Darkness falls, p.1
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       Darkness Falls, p.1
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           Mia James
Darkness Falls


  For Margaret and Ray

  A RAVENWOOD MYSTERY

  MIA JAMES

  Contents

  Cover

  Dedication

  Title Page

  Prologue

  Part One

  Chapter One

  Chapter Two

  Chapter Three

  Chapter Four

  Chapter Five

  Chapter Six

  Chapter Seven

  Chapter Eight

  Chapter Nine

  Chapter Ten

  Chapter Eleven

  Chapter Twelve

  Chapter Thirteen

  Chapter Fourteen

  Chapter Fifteen

  Part Two

  Chapter Sixteen

  Chapter Seventeen

  Chapter Eighteen

  Chapter Nineteen

  Chapter Twenty

  Chapter Twenty-One

  Chapter Twenty-Two

  Chapter Twenty-Three

  Chapter Twenty-Four

  Chapter Twenty-Five

  Chapter Twenty-Six

  Chapter Twenty-Seven

  Chapter Twenty-Eight

  Chapter Twenty-Nine

  Chapter Thirty

  Chapter Thirty-One

  Chapter Thirty-Two

  Chapter Thirty-Three

  Chapter Thirty-Four

  Chapter Thirty-Five

  Chapter Thirty-Six

  Chapter Thirty-Seven

  Chapter Thirty-Eight

  Acknowledgements

  Also by Mia James

  Copyright

  Prologue

  Whitechapel, 1888

  He stalked her. Keeping to the shadows, slipping from doorway to doorway, he followed the girl, never losing sight of her, never losing her scent. He increased his pace, falling in behind her. She swayed as she walked, stumbling here and there, but he matched her step for step, his feet sliding across the cobbles, carefully skirting the puddles. He didn’t want to leave footprints, didn’t want to leave any trace. The fog helped: thick, swirling. The fog was his cloak, his accomplice, it wrapped around him and kept him hidden. Hidden was good. Hidden was safe.

  He sniffed the air and turned his head. An open window, some sort of roasting meat. He was hungry, God he was hungry. Not long, not long now, he thought. Soon he would touch her skin, soon he would feel his hands on her throat.

  There was a sudden swell of noise as a tavern door opened and two men stumbled out, reeling into the road. He quickly slipped out of sight, unseen in a swirl of fog beyond the cone of gaslight, just a shadow, nothing more.

  Come on, he thought, watching as the girl flirted with the men, leave those fools alone. He hated waiting, hated this gnawing need. The need to eat, to feed. For a moment, he closed his eyes and tried to recall a time when he wasn’t shackled to this craving, this huge open furnace that roared for fuel. He had been happy then – or had he? There had been something back there, something he wanted to forget. He glanced over his shoulder.

  He knew he was being hunted too, by creatures who enjoyed the sport. And they wanted him dead – of course they did. He was a failure, an experiment, a plaything to be discarded. But he hadn’t gone away, he couldn’t. He had to feed. They had made him this way – and one day they would pay for it. But not now. He had one purpose this night and that was to hunt. And to do that, he needed to stay hidden.

  He pulled further back into the shadows as a carriage clattered past. Not that he would raise an eyebrow on these streets. Just another down-at-heel gentleman taking a stroll, perhaps looking for some company. He was careful; that was how he survived.

  With a curse towards the laughing men, the woman moved off again. Down Flower Street, weaving in and out of the gaslight. He was getting closer, closer. He could see her clearly now. When he sniffed the air he could almost taste her, a half-smile spreading across his mouth. He had her now. He knew every twist and turn of this cramped, crumpled quarter of the city, where the buildings lolled over towards the road, teetering like drunks at the bar. Closer, his boot-heels whispering over the cobbles, reaching out a gloved hand …

  ‘Oof, have a bleedin’ care!’ said the woman. ‘Oh, ’ello kind sir, you looking for a lady to have a warm?’

  She was younger than he had thought. Pretty, under that worn face. God, she looked like … her. Suddenly he was flooded with doubts. What he was doing was wrong, wasn’t it? Or was it? He wasn’t sure any more. It had become an addiction, a necessity he had stopped questioning long ago. The woman must have seen his hesitation and assumed he was feeling guilty, thoughts of a wife or a sweetheart perhaps.

  ‘Don’t worry, darlin’, there’s no harm in having a little fun is there? Say a few Hail Marys come Sunday and you’ll be all square with the boss,’ she said, reaching up to finger his lapel. He pulled back from her, jerking away at her touch.

  ‘Oi, no need to play so hard to get, dearie,’ said the woman. ‘If you’ve a shilling, I should think we can be friends.’

  A shilling? A girl in this part of town would be lucky to get tuppence. She was trying to trick him, manipulate him, just like everyone else around him. He could feel the anger rising in him again. That blind, tearing rage he couldn’t control, the one that made him do … terrible things. The girl saw his face harden and shrugged.

  ‘Awright, awright,’ she said, putting her hands on her hips, ‘You can’t blame a girl for trying can yer? Don’t s’pose you’ve anywhere to go ’ave yer?’

  He took a deep breath, trying to compose himself – not yet, not here. He shook his head.

  ‘No, a nice gentleman like you ain’t gonna have lodgings around here, are you?’ She cackled with laughter at the thought. ‘Don’t worry, I know a place, nice and cosy.’

  She beckoned to him with one grubby finger and he followed, turning into a narrow cobbled lane, then another and through a doorway into a paved backyard full of crates and junk. This was perfect. They were hidden here and the darkness could flow out of him. No one would see anything. Not until he wanted them to, anyway. Then everyone would see what he had done. Everyone. He reached for her, pulling her into the shadows.

  ‘Ere, you’re keen incha?’ laughed the woman, leaning against the wall in what she imagined was a seductive manner. ‘Come on then.’

  ‘I tried to fight it,’ he whispered, pinning her against the wall. ‘But it was too strong.’

  ‘That’s right lover,’ she said, doubt creeping into her voice. ‘No sense denying yourself, is there?’

  She flinched a little as his hands found her throat.

  ‘Ooh, that’s how you like it, eh?’ She smiled. ‘You’re a naughty one incha? What should I call you?’

  He stopped for a moment. Who was he, after all? Did he even have a name? It had been so long since she had called to him, so long since he had felt whole. Now he was simply a part of the dark, at one with the shadows and the fog, his body melting into these streets.

  ‘My name?’ he whispered, tilting her neck backwards, exposing her flesh to him. He felt powerful, invincible. The urge was so seductive, so consuming. He bent his head, taking in her smell, her warmth. He brushed his lips against her skin in one final kiss.

  ‘You can call me … Jack.’

  PART ONE

  Chapter One

  North London, February 13th, Present Day.

  It was growing dark as April walked towards the cemetery. It had been one of those bright, crisp winter days and as the sun dipped behind the trees, long shadows fell across Swain’s Lane. She pulled her coat tighter around her as she walked towards the gate. It wasn’t just the cold; she hated this part, walking past the cemetery office, seeing their thin smiles and the pity in their eyes. Highgate Cemetery was home to 150,000 souls, but most of them were long fo
rgotten, their headstones overgrown and the names choked by moss and weeds. No one came to visit them save the occasional tour party drawn to the Gothic splendour of the tombs.

  But April Dunne was different. Her father was William Dunne, the renowned journalist and author of supernatural books, who had become one of the very few people to have been buried in Highgate’s West Cemetery in recent years, interred in the family vault perched halfway up the steep hill. And that made April a celebrity here; the one mourner in Highgate visiting a family grave. Of course, April had celebrity of her own. She was the poor girl who had stumbled into a murder right here in the cemetery, only to have to face another tragedy a few weeks later when she saw her father die in front of her, his throat torn out, his blood soaking into the hall carpet. That was enough, enough for any sixteen-year-old to have to bear. But April had almost died too. Just across the road in the East Cemetery, a maniac had tried to rip her arm off, strangled her and left her to die on a broken tombstone. April Dunne was the girl death couldn’t seem to leave alone.

  Maybe that’s what they’ll carve on my headstone, April thought as she hurried through the black iron gates and waved at Miss Leicester, the grey-haired guardian of the cemetery office. At least Miss Leicester wouldn’t want to chat or offer her sympathy. She never seemed to move from behind her desk in the converted chapel, and she never, ever seemed to smile. And as April had become the cemetery’s most frequent visitor – she had been visiting most days since she was discharged from hospital a week ago – no one needed to ask her business. Miss Leicester merely nodded at her and looked meaningfully up at the large clock on the wall. The cemetery closed at five on the dot and woe betide anyone who lingered. April shivered at the notion; she had no desire to be on the receiving end of a telling-off from Miss Leicester and she certainly didn’t want to be trapped here after dark.

  Passing through a stone archway and walking up the steps, April was struck by how beautiful the place was. No, beautiful wasn’t quite the word, not given the haunting, mournful nature of the place. It was proud, like a once-elegant face riddled with lines and wrinkles or like an old house full of secrets. But it wasn’t creepy – not until after dark, anyway, and even then, April could remember the romantic night she had spent here, walking hand in hand in the moonlight with a mysterious boy she barely knew. She smiled at the memory, but still hurried up the winding path towards the family vault. She hadn’t quite been able to get used to the faces of the carved angels watching her as she passed. Alone in Highgate Cemetery as the light dimmed, it was easy to see things out of the corner of your eye – a face or a figure that disappeared as soon as you looked again.

  ‘Stop jumping at shadows,’ she whispered to herself. ‘Everyone here’s dead, remember?’

  Yeah, like that makes me feel better, she thought. As she turned left a gap opened up in the trees and April could see far beyond the darkening headstones to the London skyline to the south, the city lights just blinking on. It looked like a mirage, a sketchy outline of something she could spend her life running towards but never reach. Civilisation seemed a long way away.

  April pulled her phone from her pocket and checked the screen – a reflex action, a desire to feel in touch with someone. There was a picture on the screen: her best friend Fiona and her newest school friend Caro, the two girls who had kept her sane since she’d moved to Highgate a year ago. They were hugging each other and pulling faces for April’s camera. She smiled, then felt a stab of sadness, remembering that the snap had been taken at her dad’s funeral. It was nice to know you had friends, and that people cared for you – loved you – but at that precise moment, seeing them made April feel even more alone.

  That’s the problem with being hunted by blood-sucking killers, she thought with a grim smile. You never really know who’s on your side.

  April reached up and rubbed her neck. It was still tender and bruised where Marcus had tried to strangle her. Marcus Brent, who had seemed just another schoolmate, and who turned out to be a vicious vampire. Who had tried to kill her. Considering the ferocity of his attack, April supposed she had recovered fairly well. Two months of hospital care and intense physiotherapy meant that her arm was fully functional again, with just a long raised scar as a reminder. But nothing would heal the memory of those open jaws lunging at her. There was no medicine for that.

  Wrapped up in her thoughts, April almost stumbled into the tomb, a tall stone building jutting from the south side of the path. At first, April had felt weird about her father being buried above ground – it seemed wrong somehow. But since she had started visiting her father’s resting place, it actually felt better that he wasn’t under six feet of soil. If you were buried, it was all over, right? There was no clawing your way back out. But here, April felt she could swing open the iron door and her dad would be there, exactly as she remembered him: kind, happy, wittering on about how mermaids were real or how the pyramids were actually landing lights for UFOs. She walked over to the steps and crouched down, taking the wilting flowers from the vase and replacing them with the small bunch of yellow daisies she had brought with her.

  ‘Hi, Daddy,’ she said quietly, ‘how’s things?’

  She’d been coming to chat to her father every day, telling him the mundane details of her life: who she’d been talking to, what was in the news, all the latest gossip exactly as if they were having a cup of tea in the kitchen.

  ‘Mum’s been winding me up again today,’ she said. ‘We had another fight. I go back to Ravenwood tomorrow and she said I should get my hair done first. I mean, after all that’s happened, she thinks how I look at school is important? I know she’s only being herself, but sometimes I can’t stand her …’

  Sitting on those steps, April could imagine William Dunne sitting behind the door, listening to her, smiling, nodding. She supposed it was her version of therapy. Of course, she should probably have been going to real therapy, the kind where you lie on a leather couch and talk about your pain. God knows she had enough of that to go around. But then the whole point of therapy was that you were honest with the psychiatrist, wasn’t it? And April really couldn’t do that. She smiled to herself as she imagined the conversation:

  ‘Well, Doctor, it all started when I discovered that Highgate – and my whole school – was infested with vampires. Then I fell in love with a boy called Gabriel and it turns out that he’s a vampire too. Yes, vampires are real, they’re everywhere! Ha-ha! No, I haven’t considered medication.’

  Gabriel. She gave a little shiver as she thought of him, his tall outline, strong shoulders and those moody, darkly intense eyes. Your regular common-or-garden vampire heart-throb. It had taken a lot to convince her that Gabriel was really a vampire, an undead blood-drinking killer. She’d buried a knife in his chest and seen the wound heal before her eyes before she accepted it was true. It seemed vampires had always lived among humans, hiding in plain sight, infected with some disease that kept them at the point of death, allowing them to be constantly rejuvenated. That was why they didn’t age and why they looked so good. And Gabriel looked good. God, he looked good. But her stomach lurched as she realised she was using the past tense to describe him. Because Gabriel was dying – and all because or her. She had infected him with a sort of vampiric anti-virus she carried in her body, and if they didn’t find an antidote to it he would die.

  ‘God, what a mess,’ April whispered to herself, thinking that that was the understatement of the century. The vampires were recruiting converts through her school, they had killed her father and now the boy she loved was perhaps days away from a horrible painful death – and she had no one to talk to about it. Gabriel was too wrapped up in his own problems – not least his own impending death – and besides, when they were together, meeting secretly after dark at Gabriel’s insistence, they didn’t waste much time talking. So who did that leave? Her mother seemed more interested in her blow-drys and even her best friends Fee and Caro had been out partying with the vampire girls they called t
he ‘Suckers’: could she trust them? So April was here, huddled on the cold stone steps of a tomb, talking to a dead man. And tomorrow was her seventeenth birthday.

  ‘Dammit’, she whispered as she realised she was crying. ‘Not again,’ she said, brushing the tears away. ‘Sorry, Daddy. I keep doing this, don’t I?’

  She knew she didn’t need to apologise. William Dunne would have been thrilled to hear that April had found real-life vampires on their doorstep. And of course he would have believed her. He would have just given her a big hug and said ‘Come on, we’ll sort this out.’ He was such a great dad. Had been a great dad.

  Until someone ripped out his throat.

  She shook her head angrily. This was happening all too often lately. She tried to get everything straight in her head, then a self-destructive part of her mind would pop up and mock her. But was the voice in her head? Or had someone actually said it? She glanced around. No one there. Of course there wasn’t. God, she was getting paranoid.

  Was it just paranoia? The truth was, the vampires were after her – or they would be when they realised who she was – because April Dunne was a Fury. That was the vamps’ term for someone who carried the anti-virus in their blood. And if they figured out her secret, they’d stop at nothing to wipe her from the face of the earth. She took a deep breath and picked up one of the yellow daisies, absently pulling off its petals one by one as she spoke.

  ‘I’m dreading going back to Ravenwood, Daddy,’ she said, ‘Everyone tells me I’ll feel better once I get back into a routine, but I’m not sure I want to, you know? So much weird stuff has happened since we moved to Highgate, it seems wrong to sweep it all under the carpet. And until I get to the bottom of what happened with you, I don’t feel I can move on, have a future. And with Gabriel …’

  What was that?

  April stood up, looking around her.

 
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