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Heart of Darkness
In all his four hundred years, Rayven had never met a woman like Rhianna McLeod. She was a vision of light, of warmth, of everything he was not - nor could ever be. Doomed to live forever in darkness and solitude, he knew all too well the risk in getting close to her, yet he hungered for her with a fierce passion he swore he'd never allow himself to feel.


Rhianna's father had sold her to Rayven to put food on the table -so she had no choice but to go with the dark stranger. To her surprise, he gave her everything she wanted -the finest clothes, education, and the run of the castle - everything, that is, except his touch. For although she sensed danger beneath his soft-spoken manner, although even Rayven himself warned her away, she was drawn to this creature of the night, and loved him as she would no other.


He had always loved the night. His favorite pastimes - drinking, gambling, the pursuit of a beautiful woman - were best accomplished in the hours of darkness.


The best times of his life had been spent in dimly-lit saloons and smoky gambling dens, or in lush candlelit bedrooms. But that had been long ago.


Only now did he fully understand what he had lost when the light had been taken from him. Because she was like the sun - bright, warm, beautiful.


And, like the sun, she could never be his.


Chapter 1

I hide in the shadows
and lust for the light
For I am Vampyre
forever imprisoned by the night.


Millbrae Valley, 1843

Rayven sat back in his chair, trying unsuccessfully to mask his disgust as he watched Vincent McLeod attempt to auction off the eldest of his five daughters.


Head down, hands limp at her sides, the girl stood mute, like a beast bound for slaughter. Her hair, a dull dirty blond, tumbled over her shoulders, hiding her face as effectively as the shapeless gray dress hid the body beneath.


"See here, Rayven," Montroy complained. "Can't we have a little more light?"


Rayven shook his head. The room was dark, and he liked it that way - dark wood paneled the walls, a dark green carpet covered the floor, matching draperies hung at the windows, the lamps were turned low, as always. Anyone who shared the back room of Cotyer's Tavern with him knew he avoided bright light. It was one of his many quirks, one the rich young men of the town endured for the sake of being in his rather questionable company.


"Well, if we can't turn up the lamps, then have the girl disrobe," Lord Tewksbury called from the back of the room. "I refuse to bid on a pig in a poke."


"Aye," Nevel Jackson agreed, "tell the girl to peel off those rags so we can see what we're buying."


The call was taken up around the room. Vincent McLeod hesitated, then whispered something to the girl. Head still bowed, she began to unlace the bodice of her dress.


Rayven watched through narrowed eyes, noticing the way the girl's hands trembled as she unfastened the shabby frock. Though he could not see her face, he knew her cheeks were flushed with embarrassment, knew her heart was pounding like that of a fawn caught in the jaws of a wolf.


"Enough." Just one word, softly spoken, but it carried throughout the room.


"See here, Rayven," Tewksbury protested. "I think..."


Rayven silenced him with a quelling glance. "The girl is mine," he declared, having decided, in that moment, to buy her, though he still had not seen her face.


"Seeking a new mistress?" Lord Montroy inquired.




"A house maid, perhaps?"


Rayven met Montroy's gaze. Dallon Montroy was a tall, good-looking man, almost as wealthy as Rayven himself. Of all the men Rayven gambled with, Montroy came closest to being a friend.


Ignoring the viscount's question, Rayven waved to the old man. "Bring her here."


"Aye, milord." Hastily, Vincent McLeod grabbed his daughter by the arm and dragged her across the room. "You won't be disappointed, milord. She'll serve you well."


"Yes," Rayven murmured. "She will, indeed."


Reaching into his pocket, Rayven brought out a handful of bank notes and thrust them at the other man. "Has she a name?"

"Of course, my lord. It's Rhianna, but she'll answer to anything you wish to call her."


"You know where I live?"


"Aye, sir." Everyone knew of Rayven's castle. Located on top of Devil Tree Mountain, it stood like a sentinel over the town, tall, dark, and imposing, like its master.


"Take her there. My man will look after her."


"Aye, milord."


Rayven waved his hand in a gesture of dismissal. Turning back to the game, he picked up his cards. "You lose again, Montroy," he drawled softly, and spread his hand on the table.


Dallon Montroy tossed his cards into the pot. "Seems to be your lucky night," he remarked good-naturedly.


Rayven grunted softly. "Perhaps you're right," he mused as he shuffled the cards and dealt a new hand. "Perhaps you're right."