Authors: Amanda Ashley
Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #Fantasy
Embrace the Night
books by Amanda Ashley:
SHADES OF GRAY
A DARKER DREAM
DEEPER THAN THE NIGHT
EMBRACE THE NIGHT
Love and hugs to Ashley and Amanda Baker, the
sweetest granddaughters in the whole wide world!
May all your dreams and wishes come true!
A LEISURE BOOK® April 1998
Dorchester Publishing Co., Inc. 276 Fifth Avenue New York, NY 10001
If you purchased this book without a cover you should be aware that this book is stolen property. It was reported as "unsold and destroyed" to the publisher and neither the author nor the publisher has received any payment for this "stripped book."
Copyright © 1995 by Madeline Baker
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including photocopying, recording or by any information storage and retrieval system, without the written permission of the Publisher, except where permitted by law.
The name "Leisure Books" and the stylized "L" with design are trademarks of Dorchester Publishing Co., Inc.
Printed in the United States of America.
The single headstone stood on a small rise, the luminous white marble glowing like a beacon in the gathering darkness. A thick gray mist rose up from the ground to meet the lowering clouds, but he needed no light to find his way to the grave site, or to read the inscription on the stone.
SARA JAYNE DUNCAN OGNIBENE
1865 to 1940
Gone From This Earth
Yet She Abides Forever
In My Heart
Sara. They had shared more than fifty years together. Had there been fifty more, a hundred more, it would not have been enough. She had filled the emptiness in his life, brightened the darkness that dwelled in the abyss of his accursed soul.
He groaned softly, experiencing the pain of her death anew.
The question, torn from the depths of his heart, echoed in the stillness.
Why, why, why…
He cursed himself for letting her go, and yet, loving her as he did, he'd had no other choice.
"Sara, beloved, come back to me."
The pain of their separation pierced him anew, as sharp as it had been the night she died in his arms.
His hand caressed the cold marble headstone, then came to rest on the earth that covered her remains. But the woman he had loved more than his own life was gone. Her soul, her essence, had departed the earth, bound for that heaven that was forever denied him.
The other half of his heart.
His solace in a dark and lonely world.
why did you leave me? Was my existence so repugnant you could not share it
He groaned, deep in his soul, knowing he was being unfair. From the beginning, she had accepted him for what he was. Loved him with every fiber of her being, with every beat of her heart. Whatever anguish he was suffering now was not because of Sara's decision, but because of who, and what, he was.
Pressing his cheek to the damp grass, he closed his eyes, remembering how it all began…
He had been observing her for the last thirteen years, watching, from the shadows, as the cumbersome braces on her slender legs were changed again and again. A weakness in the lower limbs, the doctors said. That was what kept her from walking.
He had seen the hope fade from her wide blue eyes as she accepted the fact that she would never run and play like the other girls who lived in the orphanage. Later, as she grew older, he had felt her despair as she realized that she would probably never marry or have children, that she would likely live out her days alone, with no one to love her, no family to mourn her, or remember her when she was gone.
He was the only one who sensed the true depths of her despair, her heartache, the only one who knew how she yearned to run in the golden light of the sun, to walk in the silver shadow of the moon.
He was the one who heard the sound of her muffled tears in the dark of the night. For others, she put on a brave face, but alone in her room, she wept bitter tears—tears that ate at his soul like acid.
He had never intended for her to know of his existence. Never. He had wanted only to watch over her, an unseen phantom who shared her loneliness and, in so doing, eased his own.
So it was that he was lingering in the shadows outside her room late one summer night.
He knew she had spent the afternoon sitting in the park across from the orphanage, watching the younger children at play, watching the couples old and young stroll hand in hand along the tree-lined path.
Watching life pass her by.
She had skipped dinner and gone to bed early that evening, only to lie awake long after everyone else in the house was asleep. A single candle burned at her bedside, its flickering light casting pale shadows over her face.
Now, hovering in the shadows on the veranda, he felt his heart ache. She was talking to herself, her voice low and soft, but not so low he could not hear it.
"You can do it, Sara Jayne," she said, her voice tinged with determination. "I know you can. The doctors could be wrong!"
For the next five minutes, he watched her struggle to inch her way to the edge of the bed, watched as she pulled herself to a sitting position, scooting over to the edge of the bed until her legs dangled over the side, her feet touching the floor.
"You can do it." Taking a deep breath, she clutched the newel post at the head of the bed and pulled herself to her feet.
For a brief moment, she stood there, her brow sheened with perspiration, and then, bravely, she let go of the post.
He bit off a curse as her legs gave way and she dropped to the floor.
"It's hopeless," she murmured, her voice thick with despair. "No one's ever going to adopt me." She dashed the tears from her eyes. "Or love me. I'll spend the rest of my life in this place and never do any of the things other girls do. I'll never marry. Or have children…"
She sat there for several minutes, staring at the floor, her shoulders slumped in resignation.
It grieved him to see her steeped in such anguish. She had always tried so hard to be cheerful, to be brave. She was a beautiful young girl, on the verge of womanhood. Who could blame her for feeling that life was passing her by?
He longed to go to her, to take her in his arms and give her the comfort, the reassurance, she so desperately needed, but he dared not reveal himself.
He was about to turn away when she reached under her pillow and withdrew a small brown bottle. She stared at the bottle for a long moment, a pensive expression on her face.
And he knew, in that moment, that she intended to end her life.
Without thinking of the consequences, he barged into the room.
Sara Jayne glanced up, startled, as a tall man swept into her bedchamber. He was dressed all in black, from his soft leather boots to the heavy woolen cloak that swirled around him like a dark cloud.
His voice was like ebony satin, soft, mesmerizing.
Sara clutched the bottle to her breast. "Don't what?"
"Don't take your life, Sara."
She blinked up at him, too surprised by his unexpected intrusion in her room, and by his knowledge of what she intended to do, to be alarmed. "Who are you?"
"No one of importance."
"What were you doing out on the veranda?"
frightened her. He saw it in the way she shrank back against the pillows, in the sudden widening of her eyes as she realized that she was alone, and helpless.
"Watching me? Why?"
"I have watched over you since you were a child."
She smiled then, a faint expression of amusement and disbelief. "Are you my guardian angel?"
"And is your name Gabriel?"
He ignored the sarcasm in her voice. "If you wish."
She glanced at the bottle in her hand. "And have you come to take me to heaven?"
"No," he said sadly. "That I could never do."
"To hell then?"
He shook his head. His sweet Sara would never see hell, he mused, unless she looked into the depths of his eyes.
On silent feet, he closed the distance between them, and took the bottle from her hand.
Too late, she tried to snatch it back.
"No, Sara," he said, shoving the bottle into the pocket of his trousers. "I'll not let you take your own life. Not now. Not ever."
"I have no life," she retorted bitterly. "I've never been anything but a burden, first to my family, and now to the sisters who must take care of me."
"That's not true."
"It is! Don't you think I know it is? Why else would my mother have abandoned me?"
"Sara." He whispered her name, stricken by the depths of the pain in her eyes.
"I'm nothing but a burden," she said again. "The sisters say they love me, but I know they'd be relieved if I was gone."
"Ah, my poor sweet Sara," he murmured, and before he quite realized what he was doing, he was sitting on the edge of the bed, drawing her into his arms.
How lovely she was, with her silky blond hair and eyes as blue as a robin's egg. Sweet Sara Jayne. So lovely. So fragile.
He held her close, surprised that she didn't pull away. Instead, she burrowed into his arms, her face pressed to his chest. He felt her shoulders shake, felt her tears soaking through his shirt, the moisture warm and damp upon the coolness of his skin.
He held her, rocking her gently, until she fell asleep. And even then he was reluctant to let her go.
He cradled her to his chest until the first faint hint of dawn brightened the
sky. Only then did he lower her to the bed. He gazed down at her for a long moment, and then he drew the quilt over her.