The Heartbeat Thief
by AJ Krafton
Date of Publication: June 2015
Publisher: Red Fist Fiction
Cover Artist: Red Fist Fiction
Genre: New Adult Historical Fantasy
Haunted by a crushing fear of death, a young Victorian woman discovers the secret of eternal youth—she must surrender her life to attain it, and steal heartbeats to keep it.
In 1860 Surrey, a young woman has only one occupation: to marry. Senza Fyne is beautiful, intelligent, and lacks neither wealth nor connections. Finding a husband shouldn’t be difficult, not when she has her entire life before her. But it’s not life that preoccupies her thoughts. It’s death—and that shadowy spectre haunts her every step.
So does Mr. Knell. Heart-thumpingly attractive, obviously eligible—he’d be her perfect match if only he wasn’t so macabre. All his talk about death, all that teasing about knowing how to avoid it…
When her mother arranges a courtship with another man, Senza is desperate for escape from a dull prescripted destiny. Impulsively, she takes Knell up on his offer. He casts a spell that frees her from the cruelty of time and the threat of death—but at a steep price. In order to maintain eternal youth, she must feed on the heartbeats of others.
It’s a little bit Jane Austen, a little bit Edgar Allan Poe, and a whole lot of stealing heartbeats in order to stay young and beautiful forever. From the posh London season to the back alleys of Whitechapel, across the Channel, across the Pond, across the seas of Time…
How far will Senza Fyne go to avoid Death?
“Miss Fyne.” A gentleman’s voice claimed their attention and the girls curtseyed. Senza was acquainted with Mr. Thomas, the son of the London barrister who did frequent business with her father. “I had wondered if you would be attending. Shall I have the honor of dancing with you?”
Senza gave him a perfunctory smile as she remembered their interactions from previous dances. Thomas tended to smile extra hard when he looked at her, and he emanated heat like a fireplace. But he was polite, and considerate of her comfort, and didn’t press conversation. Overall, dancing with Mr. Thomas was not a terrible thing, as he had a certain deftness of foot that survived most exercises. Thankfully, the quadrille involved more stepping than skipping. “Mr. Thomas. You may.”
He flashed a smile that looked borne in relief. “I’ll await you in the ballroom. Miss Fyne. Miss Keating.”
With a belated nod to Felicity, he hurried away, face beaming with conquest, presumably to await the arrival of his prize.
“That poor man.” Felicity clucked her tongue. “He just doesn’t understand, does he? He scampered off as if you’d promised to marry him.”
“As if I’d—wait. Who…?” The words died in her throat and Senza gaped, distracted by someone on the other side of the room.
Felicity craned her head to see who had stolen her friend’s attention.
The room faded around Senza, the noise of the guests thinning, the press of the crowd easing. A lone figure stepped into the doorway. The world just fell away, tatters and pieces that faded around her. The only real, tangible thing in the room was that stranger.
For a moment, Senza forgot how to breathe. Who was he?
Tall, but not towering. Nice shoulders, a handsome coat. The cut of the jacket hinted at a pleasant physique, the material gleaming darkly with the sheen of silk. His hair was longer than the others wore, dark and smooth and drawn back in a ribbon, although a fringe had fallen loose. The strands hung down in a boyish tumble to frame his eyes, large and black and shimmering like obsidian.
Those eyes were fixed upon hers.
When he noticed her looking at him, he flashed a sharp, secret smile. Nothing boyish about it. That look made something inside her flutter, high up between her ribs. She struggled to draw a breath, her corset suddenly too tight—
And then, he was gone. Disappeared into the crowd. Vanished like a ghost.
She started after him without hesitation. She had to speak to him. The need was overwhelming and desperate.
There. That doorway. He must have gone through there.
Beyond, the wide corridor turned sharply around the perimeter of the cross-shaped ballroom. She scanned each direction, catching a glimpse of long black coattails flashing around the corner to the left. A throaty chuckle tickled the edge of her hearing. She bunched her gown and pattered after the voice, always a step behind.
Rounding the corner, out of breath, her disappointment blossomed. Still nowhere to be seen. Another snatch of soft laughter. She ran after it, turning corner after evergreen-trimmed corner. No open doors. No sign of him. Midway through the corridor stood wide the doorway to the ballroom within and she lunged to the mistletoe-clad archway, searching the crowd.
A hand reached out and pulled her back into the hallway.
“Senza.” Felicity held her arm fast and hissed her name. “What are you doing?”
Senza faltered, disoriented. She felt as if she emerged from a fog. What had she been doing?
AJ (Ash) Krafton writes because if she doesn't, her kids will…and NOBODY wants that. A speculative fiction girl through and through, Ash writes paranormal romance and urban fantasy novels as well as poetry and short fiction. Her work has won a bunch of awards and was even nominated for a Pushcart Prize. When she's not writing, she's practicing Tai Chi, listening to loud rock and metal, or crushing on supervillains.
Most recently, she's re-released her urban fantasy trilogy THE BOOKS OF THE DEMIMONDE because she never really left the world of Sophie and her Demivamps.