The moon was full and my only source of light. I pulled my cloak closer and made sure my long red hair was covered. I didn't want to risk being seen. I took a peek around a corner alley and dipped into it. Fog lingered about a foot off the ground but I dismissed the spooky setting. I was on a mission.
A few beggars lingered in the alley and I stepped carefully around them. None of them looked at me; on one I could smell booze so strongly it burned. Chilly London air tugged at my cloak and I quickened my pace. The watchmaker only agreed to stay an extra hour and my father would be most unhappy if he caught me out here.
After another cautious peek, I took a final right. The watchmaker's was at the end of the street and I anxiously went faster. I was so close to my goal.
Suddenly, a figure stepped out of the mist and I let out a strangled cry.
"Oh, sorry," the person said and stepped into the light. For a brief moment, I forgot why I was so scared. "I wasn't expecting anyone out here at this late hour."
"No need to apologize," I stammered. "But, if you will excuse me, I really must continue on."
The stranger's face was concerned. "Is it really safe for a young woman to be out on her own at this time?"
I looked around nervously. I hadn't thought of that. The rumors of the murderer made my skin crawl.
"I- Surely I will be fine," I said to myself then cleared my throat. "I appreciate your concern, kind stranger, but I really am just a few feet from my destination."
"Where are you going?" he asked and offered me his arm. "I'll escort you."
Every nerve ending in my body told me to not accept his offer. But I looked into his amber eyes and immediately relented. It was almost as if my body moved on its own.
"The watchmaker's," I said, unable to look away from the swirling eyes.
"Lovely. But I believe he's closed down shop for the night."
We started walking and I said, "He agreed to wait for me. It is my father's birthday tomorrow, you see. I commissioned a special watch."
"What a kind daughter you are! Your father is very lucky to have you."
I was used to flattery and ignored it.
"Why are you out at this hour?"
"I fancy myself an amateur detective," he said with a bit of a laugh. "When I heard of this mystery killer, I was keen on visiting to find him myself."
"Where are you from?"
He gave me a mischievous smile. "Not here."
I pursed my lips. "I see. Do you have a name?"
"Rowan," he answered. "No family name."
"You haven't said your name," he pointed out. "It's rather rude, don't you think?"
I flushed. "Right." I cleared my throat and straightened my back. "I am Camilla Crowe."
He blinked then smacked his forehead. "I truly am a dunce. I had no idea I was escorting a duchess!"
I giggled a little. "Worry not, Sir Rowan. I am not offended."
"I must confess, I didn't expect someone so beautiful to be the duchess!"
"Well, whatever rumors you heard, I am sure they are inaccurate."
"I doubt that. You have a glowing reputation."
"Something my father has fought very hard for. It is also why I am... eager to finish this quickly and- Wait. Where are we?"
I stopped walking and looked around. Rowan stopped, too, and smiled serenely at me. I was confused and turned to the left and right.
"The Market District.... Where have you taken me!?"
Panic welled in my chest. How foolish I was to walk off in the night with a stranger!
"Calm yourself, Lady Camilla," he said with a calming smile. I yanked my arm from his. "I believe we just got caught up in our conversation and took a wrong turn. Look around. You know the city better than me."
I didn't want to take my eyes off of him but he was right. I knew London well. I looked at him one last time then studied my surroundings. I frowned. We were in the Gardens District, in front of an abandoned mansion. It had been empty for years but a few windows were lit up. I contemplated turning around but it was much too late for me to go back to the watchmaker. He had probably closed up shop already. I'd have to go in the morning. I looked back to Rowan and yelped a little. He was much closer than I remember him being.
"Come inside," he said, gesturing to the mansion. "You are exhausted and I'm sure you want to rest before you go home."
"I am not going into a random home with a stranger," I said, appalled. "What do you take me for?"
"Then come walk through the gardens," he said. "You'll feel better once you've had time to think."
I shook my head but he caught my chin with his hand. I tried to slap it away but his eyes.... The beautiful amber eyes.... They started to swirl again and I nodded. He smiled in satisfaction and led me through an iron gate to the backyard.
The moment our eyes broke contact, I felt like I was in control again. I put my hand to my head. It was fuzzy, and just as foggy as the night. What was wrong with me? Was I ill? Perhaps coming out in the night was truly a horrible idea.
I would soon learn it was the worst mistake I had ever made.
"Here we are," Rowan said, gesturing at the garden. It was a hedge maze with flowers dotted here and there. "I worked hard to get it back into shape when I bought this property two weeks ago."
"Please take me home," I said, clutching the throat of my cloak. "I wish to return home to my father."
"Just a quick walk through the maze," he insisted. "I promise it will solve all your problems."
"I do not wish to."
"You'll be fine."
He dragged me in and we took a random turn. I whimpered quietly, truly frightened now. I was too scared to look at him, afraid I'd be placed under that weird spell again. I tried to focus instead on my breathing. That's when I realized too soon that he was gone from my side.
"Rowan!?" I called, my voice high pitched with fear. "Wh-Where did you go?"
Laughter echoed around me. "Silly girl. You should've turned around the moment you had the chance."
"Who is that!? Where is Rowan?"
"Escape my maze and perhaps I will tell you."
I cried out and started running. I took all right turns, my panicked mind going back to the stories my mother told me: Always turn right when lost. My cloak got caught on a branch and I screamed as more laughter echoed in the night. I looked up but the stars seemed to be blacked out. With a hard yank, I was free but my cloak was ripped from my shoulders. I took one last right and screamed again when I ran right into someone.
"Rowan," I said in relief. I pulled on his arm. "Rowan, we must leave at once. There is someone here! A monster!"
He chuckled. "Oh, dear Camilla. How easily your mind can be manipulated." He caressed my cheek and I recoiled from his touch. "I know you're not that foolish. Now, if you'll just stand still-"
"You," I breathed as understanding hit me. He grinned. "You are the one who- All those innocent girls-"
"Judge me when you really understand," he said and his hold on my arm tightened.
"What is there to understand?" I shouted. "You murdered young women and left them in the streets!"
"Hush now," he ordered, "and just relax."
"Please," I whispered as he pushed me against the nearest hedge. "Do not hurt me."
"If my suspicions are accurate, this will only hurt for a moment." His voice was low and brusque. He pushed my hair behind my neck and ran his finger down it. "In fact, you will not even die. You'll instead find something beyond your wildest dreams."
"Please," I begged but my plea was cut short by another scream.
Eyes that were once amber were now red and from his mouth were fangs.
"Shh," he whispered, his lips grazing my neck. "Don't worry; this will be over in just a moment."
My mouth opened in a silent scream as pain pierced through my neck.