Authors: Julie Leto
Silver-screen action heroine, Lauren Cole, has one more film to make before she’s free from her producer ex-husband, a smothering role, and a life she wants to leave behind. There’s only one thing she wants from that life: the antique sword her husband promised her in the divorce. So she steals it. Holding the weapon for the first time, she unleashes a magic that rivals Tinsel Town special effects—and makes her wonder if she has truly lost her mind.
In 1747, Aiden Forsyth stormed a gypsy camp and fell captive to a powerful curse that has held him within the sword for more than two centuries. Lauren’s touch releases him, but his liberation has limits. Corporeal only during the night, he remains bound by a dark and dangerous magic in the light of day—complicating his vow to protect the woman who holds the key to his ultimate freedom.
So the sexy warrior who haunts her days and inflames her nights must stay intimately close, especially after they learn that the madman trying to kill Lauren has ties to the very curse that has entrapped Aiden’s soul...
First published by NAL/Signet Eclipse, a division of Penguin Group (USA), Inc.
Print Copyright by Book Goddess, LLC, 2008
E-book Copyright Book Goddess, LLC, 2011
E-book Published by Book Goddess, LLC, 2011
E-Book Cover Photo
E-book Format by
A Thirsty Mind
All rights reserved. No part of this may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental. All rights reserved. No part of this publication can be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, without permission in writing from Author.
Book Two in the Phantom series
to new beginnings. For
, I say, “Here’s to second chances.”
This book is a digital reprint from a series published with Signet/NAL in 2008-2009. I’m thrilled to have the chance to reintroduce these characters to readers again!
Every book provides new opportunities to interact with people who know so much more than I do about a great many things. Special thanks to authors Deborah Hale and Laura Resnick for sharing so many fascinating resources on Georgian England with me. You both expanded my knowledge and my ever-growing library! I also send a special shout-out to my agent extraordinaire, Helen Breitwieser, who influenced this book in many ways—some obvious and some not. But in addition to lending her name to the character of Helen Talbot (as well as her sense of loyalty and smarts!) her knowledge of not only the Hollywood machine but of the landscape of Los Angeles was invaluable. Our tour of downtown LA on a breezy Saturday opened my eyes to the beauty of a city not often recognized for its architecture and design—I’ll have to write another book set in LA sometime soon so I can use more of what I learned. I also could not have completed this book without the eagle eyes of my longtime critique partner, Susan Kearney; my sister-in-law and reader, Joy Leto; and Amy P., whose expertise in many areas of writing and publishing influenced this book greatly. I’m very appreciative!
Finally, there comes a time in a woman’s life when she realizes that although writing is the most solitary of professions, there are certain aspects of success that could not be attained without her closest and dearest friends. In my case, I have Leslie Kelly, who somehow has come to possess the other half of my brain—the half that I need when I’m plotting a book. Luckily she always lets me borrow it when I need it most. I also am fortunate enough to have Carly Phillips and Janelle Denison, who are the caretakers of my heart and soul, respectively. Together, we’re “the Plotmonkeys,” a wacky name for women who are seriously my best friends in the universe and who keep me together—mind, body, and soul. I love you guys!
“I don’t think this is a good idea.”
Catalina Reyes circled the table, her eyes darting between noted Gypsy researcher Paschal Rousseau and his mouthwateringly sexy son, Ben. They sat across from each other, arms folded tightly as they competed in a frowning contest that, in Cat’s opinion, could have neither winner nor prize. Between them, still cradled in plain brown paper and nestled in a cardboard box, was a quarter-size piece of brass. A casual observer might see only an old button inside the package, but to the Rousseau men, the fastener was a major bone of contention.
“Cat’s right, Dad,” Ben insisted. His eyes, lighter than his father’s yet still stormy gray, darted to her. “After last time, you were too weak to protect yourself. You were kidnapped the very next day.”
Paschal’s eyes shone with the cockiness that Cat had come to associate with both Rousseau men, as well as their Forsyth ancestors. She supposed it was a blessing to women everywhere that they didn’t make men like them anymore.
“Won’t happen again,” Paschal blustered. “You and Cat will protect me.”
“From kidnapping, sure,” Cat argued, “but not from the toll that physically connecting with that button will take on your body. You may look younger than ninety, Paschal, but you’re actually how old?”
As Ben leaned forward, his dark hair, which he hadn’t cut since he and Cat had met nine months ago, hung rakishly over one eye. “Well, let’s do the math, shall we? You were born in 1717, correct?”
Paschal frowned and refused to answer.
Cat rubbed her arms. Despite her experiences as a paranormal researcher, she still shivered when she thought about how Paschal Rousseau was actually Paxton Forsyth, the fourth son of an English earl. Through magical means that defied modern explanation, Paschal had been trapped inside a cursed Gypsy object—a mirror—and released sometime during World War II by Ben’s mother. Over the last sixty-plus years, he’d aged—exceptionally well—and had used his latent psychic abilities to try to locate the sister and five brothers who had been ripped away from him so many centuries ago.
So far, he’d found one family member. Now, with the aid of the button, he might find another.
Cat slid into the empty chair beside Paschal. “Ben’s right. Let me try.”
Though her own psychic abilities had been dormant for most of her life, connecting with Rousseau and his son had sparked skills that Cat now could use with a fairly decent success rate. Perhaps if she touched the button, which was stamped with the Forsyth crest, she’d be able to focus in on the energy of Aiden Forsyth, the brother who’d reportedly worn the notion on his army uniform sometime before, during or after the Battle of Culloden. They desperately needed a clue as to what had happened to him all those years ago. Damon, the eldest, recently released brother, had found the button while scouring Europe for evidence about the fate of his family. The least they could do here in the States was coax some information from the tarnished bit of brass.
There was, at least, precedent. Through a seascape painted by Damon over two centuries ago, Paschal had discovered that despite the passage of time, his brother lived. And with help from Cat’s best friend, the hotel heiress Alexa Chandler, Damon was now entirely free of the curse. The new couple, currently in Dresden searching for other items that might have been used by the Gypsies to imprison his siblings or, as in this case, articles that might have belonged to them, relied on the Rousseaus and Cat to take the search to the next level.
“You can’t do it,” Paschal said, his voice hearty, even though she’d noticed a few more wrinkles on his face lately, more visible thanks to an increasing paleness both she and Ben tried to ignore. He spent nearly all his time in his house or at his university office, searching, hoping. Trying to find his brothers and sister in whatever time he had left.
“I can try,” she assured.
“Go ahead,” he replied with a confident swing of his hand, gesturing at the box. “Try if you like, but you’ll never connect to the past when you haven’t lived it—you’re not that good a psychic yet. No offense.”
Cat slid the box closer to her and smirked. “None taken.”
She peered inside, then, with a determined inhalation, took the button into her palm. Paschal crossed his arms and leaned back in his chair, the certainty of her failure etched on his face.
Ben, however, shifted forward and slid his warm, supportive palm over her knee. She allowed herself a split second to enjoy the feel of his flesh against hers and the memory of how much higher those fingers had sneaked up her thigh only a few hours ago.
When he cleared his throat guiltily, she guessed the same memory had occurred to him as well.
“Go ahead,” Ben urged. “Show the old man that he’s not the only one who can do this.”
Great. No pressure
She inhaled again, but this time she allowed the breath to fill her lungs to maximum capacity. She concentrated on the oxygen expanding in her system, and when she felt entirely full, she blew out the air through her mouth, tightened her fingers around the button, closed her eyes and concentrated. The voodoo chants taught to her by her grandfather looped in her brain. She called upon the
spirits invoked by her grandmother to guide her way.
The button’s age instantly struck her. A blast of odors. Stuffy rooms. Stale sweat. Piquant perfumes. Images popped across her inner eyelids like tiny, fragile bubbles. Boxes. Cartons. Envelopes. Even a beaded sachet. Hand after hand after hand. Some warm and gentle. Some cold and hard. Cruel.
She dropped the button.
“Too many people have touched this,” she said, wincing from the icy ache in the center of her palm.
Paschal’s grin was maddening. “You don’t say?” His expression darkened. “Without knowledge of the precise person we’re looking for in all that psychic detritus, he’s impossible to find.”
She supposed he was entitled to his omniscient tone, but she still shoved the button back into the box angrily, then glanced at Ben.
“He’s right,” she conceded.
With a harrumph, Paschal snatched the box from Cat.
Ben opened his mouth to argue, but Paschal had already grabbed the button and tossed the box aside. He clutched the brass tightly in his gnarled hand, closed his eyes and fell utterly silent. If not for the way his empty hand gripped the edge of the table, they might have thought he was asleep.
But Cat recognized the trance for what it was. With any luck, he was even now psychically jetting back into the past and then, hopefully, into the present, where they’d find his brother Aiden. Only when they found out what had happened to the entire Forsyth brood, including the sister who betrayed them all, would Paschal finally find peace.
When Paschal gasped, both Ben and Cat shot forward. His closed eyelids rippled from the rapid movements underneath. His jaw slackened, and a barely audible moan mixed with the sounds of his suddenly shallow breathing.
“Paschal?” Ben asked, his voice so deep and desperate, Cat knew the ever unflappable man was teetering on the edge. “Dad?”
She swallowed deeply, said a silent prayer, then whispered, “He’ll be okay.”
“You don’t know that,” Ben snapped.
“Do you want me to know?”
Ben’s gaze locked with hers. “How can you?”
With another wordless plea for help to the God who had bestowed her with her gift, Cat held on tight to Ben with one hand. With the other, she slid her fingers into the thick white hair at Paschal’s temple and attempted a connection.
After all, what did they have to lose?
Valoren, outside Germany
With his hand clutching the hilt of his sword, Aiden Forsyth reined in his skittish steed and watched his youngest brother, Rafe, ride across the craggy wasteland that separated their family estate and Umgeben, the village of the banished Gypsies.
When he reached his brothers, Rafe slid off his horse’s back, stomped into the center of the circle of brothers, and reported to Damon, the eldest.
“The mercenary army advances at dawn.”
Damon nodded. “Then we have time to find Sarina.”
“Not if Rogan has spirited her away.” Aiden drew his weapon, admiring the pull of its weight against his hand. This was what he knew—dueling, honor, war. No matter how tired of bloodshed he was, he’d rather face the oncoming horde of mercenaries than the infinite mysteries of magic. “He’s brought this danger on our sister. On us. He must pay for his betrayal!”
Aiden’s heart thudded against his chest in heavy, painful beats. His battle would not be for king or country this time, but for something more precious—family. After the madness at Culloden, Aiden had never wanted to kill again. But then he’d arrived home in Valoren, the colony for exiled Gypsies, governed by his father, to find his sister missing, an oncoming death squad headed toward his family, and his beloved brothers preparing to ride to the rescue of all. He’d instantly slipped back into his role of consummate soldier, with no time for regret over how much this action would cost his soul.
Damon grabbed the hilt of Aiden’s weapon, which flashed silver as lightning streaked across the sky. “Remember, we must find Sarina
we kill Rogan. He cannot die until we know where she is.”
Aiden bit back his protest and, in the eyes of his brothers, saw that they did the same. Damon’s order was cool and logical, but still Aiden chafed under any edict that would allow Rogan more time among the living. Still, honor dictated that Rogan would die at the hand of a Forsyth son. Which one made no difference, as long as the murder happened soon. Very soon.
Men Aiden had once served with in the king’s army were gathering close by, preparing to slaughter the Umgeben villagers Aiden had known since childhood. Lord Rogan, who must have bewitched Sarina with his reputed sorcerer’s magic, had invoked the king’s wrath by usurping his governor’s power and demanding autonomy for the Romani wanderers. Even their father, who’d devoted his life to serving the king and protecting the Gypsy tribe, was in danger. If the Forsyth sons did not act quickly and decisively, the bloodshed at dawn would rival that of the massacre of Bonnie Prince Charlie’s last supporters.
“We must ride!” Damon declared.
And so they did. When they emerged through the valley, lightning illuminated more than just the black sky and the forbidding mountains on either side. The village within was wholly untouched—and yet deathly still.
There was no sign of the people who lived here. . .but no sign of evacuation, either. All remained peaceful and calm. Eerily so.
Aiden grabbed Rafe by the arm as he trotted past him. “Did you not send warnings?”
Rafe nodded, then shook him off and rode onward.
Colin, the third born, stopped at Aiden’s side. “We sent a groom as soon as your message arrived. Father had called us together to decide how to lead the Gypsies to safety when we found Sarina’s letter, declaring she’d run off with Rogan. Then you arrived.”
Aiden nodded. He was thankful his father was, at least for the moment, safely hidden with his wife and servants at their estate on the other side of the mountain. “Father is fortunate the Gypsies rebelled against him of late and barred him from the village. He can remain loyal to the king, at least in show.”
“If only the Gypsies had rebelled similarly against Rogan,” Colin said darkly, “we wouldn’t be facing this massacre at all.”
Their gazes locked on the looming structure at the far end of the village, abutting the mountainside. Rogan’s castle. He’d come to Valoren as Damon’s guest, then settled here like a king among the Gypsies. Shockingly, the normally suspicious Romani had accepted him like a prodigal son. Aiden had met Rogan only once, years ago in London, but had been struck by the iciness beneath the man’s considerable charm. Aiden vowed to never turn his back on such a blackguard, but Damon had declared the nobleman merely eccentric and intriguing and had invited him to the family home in Valoren. At the time, Aiden had been too concerned with his own interests and upcoming campaign against the Scottish rebels to challenge his brother’s judgment. But now certainly wasn’t the time for regrets.
“God help us,” Colin continued. “In a few hours this will be the site of a bloodbath.”
“Not if we can stop it,” Aiden assured him.
They rode to each dwelling, knocking on the hollow-sounding doors and tearing curtains aside with drawn blades. Curious signs met them at every turn. Prized possessions sat out in the open, untended. Fires burned with food on the spit, as if the owners had only wandered a few steps away. And yet, locked pens were empty of livestock. And the handcrafted talismans that normally hung around the village were gone.
“What sort of magic spirits away an entire town?” asked Logan, the older of the twins.
Paxton, the younger twin, shook his head. “They had but an hour’s warning. They could not have abandoned their homes without our meeting them on the road.”
Rafe did not respond. The youngest Forsyth son had been born to their father’s Gypsy second wife, as had Sarina. Rafe had spent more time among the villagers than he had with his own family. If the disappearance had caught him unaware, how would they find Salina before it was too late?