Descent Into Darkness

Denyse Bridger

 

Prologue

September 3rd, 2000

San Francisco, CA, U.S.A.

“How old are you?” she purred softly, and snuggled closer to the tall, pale man who shared the huge bed with her. She sighed against his neck when long, sensitive fingers raked through the heavy tangle of her hair and stroked the curve of her jaw.

“Why? Do I seem so very old to you?” There was unmistakable laughter in the low, richly textured voice, and he allowed the amusement to reflect in his expression.

She pulled back, bracing herself on her elbows, to smile down into the deep, ever-shifting hazel of his eyes. Her gaze wandered idly, moving over the curving planes of his face, caressing the high cheekbones and the arched eyebrows before dropping to the fullness of his lips. The hint of a smile tilted the corners of his mouth upward, and she laughed. She reached out to touch him, her hand skimming over the fine, flowing dark hair, then dipping to the smooth shoulder she leaned over. She dropped a light kiss on his chest and shook her head in response to his teasing query.

“You appear only a few years older than me,” she said. She became more determined to engage his again as she pushed aside the sheets that were gathered around his waist. She slid over him and sat up, her hands playing over the cool contours of his body. “Yet, I know you are ancient.”

“And how old are you, cara?”

“Tonight should have been my thirty-fifth birthday,” she mused. Her head canted to one side as she stared down into the mesmerizing hazel of his eyes.

“Then we should celebrate,” he laughed and pulled her forward until their faces were only inches apart.

“I want a present,” she grinned, now eluding his attempt to silence her with a kiss.

“And you expect me to grant you this ‘present’?” he speculated. She was lovely, but rapidly becoming a tiresome creature. Like so many others, she’d been ‘adopted’ into his ‘family’ on a whim. He’d found her walking the streets, alone and frightened. Before the night was old, he’d taught her the true meaning of fear. Fear and ecstasy. She’d been addicted to his ‘lessons’ from the first moment. Like another woman he’d known many years in his past. Unfortunately, that was where the resemblance ended he was sad to discover during the weeks after her rebirth as one of his children.

“I want to know how you became what you are?” she told him, pulling his attention abruptly back to her. As she watched him, her eyes were very serious, despite the smile that adorned her pretty face.

He considered the request for several minutes, wondered how long it had been since he’d given anyone an answer to that enquiry. Many centuries had passed since he’d allowed any of his children to know him as intimately as sharing this piece of his past would imply. Still, under the circumstances, what could it hurt? He nodded and she curled down into his arms again, her luscious body molding to his as she turned wide, dark eyes to him in anticipation of his words…

His mind went spinning back over the centuries the way mortal minds retraced the days of their lives. It had been so long since he’d allowed himself to remember his mortal life. She stirred restlessly, anxious to hear his story, and he smiled. Her present would cost her much more than she anticipated.

* * * *

Ur of the Chaldees, as it had eventually become known, was already a flourishing city at the time of his birth. Sited on the bank of the River Euphrates, not far from the Persian Gulf, Ur was ideally located for trade and commerce. He had been a man much noticed even then, although none of the reasons for the notoriety had been particularly pleasant.

The city was thriving on the growing industry created by expert craftsmen like Alexander. His father had died years ago, leaving him the business he operated in the active city. Alexander had turned it from a humble, though prosperous, pottery and ceramics shop, to a business of several crafts. His particular gift was the working of metal and precious gems, and his clientele had become the richest and most powerful men and women of the area. Because of the mysterious circumstances of his father’s death, however, most people tended to be suspicious of the tall, imposing figure who strode proudly through the streets. Alexander knew why they stared, and during the painful years of his youth, he had often hid from public scrutiny. He was an oddity among the dark population, with his pale skin, silvery hued hair, and blue-green eyes. One so dramatically different was reason enough for suspicion. Rumors had been the plague that marred his happiness throughout his entire life, and they never ceased. If anything, the absurd and fanciful tales often spread like a poisonous illness—one he had gradually learned to conquer with his only defense, indifference.

His children, thankfully, would never know such derision. He’d chosen his mate carefully, and she was a lovely woman, who exemplified the characteristics accepted among the city’s people. Rachel was a shy, unassuming creature, and she had given him two children who adored him as much as he did them. His son, a bright, talented boy of fourteen years, was already showing a proficiency for his father’s craft. His little girl, less than two years old, was a source of constant joy as she grew ever more inquisitive.

His family lived in a small home, on the edge of the city. Had he ever suspected the truth of his heritage, he would have destroyed his wife and children long before their lives had been consumed by the nightmare that was to become his existence.

* * * *

It had been a particularly bad day, and Alexander was more than ready to escape into sleep at the end of it. Arguments and disgruntled patrons were common, but some days they seemed to come in relentless waves. Today had been such a day. The peace of his home was soothing. Rachel’s gentle warmth a balm to his troubled spirit. When the sun set and the children were sound asleep, they’d gone to their bed. Alexander had fallen into slumber almost immediately.

Something startled him from the blissful silence of sleep, and the moment’s disorientation was quickly replaced by surprise when he felt the soft caress of hands exploring his chest. His wife had never initiated their love-making. She never turned him away when he reached for her at night, but she did not turn to him of her own volition. The satiny stroke of touch was arousing as much for its unexpectedness as its obvious intent. He peered into the darkness, searching for the familiar face he’d grown to love. The depth of the blackness made it impossible to see through the blanket of gloom.

Alexander dismissed the curiosity from his mind and settled more comfortably on his back. He reached for the figure next to him and smiled when his hands were caught and guided to soft, full breasts. Strong fingers kneaded firm flesh and the distinct gasp of pleasure his touch elicited encouraged him. He pulled her forward and quickly found the hardened nipple he sought. He sucked gently and closed his teeth over the firm tip. He smiled when his head was drawn away and guided to her other breast. He lavished the same sensual attention on the second ripe nipple, devouring her soft flesh with his mouth. A low moan whispered between them and he let his touch glide over the well known curves of his mate.

The lithe, demanding body straddled his hips now and Alexander’s head fell back into the pillow as he fought to bring his breathing back under control. He couldn’t remember ever feeling this intensity of passion, and his head spun with the erotic pleasure. Small, delicate hands wandered over him, the touch like a bow drawn over the taut strings of a lyre. He felt his entire body respond to the music of their shared ardor, and he reached for her again.

She slipped out of his grasp before he could hold her, and seconds later a groan of exquisite longing was wrenched from him. The soft warmth of her mouth covered him, the stroke of her tongue a flame that swallowed him. She continued her oral trek over the long length of his body, explored him with the enthusiasm he had often wished she would exhibit. He no longer questioned what had brought about her uncharacteristic behavior. His mind was filled with the sweet sensations he’d never known before.

“Rachel…” he breathed as she slowly lowered herself onto him. His hands found curving hips, and held her tightly against him as he began to move. The rhythm they shared was strong and demanding in its desperate need. Alexander sensed in some distant part of his soul that something was terribly wrong. Almost as the twinge of awareness formed, it vanished in a resurgence of ravenous lust.

His breaths grew shallow and strained as he felt his body tense. Laughter filled the tiny space of the room and his blood ran cold at the raw hunger he perceived in the sound. Before he could orient to the sudden fear that lanced through him, he spasmed in an agony of pain and writhing ecstasy. Tiny daggers buried in his neck and he tried to pull her away. His hands were instantly pinned to the bed on either side of him. He was shocked at the strength in her grip. For endless minutes he was certain he had fallen into a hellish nightmare. Bile rose in his throat when he heard the low sucking sounds she made and understood she was drinking from the wound in his neck.

“Rachel?”

The hoarse, fearful gasp earned more laughter, this time the sound was mocking and filled with an enjoyment that was obscene. He tried with renewed urgency to dislodge his wife, certain she had gone quite mad without his notice. One of the hands that held him was withdrawn and a moment later he choked as her bloodied wrist was pressed to his mouth.

“Drink, damn you!”

The order was a hiss of unrecognizable sound, and he clamped his lips firmly together. The rejection angered her and the world was immediately dotted with pinpoints of white light when she struck his jaw with a force that opened his mouth with a gasp. Blood flowed and he swallowed convulsively, barely able to breathe against the pressure she exerted.

The hand was slowly removed, and he felt dizziness wash over him and leave him weak. He tried to rise, only to find he was immobile. The scratch of a flint being struck made him wince, the sound unnaturally loud to his ears. Seconds later, a small sputter of candlelight illuminated the area surrounding him and his brutal lover.

Horror coursed through him as he stared at the smiling face above him. He felt the chill of death steal over him and leave him stunned and unable to speak. This was not possible, some inner voice murmured. Yet, it was. The woman still sitting astride his body, still joined with him, wore the face of someone he had thought dead for almost thirty years.

“No,” he shuddered, paralyzed with terror and disbelief. “This cannot be.”

“But it is, my Alexander,” she purred sweetly. “I have come back for you. To claim what is mine.”

He wanted to deny her. Pain was fading away, being replaced by an iciness that he knew, instinctively, was death reaching out to seize him. The warmth that had consumed his reason was no more. All that remained was loathing, betrayal, and the certain knowledge that he was dying.

“We will be together forever,” she assured him with a darkly exotic smile. “There is so much I have to offer you.”

“Rachel,” he mouthed the word like a prayer. His beloved wife. How had he not known it was another who shared his bed in her place?

“She is gone, Alexander,” she sneered. “You are mine. You have always been mine alone.”

The words faded as death quietly slipped over him, and welcomed him into her comfortless embrace.

* * * *

“Alexander is your name?”

“One of them,” he conceded. The memories were waking old pain, and he was uncertain of whether it was the reopening of the wound that caused his aggravation, or simply her anxiousness to know his secrets.

“When were you born?”

He laughed, and the sound was cold and mocking. Her ignorance of history was amusing when he considered how insistent she’d been about wanting to live forever.

“Many lifetimes ago,” he allowed, then sat up in the bed. He leaned back against the solid oak headboard and the coolness of the wood soothed in an odd sort of way. He thought for a moment, then looked down into her dark, rapt eyes.

“I remember when Babylon was a major power in Mesopotamia. I saw the remnants of crumbled cities after Thira erupted and shook the entire Mediterranean world. For a time, I worked with the richest Phoenician merchants when trade began to spread. I advised Ashurnasirpal, King of Assyria. Years later, I witnessed the fall of the Assyrian empire.” He paused, sifted through memories not quite so ancient. “Many centuries later, I rode with Charlemagne and helped to shape the new empires of Western Europe. I taught Nero the tune he played, and together we watched Rome burn. It was I who taught Genghis Khan the lessons of war.”

Minutes later, his voice grew contemplative and tinged with melancholy. “I was in the court of Pontius Pilate when he condemned the man who would become known as the son of God.” He grew brooding and introspective for a long time, until the light touch of her hand on his thigh drew him back to the present. She was awed by the sheer scope of his life, though few of the things he spoke of were recognizable to her.

“Did you see Him crucified?” she asked, the words a shaken whisper of fear.

He nodded. “I watched as he died, cara.” He closed his eyes and felt the weariness of the millennia close on his heart. There was so much to share, yet no one to ease the ache of his endless loneliness. Not children such as this one, to be sure. He shook off the regrets as futile, pushed them into the corner of his heart that had long been void of things like love and compassion. These were weaknesses he had not possessed for thousands of years. Not since that fateful night when he had awakened to the darkness that was his life.

“Who brought you across?”

He smiled, and abhorrence distorted the incredible beauty of his features. How could it be that these long centuries later, the merest thought of her could fill him with the rage that had led him onto his path of destruction? Rage, and a betrayal that would remain eternally unbearable. There was so much pain, even now. Would it never end? Bitterness rose within him—he knew it would never end, regardless of the centuries which would pass before him.

* * * *

The air felt heavy and oppressive as he fought his way out of the vortex of blackness that had held him so deep in sleep. He could never before recall such effort being required to wake, yet it took all the concentration he could muster to succeed in this simple endeavor. When his eyes opened, he was in darkness. Fear flooded into his mind when he recognized the unfamiliar confines of the room he was in. No candle was lit, no moon glowed through the opened window—but he could see everything as clearly as if the summer sun filled the room with light.

Disturbed and increasingly uneasy, Alexander closed his eyes once more. He tried to quell the panic that lurched into his heart when his most recent memories began to surface. Against his will, he felt trembling assail his body, and hatred rose with the image of her face. Before he could grasp the emotion and hold it, he convulsed in a spasm of agonized hunger. It was not like anything he had ever experienced, and it left him gasping and shaking with greater severity.

“No,” he whispered to the silent room. Even as the denial escaped his lips, he was not sure what it was he rejected.

“So, you have awakened at last.”

Her voice was low and seductive, filled with enjoyment of his present anguished state. She laughed and drew nearer to the bed. He watched every graceful step, felt every tiny shift of her body’s motion. His stomach tightened with revulsion when he realized he was becoming aroused by her presence.

He tried to back away once she was seated on the bed and her nimble, cool fingers caressed the softness of his hair. She laughed again when he shook his head. He would have pulled further away from her, but his retreat was prevented by another of the shattering pangs of hunger.

“Alexander, I can help you,” she taunted, her mouth curved into a smile that was meant to be compassionate. He saw only macabre lust and a madness that threatened to devour him in its overwhelming power.

“Rachel?” he gasped, and turned to see if his lovely wife was somehow still at his side.

“I told you she was no longer a part of your life,” she murmured next to his ear. He flinched when she ran her tongue over the curving lobe and nipped at the soft flesh.

Reinforced fear gave him strength, and he shoved her away from him with a force that left her sprawled on the floor. Ash blonde hair spilled over her shoulders in tumbled waves, and pale blue eyes stared up at him with enraged surprise.

Alexander managed to gain a seat on the edge of the straw mattress and quickly regretted the action. The room went spinning erratically out of focus, and he would have fallen had she not leaned forward and caught him in her arms.

“Wait,” she told him, deep satisfaction in her tone. He was not in a position to argue with the order. He said nothing and remained as he was, weaving slightly when the support of her body was withdrawn.

Chloe. It could not be her. Yet, it undeniably was the woman he’d long thought dead. Gods! How he had despised her for leaving him. She should have been there, some part of him had always insisted—a shelter for him during the times when his father’s rage would bloom into the terrifying displays of violence that had marred Alexander’s whole life. He would carry the scars of that anger and abuse throughout eternity. For years after her sudden disappearance, he’d blamed her for the things that made his life such a misery. And she had finally come back. He found he now detested her more for this than he had for her initial leaving.

A noise at the door drew his gaze and he almost passed into unconsciousness again when the scent caught him and lured him with terrifying promise.

“Feed, Alexander. She is willing, and you must survive.”

The words were lost inside his mind, faint tremors of sound that held no meaning. The only true awareness was of the steady, throbbing pulse of an impossibly heard heartbeat that was not his own. The hunger surged through him and without thought he obeyed instinct and leapt for the girl. Laughter, dark and tainted with lunacy was the background to his feast. He tore into the dazed girl’s throat, as mindless of the savagery of his assault as he was of the fangs that had emerged at the first frail scent of her. Blood flowed from the ripped flesh and he lapped it up like a starved animal. The essence of the bittersweet wine he drank began to course through his veins, and new strength rose with each drought of the precious fluid he consumed.

It went on forever, the euphoric bond of life being taken and absorbed into his body. He felt like he wanted the sensation to continue without end. It wasn’t until there was nothing left that he drew away and fell back against the wall of the room. The soft touch of a hand on his cheek made his eyes open again and he stared into luminous golden blue-green fire as Chloe’s face hovered mere inches from his.

“I think you were meant to be this way, Alexander,” she told him with a contented smile.

For the first time since he had awakened, he felt able to think clearly. His gaze darted to the broken body and the taste of blood in his mouth made him retch. He jerked away from her touch and climbed to his feet.

“What have you done to me?” He shuddered, and knew the answer before her derisive laughter spewed forth another time. It couldn’t be possible, he told himself in a near desperate litany of denial. It was rumor and myth, told before fires and in taverns, tales designed to frighten the weak of heart and mind.

“You shall be my consort, for eternity,” she announced. Her voice was firm with hypnotic domination, compelling in its unshakable assurance. “Think carefully, Alexander,” she advised with a predatory gleam in her eyes. “I could have chosen your son, Julius, he’s almost old enough.”

This time it was Alexander who laughed. It took only the space of time that was required to understand her words, but the derangement was total—and irrevocable. He turned to her and felt the change in his appearance. His deep hazel eyes became twin fires of golden fury, the twinge of pain that signaled the reemergence of his fangs went unnoticed. He reached for her, and enjoyed the sudden fear that filled her face. She had misjudged him, and his strength.

He cupped her face between his hands, thumbs resting against the smooth jawline. The pressure began slowly, and she tried to push him away. He countered the sudden desperation with his weight and slammed her back against the wall. His fingers continued to squeeze, and he heard the first small crack of bones. Blood trickled from the corner of her mouth and he bent to lick at the scarlet stain. As he drew back his strong, powerful hands twisted and her neck broke like a dried twig.

He let her body drop to the floor, next to the other corpse that occupied the room. Time was not on his side, he knew. He had to find them. His children and his wife. He stumbled to the door and lurched out into the night, his footsteps guiding him ever closer to the small house that was his home.

He walked at a rapid pace, yet he found it no hardship. He was not breathing heavily. The thought had barely formed when he realized he was no longer breathing at all. New pain assailed him and he stopped. He leaned against the stone of a building and covered his face with his hands, despair wracked his body. It was true. He was one of the vile creatures called vampyre. A repulsive thing that walked the earth in the night hours and fed off living beings.

His hearing, now as acute as the enhanced vision he had experienced in the witch’s house, picked up the soft footfall of an approaching person. He discerned the irregular breathing pattern, and recognized the drunkard immediately. It was one of the city’s wealthiest patrons, a man who despised Alexander despite his repeated visits to the craftsman.

The madness churned again within him and Alexander faded into the shadows. As the nobleman passed, the fledgling vampire reached out and pounced with the speed and ferocity of a striking viper. The second feast of blood left him feeling drunk and giddy. He tossed the body aside, heard the dull thud of the drained corpse hitting stone then sinking to the cobbled street. He stepped from the deepest shadows and stretched in the concealing darkness of the night, vibrant with life and the untapped power of his immortality.

He reached his home minutes later and went inside. He could not be sure what greeting he expected to receive, but the stark, unbridled terror that transformed Rachel’s winsome face turned his happiness to wrath. He had returned for her, in hopes of regaining this part of his life, and she recoiled before him, screaming in horror as she backed away. He’d lost everything, had been betrayed again by the love he so desperately needed.

Fury swallowed reason, and he reached for her. He clamped his hands over her arms with a fierceness that made her faint. The lethal rage grew and he shook her. He heard his voice as if from a great distance, the words never quite touching him as he begged and demanded that she speak to him. He didn’t know how long he held her before he became aware of the knowledge that he had killed her.

Alexander dropped her as if she had suddenly burst into flame, and he stared down at her broken beauty. Time stood still, and the last remnant of reason was extinguished within his soul. The sound of someone entering the room drew him and he smiled as he turned. His son stood several feet away from him, his face a masque of revulsion and fear when he looked down at his mother. The heavy hammer in his hand seemed forgotten, he was transfixed. Alexander waited.

The boy eventually tore his gaze from the body and met his father’s impassive, expectant look. The ice in the hazel eyes was alien, frightening with its lack of human warmth. His father was no longer human.

“I will kill you myself for this,” the boy promised with all the intense, burning conviction of youth.

“You may try, boy,” Alexander hissed, and allowed his new nature to surface. The decision was made without conscious thought, he would not let her destroy his son, as she had shattered his life. The boy, more man than child now, Alexander noted distantly, cringed before him. When he took a step toward the young man, he saw the weapon being raised. It flew toward him and he deflected the hurled tool without a glance.

Alexander reached him just as he tried to flee. Long, tapering fingers grasped the boy’s neck and hauled him back. Still pressed tightly to his father’s body, he never felt the snap of his bones. Nor did he feel his body drained of its lifeblood.

Alexander stepped over the body of his son and went into the small room the boy had shared with his sister. He went to the tiny bed and saw she was awake. Deep blue-green eyes, his eyes, looked up at him in wonder. Then she smiled at him and held pudgy arms out to be picked up. He had not intended for her to live. He was unable to deny the sweetness of her innocent trust.

Before he could take the child from her bed, he sensed the arrival of another. The chill of death caressed his spine and he turned in the instant before she would have struck. He caught her and hurled her back into the other room, then followed.

“You fool!” she snarled. “Do you really think you can escape me?”

“Do you think I cannot, Mother,” he returned, devoid of all emotion but loathing. “You have taken my life from me, not once, but twice. This time, it is not I who will pay for your treachery.”

“Your ‘father’ was an even bigger fool than you, my dear son. He really believed you were his son. When you were old enough to live alone, I took him, as repayment for what he’d done to you. That was my gift.” She laughed. The sound was an echo of insanity that would haunt Alexander for centuries. “I enjoyed his death, Alexander. He pleaded for his life, vowed that he desired eternity, with me. I had already chosen my consort.”

“Then it is you who is the true fool,” Alexander avowed.

Before she could anticipate his intention, he was across the room. Her neck had not yet healed entirely, and she was much weaker than Alexander. He had fed heartily this night, she had not. He pinned her to the floor beneath his weight and the hammer caught his eye. He scooped it up and laughed as he looked down at her, his glowing eyes alight with malicious pleasure. “To eternity, Chloe,” he murmured. He buried the wooden handle in her heart, the force of the thrust reverberated the length of his arm as he hit the stone floor under them. Her death throes were over quickly. He rolled away from her and watched in sickening horror as her body collapsed and turned to dust.

“Father?”

Alexander turned at the timid, frightened squeak of sound and he held open his arms as his little daughter made her way to him. He held her tightly and she burrowed into his neck, tears streamed down her tiny face. He soothed her with soft words and rose. He left the house and had never looked back. He would protect his daughter and cherish her forever, he decided.

* * * *

“What is her name?”

“Whose name?” he asked as he shook off the ancient memories.

“Your daughter,” she insisted with an impatient toss of her head. “Is she one of us? Do you still keep her safe and protect her?”

“Diana needs no one to protect her,” he answered blandly. Especially the true father she does not know she has, he added mentally. He had been very careful to erase that knowledge from her memory, an appallingly easy task, even for one as inexperienced as he had been then.

“Diana,” she repeated thoughtfully. “It’s very pretty. And very elegant, as your name is,” she concluded with a grin.

“And your name, Camille, is very old. Do you know what it means?” he wondered, only now seeing the irony of it, himself.

“Tell me, cara mia,” she requested as she rose and sat astride his thighs. She was leaning into his neck when his laughter woke a warning inside her.

“It is from the Etruscan, one of the most ancient languages. Your name means ‘attendant at a sacrifice’,” he told her with mocking amusement. “It is most appropriate, is it not, cara?”

She started to pull away, but his hands on her upper arms prevented the escape she suddenly, desperately wanted. One of the talon-like hands glided over her skin and buried in her hair. Terror choked her and she began pounding on his chest in an effort to dislodge him.

“Happy Birthday, cara,” Alexander murmured, his rich, silky voice low with provocative warmth. He jerked her head hard and sank his fangs into the soft, exposed skin of her throat. Tender flesh yielded to the razor-edge of his canines, and she whimpered weakly as he drank.

She wasn’t quite dead when he released her and climbed out of the bed. Her eyes watched every movement he made, and pleaded silently for help he wouldn’t give. He dressed and sat on the edge of the mattress again. Pale, slender fingers raked through the heavy fall of her dark hair, and he smiled lazily.

“Are you happy with your present, Camille?” he questioned.

She said nothing, merely stared. Of course, it wasn’t likely she could speak, he admitted when he noted her ruined throat.

“I have enjoyed our time together,” he told her with a smile. “I have even enjoyed sharing this secret with you. It’s been so long since I was able to speak of such distant things.” His tone was polite and conversational, eerily so. “But, such a weapon is a danger to me, cara. Therefore, I must protect myself against possible betrayal. You understand, don’t you?”

His laughter filled the room, and the sound was a horrifying mixture of insanity and pleasure. Alexander rose, donned the elegant evening cape he had selected earlier, and bent to place a light kiss on her forehead.

Camille stared, her eyes begged for mercy. His cold contempt shattered the last shred of will she possessed. The scritch of a match being struck, then the hiss of noise as it bloomed into flame, were now the only sounds within the room.

Alexander dropped the insignificant torch onto the bed and stepped back. He watched the sheets begin to burn as the searing tongues of fire fanned outward and slowly consumed the massive piece of furniture. Camille’s scream echoed in his mind as she died a true death, and he silenced the annoying intrusion with a swiftness that came from vast lifetimes of experience.

He walked from the room as the fire intensified, and knew the house itself would be ablaze long before any emergency services would be notified. He stepped out into the balmy night and strolled down the walk.

He was tired of San Francisco, he decided as he covered the ground in long, graceful strides. Talking of Diana reminded him of how long it had been since he’d seen her. And, he knew, she would know where to find Julian. His loneliness had made him whimsical this night. Perhaps it was time to reclaim the children who meant most to him? Particularly his most troublesome child.

Julian had been allowed to run free for far too long. Alexander now wanted him back. If the young nobleman refused him, Alexander would destroy him—as he had the other son who had forsaken his love so long ago.

The ancient vampire felt an unwelcome memory tugging at his heart as he continued to walk. The smell of the fire woke a pain he hadn’t permitted himself to feel for almost two hundred years. He’d lost her to fire and the grief he’d refused to accept still haunted him. His footsteps slowed momentarily, then he pushed away her image with a force of will that had been centuries in the making. Alexander shook his head, pretended he couldn’t recall the soft fragrance of wildflowers and the silken feel of copper hair as it streamed over his naked skin, the gentle smile contained within smoke-grey eyes, and the sensual knowledge of the truest lover he had ever claimed. His beautiful, devoted Amberlaine. Lost to him for nearly three centuries.

Chapter 1

May 10th, 1723

Northern Massachusetts, U.S.A.

“We can’t last much longer like this, Alexander!”

The ancient vampire turned at the terse words, hazel eyes as cold as ice. His smile, an expression that could transform his classical features into radiant appeal, was as chilling as his gaze when he faced his younger companions.

“You’ve made that complaint on a regular basis since our departure, Julian. It’s become almost as tiresome as you, my young friend.”

“He’s right though,” a new voice interjected petulantly. “How much longer are we expected to starve ourselves and live like this?” Diana sputtered as she glared at the small, cramped cabin of the ship in which they traveled.

“Another day, at most,” Alexander replied casually, his entire manner unaffected by their anger. For centuries they had been his companions and his children, as much a part of him as his own heart. He loved them, and hated them with a ferocity that could be terrifying. Now he simply wanted to be away from them. Before they could launch yet another annoying tirade of dissatisfaction, he quietly left the cabin.

The night air was cold and damp, and a heavy mist hung over the black expanse of the ocean. The rolling motion of the ship was growing steadily more restless, and Alexander could smell the storm they were headed into. He wondered, idly, if the vessel could withstand the battering he knew was inevitable.

A smile touched austere features. It hardly mattered if the ship’s crew survived, they’d been marked for death from the moment of their departure. But, it could prove inconvenient if they went down too far from landfall.

The voyage had taken too long. The crew was suspicious of both their presence, and the illness that had slowly spread among the sea-faring men. Diana and Julian charmed the rough working class hands, Alexander rarely deigned to speak directly to anyone, including the Captain.

“I would advise that you go below, sir.”

Alexander’s eyebrow rose and he turned just enough to look at the man who had attempted to come upon him in silence.

“Captain Marriott,” he inclined his head in a perfunctory bow. “How far out is the storm?”

The captain looked startled for a moment. His blunt, weather beaten face was aged beyond his thirty-odd years, and his unruly shock of sun-bleached hair was blowing about his shoulders in the rising wind. His stocky body was braced on the rolling deck with the ease and familiarity of a lifetime of being shipboard.

“I expect we’ll be moving into her anytime now, Monsieur DeLenoir. If you and your friends require anything, better get word to the cook. Once we’re in, I’ll be needin’ all hands.”

Alexander smiled, the man’s speech patterns were something of a marvel, one minute filled with traces of aristocratic roots, then slipping into the easy Cockney of London’s working class.

“We’ll manage,” Alexander assured over the rising wind. His cloak billowed out behind him as he stepped away from the relative shelter of the side and stood on the open deck. He looked upward to the heavens, judging the rain-laden storm clouds that spread across the sky in a surrealistic landscape of dark shadowy swells.

Alexander’s finely honed instinct for survival told him they wouldn’t fare well this night. He inclined his head briefly to the Captain and disappeared in a swirl of cape and mist.

Marriott stared at the empty space and shook his head, now uncertain he’d even spoken to his noble passenger.

* * * *

“I refuse to leave behind everything I own, Alexander!” Diana raged at him as he stood imperiously at the door.

“This ship is doomed, ma petite,” he murmured. “We will feed and flee. The storm will take care of the rest. Now, do as I tell you, my dear Diana.”

She stared defiantly at him, but quickly averted her eyes when his brilliant hazel gaze flickered with golden fire.

Alexander smiled as he watched her, enjoying the loveliness she unknowingly presented. This exotic and beautiful woman had been many things to him throughout the centuries, and he still marveled at her. Tall, fair, and dark-haired, she was a temptress to lure any man. Smooth, sleek curves were encased in the richness of velvet and silk, and she wore, as she always did, the intricately crafted necklace of platinum and sapphires that had been Alexander’s first gift to her in her immortal life. The piece had been made by him decades before he’d taken her, and he’d waited patiently as he watched her grow to adulthood. She’d loved no other man, until Julian.

Julian Marchaund had been a chance encounter in a Paris court, and she’d been enchanted by the handsome musician the instant they’d met. Alexander had been so exasperated by her pleas that he’d agreed to make Julian as they were, and she’d been wedded to the younger vampire in spirit for several centuries. Though, Alexander sensed that was changing after so long a time.

“Where is Julian?” he asked quietly, still keeping a close watch on her moods and movements.

“Following your orders, no doubt.” This time her voice was subdued and obedient.

* * * *

As Alexander had predicted, the storm tossed their ship into the rocks a mile off the northern coast of Massachusetts. There were no survivors. Those that made it to shore were quickly disposed of, and the three travelers moved into the thick growth of forest that lined the untamed beach.

“There’s a cave ahead of us,” Julian informed his companions as he darted back to them. He’d scouted the trail before them, in search of just such a shelter. Alexander made no comment, simply followed the younger man as he led them deeper into the woods.

The sunrise had begun in earnest, and Alexander hastened his steps unconsciously.

* * * *

“Do you wish to spend another day hiding in caverns, Diana?” Alexander asked on the second night of their arrival.

“Of course not,” she snapped furiously. “Nor do I wish to spend my days in some quaint little village inn, which is quite likely no better than our present refuge!”

“Diana, please,” Julian whispered as he placed a gentle arm around her shoulders. “He’s right. We can’t continue as we have been.”

Alexander ignored them both and let his thoughts reach out through the cool night air. He felt a resonance touch his mind, some intangible note of longing that reached for him; like the soft chords of music played by skilled hands, but this was the music of a searching soul. An innocent.

Innocence was the greatest lure for Alexander, an obsessive craving that burned within his ancient heart. An angel called to him, and her desire for dreams woke the hunger inside him. He could feel the ache of awakened lust fan outward to encompass his entire body, and the breathless ecstasy of anticipation created a shudder that shook his tall frame.

Without another word, he strode into the darkness, and knew his companions would follow.

* * * *

May 15th, 1723

Pirate’s Cove, Massachusetts, U.S.A.

Thomas Calvert’s inn, The Guardian, was the best loved place in the small community of Pirate’s Cove. He served the finest ale, employed the prettiest wenches, and was a friend to all who bowed to his domineering personality. His wife, on the other hand, was the source of much ridicule and speculation whispered behind Master Calvert’s back. William Hamilton had discovered the hard way this night that no one in his right mind said a word about the flame-haired beauty who spoke to no one as she went about her business. He’d tried repeatedly to engage the landlady in conversation, with, he silently admitted, less than honorable intentions in mind for the outcome of the night. Calvert had all but run him through for the audacity of his attempt. Thomas had opted, instead, for tossing Hamilton into the rain soaked street, with a loud admonishment not to return any time soon.

Defeated and humiliated, Will gathered reins in hand and was about to hoist his aching body into the saddle when his horse began to snort and fidget. The animal’s nervousness was unsettling and he tried to quiet the beast as he peered into the fog.

“Who goes there?” he called out, beyond awareness that a thread of fear had come into his voice. The night was not a good omen in its own right. The northern town had been besieged by heavy rains and oppressive mists for much of the past week. The eerie atmosphere had begun to wear upon the nerves of even the most stalwart men. Fog curled around Will’s legs, the cottony tendrils suddenly cloying and lifelike. Hamilton shook off the delusion, muttering to himself about too much ale.

Still, he hesitated to move. For several moments, Will continued to stare into the milky mist as he stroked the warm flank of his horse and whispered words meant to soothe. The animal reared unexpectedly and Will was flung backward. He slammed into the side of the inn and watched in dismay as his horse disappeared into the night. With a groan, he climbed to his feet and was about to venture back into the common room when he spotted a figure emerging from the heavy fog.

Transfixed by the beauty of the woman approaching him, Will lost all interest in returning to Calvert’s house. The lady smiled and he felt himself grinning foolishly when she held out a small, gloved hand. Will lurched toward her. She retreated, lilting laughter drifting back to him, and he followed…

* * * *

Calvert was just clearing away the last of the debris from the night’s revelers when the door to the inn swung open. A scowl quickly transformed his blunt features into the fierce visage that usually chased away potential customers who troubled him at such late hours. This time, the expression was wasted, however. Three figures came into the common room, two tall men, accompanied by a slender, raven-haired beauty. All three were wearing heavy traveling cloaks, and the two men argued softly. The lady shook her head and frowned impatiently, then decided to greet the innkeeper herself.

“We’re closed for the night,” Calvert informed her when she came to the bar.

“We have room, Thomas.”

He turned at the soft voice of his wife, and his expression grew thunderous when he saw her gaze was fixed on the two men who had yet to approach. The curiosity in her eyes infuriated him. She seldom spoke to anyone, and showed even less concern for the people who frequented the noisy tavern. But, something about these strangers had aroused her interest. Jealous resentment rose like bitter bile in his throat, and his scowl grew when the lady’s gently amused voice interrupted his dark thoughts.

“You’re very gracious, Madame,” the stranger said with a tiny smile. Perfect teeth gleamed snowy white between scarlet lips, and the soft French accent earned her a pointed glare from the man behind the bar.

“We’re still closed,” he snapped.

“It’s late, Thomas,” his wife interrupted again. “I’ll see to their needs. We cannot turn them away on such a night.”

Unlike her husband, Mistress Calvert was gently-spoken and courteous. Her entire manner seemed distinctly out of place amid the rough hewn tables and benches, and the smells of alcohol and too many bodies pressed together in the smoky room. The place was all but empty now, yet the air remained thick and heavy with lingering odors and the snores of a few men who were simply too drunk to leave.

“Get about your business!” Calvert hissed, furious that she dared to challenge him in front of the newcomers. He took a step toward her and raised his hand. She refused to flinch before his anger, and his glower deepened at the lack of fear she showed him. She was always like this, defiant and righteous in her silent acceptance of his anger. Before he could land the blow he had planned, his wrist was caught in a grip that threatened to crush bones. He turned toward the source of the painful grasp, looked upward, and felt his breath escape in a gasp of fear. Hazel eyes bored into him, ice in their depths. Ice and death.

“Surely you can allow your lovely wife to speak as she wishes,” the pale stranger said.

Calvert was released as suddenly as he’d been seized, and he stumbled back, oblivious to the crash of pottery behind him when he hit the edge of a serving table. He turned to his wife and roughly shoved her out of his path as he left her to deal with the strangers.

She grabbed the bar to steady herself and closed her eyes for a moment before facing them again.

“Thank you, my lord,” she whispered.

The cloaked figure took a step closer to her and touched her chin, tilting her face so he could see her clearly. The lamplight was flickering and growing dim, casting shadows over her. For several seconds he stared down into the delicate features, intrigued by the unsullied beauty in her face. She had wide grey eyes, a full, generous mouth, and high, curving cheekbones. A mane of burnt auburn hair streamed over her shoulders and down her back, the makeshift tie meant to keep it gathered at her neck pitifully inadequate to the task. Her clothes were simple, white cotton blouse and plain brown skirt. Her skin was the color of ivory, and she smelled of wildflowers and soap. Even the smoke-laden air seemed unable to touch her with its dirt.

“What is your name?”

She shivered at the soft, resonant voice, and her eyes remained fixed on the pale face of the stranger. “I am Amberlaine Calvert,” she told him. “The innkeeper’s wife.”

“I am Alexander DeLenoir,” he murmured after a lengthy pause. “This is Diana Reneault,” he said, indicating the dark haired woman at his side. “And Julian Marchaund.”

Julian stepped forward and took her hand, bringing it to his lips briefly as he smiled.

“You’re much too lovely to be buried in a place like this,” he told her. He’d been shocked by her presence, and the near tangible sense of desertion that surrounded the lady. When the innkeeper had raised his hand, Julian had stepped forward. His surprise grew when he’d discovered Alexander had moved quicker. The master vampire never deigned to interfere in human squabbles—yet, he had defended this woman. An act totally out of character. Unless, of course, Alexander already had plans for the man and his wife.

Amberlaine smiled at the compliment and the courtly manners. To their surprise, she accepted Julian’s words and bowed her head.

“Thank you, my lord. I apologize for my husband’s ill manner. The day has been very long.” It was a weak excuse, but she had no real interest in sparing her husband embarrassment.

“Julian is right. You don’t belong here,” Alexander observed quietly. Not only was she beautiful, she had a grace that was alien to everything he’d seen of the town in the short time they’d been in the area. He sensed spirit and intelligence in Amberlaine.

The warmth in Alexander’s voice had apparently set off alarms within Julian, and he glanced at Diana. She’d been watching closely too, and it was clear she shared his worry about Alexander’s uncharacteristic gallantry. They’d argued at length, and heatedly, about the idea of taking refuge at an inn, but Alexander would not be swayed from his latest whim. He was a man determined to walk the path he’d chosen, whether it made sense or not. Diana knew well that intentness of personality, she had seen it lead them into many situations which would have been better avoided. The shadow of gloom that had been building around them was suddenly a thing she could sense enveloping them as they stood in The Guardian’s common room. The disaster was within this place, waiting for them. She shrugged off the dark musings, tried to deeply bury the premonition, where it could not reach her.

“It’s very late, Alexander,” Diana reminded with a tiny smile at Amberlaine. The other woman was staring openly at the vampire, who was returning her look with equal interest. He glanced at Diana, then Julian, and nodded.

“I believe you said there was a room available,” he stated softly, his tone pitched to a seductive low. Amberlaine nodded shyly and quickly averted her gaze, breaking the spell-like trance that had held them.

“There are two on the west side of the house,” she told him.

“Amberlaine?”

Alexander watched as the sound of his voice affected her like a caress, his expression faintly amused.

“Do you require anything else?” she asked, no longer able to meet his direct gaze. “I can prepare a meal if you…”

“Nothing,” Alexander assured her. He reached for her arm and her head rose without thought to allow his eyes to snare hers once again. “All we will need is privacy. The room must be secure, and dark. We’ve been traveling for several days and this is our first chance to rest. Do you understand?”

Amberlaine felt the pull of his mind, demanding obedience. It made no sense. Yet, she could feel his will over-riding whatever answer she might have been attempting to offer. She nodded, unable to do more, then led them up the stairs.

* * * *

“You’re out of your mind, Alexander!” Julian hissed once they were alone. “This is insanity.”

“Would you rather sleep in the cave we were forced into this morning?” Alexander enquired blandly. He looked around the room, and his face grew thoughtful. Blankets had been placed at the windows, and the door was barred. In the next room, he was certain Diana had done the same.

“Leave her alone, Alexander. Diana’s foolishness earlier may yet reveal us to these people.”

“She’s different,” Alexander smiled. “You’ve noticed it yourself.”

“She’s where she should be,” Julian replied, though as he spoke he recognized the lack of conviction he felt in the assertion.

“No,” Alexander shook his head. “But, perhaps she will be.”

Julian bit back the retort that sprang to his lips. He knew better than to waste time arguing with Alexander. Plus, he wasn’t entirely sure the interest in the landlord’s wife wasn’t simply another way to incite his own temper. Deciding not to say anything further, Julian went to his bed and settled in. He felt Alexander’s gaze upon him for a very long time, knew he was still being watched when sleep finally overcame him.

* * * *

“Where have you been?”

Amberlaine felt hatred spring into her throat like a vile tasting ale, and she gritted her teeth. “I’ve been attending to our new guests,” she said quietly.

“Aye,” Thomas leered. “Fancy folks like yourself. Maybe if you attend that arrogant bastard real good, he’ll take you away from all this,” he laughed.

Amberlaine heard the familiar slur to her husband’s words, and she knew his mood would grow considerably worse before he was through his tirade of insults. She thought about the newcomers, the flicker of longing almost a surprise to her own heart. The men were so handsome, and the lady so lovely. They were, each of them, incredibly beautiful. Like the people she used to know, before her father’s disgrace had led to his suicide, and her exile.

Her wandering thoughts had made her slow, and she yelped in dismayed surprise when Thomas grabbed her and pulled her close to him. He reeked of ale and sweat, and the filth he refused to wash himself free of, despite her repeated requests. She tried to push him away, but he’d gotten a strong grip on her this time.

“Well, my lady, tonight you can attend to me,” he snarled. She squirmed in his rough grasp, and Calvert clutched her tighter against him. He’d often seen this loathing in her, but tonight it enraged him more than it had for a very long time. He’d seen the look in her eyes when the pale stranger had saved her from the blow she deserved for her defiance. And, it made him furious.

“Let go of me, Thomas!” she hissed, more in anger than fear. When he ignored her words and buried his face in her neck, his mouth hot and rough on her skin, Amberlaine’s stomach roiled with revulsion. She pushed at him with renewed determination, desperate to escape him on this particular night. She’d endured his gross violations for most of the past year, and normally she could shut herself away from the humiliation and degradation she felt when he’d force himself on her. She remembered the smiling faces of the strangers, and the respect they’d shown her. It made her husband’s disregard even more insulting than usual.

“You’ll shut-up, Amberlaine, and be pleased I don’t throw you out for defying me,” Thomas snarled, his voice thick with growing excitement and drunkenness. He was pulling at her clothes, eager to touch his wife’s beauty. Despite his contempt, he wanted her with a depravity that sickened him when he was sober. He’d lusted after this lovely woman for years, never dreaming he’d possess her one day. Her disdain of him only added to his obsessive hunger for her. A final yank and he had the strings of her bodice pulled loose, he shoved aside the material so he could fondle the silken softness of her breasts.

“God! No!” Amberlaine whispered to herself as she tried to break the hold Thomas had on her. He was being more persistent than usual tonight, and she knew if she continued to fight, she’d pay dearly for the mistake. Somehow, the pain seemed preferable to allowing him to satisfy his lust. She brought her knee up sharply, connected solidly with his groin, and felt the shudder of pain that wracked his body before he staggered back in shock. Fury distorted his features and he was on her again before she could make it to the door.

The world spun away in a swirling void of star-dotted blackness when Amberlaine was thrown into the heavy wooden door of their bedchamber. She tried to avoid colliding with the door, and as her head turned, she took the force of the impact on her right temple. The air rushed from her body in a single expulsion of breath, and she began to slide down to the floor. Before unconsciousness could offer her a sanctuary, Calvert grabbed her elbow and hauled her back to her feet. He landed several back-handed blows to her face before he dragged her to the bed and flung her down.

Blood trickled down her throat, making her gag and she tried to rise again. The motion made her entire body scream objection and she fell back, unable to fight any longer. His weight covered her, his skin hot and rough against hers, his hands groping until he had pushed aside her clothing. When he had removed the last fragile barrier, he plundered her body without hesitation. She closed her eyes and her agony shrieked in endless wails within her head. Rage, humiliation and pain mixed together and became an acrid knot of hatred buried deep inside her. The sound of Calvert’s grunting dimmed and she passed out as he went on raping her, oblivious to the fact that she no longer moved beneath him.

* * * *

As dawn drew closer, in the upstairs chambers of the West side of the inn, Alexander heard her screams as acutely as if they’d been echoing aloud throughout the large house. It was difficult to say which annoyed him more, her intrusion into his sleep, or the reason for her cries. He rose from the bed and was surprised when Julian spoke from the other side of the room.

“You should have killed him,” the young noble remarked, his voice tight with barely contained fury.

Alexander’s eyebrow rose at the surprising words. Julian was usually the first one to object to killing anyone. What had this charming wench done to bewitch them both with so little effort?

“I’m surprised, Julian,” Alexander murmured. “This disregard for human life is not at all like you.” The older vampire couldn’t resist the ironic amusement he felt at the other man’s anger. After more than a millennia, Julian still held tightly to the ideals that had dictated the course of his life when he’d been mortal.

“Nor is defending a lady’s honor like you,” Julian pointed out, his tone easily matched Alexander’s.

“It seems this wench has something of a magic even we are not immune to,” Alexander laughed.

“Julian is right,” Diana’s voice reached them seconds before she stepped into the shadowy room.

“About what, dear Diana?” Alexander responded.

“What kind of game are you playing at, Alexander?” she demanded. “First you insist that we must stay in this… this place,” she finished with a disdainful toss of her head. “Then you draw attention to us by interfering…”

“Be very careful of your words,” Alexander warned softly, his hazel eyes like ice crystals glowing in the darkened chamber.

Diana dismissed whatever she had been planning to add, then glared at the older vampire. “You succeeded only in making her life more miserable!” she snapped. “Angering that pig has caused her pain.”

“So, you feel it, too,” Alexander mused, intrigued by the revelation.

“It is impossible not to hear her screaming, chéri,” Diana pointed out with a wave of her hand.

We are the only ones able to hear her, Diana,” Julian interjected softly.

That news clearly came as a surprise to the sable haired vampire and she turned incredulous eyes to Alexander.

“How can this be?” she questioned, her voice tight with suspicion.

Alexander shrugged carelessly. “I would guess she has latent psychic talents,” he theorized. “Or, we have all fallen under the spell of a witch,” he finished with a laugh that made Julian smile in spite of himself, while Diana scowled at them both.

Sobering quickly, Julian rose and took a step toward the door. Alexander immediately recognized his intent and blocked his passage.

“This is not our business, Julian,” he warned softly.

“Diana’s right, Alexander,” Julian retorted savagely, and allowed his anger to surface to his eyes. “We are responsible for what she is suffering.”

“Perhaps tonight,” Alexander conceded. “But, I would venture to say she has been in this situation many times.”

“You appeared more concerned a short time ago,” Julian hissed as he jerked his arm free of the light restraint of his master’s grasp. “Of course, as an active practitioner, you condone rape, don’t you, Alexander?”

“We all have lapses, dear boy,” the older vampire commented dryly, ignoring the second portion of the statement. When Julian would have left them, Alexander’s hand on the door prevented his departure. “The sun is rising, Julian. She is silent now. What, precisely, do you think you will be able to do for the fair lady?”

Diana made an impatient gesture and pushed them both aside. She slammed the door solidly behind her and left them locked in a battle of wills. The winner of that archaic game was a foregone conclusion, and she sighed heavily as she bolted her door and went to bed. Julian would remain with Alexander, if for no other reason than to watch the ancient vampire. He’d return to her at sunset, she knew. He always did.

 

 

To continue reading, close this window, click the ADD TO CART button, and checkout.