Enter the lush, sensual world of bestselling author Amanda Ashley...a place where vampires indulge their appetites, but find they can fall prey to love and desire. Now, an everlasting devotion is sparked across time and space, igniting a passionate affair...and a deadly new threat... He Has Found His Soul's Desire. . . The Dark Gift has brought Roshan DeLongpre a lifetime of bitter loneliness--until, by chance, he comes across a picture of Brenna Flanagan. There is something hauntingly familiar about her, something that compels him to travel into the past, save the beautiful witch from the stake, and bring her safely to his own time. Now, in the modern world, Brenna's seductive innocence and sense of wonder are utterly bewitching the once-weary vampire, blinding him to a growing danger. For there is one whose dark magick is strong...one who knows who they both are and won't stop till their powers are his...and they are nothing more than shadows through time...
Release date: February 1, 2005
Publisher: Zebra Books
Print pages: 356
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Firelight. Sunlight. Both had the power to destroy him.
A sigh whispered past his lips. He was growing weary of his existence, so utterly, utterly weary. Each night was like the last. Life as he knew it had lost its luster; there were no surprises left, only an age-old instinct to survive.
Now, staring into the writhing flames, he wondered why he bothered. He had no compelling reason to go on. He could inspire passion but not love, command obedience but not affection. He could change his shape at will, move with incredible speed, defy the laws of gravity, dissolve into a fine mist or disappear completely. And yet, on this cool October night, his supernatural powers meant nothing.
Night. He stared out the leaded window into the darkness beyond. He had seen the moon’s rising every night for almost three hundred years but was forever denied the majestic beauty of dawn’s first light.
Perhaps it was time to watch the birth of a new day one last time.
Rising, he wandered through the narrow, dark halls of the house where he had resided for most of the last fifty years. It was a big old house located on a quiet street in a respectable part of the city. He’d had the interior remodeled twice; once simply because he tired of his surroundings and wanted a change and once when he had been thinking about selling the place and moving on.
Going into each room, he bid a silent farewell to the treasures he had collected during the course of his preternatural existence.
He paused now and then to run his hands over a few of the items he cherished for one reason or another—a small ivory statue of Venus, a life-sized grizzly bear carved from a single piece of redwood, a unicorn carved from a piece of onyx. He paused in front of his favorite painting. It depicted the sun rising over a clear mountain lake set in the midst of a pine tree forest. He gazed at it for several minutes, trying to remember what it had felt like to feel the warmth of the daystar on his face.
Moving into his library, he stood in front of the bookcase that reached from wall to wall and floor to ceiling. He had loved books ever since he learned to read, had spent years wandering the world to collect the ones that lined the shelves. Many of the books were rare editions; a few were first editions autographed by the authors. Some were so old they were in danger of disintegrating. A few were truly ancient, like the medieval Psalter that dated back to the fourteenth century. It was a beautiful work of art, carefully written and illustrated by hand. His collection also included a Bible handwritten by monks. Each page was in itself a work of art. He had other books and writings that were truly unique. Some were written on tree bark, others on bamboo or cloth or silk. One had been engraved on metal plates. He had a folding book that came from Burma. Called a parabaiks, it told the life of Buddha in words and pictures.
So many books. No ordinary mortal would ever have lived long enough to collect them all, let alone read them. But he had read them all at least once, some many more times than that. And this was only one bookcase of many located throughout the house.
He plucked a thick volume titled Ancient History and Myths, Fact or Fiction from a lower shelf. Dropping into a chair, he thumbed idly through the pages, skimming over the words and photographs until one particular image caught his attention. It was a small pen and ink drawing of a woman bound to a wooden stake. She was surrounded by a mob of angry men waving torches over their heads.
The caption under the drawing read: “The Burning of Brenna Flanagan, Accused of Witchcraft.”
He stared at the photo, captivated by her uncanny likeness to Atiyana. His beloved Atiyana. He closed his eyes for a moment, remembering the only woman he had ever loved. Atiyana, dead at the age of two and twenty and their newborn son with her. He had not known another’s love since her death, nor did he ever expect to love again, not now, when he was cursed with the Dark Trick.
Shaking off the memories, he turned his attention back to the book in his lap. The accompanying story claimed that Brenna Flanagan had been seen chanting and dancing naked in the moonlight numerous times. On one occasion, her neighbors alleged that dozens of toads had fallen from the heavens. On another occasion, they declared that lightning had split the skies, setting several cottages on fire. It was said that she had warned a local man to keep his pig from rooting around in her garden, and two days later the man had died. She had reportedly sold magic elixirs and charms to the locals, everything from love potions to a promised cure for spavins. Several young women claimed to have seen her flying through the skies.
Finally, the people in the village had had enough. Afraid that witchcraft would take over their small community, the way witches seemed to be overtaking the nearby towns of Andover and Salem, Brenna Flanagan had been arrested and tried, all in the same night. During the course of the hasty trial, she had been asked to identify the evil spirit she was in league with, and if she had made contact with the devil. She had denied being in league with the devil but her pleas had fallen on deaf ears. She had been convicted of being a witch. In Salem, witches were hanged, but the village folk wanted nothing left of their local witch. Brenna Flanagan had been burned at the stake and her ashes scattered in a mountain lake.
Frowning, his gaze settled on the drawing once more. Of course, it wasn’t a true photograph, just an artist’s rendition of the occurrence, and even though it was only a black and white sketch, she seemed alive somehow. He could feel the fear that sat like a lump of ice in the pit of her belly, the heat of the hungry flames as they licked at her ankles.
Rising, he searched his reference books, looking for her name, but to no avail. He found a great deal of information on the Salem witch hunts. From June of 1692 through September of that same year, nineteen men and women had been convicted of witchcraft, carted to Gallows Hill, and hanged. One man, over eighty years of age, had been pressed to death under heavy stones for refusing to submit to a trial. It had taken him two days to die, during which he had begged for “more weight” so that the end might come more quickly. In addition to the nineteen men and women, two dogs suspected of being “familiars” had also been executed.
Not one to be easily discouraged, Roshan fired up his computer. He knew that many of the old world vampires refused to embrace modern technology. They refused to learn new ways, refused to accept anything that had been invented after they had received the Dark Gift. Roshan was not one of them. He spent countless hours surfing the Web.
Going to the Internet, he typed Brenna Flanagan’s name into a search engine. Moments later, her name appeared. The info on the Web didn’t tell him anything new, but it did have what was purported to be a genuine portrait of the woman, supposedly painted by a man said to have been bewitched by her. A small notation said the artist, John Alfred Linder by name, had thrown himself off a cliff the day he learned of her death.
Roshan stared at the woman’s image, completely mesmerized by what he saw. In this portrait, done in color, her likeness to Atiyana was even more pronounced.
She was a rare beauty, was Brenna Flanagan, with hair as red as the flames that had taken her life, and beautiful green eyes flecked with gold. Eyes that held a soul-deep sadness. She had a small determined chin, a finely shaped nose, perfectly arched brows, and lips that begged to be kissed. Draped in a flowing white gown, she sat on a curved settee, her back straight. A large black cat with yellow eyes was curled up on her lap.
A witch, indeed, he thought wryly as he printed the picture. It seemed there was a cat in every movie and every story that involved witchcraft, though the only movie he could recall offhand was Bell, Book, and Candle, probably because he had long been a fan of the enchanting Kim Novak.
Cats were believed to embody demons that performed the witch’s tasks. Roshan remembered a scene in the movie where Kim Novak held her Siamese cat in her arms while humming an incantation to make James Stewart fall in love with her, though he couldn’t recall the cat’s name. Py-something. According to the movie, witches lost their powers when they fell in love. He wondered absently if there was any truth to that.
Reading on, he learned that it was believed a witch could take on the form of a cat nine times.
A section on witches’ familiars proved interesting. Such animals were usually cats, ferrets, dogs, or birds. A subsection talked about animals. It was believed that if a dog growled at an empty space, it meant a ghost was present. In Persia, dogs were associated with black magick and were believed to cause illness. Anyone who owned a dog could be accused of witchcraft. The ancient Egyptians believed that cats had souls. It was hypothesized that burying a rooster at the junction of three streams or at a crossroads would avert evil.
He looked at the date of Brenna Flanagan’s death and felt an odd shiver run down his spine. All Hallow’s Eve, 1692, the same night he was born, the night when the veil between good and evil, past and present, was said to be the thinnest.
He stared at her image until he felt the subtle shift in the air that signaled the coming of a new day, a faint tingling sensation that spread through every fiber of his body, warning him of the sun’s rising. It was a feeling he had experienced every night for almost three hundred years, a warning that it was time to seek his resting place.
He glanced toward the window, which was already growing light.
Today would be his last day.
Today, he would put an end to his cursed existence.
He would leave the protection of his house and watch the sun climb over the distant foothills. He would walk in the light of a new day one last time, feel its golden heat warm his preternaturally cool flesh until the near-forgotten pleasure turned to pain and it destroyed him. Like Brenna, he would meet his end in flames. It would, he thought, be a fitting introduction to the fires of an unforgiving hell that surely awaited him.
Rising, he put the book aside and walked out the front door. Descending the steps, he glanced over his shoulder for a last look at the house where he had lived for the last half-century. It was a big old house, with huge rooms and vaulted ceilings. It was his favorite of all the places he had occupied in his long existence.
Turning toward the east, he lifted his gaze toward the horizon, watching in awe as the rising sun painted the heavenly blue canvas with brilliant slashes of pink and lavender and ochre.
It seemed fitting that his last sunrise should be the most beautiful one he had ever seen.
The beauty of the sunrise was quickly forgotten as the sun’s blinding light scorched his eyes and blistered his skin. The pain was far worse than anything he had anticipated, and he cried out in agony as his clothing began to smoke and his skin to burn.
He closed his eyes and Brenna Flanagan’s image appeared before him. He groaned low in this throat, knowing this was how she must have felt when the flames began to lick her tender flesh.
“Brenna!” Her name was an anguished cry on his lips, a plea, a prayer.
He clenched his hands into tight fists. What madness was this? He couldn’t destroy himself, not now. He didn’t care what happened to the house or its furnishings, but he had made no provisions for the disposal of his library. He didn’t want his collection sold at auction, or worse, sold for a few paltry dollars at a yard sale. He had spent centuries gathering his collection. It must go to a museum where it would be appreciated, where it could be shared with others who would recognize its worth.
And what of Brenna Flanagan? How would he rest in peace when there was still more to learn about her? He had barely scratched the surface. He wanted to find out more about her, wanted to know everything there was to know.
Hastening back into the house, he slammed the door against the glaring brightness of a new day.
He stood in the entryway a moment and then, with a strangled cry, he dropped to his hands and knees. Head hanging, panting heavily, he crawled down the hallway toward the narrow door that led to his lair. Made of the same wood and design as the wall, the door was less than three feet high. Its size and design made it almost impossible to find unless one knew where to look. It led down to a rectangular-shaped room he had built underground. One wall of his lair shared a wall with the basement. Another wall had a door in it that opened into a wall of earth. It was Roshan’s bolt-hole. He could easily make his way up through the earth to the surface should the need arise.
Weakened by the rising sun and the excruciating pain that engulfed him, he hit the small lever that opened the hidden door and then, letting himself go limp, he rolled down the long, winding staircase until, with a gasp, he came to an abrupt halt at the bottom.
He lay there, too weak to move any farther. It took the last of his preternatural power to close and lock the door at the head of the stairs and then, with a low groan, he closed his eyes and surrendered to the darkness that dragged him down into blessed oblivion.
He rose with the setting sun, the burns from the day before nearly healed by the restorative powers of the Dark Sleep.
For the next two weeks, Roshan spent every waking moment searching for more information on the woman in the photograph. Brenna Flanagan. He haunted every library and museum within a thousand miles, scoured every search engine on the Web, saving every scrap of information that he found, though the available facts were pitifully few.
No one knew for sure where she had been born but it was presumed she had been born in Ireland. She had never married. It was said that she had never known love, that she had lived a solitary life and died a maiden, untouched by the hand of man.
“Who were you, Brenna Flanagan?” he wondered aloud. “Why did you live such a lonely life?”
Now, sitting in his favorite high-backed chair in front of the fireplace, Roshan was overcome with grief that one so young and lovely had met such a horrible fate. He stared at the flames crackling in the hearth, remembering how the sun’s heat had scorched his own flesh. Her agony, endured to the point of death, would have lasted far longer and been infinitely worse.
Leaning forward, he braced his elbows on his knees and laced his fingers together. Like it or not, impossible or not, he was becoming obsessed with the need to see her, to know her. He was a supernatural creature, capable of feats beyond the powers and abilities of mere humans. He could change his shape. He could move faster than the human eye could follow. He had the strength of twenty mortal men. He could, simply by closing his eyes and willing it so, transport himself from one place to another, no matter what the distance.
“If I can transport myself across the world, why not into the past?” he mused aloud. Her past, of course. And if it was possible, would his going back in time change the future in any way?
He found the idea of time travel fascinating and he bought every book of fiction and non-fiction that he could find on the subject, and over the course of the next week and a half he read them all.
According to Einstein, space was curved, time was relative, and time travel was possible.
Stephen Hawking conjectured that the laws of physics disallowed the possibility of a time machine. One of his arguments was that, since we were not overrun with thousands of time travelers from the future, time travel was impossible.
Carl Sagan had several interesting ideas on the subject. His first was that it might be possible to build a time machine that could travel into the future, but not into the past. His second theory was that it might be possible to travel into the past, but that the farther back in time you went, the more expensive it got, and that the prohibitive cost had, thus far, prevented time travelers from making it back to the twenty-first century. Sagan’s third idea was that time travel might be possible but you could only travel back to the time when a time machine was invented, and since we hadn’t invented one yet, time travelers couldn’t reach us.
Sagan went on to speculate that time travelers were already here, only we couldn’t see them because they had invisibility cloaks, or that they were here and people did see them, only they were called something else, like ghosts or goblins or aliens. Sagan also mentioned the possibility that time travel was perfectly possible but would require a tremendous advance in our technology and that civilization would destroy itself before time travel was invented.
There was talk of black holes and white holes in space, and worm holes, which, if Roshan understood what he was reading correctly, were the hypothetical theoretical connection between the two.
One book put forth the theory that the past was totally defined, meaning that everything that had already happened or was supposed to happen was set in stone and could not be changed or undone. The author went on to say that if a man traveled back in time and tried to kill his grandfather, he would not be allowed to do so, that constant mishaps would prevent him from doing away with his grandfather, thus keeping the future intact.
A second theory held that if a man went back in time and killed his grandfather, it would immediately create a new quantum universe which would, in essence, be a parallel universe where the grandfather never existed and where the grandson had never been born. The original universe would still remain.
Another theory said that a man could not travel backward to a time when he didn’t exist.
Even though Roshan didn’t plan to use a time machine, the more he read on the subject of time travel, the more fascinated he became. He watched a number of movies about time travel—Kate and Leopold, The Time Machine, Contact, which had been written by Carl Sagan, and Somewhere in Time. The last was by far his favorite, perhaps because the hero in the film fell in love with a woman in a photograph. Not that he was in love with Brenna Flanagan. Vampires did not fall in love with mortals. It was the height of folly to do so. No sane vampire revealed what he was to another, not if he valued his existence.
No, he was not in love with Brenna Flanagan. He would never love again, but she had given him a new interest in life, a goal, however impossible it might be to achieve, to look forward to, and that was something he hadn’t had in far too long. For that alone, he would save her life, should he be able to do so.
But before he attempted something most mortals considered impossible, he would need to be at his preternatural best, so to speak, and for that, he would need to feed.
Leaving the house, he ghosted through the darkness, a whisper of movement unseen and unheard by those he passed until he reached his favorite hunting ground in the city. As a young vampire, he had hunted among the poor and downtrodden. Hiding in doorways, lurking in shadows, he had preyed upon the dregs of humanity. But as he grew older and wiser, he left the slums behind and went hunting among the rich, the elite, those who dined at expensive restaurants and frequented exclusive clubs. They drove costly automobiles or rode in luxurious stretch limos. They lived in million-dollar houses behind high walls and electric fences and thought themselves safe from the rest of the world.
It was so easy to breach their puny mortal defenses, to probe their minds while they slept, to call them to him. Under his spell, they left their lavish chambers. Drawn by his voice, unable to resist his power, they came to him, willingly offering themselves up to him so that he might quench his insatiable thirst. The blood of the rich was ever so much sweeter than that of the poor. The skin of the wealthy smelled of soap instead of vomit, their hair was squeaky clean instead of matted with filth, their breath was sweet and clean, not sour with cheap wine.
The house he chose this night was like all the others on the street—large and well kept behind a high stone wall. He vaulted over the barrier effortlessly and made his way to the rear of the house. A middle-aged woman slept alone in a room on the ground floor. A servant perhaps. He gently probed her mind for her name, then called her to him.
Moments later, she was walking toward him, a tall, slender woman, her bare feet peeking out from beneath a blue cotton nightgown. Eyes open but unseeing, she made her way toward him.
The scent of her blood called to him; his fangs lengthened as she drew near. She offered no resistance when he drew her into his arms. Her body was warm, pliant as he bent her back over his arm.
“Do not be afraid, Monica,” he whispered. “I will not hurt you.”
He brushed her hair aside, stroked the smoothness of her throat with his fingertips, then lowered his head to her neck. Her sweetness filled his mouth as his fangs pierced her tender flesh. In the beginning, after he knew what he had become, he had been certain that feeding would be repugnant, had feared he would perish rather than succumb to the hunger that compelled him to such repulsive behavior. Ah, how wrong he had been!
He drank his fill, erased the memory of what had happened from her mind, and sent her back to bed.
After leaving the estate, he spent the next few hours wandering through the deep shadows of the night, listening to the sounds that mortals never heard—the whisper of a spider spinning its web, the sighing of the earth as it turned, the sleepy moan of a tree as it stretched its branches toward the sky.
It was a beautiful thing, the night, with a life and a soul of its own. He had wandered the world by the light of the moon, marveling at the wonders of the ages—the Great Pyramid of Giza, the Sphinx, ancient castles and cathedrals and bridges built by men long turned to dust. He had seen the invention of so many modern wonders—cars and airplanes, computers and satellites, bombs capable of wiping out the whole of civilization.
So many things that, in his time, had been impossible, undreamed of, or even imagined. When he had walked the earth as a mortal man, there had been no time or thought for anything but the work of surviving from day to day. There had been sheep and cattle to tend, seed to be sown, weeds to uproot, crops to be watered and harvested. In those days, he had worked alon. . .
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