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Authors: Amanda Ashley

Moonlight

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Moonlight

Amanda
Ashley

 

Blush Sensuality Level: This is
a suggestive romance (love scenes are not graphic).

 

Navarre is struggling with his
lifetime of solitude. Turned into a vampire long ago, he longs to meet a woman
who will love him. Little does he know, she waits for him in a local bookstore.
And when he finds her, he’ll never let her go.

 

A Blush®
contemporary paranormal romance
from
Ellora’s Cave

 

Moonlight
Amanda Ashley

 

PART I
Chapter One

The Isle of Mikos

 

He had spent his whole life in a cage. As a child, he hadn’t
questioned it, it was simply the way things were, the way they had always been.

He had learned to crawl, then walk, then run, on the hard,
cold stones.

In truth, it wasn’t a cage at all, but a large, square room
made entirely of rough-hewn gray stone except for the door, which was built of
wood reinforced with thick, iron straps. There were two beds, two chairs, a
table, a shelf filled with scrolls that contained the learning of the
Kenn—scrolls that were changed each year. A single, iron-barred window was set
high in the east wall.

The days passed slowly. His mother, Isobele, read to him
from the scrolls for hours at a time. She was the center of his world, his
life. He had no contact with anyone else save the guards who twice-daily brought
them food and water. The guards never spoke to Navarre, never made eye contact
with him. Only on rare occasions did they speak to his mother.

As Navarre grew older, Isobele taught him to read and write
and cipher.

Once, he heard her mutter something under her breath,
something about it being a waste of time to teach him to read and learn his
numbers.

“Why, Mother?” he had asked. “Why is it a waste of time to
teach me these things?”

She had knelt down to face him, her expression filled with
kindness. “What do you mean, Navarre?”

“I heard what you said. Why is it a waste of time for me to
learn to read, to write?”

“I didn’t say that.”

“You did!” He had stared at her, wondering why she was lying
to him. She had never lied to him before.

“No, Navarre,” she had insisted, not meeting his eyes, “you
must have misunderstood me.”

He hadn’t argued with her, but later that night, when she
thought he was asleep, he had seen her standing at the window. The moonlight
cast silver highlights in her long blonde hair. The sound of her muffled sobs
had brought tears to his own eyes.

Sometimes she held him up to the window so he could look
out. As a young child, he had spent hours imagining what it would be like to
run through the tall grass, climb the towering trees, play in the clear blue
river. Far in the distance, like a castle in a fairy tale, stood a gold-domed
building made of sparkling white stone known as Stone Hall Keep.

Sometimes men clothed in long gray robes came to the window
to stare in at Navarre, their pale blue eyes filled with curiosity and a
strange kind of awe that bordered on fear.

“Why do they look at me like that?” he asked one day.

“They stare at you because you’re such a handsome boy,”
Isobele replied. She turned her head away, but not before he saw there were
tears in her eyes again.

“Handsome?”

“Oh, yes,” Isobele said. “You look just like your father.”

“Father?” Navarre knew what a father was, of course, from
the scrolls he had read. But it had never occurred to him that he must have had
one.

Isobele nodded. “He was a very handsome man, your father. He
had blue-black hair, just like yours. And his eyes were the same shade of smoky
gray. When you are fully grown, you’ll be tall and broad-shouldered, just as he
was.”

“Where is my father? Why does he never come to see me? What
is his name?”

“Your father is dead.” Isobel took a deep breath. “You are
named after him.”

“I am?”

She nodded, a faraway look in her eyes.

“How did my father die?”

Isobele felt the color drain from her face. She had always
known she would have to answer this question one day, but, even so, she was not
prepared. How did you tell a child that his father had been sacrificed to a
heathen god? How could she tell her son that he was destined to meet the same
cruel fate?

“Mother?” He looked at her through eyes far older than his
years as he waited for her reply.

“Do we have to speak of it now?” Isobele glanced out the
window. “Look, the vixen is outside, playing with her babes.”

“How did my father die?”

Hands clenched at her sides, she said, “He was sacrificed to
the goddess Shaylyn.”

Navarre frowned. “Sacrificed? I don’t understand.”

“Please, Navarre,” she pleaded. “Let us not speak of it now.”

“When, then?”

“When you are older.”

“How old?”

“When you have seen thirteen summers.”

Another year, he thought. Certainly he could wait another
year.

In the meantime, there were other questions crowding his
mind, questions he had never considered before. It was as if his first query
had unleashed an avalanche.

“Why do we live in this place? Why can’t I go outside?”
Suddenly restless, he began to pace the room. “Where do those other people
live, the ones who come to stare at me?” He glanced down at his hands. “Why is
their skin so light when ours is dark? How long will we have to stay here?”

He looked at his mother, eager for answers, only to find her
staring at him, her face drained of color, her dark blue eyes filled with
sorrow that seemed to have no end and no beginning.

“I’m sorry, Navarre,” she murmured, her voice thick. “So
sorry. I didn’t want this for you. I tried to kill myself, but they stopped me.
Your father…” She took a deep breath. “He tried not to touch me, but they
drugged him…”

“What are you saying?”

Isobele fell to her knees before her son. Her hands shook as
she clasped his. “Forgive me, Navarre, please forgive me.”

“I don’t understand.”

He was looking down at her, looking at her through eyes
exactly like his father’s. How could she explain? How could she make him
understand?

“We are kept in this place because we are prisoners,
Navarre. Your father was born here, just as his father before him, and his
father before that.”

“Were you born here, too?”

“No.” She released Navarre’s hands and sank back on her
heels, her thoughts turned inward. “I was kidnapped by the Kenn when I was sixteen.
Your father and I were imprisoned until the day of your birth, and then your
father was taken to the Temple of Shaylyn and sacrificed to the goddess.”

Isobele closed her eyes, the memories she had sought to keep
at bay flooding her mind as she related the story to her son. It was the way of
the Kenn, to sacrifice a living male to the goddess Shaylyn every five and
twenty years in the belief that such a sacrifice would insure the goddess’s
continued benevolence, but the sacrifice must be a man who had proven his
virility by siring a male child.

Since time out of mind, the Kenn had raised men who were
destined to be sacrificed. Men who were pure in heart and mind and body because
they were never exposed to evil.

For a year, she had been locked in a cage across from
Navarre’s father. They had been able to see each other, to speak to each other,
but never allowed to touch, until the year he was four and twenty.

Aware of what the future held for him and any male child he
sired, Navarre had refused to bed Isobele, but the priests of Shaylyn had
drugged him with a powerful aphrodisiac. She had been horrified when they
brought him to her. His deep gray eyes had been glazed with lust, his body
ready. She had been frightened of him then. That night, he had not been the
gentle man she had grown to love, but a stranger, a man who had no regard for
her virginity, no thought at all save to appease his drug-induced lust.

Her protests had fallen on deaf ears, and he had possessed
her over and over again, every night for the next fortnight, until his seed had
taken root, and then she had been taken away, never to see him again.

He had been sacrificed to the goddess on his twenty-fifth
birthday.

And now her son was destined to meet the same fate. When
Navarre became of age, he would be mated to a virgin and then, when his son was
safely born, Navarre would be sacrificed to the goddess Shaylyn.

Isobele opened her eyes to find her son staring down at her,
a look of horror etched on his handsome young face.

“They are going to sacrifice me, too, aren’t they?”

She couldn’t say the words, but he read the truth in her
eyes.

“How?” he asked. “What manner of sacrifice is it?”

Isobele shook her head. “I know not, Navarre. All I know is
that they took me away and I never saw your father again.”

All that night, Navarre thought of what his mother had told
him, more and more questions crowding his mind. But he had no chance to ask
them.

The next morning, when he woke, his mother was gone, and he
was alone in the cage.

Chapter Two

 

Years passed, and he thought he would go mad from the
loneliness. And the waiting. The gray-robed men still came to stare at him, but
they never spoke to him, and when he tried to talk to them, they turned away,
almost as if they were afraid. Or ashamed.

Did they know he was to be sacrificed? Was that why they
refused to speak to him? But then, no one spoke to him. Not the guards who
stood outside the door, not the man who brought him food twice each day, nor
the man who emptied the slop jar every morning and changed the rough linens on
his narrow cot once each week.

His mother had spoken of being sacrificed, but she hadn’t
known the method of execution. His dreams, heretofore only vague fantasies of
being free to explore the vast land beyond his prison, now turned dark and ugly
as, each night, he imagined a fate worse than the one the night before.

Often, he woke in a cold sweat, the harsh sound of his own
hoarse screams lingering in the air. He had nightmares of being beheaded; of
being drawn and quartered, his still-beating heart ripped from his chest. He
had grotesque dreams of being burned at the stake or boiled in oil; of being
torn to pieces and eaten by wild beasts; or thrown into a pit of snakes; of
being bound hand and foot and tossed into the depths of a river, or into a live
volcano. He dreamed of being tied between four horses and ripped apart…

He had never seen death, but he knew the horrors that
haunted his dreams existed because he had read of such things in the scrolls
and manuscripts that were his only companion now that his mother was gone.

In the beginning, he had thought such grisly deaths were
merely the gruesome creations of the authors, but now he feared he would meet
his fate in an equally cruel manner. He suspected that the scrolls that were
left in his room had been deliberately chosen to warn him, to prepare him for a
hideous death, if such a thing were possible.

But first he would mate with a woman…

A woman. Except for his mother, he had never seen a woman.
He knew nothing of females, nothing of mating save that his male member was
used in the act.

As the day of his twenty-fourth year grew closer, he
scrutinized every manuscript, searching for some clue as to what went on
between a man and a woman, but to no avail.

But it mattered not. He had no intention of mating with
anyone, no intention of begetting a son who would grow up in a cage with
nothing to look forward to but a horrible death.

Navarre slammed his fist against the stone wall. His mother
had told him his father had tried to refuse to mate with her, and they had
drugged him into obedience.

Slowly, hesitantly, he picked up the knife he used for
eating and turned it over and over in his hand. The blade was short and
slender. And sharp. If he were to cut off that part of him that made him a man,
he would be unable to mate. Perhaps, then, they would let him go…

Shutting his mind to what he was about to do, he lowered his
breeches and sat on the edge of his cot. The blade was cold against his flesh,
as cold as the sweat that iced his brow and dripped down his back.

He wiped the perspiration from his hands and then, with a
cry of despair, he hurled the knife against the far wall, cursing himself for
his cowardice.

The next morning, five guards came for him.

They backed him into a corner, and when he tried to escape,
four of the guards wrestled him to the ground and held him there while the
other one shackled his hands and feet. When that was done, they led him out of
the cage.

Despite the chains that bound him, Navarre felt a tremor of
excitement as he drew in a deep breath. For the first time in his life, he was
out of the cage. He felt the coarse texture of sun-warmed earth beneath his
bare feet, and then the soft velvet of spring grass as they led him across the
meadow toward the domed building.

His gaze darted right and left, drinking in sights he had
never seen but recognized from the scrolls: flowers in a multitude of vibrant
reds and blues and yellows, a small herd of black sheep grazing in the noonday
sun, a shaggy brown and white dog sitting beside a young man carrying the crook
of a shepherd, birds and squirrels.

As they drew nearer the building, he saw horses and cattle
and goats. He was surprised by how large they were.

And the noise. The cage had ever been as silent as the grave
save for the sound of his mother’s voice before they took her away, but now he
heard the bleating of sheep, the warbling of larks, the caw of a crow, the
lowing of cattle.

He longed to stop, to run his hands over the grass, to touch
the animals, to speak to the shepherd, but his guards urged him onward,
refusing to let him explore the wonders that surrounded him.

The building was much larger than he had imagined. Up close,
the stones seemed to glow in the sun. There were half-moons and stars,
sunbursts and comets carved on each of the two heavy wooden doors.

Four men wearing long black hooded robes stood in front of
the massive portal.

They drew back as Navarre approached.

One of the black-robed men opened the door on the left and
when Navarre hesitated, one of the guards gave him a push and Navarre stumbled
into the building.

For a moment, he could only stare at what he saw. The walls
were at least twelve feet high. The domed ceiling was covered with gold leaf.
The inside walls were made of luminous white stone. Brightly colored tapestries
woven with the same suns and moons that decorated the outer doors were hung at
intervals. He saw dozens of tall golden candelabra. The light and scent of a
thousand candles was overwhelming.

They led him down a long, narrow hallway. Soft carpets
muffled his footsteps. Paintings of stern-faced priests and kings lined the
walls. An occasional window let in the sun’s golden light.

At last, they reached a large, round room that was decorated
in muted shades of blue and saffron. A man in a long white robe sat behind a
small desk, his face hidden in his cowl.

The guards made deep obeisance before the hooded man. “Your
Eminence, we have brought the sacrifice, as ordered,” said one.

Navarre felt the hooded man’s gaze move over him, cold as
ice, palpable as a touch.

“He will do,” the High Priest replied. “Take him below. See
that he is bathed and fed, then take him to his cell.”

“It shall be as you command, your Eminence.”

One of the guards took hold of Navarre’s arm, but he shook
him off.

“Wait, I want to…” Navarre grunted as two of the guards
forced him to his knees.

“You will not speak to the High Priest unless spoken to,”
the guard on his right hissed. “You will beg his Eminence for forgiveness.”

Navarre had been taught from childhood to be obedient in all
things, at all times. He had accepted the fact of the cage; he had accepted his
fate, but now, from somewhere deep inside himself, sprang the first seeds of
rebellion.

“I will not.”

The guard on his left grabbed a handful of his hair, jerked
his head back, and slapped him across the face with the back of his hand.

Navarre gasped, startled more by the fact that the guard had
struck him than by the faint burning pain in his cheek. In all his life, no one
had ever laid a hand on him in anger or violence.

“You will beg his Eminence to forgive you for your
impertinence!” the guard demanded.

Still stunned by the fact that the man had struck him,
Navarre shook his head. “No.”

The High Priest leaned forward, and Navarre caught a glimpse
of a face so gaunt it appeared skeletal; eyes so pale they seemed colorless.

The High Priest lifted his hand in a faint gesture, and one
of the guards drove his fist into Navarre’s face.

Navarre groaned as blood spurted from his nose and filled
his mouth. He was stunned by the pain, and by the sudden urge to retaliate. He
felt his hands curl into fists and he wondered what it would feel like to
strike out, to loose the anger and frustration building within him.

“Apologize,” the guard commanded.

He knew it was foolish to defy them, but anger and pain
fueled his resistance. Staring at the hooded man, Navarre shook his head. “No.”

Again, that faint wave of the hand.

Navarre tried to shield his head as the guards began to beat
him, their fists driving into his ribs, his face, his back, until his whole
body was throbbing with pain and he fell to the floor, trembling convulsively.

“Enough. He will be of no use to us if you damage him.”

The words, low and brittle, brought an end to the beating.
Rough hands grabbed Navarre under the arms and dragged him out of the room,
along a dark corridor, down seemingly endless flights of stairs, and into a
small room that held a large, wooden tub and nothing more. After removing the
chains that bound him, they stepped out of the room. They did not leave him to
bathe alone, but stood at the door, watching.

Gritting his teeth, Navarre disrobed and stepped into the
tub. Ignoring the guards, he closed his eyes, sighing as the hot water
penetrated his aching flesh.

When he emerged from his bath, one of the guards offered him
a coarse cloth with which to dry himself, then handed him a long black robe.
When he was dressed, food was provided.

Navarre ate slowly, aware of the two men who stood at the
door watching his every move.

When he finished eating, they led him down another long,
narrow corridor to a small, iron-barred cell that contained a narrow bed
covered by a thick quilt. There was a square table, a single chair, a wooden
shelf filled with scrolls. A covered chamber pot stood in one corner.

The door closed behind him with a loud clang. Sinking down
on the bed, Navarre closed his eyes against the pain that thrummed through him
with every breath he took.

Later, when the pain ebbed, he stared at his surroundings.
He was really in a cage this time, a cage made of iron bars.

A second cage stood some six feet away.

And in it, looking back at him, he saw a young female.

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