A WHISPER OF ETERNITY
Excerpt from Chapter 1
There was someone in the upper house. Dominic St. John felt the presence of another immediately upon waking. Rising, he took a deep breath, his senses reaching out, testing the night air much the way a nocturnal animal might sniff the wind for danger.
He smiled faintly. He was in no danger from the woman upstairs. He could hear the water draining from the tub, smell the fresh clean scent of her as she moved into her bedroom and slipped something silky over her head. A nightgown, perhaps?
A wave of his hand and half a dozen candles sprang to life, casting flickering yellow shadows on the gray stone walls. No one living knew that there was another house beneath the one above, a rather cozy place if one didn’t mind cold stone floors and walls without windows.
Rising, he laid out a change of clothes, all the while following the woman’s movements.
He wondered who she was and what had prompted her to buy a house that had been empty for more than five years. Many people had come to look at the place in the last decade. A few had attempted to live there, but he had not wanted their company and it had been an easy thing to drive them away. Dark thoughts planted in their minds, objects that moved or disappeared completely, the whisper of a cool wind down the back of a neck when the air was warm and the night was calm. He grinned faintly. It was all so easy.
Donning a clean black silk shirt, a pair of black trousers and a pair of soft black leather boots, he followed the narrow passageway that led to the back of the fireplace in the parlor. There were many such walkways in the old house. A wave of his hand and the hidden passageway opened.
Dissolving into a fine gray mist, he drifted through the parlor and down the hallway to the kitchen. The smell of roasting meat made his stomach clench even as the scent of animal blood stirred a hunger deep within him.
The woman stood at the stove with her back toward him. She stirred something with a long wooden spoon, then lifted it to her lips for a taste.
“Hmm, not too bad, if I do say so myself,” she murmured. Laying the spoon aside, she sprinkled salt and pepper into the pot.
The woman glanced over her shoulder as he floated into the kitchen. Had she sensed his presence? Such a thing seemed unlikely. Few humans had the ability to detect his nearness when he was in an incorporeal form.
She was not classically beautiful, but she was a remarkably pretty woman, with delicate features and fine unblemished skin. Her honey-colored hair fell in a thick braid past her waist. Her eyes were brown with tiny gold flecks, fringed by long dark lashes. Her slender figure was clad in something long and silky and pink. Not a nightgown, as he had thought, but some sort of lounge-around-the-house dress.
Dominic grinned as he drifted out of the room. He had not wanted anyone to occupy the house in the past, but this one could stay. There was something about her…something he would pursue at a later date, when his hellish hunger had been appeased. Perhaps one day he would even introduce himself to her, but not now. Now he needed to feed and as handy as it might have been to use the woman, he didn’t want to scare her away just yet. It might be amusing, even entertaining, to have company for awhile.
Taking on his own shape once again, he made his way to the city located some thirty miles past the quaint village where most of the local people did their business. He never hunted in the village. Not only was it located too close to his lair, but the inhabitants all knew each other. If one of them went missing, everyone would know about it in a matter of hours. He had ever been discreet in his choice of hunting grounds.
Walking down one of the crowded cobblestone streets, surrounded by warm mortal flesh and beating hearts, he again felt the hunger rise up within him, growing stronger, more demanding. It was a need that could not be denied, a thirst that could be quelled but never quenched. The beast that dwelled within him had an insatiable appetite, one that could not for long be ignored.
His footsteps quickened as his hunger mounted, and then he saw his prey. She was a few yards ahead, a young woman with short brown hair. He watched the subtle sway of her hips, lifted his head and sniffed the air, sorting her distinct scent from all the others that surrounded him.
She looked up at him in alarm as he glided up beside her. Her eyes were gray and clear. He gazed into them, his mind speaking to hers, assuring her that he meant her no harm, and when he was certain she would offer no resistance, he slipped his arm around her waist and led her away from the crowds into a dark alley.
Lost in the shadows, he took her into his arms. For a moment, he simply held her, absorbing her warmth, listening to the whisper of the red tide running through her veins. His fangs lengthened in response to the sound of it, the warm sweet coppery scent of it.
With a low growl, he bent her back over his arm and lowered his head.
Dominic could hear the woman moving about in the house above when he returned to his lair. Her presence unsettled him in a way he didn’t understand and he paced the floor restlessly, all his senses focused on the woman. He had fed earlier and fed well. Why, then, did this woman’s blood call to him so strongly? Even now, the beast within was urging him to go to her, to bend her to his will, to sample the sweet elixir running through her veins. No other woman had ever tempted him so save for one.
He glanced upward, his gaze tracking her footsteps. He had to meet her and soon, had to hear the sound of his name on her lips, taste the nectar of life that thrummed through her veins in a warm rich river of crimson.
He ran a hand through his hair. How best to accomplish such a meeting? He did not want to appear out of nowhere and frighten her. A chance meeting, then. Perhaps she would take a walk along the beach some evening after sundown, when the air was cool. Yes, that would afford the perfect opportunity.
Smiling at the prospect, he picked up a book of Shakespeare’s plays and settled down to pass a quiet evening at home.
The perfect opportunity presented itself two evenings later, shortly after sunset.
Dominic was returning from the city, walking along the shore, when he saw the woman who had haunted his every waking moment jogging toward him.
He spent a pleasant few minutes admiring her long shapely legs, the smooth golden tan of her skin, the way her ponytail swished back and forth. Her cheeks were flushed with exertion. Her blood was warm from the run, the smell of it stronger than the faint scent of her perspiration, the ocean, or the salty air.
When she was only a few yards away, she slowed to a walk. He sensed her trepidation at finding herself alone on a deserted stretch of beach at night with a strange man. As far as she knew, he didn’t belong here. This part of the beach was private, reserved for the few homes spread out on the cliff above.
As he drew nearer, she stopped walking. He could hear the fierce pounding of her heart as she looked him over, trying to decide whether or not she was in danger.
“Good evening.” He offered her a benign smile. “Lovely night for a stroll.”
“Yes.” She slipped her hand into the pocket of her shorts. He saw her hand clench and he wondered what sort of defense she carried in there. A can of Mace, perhaps, or pepper spray. He watched her summon her courage.
“I’m afraid you’re trespassing,” she said, her tone cool but not unfriendly. “This is a private beach.”
“Yes, I know. I have a house nearby.”
“Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t know that. I’m new here myself.”
He extended his hand. “Dominic St. John.”
After a moment’s hesitation, she placed her hand in his. “Tracy Warner.”
His fingers curled lightly around hers. It was then that he felt it, a sharp jolt of recognition as his essence brushed against hers. A thrill of excitement swept through him. It was she, his soul mate, the woman he had found and lost countless times through the centuries. His beloved one. He had known her in many guises, by many names.
She was staring up at him. It took him a moment to realize he had fallen silent, that he was still holding her hand.
He smiled. “I am pleased to make your acquaintance, Miss Warner.”
“Thank you.” She withdrew her hand from his and glanced back the way she had come. “I should go.”
“May I walk with you?”
He could easily read her thoughts by the expressions that flitted over her face. He was a stranger. It was dark. The beach was deserted. For all she knew, he could be the next Cliffside Strangler.
“Perhaps another time,” he suggested, fully aware of her apprehension.
She hesitated briefly, then said, “I’d be glad for the company, actually.”
“Afraid of the dark, are you?” He asked the question lightly even though he already knew the answer. She had feared the dark in every life.
“Just a little,” she admitted.
She turned and started walking back the way she had come. He fell into step beside her, aware of the subtle warmth radiating from her body, the floral scent rising from her hair and skin, the slow, steady beat of her heart. He drank in the sight of her, the line of her throat, the delicate shape of her ear, the faint flush that lingered in her cheeks.
“Have you lived in Sea Cliff long?” she asked.
“Yes, for years.” More years than she had been alive in this body.
“It’s lovely here. I couldn’t believe my luck in finding a house near the beach, even though it was quite a bite more than I planned to spend.”
“Nightingale House has been for sale for quite some time.”
Startled, she looked up at him. “How do you know that’s where I live?”
He smiled to put her at ease. “It’s the only house that’s been up for sale recently.”
“Oh.” She laughed self-consciously. “Of course.”
“What do you do for a living?” he asked.
“I paint. Landscapes and seascapes, mostly. What about you?”
“Retired?” She looked up at him and frowned. “You don’t look old enough to be retired.”
You would be surprised, he thought. Aloud, he said, “I made some good investments when I was very young. Now I live off the interest.”
“Must be nice.”
They stopped side by side when they reached the long flight of wooden steps that led up to Nightingale House.
“Thank you for walking me home,” she said.
“Shall I see you to your door?”
“No, that won’t be necessary.”
“Goodnight.” She started up the steps, paused, and turned around to face him again. “Would you like to come to dinner tomorrow night at, say, five o’clock?”
“That is a bit early for me,” he replied. “How about a movie later instead?”
“All right. What time?”
“I will call for you at seven-thirty.”
“I’ll be ready.” She smiled. “See you then.” With a wave of her hand, she turned and started up the stairs again.
He watched her go, admiring the gentle sway of her hips, the graceful way she moved. When she was out of sight, he dissolved into mist and followed her home.
Materializing in his basement lair, he dropped into his favorite chair. A wave of his hand started a fire in the hearth. Sitting back, he grinned in mild amusement as he stared at the dancing flames.
He had a date for tomorrow night.
OTHER ZEBRA ROMANCES BY AMANDA ASHLEY
DESIRE AFTER DARK
AMANDA'S VAMPIRE ROMANCES
THE CHILDREN OF THE NIGHT