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n two centuries of living death, Eric Marquand had never once cried out against the cruel fate that had condemned him to walk forever in shadow. But then, he found the woman he knew was his chosen one--and understood that to possess her was to destroy her… Tamara Dey trembled at the aura of dread and despair that enshrouded this creature of the night. And yet, against all reason, she saw clearly that her destiny was eternally entwined with his, and that she must know--even welcome--the terror and the splendor of the vampire's kiss… For centuries, loneliness has haunted them from dusk to dawn. Yet now, from out of the darkness, shines the light of eternal life…eternal love.
Desires and Adorations,
Winged Persuasions and veiled Destinies,
Splendours, Glooms, and glimmering Incarnations
Of hopes and fears, and twilight Phantasies;
And Sorrow, with her family of Sighs,
And Pleasure, blind with tears, led by the gleam
Of her own dying smile instead of eyes,
Came in slow pomp.
-Percy Bysshe Shelley
March 20, 1793
The stub of a tallow candle balanced on a ledge of cold stone, its flame casting odd, lively shadows. The smell of burning tallow wasn't a pleasant one, but far more pleasant than the other aromas hanging heavily all around him. Damp, musty air. Thick green fungus growing over roughen stone walls. Rat droppings. Filthy human bodies. Until tonight, Eric had been careful to conserve the tallow, well aware he'd be allowed no more. Tonight there was no need. At dawn, he'd face the guillotine.
Eric closed his eyes against the dancing shadows that seemed to mock him and drew his knees closer to his chest. At the far end of the cell, a man coughed in awful spasms. Closer, someone moaned and turned in his sleep. Only Eric sat awake this night. The others would face death, as well, but not tomorrow. He wondered again whether his father had suffered this way in the hours before his appointed time. He wondered whether his mother and younger sister, Jaqueline, had made it across the Channel to safety. He'd held the bloodthirsty peasants off as long as he'd been able. If the women were safe, he'd consider it well worth the sacrifice of his own pathetic life. He'd never been quite like other people, anyway. Always considered odd. In his own estimation, he would not be greatly missed. His thirty-five years had been spent, for the most part, alone.
His stomach convulsed, and he bent lower, suppressing a groan. Neither food nor drink had passed his lips in three days. The swill they provided here would kill him more quickly than starvation. Perhaps he'd die before they could behead him. The thought of depriving the bastards of their barbaric entertainment brought a painful upward curve to his parched lips.
The cell door opened with a great groan, but Eric did not look up. He'd learned better than to draw attention to himself when the guards came looking for a bit of sport. But it wasn't a familiar voice he heard, and it was far too civilized to belong to one of those illiterate pigs.
“Leave us! I'll call when I've finished here.” The tone held an authority that commanded obedience. The door closed with a bang, and still, Eric didn't move.
Footsteps came nearer and stopped. “Come, Marquand, I haven't all night.”
He tried to swallow but felt only dry sand in his throat. He lifted his face slowly. The man before him smiled, absently stroking the elaborately knotted silk cravat at his throat. The candlelight made his black hair gleam like a raven's wing, but his eyes glowed even darker. “Who are you?” Eric managed. Speaking hurt his throat after so many days without uttering a word or downing a drop.
“I am Roland. I've come to help you, Eric. Get to your feet. There isn't much time.”
“Monsieur, if this is a prank-”
“I assure you, it is no prank.” He reached to grasp Eric's upper arm, and with a tug that seemed to cost him minimal effort at best, he jerked Eric to his feet.
“You-you don't even know me. Why would a stranger wish to help me now? 'Would be a risk to your own freedom. Besides, there is naught to be done. My sentence is passed. I die on the morrow. Keep your head, friend. Leave here now.”
The man called Roland listened to Eric's hoarse speech, then nodded slowly. “Yes, you are a worthy one, aren't you? Speak to me no more, lad. I can see it pains you. You'd do better to listen. I do know you. I've known you from the time you drew your first breath.”
Eric gasped and took a step away from the man. A sense of familiarity niggled at his brain. He fumbled for the candle without taking his eyes from Roland, and when he gripped it, he held it up. “What you say is quite impossible, monsieur. Surely you have mistaken me for someone else.” He blinked in the flickering light, still unable to place the man in his memory.
Roland sighed as if in frustration, and blocked the candlelight from his face with one hand. “Get that thing out of my face, man. I tell you I know you. I tell you I've come to help, and yet you argue. Can it be you are eager to have your head in a basket?” Eric moved the candle away, and Roland lowered the hand and faced him again. “In your fourth year, you fell into the Channel. Nearly drowned, Eric. Have you no memory of the man who pulled you, dripping, from the cold water? On the eve of your tenth birthday celebration, you were nearly flattened by a runaway carriage. Do you not recall the man who yanked you from the path of those hooves?”
The truth of the man's words hit Eric like a blow, and he flinched. The face is so white it appeared chalked, the eyes so black one couldn't see where the iris ended and the pupil began-it was the face of the man who'd been there at both those times, he realized, though he wished to deny it. Something about the man struck him as afraid.
“You mustn't fear me, Eric Marquand. I am your friend. You must believe that.”
The dark gaze bored into Eric as the man spoke in a tone that was oddly hypnotic. Eric felt himself relax. “I believe, and I am grateful. But a friend is of little use to me now. I know not even the number of hours left me. Is it fully dark yet?”
“It is, lad, else I could not be here. But time is short, dawn comes soon. It took longer than I anticipated to bribe the guards to allow me this visit. If you want to live, you must trust me and do as I say without question.” He paused, arching his brows and awaiting a response.
Eric only nodded, unable to think of the confusion in his brain.
“Good, then,” Roland said. “Now, remove the cravat.”
Eric worked at the ragged, dirty linen with leaden fingers. “Tell me what you plan, monsieur.”
“I plan to see to it that you do not die,” he said simply, as if it were already done.
“I fear no one can prevent tomorrow's fate.” Eric finally loosed the knot and slid the cravat from his neck.
“You will not die, Eric. Tomorrow, or any other day. Come here.”
Eric's feet seemed to become one with the floor. He couldn't have stepped forward had he wanted to. His eyes widened and he felt his throat tighten.
“I know your fear, man, but think! Am I more fearsome than the guillotine!” He shouted it, and Eric stiffened and looked around him, but not one body stirred.
“Why-why don't they wake?” Roland came forward then, gripping his shoulders. “I don't understand. Why don't they wake?” Eric asked again.
The guard pounded on the door. “Time's up!”
“Five minutes more!” Roland's voice boomed, nearly, Eric thought, rattling the walls. “I'll make it worth your while, man! Now go!”
Eric heard the guard grumble, and then his footsteps shuffle away from the door as he called, “Two minutes, then. No more.”
“Blast it, lad. It has to be done. Forgive me for not finding a way to make it less frightening!” With those words, Roland pulled Eric to him with unnatural strength. He pressed Eric's head back with the flat of one hand, and even as Eric struggled to free himself, Roland's teeth sank into his throat.
When he opened his mouth to release a scream of unbridled horror, something wet sealed his lips. It sickened him when he understood that it was a wrist, gashed open and pulsing blood. Roland forced the severed vein to him, and Eric had no choice but to swallow the vile fluid that filled his mouth.
Vile? No. But warm and salty. With the first swallow came the shocking realization that he wanted more. What was happening to him? Had he lost his sanity? Yes! He must have, for here he was, allowing another man's blood to assuage his painful hunger, his endless thirst. He didn't even cower when the word rushed through his brain like a chilling breeze. Vampire. Fear filled his heart even as Roland's blood filled his body. He felt himself weakening, sinking into a dark abyss from which he wanted no escape. It was a far better death than the one the dawn would bring. The blood drugged him, and Roland stepped away.
Eric couldn't stand upright. He felt emptied of everything in him, and he sank to the floor. He didn't feel the impact. His head floated somewhere above him and his skin pricked with a million invisible needles. “Wh-what have you d-done to me?” He had to force the words out, and they slurred together as if he were drunk. He couldn't feel his tongue anymore.
“Sleep, my son. When next you wake, you will be free of this cell. I promise you that. Sleep.”
Eric fought to keep his eyes from closing, but they did. Vaguely, he felt cold hands replacing his soiled cravat. Then he heard Roland pound on the door and call for the guard.
“He'll not live long enough for his execution, I fear.” Roland's voice seemed to come from far away.
“The hell, you say! He was fine!”
“Look for yourself, man. See how he lies there? Dead before the dawn, I'll wager. I'll send a coach for the body. See to it, will you?”
“For a price, sir.”
“Here, then. And there will be more to follow if you do it precisely as I say.”
“Well, now, if he dies, as you say, I'll see he gets in your coach. But if not, I'll be here to see he keeps his other appointment. Either way, he ends up the same. In the ground, eh, mister?” Harsh laughter filled the cell and the door slammed.
In the dream,m she was running. From something, toward something. Someone. She plunged through a dense forest woven with vines and brambles that clawed at her legs, snared her, and pulled her back. Swirls of smoky mist writhed, serpent-like, around her calves. She couldn't even see where her feet touched the ground. All the while she kept calling for him, but, as always, when she woke she couldn't remember his name.
Jet hair stuck to her face, glued there by tears and perspiration. Her lungs swelled like those of a marathon runner after a race. She dragged in breath after ragged breath. Her heart felt ready to explode. Her head spun in ever-tightening circles and she had to close her eyes tightly against the horrible dizziness. She sat up quickly, pushing the damp hair from her forehead, and glanced at the clock beside the bed and then at the fading light beyond the window.
She needn't have done so. The dream assaulted her at the same time each day, just o
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