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In this New York Times bestselling sequel to Kerri Maniscalco’s haunting #1 debut Stalking Jack the Ripper, bizarre murders are discovered in the castle of Prince Vlad the Impaler, otherwise known as Dracula. Could it be a copycat killer . . . or has the depraved prince been brought back to life?
Following the grief and horror of her discovery of Jack the Ripper’s true identity, Audrey Rose Wadsworth has no choice but to flee London and its memories. Together with the arrogant yet charming Thomas Cresswell, she journeys to the dark heart of Romania, home to one of Europe’s best schools of forensic medicine . . . and to another notorious killer, Vlad the Impaler, whose thirst for blood became legend.
But her life’s dream is soon tainted by blood-soaked discoveries in the halls of the school’s forbidding castle, and Audrey Rose is compelled to investigate the strangely familiar murders. What she finds brings all her terrifying fears to life once again.
"O proud death,
What feast is toward in thine eternal cell,
That thou so many princes at a shot
So bloodily hast struck?"
—HAMLET, ACT 5, SCENE 2
KINGDOM OF ROMANIA
1 DECEMBER 1888
Our train gnashed its way along frozen tracks toward the white-capped fangs of the Carpathian Mountains. From our position outside Bucharest, the capital of Romania, the peaks were the color of fading bruises.
Judging from the heavy snow falling, they were likely as cold as dead flesh. Quite a charming thought for a blustery morning.
A knee struck the side of the carved wooden panel in my private booth once again. I closed my eyes, praying that my traveling companion would fall back asleep. One more jitter of his long limbs might unravel my fraying composure. I pressed my head against the plush high-backed seat, focusing on the soft velvet instead of poking his offending leg with my hat pin.
Sensing my growing annoyance, Mr. Thomas Cresswell shifted and began tapping his gloved fingers against the windowsill in our compartment. My compartment, actually.
Thomas had his own quarters but insisted on spending every hour the day possessed in my company, lest a career murderer board the train and unleash carnage.
At least that's the ridiculous story he'd told our chaperone, Mrs. Harvey. She was the charming, silver-haired woman who watched over Thomas while he stayed in his Piccadilly flat in London, and was currently on her fourth nap of the new day. Which was quite a feat considering it wasn't much past dawn.
Father had taken ill in Paris and had placed his trust and my virtue in both Mrs. Harvey's and Thomas's care. It spoke volumes as to how highly Father thought of Thomas, and how convincingly innocent and charming my friend could be when the mood or occasion struck. My hands were suddenly warm and damp inside my gloves.
Derailing that feeling, my focus slid from Thomas's dark brown hair and crisp cutaway coat to his discarded top hat and Romanian newspaper. I'd been studying the language enough to make out most of what it said. The headline read: HAS THE IMMORTAL PRINCE RETURNED? A body had been found staked through the heart near Braşov—the very village we were traveling to—leading the superstitious to believe in the impossible: Vlad Dracula, the centuries-dead prince of Romania, was alive. And hunting.
It was all rubbish meant to inspire fear and sell papers. There was no such thing as an immortal being. Flesh-and-blood men were the real monsters, and they could be cut down easily enough. In the end, even Jack the Ripper bled as all men did. Though papers still claimed he prowled the foggy London streets. Some even said he'd gone to America.
If only that were true.
An all-too-familiar pang hit my center, stealing my breath. It was always the same when I thought about the Ripper case and the memories it stirred within. When I stared into the looking glass, I saw the same green eyes and crimson lips; both my mother's Indian roots and father's English nobility apparent in my cheekbones. By all outward appearances, I was still a vibrant seventeen-year-old girl.
And yet I'd taken such a devastating blow to my soul. I wondered how I could appear so whole and serene on the outside when inside I was thrashing with turbulence.
Uncle had sensed the shift in me, noticing the careless mistakes I'd started making in his forensic laboratory over the past few days. Carbolic acid I'd forgotten to use when cleansing our blades. Specimens I hadn't collected. A jagged tear I'd made in ice-cold flesh, so unlike my normal precision with the bodies lined up on his examination table. He'd said nothing, but I knew he was disappointed. I was supposed to have a heart that hardened in the face of death.
Perhaps I wasn't meant for a life of forensic studies after all.
Tap. Tap-tap-tap. Tap.
I gritted my teeth while Thomas tap-tap-tapped along to the chugging of the train. How Mrs. Harvey slept through the racket was truly incredible. At least he'd succeeded in drawing me from that deep well of emotions. They were the kind of feelings that were too still and too dark. Stagnant and putrid like swamp water, with red-eyed creatures lurking far below. An image well suited to where we were heading.
Soon we'd all disembark in Bucharest before traveling the rest of the way by carriage to Bran Castle, home to the Academy of Forensic Medicine and Science, or Institutului Naţional de Criminalistică şi Medicină Legală, as it was called in Romanian. Mrs. Harvey would spend a night or two in Braşov before traveling back to London. Part of me longed to return with her, though I'd never admit it aloud to Thomas.
Above our private booth, an opulent chandelier swung in time to the rhythm of the train, its crystals clinking together and adding a new layer of accompaniment to Thomas's staccato taps. Pushing his incessant melody from my thoughts, I watched the world outside blur in puffs of steam and swishing tree limbs. Leafless branches were encased in sparkling white, their reflections shimmering against the polished near-ebony blue of our luxury train as the front cars curved ahead and carved through the frost-dusted land.
I leaned closer, realizing the branches weren't covered in snow, but ice. They caught the first light of day and were practically set ablaze in the bright reddish-orange sunrise. It was so peaceful I could almost forget—wolves! I stood so abruptly that Thomas jumped in his seat. Mrs. Harvey snored loudly, the sound akin to a snarl. I blinked and the creatures were gone, replaced by branches swaying as the train chugged onward.
What I had thought were glinting fangs were only wintry boughs. I exhaled. I'd been hearing phantom howls all night. Now I was seeing things that weren't there during daylight hours, too.
"I'm going to… stretch for a bit."
Thomas raised dark brows, no doubt wondering about—or more likely knowing him, admiring—my blatant dismissal of propriety, and leaned forward, but before he could offer to accompany me or wake our chaperone, I rushed for the door and slid it open.
"I need a few moments. Alone."
Thomas stared a beat too long before responding.
"Try not to miss me too much, Wadsworth." He sat back, his face falling slightly before his countenance was once again playful. The lightness didn't quite reach his eyes. "Though that might be an impossible task. I, for one, miss myself terribly when asleep."
"What was that, dear?" Mrs. Harvey asked, blinking behind her spectacles.
"I said you ought to try counting sheep."
"Was I sleeping again?"
I took advantage of the distraction, shutting the door behind me and grabbing my skirts. I didn't want Thomas reading the expression on my face. The one that I hadn't yet mastered in his presence.
I wandered down the narrow corridor, barely taking in the grandiosity as I made my way toward the dining car. I couldn't stay out here unchaperoned for long, but I needed an escape. If only from my own thoughts and worries.
Last week, I had seen my cousin Liza walking up the stairs in my home. A sight as normal as anything, except she'd left for the country weeks prior. Days later something a bit darker occurred. I'd been convinced a cadaver craned its head toward me in Uncle's laboratory, its unblinking gaze full of scorn at the blade in my hand, while its mouth spewed maggots onto the examination table. When I'd blinked, all was well.
I'd brought several medical journals for the journey but hadn't had an opportunity to research my symptoms with Thomas openly studying me. He'd said I needed to confront my grief, but I wasn't willing to reopen that wound yet. One day, maybe.
A few compartments down, a door slid open, dragging me into the present. A man with primly styled hair exited the chamber, moving swiftly down the corridor. His suit was charcoal and made of fine material, apparent by the way it draped over his broad shoulders. When he tugged a silver comb from his frock coat, I nearly cried out. Something in my core twisted so violently my knees buckled.
It couldn't be. He had died weeks ago in that awful accident. My mind knew the impossibility standing before me, striding away with his perfect hair and matching clothing, yet my heart refused to listen.
I grasped my cream skirts and ran. I would've known that stride anywhere. Science could not explain the power of love or hope. There were no formulas or deductions for understanding, no matter what Thomas claimed regarding science versus humanity.
The man tipped his hat to passengers sitting down to tea. I was only half aware of their openmouthed stares as I bounded after him, my own top hat tilting to one side.
He approached the door to the cigar room, halting a moment to wrench the outer door open to travel between cars. Smoke leached from the room and mixed with an icy blast of air, the scent strong enough to make my insides roil. I reached out, tugging the man around, ready to toss my arms around him and cry. The events last month were only a nightmare. My—
Tears pricked my eyes. The hairstyle and clothing did not belong to the person I'd believed they did. I swiped the first bit of wetness that slid down my cheeks, not caring if I smudged the kohl I'd taken to wearing around my eyes.
He lifted a serpent-head walking cane, switching it to his other hand. He hadn't even been holding a comb. I was losing touch with what was real. I slowly backed away, noting the quiet chatter of the car behind us. The clink of teacups, the mixed accents of world travelers, all of it a crescendo building in my chest. Panic made breathing more difficult than the corset binding my ribs.
I panted, trying to draw in enough air to soothe my jumbling nerves. The clatter and laughter rose to a shrill pitch. Part of me wished the cacophony would drown out the pulse thrashing in my head. I was about to be sick.
"Are you all right, domnişoară? You appear…"
I laughed, uncaring that he jerked away from my sudden outburst. Oh, if there was such a thing as a higher power, it was having fun at my expense. "Domnişoară" finally registered in place of "Miss." This man wasn't even English. He spoke Romanian. And his hair wasn't blond at all. It was light brown.
"Scuze," I said, forcing myself out of hysterics with a meager apology and slight incline of my head. "I mistook you for someone else."
Before I could embarrass myself further, I dipped my chin and quickly retreated to my car. I kept my head down, ignoring the whispers and giggles, though I'd heard enough.
I needed to collect myself before I saw Thomas again. I'd pretended otherwise, but I'd seen the concern crinkling his brow. The extra care in the way he'd tease or annoy me. I knew precisely what he was doing each time he irked me. After what my family had gone through, any other gentleman would have treated me as if I were a porcelain doll, easily fractured and discarded for being broken. Thomas was unlike other young men, however.
Much too quickly I came upon my compartment and threw my shoulders back. It was time to wear the cool exterior of a scientist. My tears had dried and my heart was now a solid fist in my chest. I breathed in and exhaled. Jack the Ripper was never coming back. As real a statement as any.
There were no career murderers on this train. Another fact.
The Autumn of Terror had ended last month.
Wolves were most certainly not hunting anyone on the Orient Express.
If I wasn't careful, I'd start believing Dracula had risen next.
I allowed myself another deep breath before I tugged the door open, banishing all thoughts of immortal princes as I entered the compartment.
KINGDOM OF ROMANIA
1 DECEMBER 1888
Thomas kept his focus stubbornly fixed on the window, his leather-clad fingers still drumming that annoying rhythm. Tap. Tap-tap-tap. Tap.
Unsurprisingly, Mrs. Harvey was resting her eyes once again. Her soft snuffles indicated she'd fallen back asleep in the few moments I'd been gone. I stared at my companion, but he was either blissfully unaware or likely pretending to be as I slipped into the seat across from him. His profile was a study of perfect lines and angles, all carefully turned to the wintry world outside. I knew he sensed my attention on him, his mouth a bit too curved in delight for mindless thought.
"Must you keep up that wretched beat, Thomas?" I asked. "It's driving me as mad as one of Poe's unfortunate characters. Plus, poor Mrs. Harvey must be dreaming awful things."
He shifted his attention to me, deep brown eyes turning thoughtful for a moment. It was that precise look—warm and inviting as a patch of sunshine on a crisp autumn day—that meant trouble. I could practically see his mind turning over brash things as one side of his mouth tugged upward. His crooked smile invited thoughts that Aunt Amelia would have found completely indecent. And the way his gaze fell to my own lips told me he knew it. Fiend.
"Poe? Will you carve my heart out and place it beneath your bed, then, Wadsworth? I must admit, it's not an ideal way of ending up in your sleeping quarters."
"You seem awfully certain of your ability to charm anything other than serpents."
"Admit it. Our last kiss was rather thrilling." He leaned forward, his handsome face coming entirely too close to my own. So much for having a chaperone. My heart sped up when I noticed tiny flecks in his irises. They were like little golden suns that drew me in with their enchanting rays. "Tell me you don't fancy the idea of another."
My gaze swiftly trailed over his hopeful features. The truth was, despite every dark thing that had happened the month before, I did indeed fancy the idea of another romantic encounter with him. Which somehow felt as if it were too much of a betrayal to my mourning period.
"First and last kiss," I reminded him. "It was the adrenaline coursing through my veins after nearly dying at the hands of those two ruffians. Not your powers of persuasion."
A wicked smile fully lifted the corners of his mouth. "If I found a dash of danger for us, would that entice you again?"
"You know, I much preferred you when you weren't speaking."
"Ah"—Thomas sat back, inhaling deeply—"either way, you prefer me."
I did my best to hide a grin. I should have known the scoundrel would find a way to turn our conversation to such improper topics. In fact, I was surprised it had taken him this long to be vulgar. We'd traveled from London to Paris with my father so he could see us off on the impressive Orient Express, and Thomas had been a beguiling gentleman the entire way. I'd barely recognized him while he chatted warmly with Father over scones and tea.
If it weren't for the mischievous tilt to his lips when Father wasn't looking, or the familiar lines of his stubborn jaw, I would have claimed he was an impostor. There was no way this Thomas Cresswell could possibly be the same annoyingly intelligent boy I'd grown too fond of this past autumn.
I tucked a loose wisp of raven hair behind my ear and glanced out the window again.
"Does your silence mean you're considering another kiss, then?"
"Can you not deduce my answer, Cresswell?" I stared at him, one brow raised in challenge, until he shrugged and continued rapping his gloved fingers against the windowsill.
This Thomas had also managed to persuade my father, the formidable Lord Edmund Wadsworth, to allow me to attend the Academy of Forensic Medicine and Science with him in Romania. A fact I still couldn't quite sort out in my mind; it was almost too fantastical to be real. Even as I sat on a train en route to the school.
My last week in London had been stuffed full of dress fittings and trunk packing. Which left too much time for them to become further acquainted, it seemed. When Father had announced Thomas would escort me to the academy along with Mrs. Harvey due to his illness, I'd practically choked on my soup course while Thomas winked over his.
I'd barely had time to sleep at night, let alone ponder the relationship budding between my infuriating friend and usually stern father. I was eager to leave the dreadfully silent house that ushered in too many ghosts of my recent past. A fact Thomas was all too aware of.
"Daydreaming of a new scalpel, or is that look simply to enrapture me?" Thomas asked, drawing me away from dark thoughts. His lips twitched at my scowl, but he was smart enough to not finish that grin. "Ah. An emotional dilemma, then. My favorite."
I watched him take note of the expression I was trying too hard to control, the satin gloves I couldn't stop fussing with, and the stiff way I sat in our booth, which had nothing to do with the corset binding my upper body, or the older woman taking up most of my seat. His gaze fixed itself to my own, sincere and full of compassion. I could see promises and wishes stitched across his features, the intensity of his feelings enough to make me tremble.
"Nervous about class? You'll bewitch them all, Wadsworth."
It was a mild relief that he sometimes misread the entire truth of my emotions. Let him believe the shudder was completely from nerves about class and not his growing interest in a betrothal. Thomas had admitted his love for me, but as with many things lately, I was unsure it was real. Perhaps he only felt beholden to me out of pity in the wake of all that happened.
I touched the buttons on the side of my gloves. "No. Not really."
His brow arched, but he said nothing. I turned my attention back to the window and the stark world outside. I wished to be lost in nothingness for a while longer.
According to literature I'd read in Father's grand library, our new academy was set in a rather macabre-sounding castle located atop the frigid Carpathian mountain range. It was a long way from home or civility, should any of my new classmates be less than welcoming. My sex was sure to be seen as a weakness amongst male peers—and what if Thomas abandoned our friendship once we arrived?
Perhaps he'd discover how odd it truly was for a young woman to carve open the dead and pluck out their organs as if they were new slippers to try on. It hadn't mattered while we were both apprenticing with Uncle in his laboratory. But what students at the prestigious Academy of Forensic Medicine and Science would think of me might not be as progressive.
Wrangling bodies was barely proper for a man to do, let alone a highborn girl. If Thomas left me friendless at school, I'd sink into an abyss so deep I feared I'd never resurface.
The proper society girl in me was loath to admit it, but his flirtations kept me afloat in a sea of conflicting feelings. Passion and annoyance were fire, and fire was alive and crackling with power. Fire breathed. Grief was a vat of quicksand; the more one struggled against it, the deeper it pulled one under. I'd much rather be set ablaze than buried alive. Though the mere thought of being in a compromising position with Thomas was enough to make my face warm.
"Audrey Rose," Thomas began, fussing with the cuffs of his cutaway coat, then ran a hand through his dark hair, an action truly foreign to my normally arrogant friend. Mrs. Harvey stirred but didn't wake, and for once I truly wished she would.
"Yes?" I sat even straighter, forcing the boning of my corset to act as if it were armor. Thomas hardly ever called me by my first name unless something awful was about to occur. During an autopsy a few months back, we'd engaged in a battle of wits—which I'd thought I'd won at the time but now wasn't so sure—and I'd allowed him the use of my surname. A privilege he also granted me, and something I occasionally regretted whenever he'd call me Wadsworth in public. "What is it?"
I watched him take a few deep breaths, my focus straying to his finely made suit. He was rather handsomely dressed for our arrival. His midnight-blue suit was tailored to his frame in a way that made one pause and admire both it and the young man filling it out. I reached for my buttons, then caught myself.
"There's something I've been meaning to tell you," he said, moving about in his seat. "I… think it only fair to disclose this before we arrive."
His knee knocked into the wooden panel again, and he hesitated. Perhaps he was already realizing his association with me would pose an issue in school for him. I braced myself for it, the snip of the cord that tethered me to sanity. I would not ask him to stay and be my friend through this. No matter if it killed me. I focused on my breaths, counting the seconds between them.
Grandmama claimed the phrase "Renowned for their stubbornness" should be inscribed on all Wadsworth tombs. I didn't disagree. I lifted my chin. The chugging of the wheels now counted off each amplified beat of my heart, pumping adrenaline into my veins. I swallowed several times. If he didn't speak soon, I feared I'd be sick all over him and his handsome suit.
"Wadsworth. I'm sure you… perhaps I should—" He shook his head, then laughed. "You've truly possessed me. Next thing I'll be penning sonnets and making doe eyes." The unguardedness left his features abruptly as if he'd stopped himself from falling off a cliff. He cleared his throat, his voice much softer than it had been a moment before. "Which is hardly the time since my news is rather… well, it may come as a slight… surprise."
I drew my brows together. I'd no idea where this was headed. He was either going to declare our friendship unbreakable or cast it aside for good. I found myself gripping the edge of my seat, palms dampening my satin gloves once more.
He sat forward, steeling himself. "My mother's f—"
Something large crashed against the door of our compartment, the force nearly cracking the wood upon impact. At least it sounded that way—our heavy door was closed to keep the clattering noise from the nearby dining car at bay. Mrs. Harvey, bless her, was still fast asleep.
I dared not breathe, waiting for more sounds to follow. When no noises came, I inched forward in our booth, forgetting entirely about Thomas's unspoken confession, heart pounding at twice its normal speed. I imagined cadavers rising from the dead, striking down our door in hopes of drinking our blood, and—no. I forced my mind to think clearly. Vampires weren't real.
Perhaps it was simply a man who'd indulged in one too many spirits and stumbled into the door. Or maybe a dessert or tea cart had gotten away from an attendant. I supposed it was even possible that a young woman had lost her footing with the motion of the train.
I exhaled and sat back. I needed to stop worrying about murderers stalking the night. I was becoming obsessed with turning every shadow into a bloodthirsty demon when it was nothing more than the absence of light. Though I was my father's daughter.
Another object banged against the walls outside our compartment, followed by a muffled cry, then nothing. Hair stood straight up on the nape of my neck, craning away from the safety of my skin, as Mrs. Harvey's snores added to the forbidding atmosphere.
"What in the name of the queen?" I whispered, cursing myself for packing my scalpels in a trunk that I couldn't readily reach.
Thomas lifted a finger to his mouth, then pointed to the door, forestalling any more movements. We sat there while seconds passed in painful silence. Each tick of the clock felt like an agonizing month. I could scarcely stand one more breath of it.
My heart was ready to burst from its confines. Silence was more frightening than anything as it stretched seconds into minutes. We sat there, focus fixed on the door, waiting. I closed my eyes, praying that I wasn't experiencing another waking terror.
A scream rent the air, chilling my bones to their very marrow.
Forgetting about good form, Thomas reached for me across the compartment, and Mrs. Harvey finally stirred. As Thomas gripped my hands in his, I knew this was no figment of my imagination. Something very dark and very real was on this train with us.
KINGDOM OF ROMANIA
1 DECEMBER 1888
I jumped to my feet, scanning the area outside the train, and Thomas did the same. Sunlight tarnished the brassy world in sinister shades of gray, green, and black as the sun rose past the horizon.
"Stay here with Mrs. Harvey," Thomas said. My attention snapped to him. If he thought I was going to simply sit back while he investigated, he was obviously more unhinged than I was becoming.
"Since when do you believe me incapable?" I reached past him, tugging the compartment door with all my might. Blasted thing wouldn't budge. I kicked my traveling slippers off and braced myself, intent on ripping it from its hinges if necessary. I would not stay trapped in this beautiful cage a minute longer, no matter what was waiting to greet us.
I tried again, but the door refused to open. It was like everything in life; the more one struggled against it, the harder it became. The air suddenly felt too heavy to breathe. I pulled harder, my too-smooth fingers slipping over the even smoother gold plating. My breath hitched in my chest, getting caught in the stiff boning of my corset.
I had the wild urge to rip my underthings off, consequences of polite society be damned. I needed out. Straightaway. Thomas was beside me in an instant.
"I do not… think… you… incapable," he said, trying to wrench the door open with me, his leather gloves affording him a bit more control over the smooth plating. "For once, I'd like to be the hero. Or at least pretend to be. You're… always… saving… me. One more tug on the count of three, all right? One, two, three."
Praise for Hunting Prince Dracula:A New York Times bestseller!
"Combining historical fiction, romance, forensics, a feisty heroine, a swiftpaced plot, gobs of murders, and historical illustrations, Maniscalco pulls in the reader for a wonderfully bloody romantic romp."—Booklist
"Audrey Rose is a smart, fearless, and progressive heroine. Plenty of red herrings, a conspicuous absence of blood, and a developing romance make this a must-read."—School Library Journal
"There are plenty of suspects and red herrings as well as tense escalations....A scenic, twisty mystery."—Kirkus Reviews
"Readers of the previous mystery will be thrilled to have more of this likable duo. [A] delightful romp into an 1888 Gothic mystery with a hint of romance."—School Library Connection
Praise for Stalking Jack the Ripper:A #1 New York Times Bestseller from its first week!
"An entertaining debut full of twists and turns, perfect for fans of historical fiction and mystery."
—School Library Journal
"Maniscalco has created a serious, sharp-minded, and forward-thinking protagonist in Audrey Rose, whose fearlessness will endear her to readers looking for an engaging historical thriller. Abundant red herrings and a dash of romance round out this gruesome but engrossing story."
*"This audiobook has everything: a true-life tale that has intrigued readers for 100-plus years, a young woman who balks at the constraints put upon women during the Victorian era, a marvelous yet somewhat gruesome mystery, and a narrator who brings you down into Spitalfields as Jack the Ripper earns his name. A must-have."—School Library Journal *starred review*
"Audrey is a young woman eager to use her brains and willing to flaunt society's rules....This mystery pays homage to classics like Doyle's Sherlock Holmes and Mary Shelley's Frankenstein [and] will satisfy those readers looking for historical mystery, a witty heroine, and a little romance."
—School Library Connection
"Maniscalco's portrayal of scientific invention in a newly industrial era will serve as a fine first foray into Victorian classics."
- On Sale
- Sep 19, 2017
- Page Count
- 448 pages
- JIMMY Patterson Books
About the Author
Kerri Maniscalco grew up in a semi-haunted house outside New York City, where her fascination with gothic settings began. In her spare time she reads steamy romance novels, cooks all kinds of food with her family and friends, and drinks entirely too much tea while discussing life’s finer points with her cats. She is the author of two #1 New York Times bestselling series; the Kingdom of the Wicked trilogy and the Stalking Jack the Ripper quartet.