This novel is limited to 100 free copies due to its part in Inkitt’s Novel Contest.
ENGLAND – 1683 ad
“Merry, Merry, quite contrary, how does your garden grow?”
The sound of singing floated through the afternoon air as the children danced around in a circle. They were in a large, walled garden behind the mansion that was owned by the father of several of the young children and Meredith, the young woman with long, red-brown hair who replied to the children’s song.
“With silver bells and cockle shells and pretty maids all in a row,” Merry sang as she patted two of the children’s heads. Her voice was soft and pleasant.
They all laughed and the children skipped around her, tugging at her long, green dress affectionately. Two other young ladies, twins with long, blond hair, came into the garden carrying a picnic basket between them. One wore a pink dress and the other a blue one.
“Come on Merry,” one of the twins said. “Let’s go.”
Merry smiled at them and nodded. She picked a folded blanket up off a bench and followed the twins out of the garden, leaving the children to sing and play.
Merry was two years older than her twin friends, Lucy and Sally, but none of them minded. The villa where they and their families lived was small, so they felt lucky to know anyone close to their age. The twins had a younger brother, Mathias, and Merry had seven siblings, but Merry was in the middle, and none of them were her age. Her older brothers, Adrian and Bradley, both still lived at home, but her older sister, Cynthia, was married and did not. There were three years between Cynthia and Merry, and five between her and the next oldest, Elizabeth. The youngest three, Shawn, Sterling, and Angelina, were among the children that had been playing in the garden when Merry and the twins left for their picnic.
Merry walked in the lead, as always. Not having anyone close to her age had caused her to grow up faster and be very independent. She was the age where, if she wasn’t either engaged or married yet, she soon would be, but her parents had stopped trying to find suitors for her several years ago and she wasn’t interested in looking very hard. She did have her eye on someone, but she was sure her parents wouldn’t approve. He wasn’t from a noble family and he was very mysterious. Merry liked both these things about him, but her parents wouldn’t.
Merry pushed her thoughts of her family out of her mind. Today she was going to spend with her friends.
The girls crossed a grassy field where remnants of the festival a few weeks ago were still visible. Merry picked up an abandoned ribbon from the grass as she walked. As she studied it she realized that it was hers. It must have come out of her hair sometime during the festival. There had been so much going on at the time that she hadn't noticed. Merry tied the ribbon in her hair as she walked.
“Where's that from, Merry?” Sally asked.
“I lost it during the festival,” Merry replied. “It was caught in the grass back there.”
“That's lucky you found it,” Lucy said. “You always have such luck, Merry.”
Merry smiled. She reached up and touched the ribbon, remembering now how it had come out of her hair.
Between the brightly colored tents and banners, the fire breathers, acrobats and jugglers, the villagers and the musicians, Merry still didn't know how she managed to spot the tall, dark-haired stranger, but the moment their eyes met, it was like the rest of the world fell away. The crowd seemed to move out of his way as he crossed the space between them and she stepped towards him, away from her brothers. He had bowed to her, then took her hands as he asked her to dance. She had nodded without taking her eyes off his and let him lead her into the crowd. They had danced for what seemed like hours, then snuck around behind the tents where it was quieter to talk and eventually kiss.
Merry remembered now that her new dance partner had pulled the ribbon out of her hair. He had adjusted her hair so that it covered her neck, then leaned in and kissed her. Merry knew that she would never forget that kiss.
She remembered getting her first kiss in the garden behind her parents' house, from a visiting prince who probably would have become her husband if he hadn’t become sick and died a few months later. She was fourteen at the time, and although she had hardly known the prince, her father assumed that she was heartbroken by his death and decided to let her chose her own suitors from then on, when she was ready. This suited Merry fine, and she had toyed with the affections of several gentlemen before the festival.
Since the festival, Merry only had eyes for one man. She wished that her first kiss had been the one he gave her at the festival. Not that there was any comparison between the two. Nothing could compare to that kiss at the festival.
“What are you thinking about, Merry?” Lucy asked.
“Or who?” Sally teased.
Merry blushed. The twins were the only people that knew that she was still seeing her dance partner from the festival.
“I'm thinking that a swim might be nice today,” Merry lied, “if the water isn't too cold.”
The twins laughed, but they didn't press the issue. They had never seen Merry pay any attention to boys before they saw her dancing at the festival, and they were glad for her. She was a happier person since that night.
The girls reached the edge of the field and headed down a well-beaten path into the forest. The path wound its way to the side of a quiet stream.
Merry spread out the blanket on the grass before heading towards the water's edge. She kicked off her shoe, hitched up the edge of her dress, and touched her toes to the water. She recoiled immediately and shivered.
“Brr! No swimming for me today,” she commented as she put her shoe back on.
Merry turned to find both twins standing right beside her, mischievous grins on their faces. Merry grinned back. The twins intended to push her into the water, but she easily hauled them both to the grass. They laughed and picked themselves up, dusted the grass off their dresses, then went to sit on the blanket and enjoy their picnic.
After enjoying their snack, the girls sat picking flowers and braiding chains of them together to make crowns for each other. They talked about annoying little brothers and what the latest news from the city was and the places they'd like to travel once they were older. As the sun sank lower in the sky, they reluctantly packed up and headed home.
Dusk was falling as Merry, Lucy and Sally skipped and laughed their way across the field toward the villa. Merry was carrying the blanket on her arm, while the other two swung the large basket – now full of flowers – between them. They continued laughing as they made their way toward the candlelit windows of town. Merry was in the lead again and with her long legs was moving faster than the other two.
“What’s your hurry Merry?” one of the twins called to her.
“Afraid of the dark, Lady de Winter?” asked the other.
“I fear nothing,” Merry replied, “but the wrath of your parents if I don’t have you two home in time for dinner.”
The twins laughed.
“They know we’re safe with you, Merry,” Lucy said.
“You could talk a wolf into sparing us or convince storm clouds to hold back their lightning until we were safely inside,” Sally added.
Merry smiled but made no comment. The girls continued on their way.
The sun set as they entered town and a handsome young man emerged from around a corner as they approached. He was tall with long, dark hair that he kept tied back in a ponytail. The girls recognized him immediately as Merry's dance partner from the festival.
“I thought I knew those voices,” he said with a broad smile. His eyes glittered mischievously.
“Hello Davide,” Merry replied. She smiled, blushed, and turned her head away playfully.
“Good evening, Merry,” Davide said as he moved closer to her. Almost as an afterthought he added, “Lucy. Sally.”
The twins grinned at him, hopeful, but Merry already had his eye. He took the blanket from her and offered her his arm. She took it, and the four of them continued walking. At the gate to Lucy and Sally’s house, they parted ways.
“Don’t worry girls,” Davide assured the twins as he hooked a flower crown out of the basket and put it in Merry's hair, “I’ll take good care of Merry.”
The girls giggled and Merry blushed again, then she and Davide continued down the street. No one was expecting Merry home at any particular time, so they walked slowly, chatting as they went.
Merry always seemed to have trouble following her conversations with Davide. The way he looked at her made her feel dreamy. Merry could sit staring into his eyes for hours – they were so magical.
Davide had known from the first moment that he saw Merry that he could not live without her. He had never intended to stay at the villa, let alone stay as long as he had, but he would not leave without Merry by his side.
It hadn’t been too much trouble to arrange for a place to stay and he was blessed that Merry’s parents were not strict about her comings and goings. If she was out late, they assumed it was with the twins, so they never worried. Besides, it was a small villa and they thought they knew everyone there.
Merry was especially pleased with her lack of parental supervision now that Davide was around. Since the festival she hadn't wanted to take her eyes off him. He was so handsome and he had such a presence.
There was magic in Davide’s touch also. Merry knew that she would do anything Davide asked and let him do anything he wanted as long as he was touching her. It was a power he held over her, but he never abused it. If Davide asked, Merry would surrender to him, but that wasn’t what he wanted. Davide loved Merry as he had never loved before and he desperately wanted her to love him the same way.
Davide had come for Merry every sunset since the festival, finding her whether she was out with Sally and Lucy, playing in the garden with the children, or sitting alone on her balcony gazing at the multi-colored sky. More than once he had climbed up the vine-covered lattice on the side of the house to sit with Merry on her balcony. Merry looked for him every evening, not realizing that he never appeared before the sun was down. She assumed that he didn't come around during the day so that she could keep him secret from her parents.
They continued walking and eventually ended up in the walled, private garden behind Merry’s parents’ house. They sat down on the soft ground under one of the apple trees, knee to knee, with their hands folded together. Merry stared into Davide's eyes, completely lost in them.
Davide had climbed onto Merry's balcony the previous night and spent the night in Merry's bed, holding her in his arms and watching her sleep. They had nearly made love, but Davide got himself under control in time. He didn't want to do that to Merry. Now, however, he was certain that Merry loved him and wanted to be with him forever.
The soft glow of the moon lit the garden and the apple blossoms danced around them in the gentle breeze. Davide leaned closer to Merry, distracting her with his eyes as he slid a gold ring on the third finger of her left hand.
“You’re so beautiful,” he said as he glanced down at their hands.
Merry blushed again and turned away from him. She noticed the ring on her finger, but forgot it again as soon as Davide put his hand around her cheek and guided her gaze back to his eyes.
“I mean it,” he said. And he did. He’d never felt this way about anyone before and he had a feeling deep down that he would never feel this way about anyone else ever. “I want to be with you forever, Merry. Would you... want that?”
“Yes,” Merry replied, “I would.”
Merry unconsciously twirled the ring on her finger. Davide leaned closer and they both closed their eyes as their lips touched. He let her pull him close. Neither of them wanted to stop, but after a moment Davide pulled back. He gazed at her again, and ran his hand down her cheek onto her neck. His eyes followed his fingers.
“I want to give you something,” he said in a whisper as he stroked her neck gently.
“What?” Merry asked.
“Eternity,” he replied.
Merry grinned at him.
“And how will you do that?” she asked curiously.
“There are many ways,” Davide answered as he leaned close to her neck, “but my favorite way… is to bite you.”
Merry’s expression changed to one of uncertainty as she mouthed the word “bite”. She couldn’t see Davide’s face now, but if she could have, she would have screamed. His sweet smile was gone, and his upper lip was curled back to reveal long, vicious fangs. His soft, dark eyes now glowed blood red. He was a vampire.
Merry put her hand on Davide as he leaned even closer, trying to push him back, but she was too late and he was far too strong. Davide sank his fangs into Merry’s neck, causing her to gasp, and pressed her back against the tree trunk. She struggled futilely against him, but as she became weak from the loss of blood, her body went rigid, then limp, as her eyes rolled back in her head and closed.
Davide stopped before he killed her. He had no intention of letting her die, ever. He gently placed her limp body on the ground and moved beside her. Merry floated in and out of consciousness, unable to tell what was happening.
Davide drew his fang across his wrist, drawing blood. He pressed it against Merry’s half-open lips, forcing the blood inside her mouth.
“Drink,” he said softly.
Merry gagged on the blood. It clung to the inside of her mouth and she swallowed to rid herself of the taste. It moved like liquid fire down her throat and she cried out in pain. Davide clamped his hand over her mouth, but he knew it was too late. Someone in the house had heard the scream and the men would be upon him in a matter of moments.
He knew he should flee, but he didn’t want to leave Merry’s side. He wanted to make sure she was alright. He held her as she wreathed in pain. Finally she relaxed, and her strength began to return. The wounds on her neck disappeared and she slowly opened her eyes to stare up at Davide. He had returned his face to normal and she smiled back when he smiled at her.
The men of the house burst into the garden, ruining the moment. Merry’s father, brothers, and various servants surrounded Davide. Adrian struck Davide with a pole, knocking him away from Merry. Other men hit him with various other weapons.
“Filthy animal!” one of them shouted as he continued to strike Davide.
Two of the men knelt beside Merry’s limp form.
“He attacked me,” Merry whispered. “Lock him in some deep, dark place,” she added as she lost consciousness again.
One of the men gently picked her up and carried her to the house while the others remained to beat and bind Davide. He hardly resisted, knowing full well that he could easily kill them all. He didn't want to hurt anyone that was important to Merry.
“You’ll hang for this,” Bradley promised Davide as he struck him across the head, knocking him unconscious momentarily.
The men hauled Davide off to the jail house, and even when he woke up he pretended he hadn’t. He had a plan, and it didn’t matter where he was when it happened.
Merry slept fitfully the rest of the night and all the next day. Her dreams were strange, filled with people and places that she had never seen.
At dusk she dreamed of Davide. He was in a dimly lit place. She could see his face; his deep, dark eyes, and he spoke to her without moving his lips.
Come to me.
Merry woke up. She felt like a whole new person, full of new life, new strength, and a powerful longing – for Davide. She could feel his presence and hear his thoughts in her mind. She had become what he was. Meredith, the Lady de Winter, was a vampire.
She rose from her bed, dressed, and snuck out of the house by leaping effortlessly from her balcony. She hurried to the jail house, hugging the shadows to protect her sun-sensitive skin and to avoid being seen. Following the link that now connected her to Davide, Merry made her way to where he was being held prisoner. At the jail house Merry knocked on the door and waited while the guard opened the slide to see who was on the outside.
“Whaddaya want?” the guard grunted.
“I have a surprise for you,” Merry replied with a mischievous grin as she ran her fingertips down her cleavage.
The guard’s eyes lit up and he grinned back, showing his missing teeth as he fumbled with the lock. He opened the door to let her in, and was dead before he knew what hit him.
Davide sat on the filthy floor, leaning against the cold stone wall of his cell. He stared at the solid iron door. He smiled as he felt Merry approaching and stood up when he heard a commotion outside. There was a loud crunching noise and the door shook, then Merry tore it open. Davide grinned wider when he saw her.
“I knew you’d come,” he said as he rose from the floor and walked towards her.
“Did you?” she asked playfully as she grinned back at him.
He put his hands around her neck as he kissed her.
“I have something for you,” she said when they pulled apart.
She stepped backwards so that he could come out of the cell, and he saw what it was. Against the wall beside the door was another guard, with Merry’s hand wrapped around his throat. Davide laughed and his face changed as he moved in for the kill.
With fresh blood in their veins, Merry and Davide were at full strength, and by sunrise they were miles away from the only home Merry had ever known.
Hawkebat: Playing both Kotor I & II and Swtor I found the story line interesting and it held me until chapter 35 Very good story and plot flow until then, very few technical errors. I felt that the main character was a bit under and over powered, as it fought for balance. The last few chapters felt too f...
LouiseJ2: I enjoyed the detail you went into with regards to the case. It made the UNSUB appear believable. The crisis in the middle of the story was my favorite part, very dramatic but not over the top. I feel like sometimes pairings can be overdone but I liked that some of the relationships were a little...
brettylee: The narrative is slick yet punchy. Life, Family and Friends I believe is the core message so it’s easy to relate to. It’s surprisingly action packed. The author does a good job at keeping you guessing. Just when you think all is right, whack, the unexpected happens. The dialogue is energetic and ...
ianwatson: The comedy is original and genuinely funny, I have laughed out loud many times reading this book. But the story and the plot are also really engaging. The opening two or three chapters seem quite character-dense but they all soon come to life and there is no padding, filling or wasted time readin...
chloe: This story is so beautifully written! The characters have gone through so much character development. The plot itself is amazing and it's nearly impossible to not get emotional while reading. It's very realistic and the unique writing style only adds on to the effect of the story altogether!
jessiealexandrap: Truly loving the novel, each chapter presents itself greater than the one beforehand. I truly love the novel and give definate question to why it's not published of yet. The novel truly deserves great attention and all should read the beautiful story.
Remini UDA: I would like to firstly admit I do not like the romance genre, it's not something I tend to read and as such I did not complete the whole story and only made it to chapter 15. Whether that affects this review is for you to consider.The Unknown Variant is a very well written book, as a reader I wa...
Jasmine Chow: As I read this story, I was reminded some what of Terry Pratchett, especially some descriptions of politics and economics. The sci-fic setting is quite intriguing. Writing style is quite lovely and grew on me slowly. I was also slightly reminded of Mark Twain, especially his book A Connecticut Ya...
Karl12: This is a very unusual sci-fi mystery. I enjoyed the suspense which was present throughout the story. I loved how I never knew what to expect from the characters. This made the story thrilling and made me suspicious of everything and everyone. You have a great style of writing – one which captiva...
FreakyPoet: "you made me laugh, made me cry, both are hard to do. I spent most of the night reading your story, captivated. This is why you get full stars from me. Thanks for the great story!"
Sara Joy Bailey: "Full of depth and life. The plot was thrilling. The author's style flows naturally and the reader can easily slip into the pages of the story. Very well done."