeed,” my mother answered. I could feel the joy emanating off of her in a warm glowy way. At least she was enjoying this. My face was beginning to ache from keeping the same smile for so long. The corner of my mouth started to twitch.

“Nicole.” The pasty woman gave one of those condescending smiles. “Such an unusual name.”

“Yes,” I offered, my cheek muscles welcoming the momentary rest. “It is Greek. It means–”

“Foolish girl,” my mother interrupted as she moved up beside me and grabbed my arm. I noticed a blush coming up in her cheeks. “It is a family name, actually. Dutch. She is named after my family, from the Nicoles and Knickerbockers of Holland, and more recently, New York.”

“I see,” the woman said, clenching her teeth. “Still, so lovely. Yes, so very lovely.”

My mother’s grip clamped down on my gloved arm, for the gloves extended well past my elbows, nearly to the bottom of the tiny dress sleeves. Mother steered me back on course toward the far end of the ballroom floor. There we stopped and the guests formed a receiving line, each to meet me formally as I entered society.

The entire thing seemed so pointless, really.

They greeted my mother first and then she presented me to each of them saying, “I want to present my daughter, Nicole” to every. single. one of them.

I smiled. I greeted. I curtsied. I did all that was expected of me.

After an eternity of pretense, the receiving line was finally coming to an end. There had been more than a few handsome bachelors, and even more old crotchety ones, who took great pleasure in kissing my gloved hand and reserving their place on my dance card. Not one of them piqued my interest. Not even the handsome ones. After all, I did have more important things to think about than with whom to dance and when. How perfectly frivolous.

But dance I must.

The first came for his dance, and I waltzed with him just as I was taught. I really couldn’t say what we talked about. Something trivial, no doubt, as I was able to carry on the conversation without my thoughts ever leaving what Fanny had said. There was a great difference between who the ton saw and who I really was on the inside. Fanny had taught me to blend into High Society quite well.

Vampires. What were they like? Could they be here at my ball? And demons! How dreadfully horrifying!

And this was the way I spent the evening, waltz after waltz. Each with a new dance partner that hardly registered in my distracted mind until…

“You are not listening to a word I say, are you Miss Hawthorn?” my current partner accused. I looked up at him and saw it was none other than the great fop, His Most Annoying, Lord Reginald Godwyn. He was considered one of the most eligible bachelors for one of my station, that’s the half-American daughter of nouveau riche industrialists. Only those titled with questionable finances would lower themselves enough to marry beneath them, or what would have been considered beneath them only a few years ago. The upper middle-class was now marrying quite often into the lower aristocracy.

“I beg your pardon, sir?” I feigned offense.

“I said, you are not listening to anything I’m saying, are you?” he repeated as he twirled me in a waltz across the ballroom. Waltzing was second nature to me, almost like walking. I was normally able to do it quite well without thinking, but now I found myself counting ‘one-two-three, one-two-three’ in my head to ensure I would not miss a step.

His Most Annoying had certainly done what he did best. Yet, this irksome, albeit handsome, man was my mother’s first choice for my husband. He was the highest rank in attendance, and he must think this is all quite beneath him. We did have that in common.

My daydreaming must have offended him quite deeply. Good. For I would never marry such a man. Best that he lost interest altogether.

“I think one would do one the honor of at least listening when one speaks, wouldn’t one?”

“What?” I asked before I could stop myself. Did he really just say that?

“Am I not interesting enough to hold your attention, Miss Hawthorn?” He emphasized the ‘miss’ to indicate that I was neither married nor titled, a subtle way of chastising me. If I had cared about such things, I’m sure it would have stung.

I wanted to say, ‘of course not,’ but I minded my manners. “Forgive my rudeness, Lord Godwyn. My mind did wander for a moment. Please, do repeat your comment, my lord. You now have my undivided attention.”

“It was a question, actually. I shall repeat it dear lady, but you must make more of an effort to listen. Don’t you agree?” He was quite handsome, but really in the most obvious and tiresome way. The type of handsome that’s too handsome, especially for one as spoiled and elitist as this great fop. And he was indeed a Great Fop! He had perfect blue eyes, a perfect chiseled jaw that framed a brilliant white smile, and perfect color of flaxen hair swept perfectly to the side. Each step he made in the waltz was perfect as well. He was the epitome of what society considered a great catch for any debutante, especially for one at my station, as I was so very often reminded. I would be considered most fortunate to marry such a man, a mere five years my senior. But his beauty was marred by his personality, which was bossy, arrogant, and terribly vexing.

“Yes. Of course, Lord Godwyn. Again, do forgive my rudeness.”

“Very well. I am in the market for a wife, if I may be so bold. Perhaps my boldness will hold your attention this time. And I would very much like to call on you on Christmas Day. May I do so, Miss Hawthorn?” Before I could respond he continued. “If all goes well at that meeting, then I would very much like to escort you to a New Year’s Ball the following week.”

I couldn’t understand why he had needed my attention so desperately, as he seemed to have decided this for himself without my acknowledgment.

“Christmas is traditionally a day for family in our home, Lord Godwyn,” I said sweetly.

“I have already spoken with your mother, and she has agreed to the visit.”

The music had just stopped, so we stood before each other for a moment before he bowed and kissed my white-gloved hand.

“Well, then.” I gave him the same sweet smile, “I shall see you in a few days, Lord Godwyn.”

“I look forward to it, Miss Hawthorn. You do look quite lovely this evening, despite that repulsive necklace.”

I curtsied, and he strutted away.

Over the rest of the evening, I caught Lord Godwyn watching me quite often, and it was deeply unsettling. I glanced over at the great Grandfather Clock in the foyer, counting the minutes to when this disagreeable ball would come to an end and I could get out of this blasted corset and learn more about who I had become, but there was still at least another hour before I could be free. Looking down from the great clock, my eyes met those of a young man who I had never seen before, peering in the long window that ran down the side of the front door. For that instant our eyes locked, my stomach flipped inside my tightly strung corset. He was beautiful, albeit rather scruffy. His face was dirty, but his dark eyes sent a thrill through me like I have never known. But before I could move toward the door, he was gone. From that point on, that mysterious stranger fought the thoughts of my strange birthright for control of my mind.

 ***

After the last guest left, I gladly went back up to my chamber and immediately took off that frivolous dress and had begun to unlace my corset when Fanny came in from her adjoining room.

“Did you have a nice time?” she asked cheekily.

“Very funny,” I replied. “I’m just so happy it is over.”

“Did you find a husband?” She enjoyed playing with me.

My thoughts fled to that handsome stranger in the window, but that was just absurd, as I had no idea who that was and I would likely never see him again. But that feeling is what I wanted in a husband. That rush of thrill and excitement. Whoever he was, I knew now that that feeling was possible. Now more than ever I knew I would not settle for anything less than love.

“Well?” Fanny raised her eyebrows awaiting an answer.

“There were many handsome suitors in attendance, Fanny. Indeed! But, alas, no one at the party stirred any feelings of love for me.” It was not a lie after all. That mysterious man had not been at the party.

“So then, we can enjoy each other’s company for a while longer.”

Fanny was far more like a mother to me than my own, and I knew I was very much like a daughter to her.

She helped me on with my night dress, and I climbed up on my bed and snuggled under the covers. Fanny sat next to me and stoked my hair like she had done my entire life.

“Tell me more about this prophecy, Fanny.”

“Very well, you did hold up your end of our agreement. It is known as The Hawthorn Legacy, and it was foretold many, many years before you were born.”

“How is that even possible? How can anyone know what will come to pass?”

“My coven is descended from a long line of very powerful witches.”

“Are you a witch, too?” I sat up straight against my headboard, waiting for one of her stories. I now began to wonder if all those stories she had told me throughout my life had been real and not just bedtime stories.

“I am,” she answered. Her eyes looked sad. “Once, I was a very powerful witch, and I suppose I still am. But I gave up that life to care for you, my lamb. I have kept up a moderate practice, of course, as I have been preparing for this day my entire life. But many members of my coven have grown into extremely powerful forces against darkness.”

“So I’m not the only vampire hunter?”

“Heavens, no, child. How could there be only one vampire hunter? This world would be overrun with demons and vampires and other nasties if only one person in the entire world could defeat them. There are many fighting in the war against evil, child; but you are special. You are also The Protector, and you are the only one. No, there have been others, and there will be more once you are…finished. Although, there has not been a Protector like you for generations. Not since your birth was foretold, and your powers do exceed that of most. At least, they were foretold as such. Your actual abilities are yet to be seen. Tell me, did you feel a change?”

I pulled my knees to my chest and looked up at the broken canopy. The corner post I had broken during the change was still missing, but the canopy had been temporarily propped up with a broom handle and some twine.

“Sorry about that.” I indicated the broken bed frame.

“No worries, love. Wilfred fixed it for the time being. We shall get it properly tended to tomorrow.”

“I guess it goes without saying that I felt a change.” Resting my chin on my knees, I thought about the feeling that I had when the change came over me. It was not unlike the feeling in my stomach when I had seen that beautiful stranger, only much more pronounced. Also, it ran through my entire body. “At first it was a chill, then it turned to fire, as if my skin was burning.”

“Interesting. Perhaps part of the witches blessing on your family. That was the fate of many a witch, burned at the stake. Such a horrible way to die, my dear. Your Hathorne ancestor ensured women accused of witchcraft met similar ends. Hanged and crushed they were. So horrible. So very horrible, indeed.”

“It didn’t hurt, Fanny. Rather it was exhilarating, like every pore exploded with strength and energy all at the same time. Then I could see more clearly, if that makes sense. And I could hear things from far away and smell…like all my senses were heightened.”

“You are indeed The Protector, my dear. You are the most powerful vampire hunter alive.”

“What about you, Fanny. Did you ever hunt vampires and demons?”

“Oh that was many years ago, my dove. Many, many years. I must’ve been no older than you, but yes, I have dusted a vampire or two in my time. Come here.” She got up from the bed and waddled a few steps before she walked the kinks out of her “old bones,” as she called them. She led me into her own bedchamber, pulled the rug aside, and opened up a hinged portion of the floorboards.

“This is my past, but it is your future.”

Beneath the floor door were dozens of sharpened wood stakes and other weapons.

“We will begin training tomorrow after you have had a chance to rest from this evening’s excitement. It is much to take in all at once, no?

She handed me a wooden stake, and it belonged in my hands. I made a fist around the hard shaft and felt the roughness of the wood dimple my skin.

“It is made out of hawthorn wood, the tree from which your ancestors were originally named. This, my dear, is your main weapon for hunting vampires. From this point forward you are to always have a stake on your person.”

“Where did you get all these?”

“Some are from my own fighting days, but most I have carved throughout the years in preparation for this day.”

She took the black stone that hung around my neck and slid it inside my nightgown. “Keep the necklace tucked close to your breast for protection. It is more powerful when it lies against your skin.”

I fingered the stone through the cotton nightdress. “So vampires cannot control my thoughts with this, correct?”

“True.”

“But they normally can? I mean, how? Will I be able to do that?”

“So many questions!” Fanny laughed.

“Sorry, Fanny, but this is all rather shocking.”

“Yes, they normally can. I’m not sure how, but they can cloud your mind. They can feed off you and make you not remember anything about it. They can make you believe and do things, too. And, no, as far as I know, you will not have that ability.”

“But you said–”

“I know I said you would have powers like them, and you will. You do,” she corrected herself. “You have strength and speed that rival theirs, but you are still human after all.”

“Do they look human?”

“More or less, but they have a tendency to look increasingly less human and more monstrous as time goes on. Really old vampires are quite monstrous, but they can make you believe they are still beautiful. That necklace will keep you from being fooled by that. Their cold, pale flesh and pointy canine teeth normally keep them out of polite company,” she assured me, but I was not convinced.

“I saw some rather pale and monstrous looking, lecherous old men at my birthday gala earlier.” The memory of some of those suitors caused my lip to curl in the most unattractive way.

Fanny laughed heartily and then covered her mouth. She looked around guiltily as if she could wake my parents across this huge house.

“How will I recognize them?” I asked.

“You will most certainly know one when you seen one,” she had responded. That was of little help.

“How? Do they have fangs?”

“Indeed they do.”

“Are they always out or do they sometimes look like normal teeth?”

“They are always visible, my dear. Now it is getting late and you need your rest. We have much to do tomorrow.”

“Do they come out during the day?”

“They can, but they are out mostly at night because the sun burns and blisters their skin if in it for too long. Also, their strength and powers of mind control weaken during daylight hours. It is why they have what are called powers of darkness.”

“But how will I know when I see one?”

She laughed again. “So many questions! With some practice and concentration,” she said, “you will be able to sense them. Here.” She put her clenched fist against my stomach. “That, along with fighting skills, is why we shall train every day beginning tomorrow. Your strength is natural, my dove, but technique must be learned.”

-_Q

Thank you for reading this week’s installment of The Zombies of Mesmer: A Nickie Nick Vampire Hunter Novel. Join me every Friday for a new installment of this YA Steampunk ParaRomance. Don’t forget to leave a comment for a chance to win an author-signed copy of the sequel, released Summer 2013. The more comments you leave, week after week, the more times you’ll be entered!

~ by omgrey on May 24, 2013.

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