In The Works. . . . .
It was cool and dark where Devlin Andreas rested, safe from the hunters of the world. He knew, in the way of his kind, that he had been asleep for a year and that night had fallen.
Secure deep underground, he listened to the earth’s heartbeat, but that wasn’t the sound that had roused him. Rather, it was the frantic hammering of a mortal heart, the desperate cry of a female in fear for her life, followed by the raucous laughter of the ruffians intent on her defilement. Or her destruction.
A thought carried him up through yards of cool, damp earth, his hair and clothing shedding dirt and debris as he emerged from his resting place.
Knowing it was useless, Roslyn raced through the night, her heart pounding frantically as the town – and whatever help it might have offered – fell far behind. She darted to the right, running through a copse of tall pines toward Red Stone Mountain, her goal the old manor house that perched there like some ancient sphinx. She had overheard someone say that the manor was inhabited by an eccentric millionaire. Her only hope was that he would offer her shelter for the night.
Her lungs were on fire when she reached the cemetery at the foot of the mountain. Fear clogged her throat. She was tired, so tired. Her limbs trembled, her vision was blurred.
She shrieked in terror when one of her pursuers seized a handful of her hair, jerked her backward, then shoved her to the ground. The other two miscreants quickly grabbed her arms and legs, pinning her down with their weight.
“You shouldn’t have run,” one of the men said. “We were just going to deliver to Broden. Right, Eltri?”
Eltri nodded as he ripped her bodice down the front. “But you’ve made us angry now, so you’ll have to pay a penalty.”
“My father will kill you for this!” she warned.
“I’m willing to take my chances.” Leering at her, Eltri unfastened his trousers, then tossed her skirt over her head. “Besides, if you know what’s good for you, you won’t tell him.”
Roslyn bucked wildly when he straddled her hips, but to no avail. She screamed for help that wasn’t there, her frantic cries muffled by the thick folds of her skirt.
And then, abruptly, Eltri’s weight was gone.
Before Roslyn could fathom what it meant, panicked shouts and incoherent pleas for mercy filled the air, followed by an ominous silence. The scent of blood floated on the night wind, accompanied by a curious sound, like a cat licking thick cream.
She lay still, afraid to breathe, afraid to move for fear of drawing attention to herself. If she kept quiet, perhaps whoever or whatever had killed her attackers - for she had no doubt they were all dead – would think her dead, as well.
She squeezed her eyes tight shut when someone – or something – pulled her skirt away from her face.
“Are you hurt, lass?”
The voice, as deep as a well, moved over her like velvet. Surely no one with a voice like that would do her harm.
Opening her eyes, Roslyn blinked at the dark shape looming over her. She glanced right and left, expecting to see the bodies of the three men who had attacked her, but there was no sign of them.
The stranger offered her his hand. “Come, lass, you’re cold.”
As if she had no mind of her own, Roslyn placed her hand in his large one and let him pull her to her feet. He towered over her.
“Are you hurt?” he asked again.
Holding her torn bodice together with one hand, she shook her head, unable to tear her gaze away from his face. She could see little in the moon’s light, only that his hair and eyes were as dark as midnight. “Who are you?”
“Does it matter?”
“You saved my life. I should like to know your name.”
He made a dismissive gesture with his hand. “It was no trouble. They’ll not bother you again. Come along.”
Before she could protest, he swung her into his arms and carried her swiftly out of the cemetery and up a narrow path that wound around Red Stone Mountain until, in less time than she would thought possible, they were at the top.
The outside of the manor resembled a Scottish castle, complete with turrets. When they reached the iron-strapped door, it swung open, seemingly of its own accord. Her rescuer carried her across the threshold, then placed her on her feet. The door closed quietly behind them.
Gesturing at a high-backed sofa, her host invited her to have a seat, though it sounded more like a command. One she couldn’t refuse.
Still grasping her torn bodice, Roslyn did as bidden. A moment later, a fire sprang to life in the stone hearth, though he had made no move to light it. Perhaps a live ember sparked to life by the opening of the door?
Blinking with astonishment, her gaze swept over the room. It was large and square, with vaulted ceilings. An enormous tapestry, faded by time, adorned the wall across from the sofa. A rack of antlers hung over the massive fireplace; a bearskin rug – head, tail, teeth, and all - was spread before the hearth. It looked ferocious and far too lifelike. The furniture was large, rough-hewn, and covered in dark leather.
Shivering, Roslyn sat on the edge of the sofa, grateful for the warmth of the fire.
“Relax,” her host said. “I’m not going to hurt you.”
She nodded. He had saved her life, after all. Hopefully he hadn’t saved her from Broden’s men for his own nefarious purposes.
With a wry grin, he went to a side table, pulled the cork from a bottle, and filled two crystal glasses with dark red liquid. “Drink,” he said, handing her one of the goblets. “It will warm you more quickly than the fire.”
She glanced at the wine, but made no move to drink it.
“It’s quite safe.” When she still hesitated, he sipped from his own glass. “The grapes are grown in a local vineyard.”
Not taking her gaze from his, Roslyn took a small sip. She knew little of wine, but he was right. It warmed her immediately and she quickly drank it all.
Her benefactor moved to stand in front of the fireplace. “What kind of trouble are you in, lass?”
Roslyn stared at him. Should she tell him the truth? Would be believe her? Probably not. In any case, she was certain that, in this instance, a
lie would serve her best.
“No trouble. Those men accosted me in the town. They refused to take no for an answer.”
He nodded, his expression thoughtful.
“Do you think I might stay the night here? I won’t be any trouble, and I promise to take my leave first thing in the morning.”
“Finish your wine, and then I’ll show you to your room.”
“Thank you, but I’d just as soon sleep here, in front of the fire.” Close to the front door, she thought, in case her host wasn’t as hospitable as he seemed.
“Suit yourself.” He drained his goblet and set the empty glass on the mantel. “Sweet dreams, lassie.”
Roslyn watched him climb the stairs. When he was out of sight, she curled up on the sofa and gazed into the fire. Tomorrow, she thought as her eyelids fluttered down. Tomorrow she would go home.
Devlin returned to the drawing room as soon as sleep claimed her. She was a pretty thing, with a cloud of silky golden hair, expressive blue eyes, and a mouth that begged to be kissed. Her skin was smooth and unblemished, her clothing of good quality though badly stained from being dragged through the mud in the graveyard. Her torn bodice revealed her cleavage and a tempting expanse of cream-colored skin.
Crossing his arms over his chest, he gazed down at her, wondering if she was mistress of the house, or mistress of the night. Not that it mattered. Highborn lady or whore, he thought as he bent over her neck, blood was blood. Thick. Warm. Sweet…
Gagging, he reeled backward. What the hell! Never had he tasted anything so vile.
Refilling his wine glass, he washed the taste of her life’s blood from his mouth, then stared down at her, his expression thoughtful.
“What are you?” he wondered aloud. “Where have you come from?”
His gaze darted to the window. It would be dawn soon. He would have to wait for nightfall to find the answers to his questions.
Roslyn woke in a canopied bed with a raging thirst and no memory of where she was, or how she had gotten there.
Sitting up, she realized she was wearing a long white sleeping gown instead of her own muddy garments. Where had the gown come from? Who had put her in it? And where was her clothing?
She glanced at her surroundings. The room was large and airy, with tall, leaded windows. A rosewood armoire stood against one wall. A fire burned in the marble hearth across from the bed.
Where was she? Frowning, she closed her eyes. And suddenly it all came rushing back to her – three of Broden’s men had captured her and dragged her out of the town, intent on taking her back to their king. She had fought them off, then lifted her skirts and run for her life. They had chased her into the graveyard and wrestled her to the ground. And then a stranger had appeared. He had dispatched her attackers, then carried her swiftly up the mountain to Stone Manor. Carried her as if she weighed nothing at all. Given her a glass of wine…
The wine, she thought. Had he drugged the wine? Her eyes flew open. Had he ravished her while she was unconscious? How would she know?
Bolting upright, Roslyn glanced at her surroundings again. One of the people in town had mentioned that the castle, rumored to be haunted, had been deserted for more than a hundred years, but this room looked well-cared for, the floor freshly swept. There was no evidence of dust or decay. No cobwebs in the corners.
No sign of the man who had brought her here. Who was he, that strange man with the beguiling eyes and compelling voice? And where was he now?
Slipping out of bed, Roslyn noticed a blue velvet gown spread over the chair in the corner. It was a beautiful frock, silky soft beneath her fingertips. And just her size. Telling herself she couldn’t very well go downstairs in a borrowed nightgown, she quickly shrugged it off and stepped into the blue velvet gown. Smoothing the skirt over her hips, she tiptoed toward the door. It opened on silent hinges and she peered into the corridor. All was quiet.
Curious, she padded barefooted toward the staircase and peered over the banister. There was no sign of anyone below. She hurried down the stairs, her gaze darting left and right, but there was no sign of servant or master, maid or mistress. She hated to leave without properly thanking her host for his hospitality, but more than anything, she wanted – needed – to go home.
She frowned when the front door refused to open. How could she be locked in? Nothing barred the door. She tried the narrow windows on either side of the door next, but they, too, refused to open. They didn’t appear to be locked. Painted shut, perhaps?
An arched doorway led down a wide hallway that opened into a large sunlit kitchen. White curtains with a pretty yellow border hung at the window over the sink.
Feeling a little bit naughty, Roslyn peered into one of the cupboards. There were three plates, three bowls, and three glasses. A drawer held a set of silverware. A square table and a pair of chairs stood in one corner.
She tried the door located between the refrigerator and the stove, hoping it led outside, but, like the front door and the windows, it refused to open.
Moving through the kitchen, she entered a dining room. It was bare save for a long trestle table and a pair of ladder-back chairs. A covered tray sat in
the middle of the table. Several appetizing aromas wafted from beneath the lid.
Roslyn took a step forward, hesitated for stretched seconds, then lifted the cover.
The tray held several slices of warm bread, butter and honey, several slices of cheese, two hardboiled eggs, and a cup of wine. Was it for her? It must be, she thought, for there seemed to be no one else in the house, which begged the question, who had prepared the food?
With her stomach growling, Roslyn decided she didn’t care. She hadn’t had anything to eat since yesterday afternoon, and no idea if or when she would be offered anything else. Wary of the wine after its strange effect on her last night, she set the glass aside and reached for a slice of bread.
She had almost cleaned the plate when a woman entered the room. Not really a woman yet, Roslyn amended, for the girl looked no more than seventeen. She was quite lovely, with short curly brown hair and wide brown eyes that seemed empty, somehow, as if she wasn’t quite all there.
“Good morning, miss. I trust everything was to your liking.”
“Yes, thank you.” Roslyn frowned, wondering if the woman was her benefactor’s daughter. She seemed too young to be his wife.
The girl gestured at Roslyn’s plate. “Are you finished, miss?”
“Would you care for anything else? A cup of cocoa, perhaps?”
“I’d rather have tea, if it isn’t too much trouble.”
“No trouble at all.” The girl stacked the dirty dishes on the tray, added the untouched cup of wine, and left the room. She returned a short time later, the tray now bearing a china cup, a flowered tea pot, matching sugar bowl and cream pitcher, and a neatly folded napkin.
“Will there be anything else, miss?”
“A man brought me here last night. Do you know where he is?”
“No, but I am sure he will return tonight.”
“Tonight? But I wish to leave now.”
“I’m sorry. If there’s nothing else…” The maid turned to go.
“Wait! Why do none of the doors open?”
The girl stared at her blankly.
“Are you related to the man who lives here?”
“No, miss. I’m Chloe, the housekeeper.”
“Oh. Do you live here, too?”
“No, miss. I leave at sundown.”
“How do you get out?”
The girl looked at her as if she wasn’t too bright. “Why, through the front door, of course,” she said, and left the room.
Frowning, Roslyn shook her head, then sipped the tea. What was going on?
After draining the cup, she went into the main room. She tried the door again, stamped her foot when it refused to open, then curled up on the sofa. It was suddenly hard to keep her eyes open. Had the tea been drugged, like the wine?
Before the thought had time to register, she was asleep.
AMANDA'S VAMPIRE ROMANCES
THE CHILDREN OF THE NIGHT