“A master of her craft.” —Maggie Shayne London’s diversions hold no charm for Roan Cabrera. Despite his reputation as a scoundrel, he’s in high demand among the city’s most eligible young women. And though their blood can quench his undying thirst, none of them can fill the emptiness in his centuries-old soul. He finds solace only in easing the pain of those near death—by helping them relive their most cherished memories … The last thing Kathryn Winterbourne remembers is being struck by a carriage. When she awakens in a luxurious bed, she feels like she must have died and gone to heaven. But the man who has saved her is no angel. With his penetrating eyes, the darkly handsome Roan looks more like the devil himself. And when Kathryn is confronted with the truth about her mysterious hero, she’ll have to decide whether to shutter her heart against him—or give in to the thrill of his love … Praise for Amanda Ashley and Twilight Dreams “A tender paranormal romance exploring love and family ties, and it’s tinged with intrigue and vengeance. . . . This portrait of new love is sweet and endearing.” —Publishers Weekly “Author Ashley is no stranger to paranormal romance … Intriguing.” — Kirkus Reviews “Master storyteller Amanda Ashley weaves a classic vampire tale of sensual, spine tingling suspense.” —Christine Feehan
Release date: August 27, 2019
Print pages: 345
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Hold Back the Dawn
Roan Cabrera paused on the weed-strewn dirt road that led to the entrance. The air was fetid with the stench of horse droppings, rot, and despair. He didn’t know which was worse, the stink outside, or the smell of disease and death that permeated the very walls of the hospital.
Materializing on the third floor, he ghosted past the nurse on duty, unseen, then continued down the hallway until he came to the room at the end of the corridor. A woman lay unmoving on the narrow bed. Maura Singleterry, age twenty-eight, had been badly beaten and left for dead on the side of the road. She was a pretty woman—or she had been. Now, her cheeks were sunken, her eyes shadowed, her hair limp and lackluster. Trapped in a coma for the last three weeks, her prognosis was bleak at best.
Entering the room, Roan closed the door, then glided silently to the side of the bed. He stood gazing down at her a moment; then, taking her limp hand in his, he sat on the edge of the narrow mattress, his mind delving through the darkness that kept her trapped in unconsciousness.
Opening a mental link between them, he murmured, Hello, Maura.
Who else? Where would you like to go today?
My wedding day, but first . . . I want to know about you.
What would you like to know?
How is it we can talk when I cannot communicate with anyone else? Are you real? Or just a fever dream?
I’m real enough. ’Tis a gift I have, being able to speak with those who are lost in the dark.
I cannot find my way out. She whimpered softly. I try and try, but I cannot get through the darkness.
Roan stroked her brow. I know. That’s why I’m here. Put your questions away for now, Maura, and I’ll take you back to the day you wed.
He closed his eyes, his mind searching hers, until he found the memory she wished to experience again. He gave it back to her, not as a dream, not as a faint memory, but as if she were reliving it again . . . She mingled with everyone who had been there, recalled each word spoken that day, each thought that crossed her mind, the love she felt for her new husband, the taste and smell and texture of the food she ate, her nervousness as she and her husband left her parents’ home, the carriage ride to the inn where they had spent their first night as husband and wife.
It was a rare gift he had, being able to grant those who were dying a chance to relive their most cherished memories. It cost him nothing, and he took but little in return for the pleasure he gave.
An hour later, Roan kissed Maura’s cheek in farewell and left the hospital. He felt a brief twinge of regret in knowing that she had only a few hours to live. It seemed unfair that such a sweet-natured woman should be taken before her time. Unfair, he thought again, that one who had everything to live for should be brought down in her prime while he, a man who had nothing to live for and no one to mourn him when he was gone, had existed for centuries.
Hands shoved deep into his pants pockets, he strolled along the dark streets. Newberry Township was miles away from the politics and corruption of London. The people were mostly peasants and shopkeepers who had no time for anything but providing for their families.
All the shops were closed at this time of the night, with the exception of the tavern at the end of Bayberry Street. The Hare and Hound was one of Cabrera’s favorite haunts, a place to while away the long, empty hours until dawn.
He went there now, taking his usual seat in the back, near the window. Maura Singleterry. Tomorrow her soul would shake off the pain of mortality and take flight. No doubt she would find eternal rest in heaven, if heaven existed. He had been inside her mind and found no evil there. Would she find peace in the hereafter, knowing she had left a grieving husband and five young children behind?
Roan blew out a sigh. He, too, would grieve for Maura Singleterry. He had visited her each evening for a fortnight, helping her to relive the happiest moments in her life, always giving her hope that she would recover when he knew it for the lie it was.
He would miss her gentle spirit, but there would be others lingering in the shadow world between life and death. There were always others. He eased their pain, and although they didn’t know it, they eased his. It was, he thought, an amicable alliance.
He looked up as Molly Lindstrom sashayed toward him. He had seen her on several other occasions. She was a pretty wench, with a riot of red curls, and soulful brown eyes that had seen too much of the sordid side of life.
“Can I get you something, my lord handsome?” she asked with a saucy grin.
Roan shook his head. The chit had a crush on him. Had he been younger, had Molly been older, he might have taken what she so boldly offered. “Wine,” he said. “Red.”
She canted her head to the side. “Do you never drink anything else?”
His gaze drifted to the pulse throbbing steadily in the hollow of her throat. “Now and then.”
“I’ll be going home soon, if you’d care to walk with me.”
“Another time perhaps.”
She pouted prettily. “You always say that, but you never do.”
“Pray that I never say yes.”
She looked at him oddly a moment, then turned and flounced away.
“Cabrera, there you are!” George Hampton exclaimed. “We’ve a game going downstairs. Care to join us?” In his mid-fifties, Hampton had a shock of iron-gray hair.
“That depends on who else is playing.”
Hampton braced his hands on the back of the chair across from Roan. “The usual late-night crowd. Westerbrook and Lewiston and Cormac. Flaherty said he might be along later.”
“Lead the way,” Roan said, rising. After motioning for Molly to bring his drink downstairs, he followed Hampton down the narrow winding staircase that led to the gambling hell.
The rooms downstairs were dimly lit. A layer of thick gray smoke hovered near the ceiling. Hampton’s cronies were gathered around a table in the middle of the room. As usual, Walter Cormac was winning. No surprise there, since he frequently cheated, although no one but Roan seemed aware of it. Short and bandy-legged, he reminded Roan of a rooster.
“Looks like your winning streak is about to end, Mac,” Henry Westerbrook said as Roan slid into an empty chair.
Cormac snorted softly. “Not tonight, old man. Lady Luck is sitting on my shoulder.”
The other men at the table laughed good-naturedly. Cormac always said Lady Luck was on his side, when Roan knew luck had nothing to do with it.
“Well, Lady Luck may be on your side,” Frank Lewiston remarked, “but I’d wager my daughter’s dowry that Cabrera has the devil’s own luck on his.”
“Now, gents,” Hampton said, “this is a friendly game, remember?”
“Friendly, right,” Westerbrook remarked and dealt the cards. Westerbrook had been an officer in the army. He still carried the air of command.
Leaning back in his chair, Roan perused his hand. He had played cards with these men often enough to know how each man reacted when he had little chance of winning the pot. Lewiston folded early, Cormac would bluff, and Hampton, the wealthiest of the lot, would try to buy the hand.
Had he wanted to, Roan could easily have read each man’s mind to find out what cards he held, but there was no sport in that. Still, he had done it on occasion.
“So, Cabrera,” Hampton said, folding his hand, “have you met Dudley’s niece?”
Roan blew out an exaggerated sigh. “We’ve met.”
“Is he still trying to marry her off?” Lewiston asked. “He’d have better luck if he trotted her out in a veil.”
Cormac grinned as he raked in the pot. “The doxies all look the same in the dark.”
“True enough,” Lewiston agreed, “but she does come with a generous dowry.”
“Then why don’t you offer for her?” Roan asked dryly. Dudley’s niece, Clara Beth, was perhaps the plainest woman Roan had ever met. Had she been blessed with a sparkling personality, suitors might have overlooked her appearance, but she was as dull as she was homely, and almost as wide as she was tall. He doubted a king’s ransom would entice any red-blooded male to offer for her hand.
Roan passed a pleasant few hours gambling, then bid his companions a good evening and left the establishment.
For a moment, he considered hiring a hack to take him home, but after the smoky interior of the pub, the night’s breeze called to him.
He loved the night, the soft sighing of the wind, the salty scent that wafted off the ocean, the earthy smell of soil and damp grass.
Stepping outside, he gazed up at the sky, pitying the poor mortals who glimpsed only a fraction of the heavenly display. Humans. They saw so little of the world around them, missed so much. Each evening, the earth played a symphony they never heard.
There were times when he regretted the loss of his humanity, when he cursed the man who had transformed him against his will.
But tonight wasn’t one of them.
Kathryn Winterbourne crept out of the crowded room she shared with seven other young women at the boardinghouse. She had come to the city in hopes of finding a new and better life than the one she had known at home. She had not wanted to leave her mother at her stepfather’s mercy. Though her mother denied it, Kathryn knew the man beat her when he was in his cups. Thankfully, he had not yet laid a hand on Kathryn.
Even though it had been her mother who insisted Kathryn must go, it had taken every ounce of courage she possessed to leave everything that was familiar. But staying home had been out of the question, so she had taken the few pounds her mother had stolen from Kathryn’s stepfather and run away—away from the poverty of the farm, away from the ever-growing lust in her stepfather’s eyes.
To her disappointment, life in the city was little better than life on the farm. The only employment to be had was as a scrubwoman in a bawdy house in the red light district. And now, she was running away again, running from Madam Quinlan’s latest paramour. Newberry Township was nearby. Perhaps she could find work there.
And until then, what? She had no money with which to secure a bed for the night, no way to pay for a room—or for her next meal.
Why was she trying to run away from the fate that would surely be hers sooner or later? She had no education, no useful skills, no hope of a favorable marriage. It was just a matter of time before she was forced to choose between starvation or earning her living on her back in one of the brothels near the docks, perhaps the very house she had fled.
Tears filled Kathryn’s eyes as she contemplated such a horrid future. She didn’t want to become a doxy, didn’t want some fat, uncaring madam to rule her days and nights, or to sell her virginity to the highest bidder. She didn’t want to end up old and alone, riddled with the pox.
She dreamed of marrying a man who loved her, preferably a wealthy man who would cherish her, one who would take her to his home and keep her safe from the ugliness of the world. Someone to give her children, but most of all, someone who would love her. But what gentleman of the realm would deign to wed someone like her?
Even though she had never worked above stairs at the brothel, her reputation was ruined. The fact that she had recognized a few of the upper-crust gents who had frequented Madam Quinlan’s house only made things worse. None of the eligible men were likely to call on a woman who knew their worst habits. Not that it mattered. She didn’t want anything to do with a man—married or single—who would visit such a disreputable place.
She dashed the tears from her eyes, but they only came harder and faster as she looked into an increasingly bleak future.
Lost in misery, Kathryn didn’t hear the rapidly approaching carriage until it was too late. When she saw the coach-and-four bearing down on her, she hardly had time to scream.
Elsbeth Pettibone primped in front of the mirror, admiring the natural curl in her golden brown hair, her perfect figure, the sparkle in her blue eyes as she looked forward to going to the ball at the Hatton’s. She loved being young and beautiful, she mused, loved the admiration of the eligible bachelors, the way they competed with one another to dance with her, or sit beside her at supper. She loved the way they tried to steal a kiss when they were clever enough to get her alone.
She laughed softly. Men were such foolish, vain creatures. Didn’t they realize it was she who decided if and when they would be alone, she who decided whether to grant a kiss? Soon, she would have to choose which marriage offer to accept. Her father favored James, her mother adored young Cameron, but Elsbeth secretly yearned for Roan Cabrera. Roan, with his broad shoulders and hooded indigo eyes. Roan, who could melt her insides with a glance, make her blood heat with just the touch of his hand. She knew her parents would never approve such a match, but she could hope. And scheme. He was, after all, a gentleman. If she could just get him in a compromising situation, she knew he would do the right thing. She had practiced all her burgeoning feminine wiles on him, but thus far, he had remained immune to her charms. It was ever so frustrating.
She put the finishing touches to her toilette, grabbed her wrap, and hurried down the stairs to where her parents waited. Maybe tonight, she thought, her stomach churning with excitement, maybe this would be the night when Roan danced to her tune.
Roan paused outside the Hatton’s mansion. Dozens of carriages waited out front. The windows blazed with light. Faint sounds of laughter drifted through the door whenever a new guest arrived.
What was he doing here? He had already fed; therefore, he had little reason to go inside and subject himself to the curious stares of the matrons or the lustful glances of the innocent debutantes who would run screaming from his presence if they knew what he was. Still, it was hours until dawn, and Francis Hatton served the finest wine in the county.
Taking a deep breath, Roan made his way to the door. He had purposely arrived late, thereby avoiding the dinner hour with its elaborate courses and dull conversation. He flashed his invitation at the butler, then stepped inside, where another servant took his hat and coat.
Roan made his way upstairs, wondering again what had prompted him to attend the Hatton soiree.
As usual, Amelia Hatton had outdone herself. The ballroom was aglow with what looked like hundreds of candles, their light reflected on every polished surface. Bouquets of flowers in delicate crystal vases adorned the linen-clad table in the dining room. A number of elegantly clad couples danced to the music of a small orchestra. Servants moved silently among the other guests, offering caviar and champagne.
Roan was deep in conversation with Hampton and Cormac when Elsbeth Pettibone swept into the room. She stood in the doorway a moment, giving the other women a chance to admire her gown and her coiffure. A smile lit her face as she spied Roan and immediately headed in his direction.
Roan swore under his breath. He had been avoiding Elsbeth’s advances for months. He had done everything he could think of—short of giving her the cut direct, something he was loath to do—to convince her that he wasn’t interested, but she continued to pursue him.
“Mr. Cabrera,” she gushed. “Isn’t it a beautiful night? I’m so glad you could make it.” Although she acknowledged Hampton and Cormac with a nod, all of her attention was focused on Roan.
He forced a smile. “It’s good to see you, too, Miss Pettibone.” She was perfectly dressed, perfectly coiffed, and reminded him of nothing more than a porcelain doll, pretty to look at, but not to be touched.
Swaying back and forth in time to the music, she murmured, “I do so love this waltz.”
It was a blatant request, he thought, and one not easily ignored. With a sigh of resignation, he offered her his arm. Miss Elsbeth Pettibone was a young woman who knew what she wanted and was accustomed to getting it. Unfortunately, she had set her cap for him.
His gaze wandered over the guests as he waltzed her around the floor. Most of the faces were familiar—women he had flirted with in the past, a few he had seduced. Men he played cards with.
“You haven’t listened to a word I’ve said, have you?”
Roan looked down at the woman in his arms. “How can I possibly concentrate on conversation when you look so lovely?”
“Why, Mr. Cabrera,” she murmured, batting her lashes at him. “You do say the sweetest things.”
He smiled at her, wondering if the music would ever end.
“It’s a bit warm in here, don’t you think?”
His gaze lingered on the pulse in the hollow of her throat. “Would you care to go out on the balcony?”
“I shouldn’t . . .”
He waited, knowing she would quickly change her mind.
“But I will.” Placing her hand on his forearm, she let him lead her outside.
Roan guided her into the shadows at the far end of the balcony, then drew her into his embrace.
“Mr. Cabrera . . .” She voiced a breathy protest even as she tilted her head for his kiss.
“Miss Pettibone.” His gaze caught and held hers. When her eyelids fluttered down, he lowered his head to her neck. He drank quickly, all too aware that other couples might also seek a few minutes alone in the dark.
When he finished, he licked the tiny wounds in her throat; then, releasing her from his thrall, he kissed her lightly.
She sighed when he broke the kiss, unaware that they had shared anything more.
“I should get you back inside,” Roan said, “before your father comes looking for you.”
“Let him find us,” she said with a toss of her curls. “I won’t mind.”
“Perhaps not,” Roan said with a grin, “but I have to think of my reputation.”
She laughed softly. “You are a scoundrel, aren’t you?” Her voice caressed the word scoundrel, making it sound like an endearment.
“There are some who think so,” he agreed, and taking her by the arm, he led her back into the ballroom.
He had no sooner managed to shake off Elsbeth Pettibone than Arthur Dudley approached him with his niece, the overly plump Clara Beth, in tow.
“Fine evening,” Dudley said.
“Yes.” Roan took a deep breath. “You’re looking quite lovely this evening, Miss Dudley.” In truth, she looked extremely uncomfortable, poured as she was into an unflattering froth of bright pink tulle.
Clara Beth’s cheeks turned the same shade of pink as her gown. “Thank you, Mr. Cabrera.”
“She does look lovely, doesn’t she?” Dudley said, beaming with pride. “It’ll be a lucky man who wins our Bethy’s heart.”
“Yes, indeed,” Roan agreed. “It was a pleasure to see you again, Miss Dudley. Arthur. If you’ll excuse me, I’ve promised this next dance to Lady Hatton.”
After sketching a quick bow, Roan hurried across the dance floor, eager to put some distance between himself and Dudley’s niece. He had hoped to enjoy a taste of the refined blood of the city’s most eligible maidens as long as he was here, but decided he would rather go hungry than spend the rest of the evening eluding the Misses Pettibone and Dudley.
Retrieving his hat and coat, he left by the back entrance. Outside, he drew a breath of the cool night air, loosened his collar, and headed for home. He was nearing the Crossroads when he noticed the scent of fresh blood in the air. It led him to a body lying facedown along the edge of the road. The tracks in the dirt told him all too clearly what had happened. The girl had been struck by a coach and left for dead. Only, she wasn’t dead. With his preternatural hearing, he easily detected the sluggish beat of her heart.
After wrapping her in his coat, he lifted her into his arms and willed the two of them to the hospital. Opening the door, he hurried down the hall to the nurses’ station.
“Here, now!” the nurse behind the admitting desk exclaimed. “What’s this?”
“I found her on the road, unconscious. She’s been hit by a carriage.”
“I’ll need her name.”
“I don’t know it.”
“Is she kin?”
“Can she pay?”
“I’ll take care of the bill,” Roan said impatiently. “You take care of her. Now.”
“Very well, Mr. . . . ?”
“Cabrera. Perhaps we can finish our introductions later. In case you haven’t noticed, she’s bleeding rather heavily.”
Moments later, a man in white came with a gurney and wheeled the unknown woman down the hallway into an examination room.
After signing a paper stating he would be responsible for her debts, Roan paced the hall. Though it was nothing to him if the girl lived or died, he found himself unable to leave until he knew her fate. In spite of her shabby dress, she had been a remarkably pretty thing, her skin as fair as fresh cream, her hair a dark golden blond. A smattering of freckles dusted her cheeks. But it was more than her outward appearance that called to him. He had known many pretty women in his time. What was there about this frail lass that set her apart? Her helplessness, perhaps? Or her innocence? Or maybe a combination of the two. Whatever hold she had on him, he knew he couldn’t leave until he’d seen her again.
Two hours later, the doctor stepped into the corridor. “I’m afraid there isn’t much hope,” the surgeon said after introducing himself. “She’s in a coma due to a serious head injury. She has also lost a good deal of blood from a rather deep gash in her leg. In her weakened state, it’s doubtful she’ll ever regain consciousness. We’ll make her as comfortable as we can, of course.”
Roan nodded. “Might I see her?”
“If you wish. Last room at the. . .
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