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 Brenna, 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, it is Brenna's seductive innocence and sense of wonder that 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.
Drowning in an ocean of loneliness and bitter despair, Roshan DeLongpre sat in front of the huge stone hearth, staring into the fire. The flames were vibrant, crackling with life, brilliant reds and yellows, dazzling blues and greens. He saw each dancing finger of flame in perfect clarity, each subtle shade and hue. Fire. His greatest enemy next to the clear golden light of day.
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 some how. 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 off-hand 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 sub-section 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, he 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.
OTHER VAMPIRE ROMANCES BY AMANDA ASHLEY
Embrace the Night
Deeper Than the Night
A Darker Dream
Shades of Gray
A Whisper of Eternity
Desire After Dark
Bound by Night
Bound by Blood