Chapter One

Count Dmitri Alucard

 

I never much liked coming into London, but business was business. A longtime acquaintance of mine and my family, Dorian Gray, had alluded to a proposition that I couldn’t turn away from, so I made the journey from my home in Edinburgh to the rather drab streets of London. Gone were the tall trees and brilliantly colored flowers blooming in the gardens of my family estate, replaced by the concrete jungle that was the capital of England.

The things I had to do to make money.

I looked out the window, losing myself in all the shades of gray. The sky was covered in clouds, the constant threat of rain always upon us.

My eyes flicked to a street sign. Malet Street. We were driving through the University of London campus.

I allowed myself to enjoy the impressive architecture of each of the buildings along the side of the road. The school had been founded in the mid-1800s and they had done much to keep the grandeur of the original construction. I squinted up toward the cloud cover, blinking several times as the sun broke through the thick haze. When I couldn’t bear the bright light any longer, I looked out the window and that’s when I saw a sight that would change my world forever.

Her.

Like an angel fallen from heaven.

From the moment I first laid eyes on Jasmina Harker, I knew she was mine. I didn’t know her name back then, but it didn’t matter. I’d find it. I wouldn’t stop until I did.

The sun streamed down from the break in the clouds, almost like a spotlight. She was with a friend, but I didn’t even glance at her long enough to notice her hair or eye color or even what she was wearing.

Jasmina became my entire focus.

Dark mahogany curls cascaded down her back, bouncing with every single step. I wanted to grasp it in my fist. I wanted to hear her quiet mewls of pain when I pulled it tight. Her pale skin practically glittered in the sunlight. It would mark so beautifully from nothing more than my hand. She laughed and threw her head back, her radiant smile holding me completely captive.

I rolled down my window, needing to see better.

Her richly colored caramel irises sparkled as she glanced over her shoulder, seemingly looking straight at me and directly into my soul.

It felt like destiny. In my heart, I knew that one day she would be mine.

She looked back toward the university building and jogged up the stairs, grabbing at her friend’s wrist and pulling her along.

I would see her again. I was sure of it.

I also knew that one day I would make her my wife.

I spent the rest of that drive thinking about her, not even noticing when we passed by St. James Street and drove into Piccadilly Square. I pursed my lips, immediately displeased by the choice in location for this introduction that Dorian had arranged for me. There was a homeless man on the corner pushing a cart, trying to escape the endless stream of tourists strolling up and down the sidewalks. When the car finally drew up in front of Barrington’s, I cringed a bit.

It was a public gentlemen’s club that was trying in some form to be like the much more magnificent private gentlemen’s clubs here in London, but they weren’t doing a good job, not even remotely.

With a sigh, I climbed out of the car. I looked around for a moment, adjusting my tie while I took in the seedy ambience of the entire place. My bodyguard climbed out of the passenger seat. In his hands were the funds to acquire a new product, all discreetly hidden in a black briefcase.

It was time to meet Edward Hyde.

Dorian had informed me that an acquaintance of his had provided several of my more lower-class colleagues with copious amounts of high-quality benzoylecgonine. When I had inquired if he had anything more exclusive than that, Dorian had arranged an in-person meeting. From the information I’d gathered beforehand, Hyde was a struggling university research scientist on a budget, but he was smart and inventive. I’d only gotten bits and pieces since then, but the drug he’d alluded to seemed especially promising.

If this turned out to be everything that I thought it might be, my clientele would be very, very pleased to pay whatever amount I asked for it.

I liked making money. I didn’t much care if it was done legally or illegally.

I walked in the door, nodding to the front desk attendant. I didn’t check in and she didn’t stop me. This place already knew my name.

I strode through the hall into the back room. There was a full bar and to the undiscerning eye, it would have appeared grand, but I saw through that façade. The wood was scratched in places, deep gouges that spoke to the kind of client they entertained here on occasion. It was unpolished. I could see a thick layer of dust on the upper shelves that would have never been allowed in the type of clubs I would have preferred to frequent.

This place wasn’t my choice though. It was Hyde’s.

Off to the side, I saw Dorian. His suit was decadent among the rest of the rather mundane off-the-rack polyester suits that were in the room with us. He was sipping a glass of wine. Knowing him, it was probably an impeccable vintage. I wouldn’t make the mistake of asking him about it. I didn’t have time for the full explanation today.

Beside him was another man in a tailored suit coat. He was sipping a glass of bourbon. He met my gaze with a confidence I didn’t expect from a man like him. Most people were afraid to look me directly in the eye.

I took a seat beside them, cocking my head and appraising them both.

“Interesting location,” I said, raising my eyebrow and sitting back in the upholstered chair along with them. At the very least, the chair was comfortable. I’d give them that.

“Hyde likes the ambiance.” Dorian gestured between us. “The Count, meet Mr. Edward Hyde. Hyde, meet The Count.”

I nodded in Hyde’s direction. He returned the gesture, lifting his drink in greeting. An attendant came by, offering a drink and I waved him away. I didn’t have time for this. I leaned forward and rested my elbows on my knees.

“I have other meetings this evening, gentlemen. Shall we get straight to business?” I asked impatiently.

Dorian smirked and rose beside me. “Introductions having been made, I hope you will both excuse me. I have a more pressing engagement.” Dorian bowed his head politely, but I knew enough about him to see that familiar spark in his eye. He had a reputation here in the city. Some would call it a disreputable one, but not me. He just knew how to use his money and use it well.

Dorian leaned against my chair.

“Can I trust him?” I asked, keeping my voice under my breath so that Hyde could not hear.

“Maybe, but where would be the fun in that?” Dorian grinned.

“Perhaps. Thank you for the introduction. Enjoy your rather pressing engagement,” I smirked.

“I plan on it,” he smiled. I watched him leave the room, wondering what sort of trouble he’d gotten himself into this time. Finally, I turned my gaze back to Hyde.

“You have what I came for?” I asked pointedly.

He reached into his pocket, pulling out a vial full of thick dark crimson liquid and a single piece of paper. I glanced at them both longingly before meeting his gaze once more.

“Business before pleasure,” he grinned.

A man after his wallet. I could respect that. I had barely raised my hand before my bodyguard scurried to my side and presented the briefcase, opening it slowly and showcasing the stacks of pound notes neatly wrapped inside it.

 

My staff was well trained.

“One million, as agreed,” I offered.

“And now to the pleasure,” he beamed, passing the vial and paper to me. I took them both eagerly. I angled the sheet of paper into the light, scanning over the detailed formula with interest.

Yes. This was exactly what I was looking for.

“What is it called?” I asked.

“Bl88dX.”

With a name that unique, there was no doubt in my mind that he was a scientist after all. On the open market, I might simply call it ‘Blood.’ The rich would take to it well.

“Fitting. And the results?” I questioned.

He drained his glass of bourbon and stood up. His chest rose and fell and for just a moment, I was left with the distinct impression of a monster trying to break free of his cage, but then he buttoned his suit jacket and took the handle of the briefcase into his fist. He gripped the handle a bit too tightly, and I saw the whites of his knuckles in the process.

I knew instinctually that he wasn’t used to that kind of money. He met my gaze and he smiled, his entire expression going dark.

“Let’s just say anyone who takes it will feel like a different person.”

I closed my fist around the vial.

Very good.