England, 1880. Though violently blinded as a child, Grace channels her gift as a medium to bring peace to the dead. But after locating a poor girl's corpse in the woods, Grace's only escape from an asylum lies with a notorious pirate feared as 'The Devil.' Yet his offer for protection is fraught with peril, for she must live at his mansion and banish the malevolent ghosts who haunt the dark halls.
Devlin has waited sixteen years for revenge, and the key to punishing his greatest enemy dwells within the blind medium he has sworn to protect. But when he discovers his newest pawn is linked to his past, he fears manipulating the meek lass could shred his last semblance of humanity...
As the weeks pass, they find themselves inexplicably drawn to one another. But she soon learns he has been keeping secrets from her. Ghastly secrets. Secrets that could threaten his soul ... and hers. Will they breathe light back into their lives or perish in the shadows of evil?
Devil's Cove is the breathtaking first book in the Tortured Souls Gothic romance series. If you like chilling suspense, explicit passions, and electrifying twists, then you'll love R.C. Matthews' infernal fantasy.
Buy Devil's Cove to measure the price of wickedness today!
Release date: November 2, 2019
Publisher: Crimson Romance
Print pages: 514
Content advisory: trigger warning: hero has history of sexual abuse
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Devil’s Cove Manor, England
As Josephine slithered between the humans littering the ballroom floor, a wicked grin curled up her lips. Their anguished cries vibrated like sweet music through her scales. Sliding her long tail back and forth, rhythmically, she bumped against their mangled forms, enhancing their pain. She rather enjoyed the cacophony of cries, a symphony of vanquished souls. But there was little time left to wallow in the beauty of it. The waning taste of her dark magic slipped over her forked tongue as she lapped at the air, and she knew its effects would soon wear off, finally allowing her victims to succumb to the darkness of death.
All but one.
Lord Marcus Deveraux would not fall peacefully into oblivion. He would feel the weight of her body as it wrapped about him, crushing him. He would hear his bones snap and stare into her red eyes as she squeezed his throat with her hands, taking his life. He deserved nothing less for his heinous deeds.
She raised herself high on her tail, above the carnage, swaying in each direction, allowing her tongue to guide her to her prey. Ebony hair fell in a waterfall of waves over her shoulders to the middle of her back, and she knew she must make a frightening sight, half-woman, half-serpent.
Marcus lay in a puddle of his own excrement and blood, a sonorous wheeze emitting from his chest. She coiled her tail around his body and lifted him toward her. His eyes flew open, and the terror encapsulated in his stare filled Josephine with a euphoric high.
“Before I escort you through the gates of Hell,” she said, leaning closer to ensure he heard every word, “know thissssss: Your dirty little secrets aren’t safe from me. Beatrice Mitchell warned you of the evil lurking on this land. You chose to ignore her, and now you’ll pay a dear price. Your friends and family are dead, save one helpless child. But fear not, Marcussssss, the day will come when Eveline is old enough to understand your crimes, and then I will collect the last of your debt.”
Saliva dribbled from his lips, and an intense gurgle erupted from his throat as a mouthful of blood gushed forth. She’d never beheld anything so glorious.
“No, please,” he rasped. “She’s innocent.”
Josephine grinned and squeezed the last breath from his lungs amid the splintering of his bones. He roared in agony, and more blood spewed from his lips, spraying over her bare breasts.
“Yesssss, I know,” she acknowledged, discarding his disfigured corpse.
Revenge the second time around would be oh so sweet.
Devil’s Cove, England
Moonlight reflected off the inky water, rippling over the surface as The Savior dropped anchor in the harbor. Captain Devlin Limmerick stood solemnly on the forecastle deck, flanked by his first and second mates. He surveyed the village with keen interest until his eyes settled on the dark silhouette of a mansion looming in the distance, its spires and turrets clawing eerily at the night sky. Blood strummed through his veins. He would even the score at last.
“Destiny lures me to the mansion,” the captain said, crossing his arms over his chest. A smirk tugged at his lips as he turned to his first mate, Victor. “Will I crash into the rocky cliffs and perish or reap the rewards of my long-awaited revenge? What say you?”
Victor grunted and wiped away the moisture clinging to his forehead from the clammy summer night air. “Revenge will be yours, no doubt.”
The captain nodded, and they strode across the deck, boarding the longboat and giving the signal for his crew to lower it. Water lapped harshly against the hull of the ship, the sea as dark and restless as the three privateers huddled together. Their intense discussion came to an abrupt halt when the vessel crashed against the wooden dock of the wharf.
The captain’s head snapped up, and he skewered the oarsman with a glare. “Bloody hell, Bilge!”
“Sorry, Captain,” Bilge said with a toothy grin. “Eyesight ain’t what it used to be, especially in the dead o’ night.”
The captain leapt onto the dock, and his gaze met the curious stares of the riffraff loitering nearby. Men lingered, chatting in groups of three or four, eyeing his expensive clothing. The captain snorted. The scurvy dogs would turn tail the minute he flashed them a glimpse of the Colt Frontier Six-Shooter resting on his hip. Ignoring them, he turned to address his second mate, Hatchet. “Send Bilge back to the ship with instructions to return here in three hours.”
“Aye,” Hatchet said. “Watch the bloke with the dagger at ten o’clock.”
He didn’t bat an eye at the warning but smirked as Victor jumped onto the dock and donned a broad grin, brushing past him to swagger straight toward the nearest group of men. Upon his approach, they began to fan out in an unspoken dance, forming a circle around him while reaching for their weapons.
“Good evening, mate,” Victor said, coming face to face with a bald-headed chap the size of an ox. “Do you know where Captain Devlin Limmerick might find transport in town?”
The men halted and glanced at the captain, wide-eyed, before drawing back and offering apologies, nodding their heads respectfully.
“Heard they call him the Devil,” whispered one of the men, rubbing his hand along his neck. He dared another stealthy look, then swallowed hard and headed toward town, never looking back.
“Well?” Victor asked, lifting his brow.
The ox cleared his throat and stepped forward. “Best to speak with the bartender at The Black Serpent on Main Street. Henry always has a man waiting to do his bidding for the right price. It isn’t far,” the man said, gesturing in the direction of the tavern. “Just down the road a bit.”
The men scattered, clearing a path. With a nod of thanks, Devlin led the way toward town with long, confident strides. The cobbled streets were nearly deserted, but he followed the boisterous cries emitting from an establishment on the far end of the street. He stopped in front of The Black Serpent and eyed the sign hanging above the massive oak door. An intricately carved half-woman, half-serpent with lustrous, black hair beckoned customers to join the frivolities within.
Victor cocked his head to the side and narrowed his eyes on the sign.
“What’s wrong?” Devlin asked. “Afraid the black serpent lies in wait within?”
Victor grinned and shook his head. “For a moment, I thought the sign looked familiar. But I must be mistaken,” he said, reaching for the wrought-iron handle and yanking the door open. A blast of warm air rife with the scent of fish and chips accosted them as the men stepped over the threshold. A mixture of upper and lower class citizens filled the tables and booths. Devlin ignored the gawking stares penetrating his back as he strode to the long, oak bar. He leaned casually against it while Victor motioned to the bartender.
A stout man with thick, bushy eyebrows ambled toward them, wiping his hands on a towel before tossing it across his shoulder. After eyeing Devlin and Hatchet, the bartender’s steady gaze turned deliberately to Victor’s. “What’ll you have?”
“Three ales,” Victor said, gripping the edge of the bar. “And the name of a coachman for hire.”
The bartender grabbed three mugs and poured the dark brown liquid. “At this late hour? It’ll cost you. What’s your destination?”
Leaning into the bar, Victor said, “Captain Limmerick requires a coach to escort him to his new residence, Devil’s Cove Manor.”
The bartender blanched and stared at Devlin with wide, buggy eyes before making the sign of the cross over his chest. “Good Lord, man, don’t you know the place is haunted by the devil himself?” He lowered his voice and glanced at the neighboring patrons. “Nobody has entered the manor in years, you crazy fools. You’ll not find a coachman willing to take you there—not in the dead of night, not ever.”
So, his reputation was surpassed by that of his newly acquired mansion. It was all Devlin could do to hold back a chuckle.
Victor’s jaw clenched, and he slapped a gold sovereign on the bar. “You sure about that, mate? There’s more where this came from for anyone willing to hire on and clear out the cobwebs.”
“Can’t spend it if I’m six feet under, now can I?” asked the bartender. “Keep your coins! I’m not a bloody idiot.”
Devlin’s shoulders tensed, and he bit back a reprimand. He hadn’t survived years of torture only to be deterred from his goals by a blithering fool who wet his knickers over toothless rumors.
The bartender’s outburst gained the attention of the other patrons sitting at the bar, and Devlin used it to his advantage. He accepted a mug of ale and grinned, soothed by the fact that he’d never met a man who didn’t fold when his courage was questioned.
“I beg to disagree with you, Henry,” Devlin said boldly, taking a long draw of the brew. He wiped the foam from his top lip and stared down his nose at the bartender. “Anyone who believes in haunted houses is an idiot.”
But the man would not be swayed. “Better a live idiot than a dead one, I say.”
Hatchet snorted and plucked the gold sovereign off the bar, holding it high in the air between his finger and thumb. He waved his hand to gain everyone’s attention and bellowed, “Who’s brave enough to escort our party to Devil’s Cove Manor?”
The room fell silent. Men and women alike shifted in their seats, avoiding eye contact with Hatchet and each other. Devlin searched the crowd, but there wasn’t a single soul bold enough to seize the offer. Cowards, the lot of them.
“Begging your pardon, Captain,” a man sitting at a nearby table said, lowering his gaze to his clenched hands. “There’s not a soul that’ll go near the mansion, sir, even at the risk of your wrath.” He licked his lips and glanced up. “We beg for your mercy.”
Devlin gulped the rest of his ale and glared at the spineless man who dared to beg for mercy in front of the entire establishment. While his reputation as the Devil was well-known among sailors, he had hoped to pass himself off as a wealthy privateer among the good people of Devil’s Cove. Tension crackled between the hunched bodies as they awaited his response.
An elderly woman at the far end of the tavern suddenly stood and called out in a strong voice, “My husband and I will take you to Devil’s Cove Manor.”
The woman’s blond hair was streaked through with gray, yet the loose bun atop her head softened her square face and gave her a youthful air. Her delicate features stood out in stark contrast against her mate’s salt-and-pepper cropped mane and austere sideburns.
After several moments, the diners released a collective sigh and resumed their chattering, returning the tavern to its normal state of chaotic noise.
“Wait here,” Devlin said under his breath to his companions. “Don’t want to scare away our only hope of reaching the mansion tonight.”
He weaved through the tables and studied the grim faces of the couple awaiting him. Of all the people present tonight, they were the last ones he would’ve imagined would stick their necks out and accept his offer. What was their motivation?
“Good evening, I’m Captain Devlin Limmerick,” he said, bowing and gesturing to the empty bench across from them. “May I?”
“Of course, Captain,” the man said with a nod. “You’re a bit of a legend. It’s an honor to meet you. This is my wife, Mrs. Abigail Stevens, and I’m Samuel Stevens. Welcome to Devil’s Cove.”
Devlin clasped his hands and rested them on the table. “Thank you. It’s been a long day, so I’m going to get straight to business. Are you interested in my generous offer to escort my small party to Devil’s Cove Manor?”
“Yes, Captain,” Mr. Stevens said, clearing his throat. “But under two conditions.” The slight squeak in his voice betrayed him but didn’t deter him from his intended path.
Devlin cocked his head and regarded the older man closely, intrigued by such courage in making demands. Courageous, indeed, considering his towering height and fierce reputation. “And those are?”
“First, you must hire my wife as your cook and I as your stableman, with one year of wages paid in advance.”
Although Devlin had no intention of remaining in the manor for a full year, that minor detail wouldn’t prevent him from accepting the terms. He was anxious to restore the mansion to its former glory and search every room for signs of the existence of the gatekeeper to Hell. Both were paramount to attaining his goals, and he would do anything to get what he wanted. Money was not a concern.
Devlin nodded. “Done. And your second condition?”
Mrs. Stevens’s mouth dropped open, and she stared at her husband a moment, confusion lighting in her eyes. She returned her gaze to Devlin. “But we haven’t named a wage.”
Leaning forward, he rested his forearms on the table. “I’m certain we can come to agreeable terms. Now, tell me your second condition, Mrs. Stevens.”
She swallowed hard. “You must hire a medium to exorcise evil spirits from the mansion.”
Devlin folded his arms over his chest as he settled back against the wood booth. “What utter nonsense! If you’re terrified of ghosts, then why have you agreed to work for me?”
The woman’s brow furrowed, and a disgruntled huff exploded from her nostrils. “It doesn’t matter what I believe. You heard the man earlier; this entire village believes Devil’s Cove Manor is haunted. You’ll not find dedicated servants unless you ease their fears. So do you want to be right, or do you want servants?”
A reluctant smile tugged at the corner of Devlin’s mouth as he regarded Mrs. Stevens with an ounce of respect. He most certainly wanted servants, at almost any cost. Yet he was shocked to discover this old woman didn’t quake at the thought of entering the manor.
“You’ve agreed to work for me,” Devlin countered. “Why aren’t you terrified of the manor?”
She worried her bottom lip with her teeth and then sighed. “What makes you think I’m not afraid?”
He lifted an eyebrow. “Believe me, madam, I’ve seen fear in many a man’s eyes. You’re far from frightened. Tell me why you want this position.”
Mrs. Stevens clasped her husband’s hand, and he nodded his encouragement. “My brother, Crispin, was cook at the manor,” she said, her voice trembling. “Everyone died during the massacre that night. You must’ve heard the harrowing stories of the manor, and Josephine’s rampage. I would like to reclaim his belongings and several family heirlooms, if you please.”
“Then it’s true?” Devlin whispered, barely able to contain his excitement. He didn’t wish to be disrespectful, but this was the first time he’d spoken with anyone so close to the horrifying events proclaimed to have occurred in the abandoned house. What good fortune that he’d won the vast property in a game of baccarat.
He held his elation in check out of respect for her feelings. “I’ll strike you a deal,” Devlin said. “Let’s give it one month. I personally don’t believe in evil spirits. It’s hogwash, if you ask me. But, if after a month of living in the mansion I am unable to secure enough servants, I will hired a medium to exorcise evil spirits. Agreed?”
“Fair enough,” Mr. Stevens said, squeezing his wife’s hand. “What are we waiting for, then? Your coach awaits.”
Devlin hopped to his feet and motioned for Victor and Hatchet to meet him outside. While they stood on the sidewalk waiting for Mr. Stevens to bring his coach around front, Devlin shared the good news. Moments later they sat comfortably in the simple black conveyance, swaying and bouncing as they raced along the gravel path.
Leaning to one side, he stared out the window, watching the oppressively dark manor inch closer in the moonlight. The sharp angles of the sloped roof and turrets were reminiscent of an older age. From what he had learned through his barrister, the grounds were massive and encompassed both a thriving forest as well as lush oceanfront property, including craggy cliffs. He could hardly wait to explore it all and uncover its hidden treasures.
When the carriage came to a halt, Devlin closed his eyes and took a deep breath. He’d waited years for all of the pieces to his revenge to come together, and tonight marked the last stretch of his long journey.
“Shall we?” Victor asked.
Devlin grinned at his best friend and opened the door. He jumped to the ground, brushing Mr. Stevens out of his way.
“You can remain in the carriage with Abigail if you wish,” Devlin said over his shoulder as he approached the grand entrance to the mansion. “My men will accompany me. We won’t be long, I promise.”
Hatchet blew out a long whistle as he surveyed their surroundings, taking in the dark-gray stones, windows with tightly drawn curtains, and grounds overtaken by weeds and wildflowers. “You’ve got your work cut out for you, Devlin. This place is a disaster.”
“Imagine the state of the inside,” Victor said, running a hand through his thick, black hair. “It’ll take months to restore the mansion if we can’t find servants to assist.”
“I’ll ship servants in from neighboring towns if I have to,” Devlin said as he strode up the stone stairs to the entrance.
He pulled a key ring from his trousers. An ornate “D” carved into the brass bow of a key caught his eye, and he fumbled while thrusting the shaft of the key into the lock. With a twist of his wrist, the lock clicked open. Glancing over his shoulder, he winked at his mates and pushed open the heavy door, putting all of his weight behind the action. The door emitted a wailing creak, and dank air seeped out, crawling over Devlin’s skin.
He stepped cautiously into the foyer and shared a triumphant smile with Victor. Hatchet entered with a torch raised high above his head, revealing a regal staircase. It stood majestically before them, leading to the second floor, where a decadent chandelier hung in the center of the ceiling. Devlin started toward a room on their left but paused when Victor latched on to his arm and lifted a finger to his lips.
“Did you hear that?” Victor whispered, his eyes widening. His breath hitched, and he cocked his head to one side, listening.
The faint keys of a piano drifted through the air, and a shudder raced through Devlin’s body. He closed his eyes and concentrated, trying to discern where the noise originated. But as soon as he’d heard the soft notes, they were gone. Had he imagined it, then?
“It’s nothing but the howling wind,” he said, licking his lips. “Come.”
Devlin led the way to a set of double doors and pushed them wide. A magnificent parlor came into view, replete with a marble fireplace, multiple settees and chairs, and a grand piano. The cobwebs clinging to every surface did little to detract from the beauty of the room but served to remind Devlin of everything he hoped to achieve in the coming months.
“It’s exactly as I imagined it would be.” He exhaled and strode into the room, turning in a circle with his arms outstretched. “The ideal place to meet the gatekeeper to Hell, wouldn’t you say?”
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