Authors: Jordan Summers
LORDS OF THE NIGHT BOOK TWO
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Rose’s Rapture: Lords of the Night Book Two
Copyright © 2011 by Jordan Summers
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"The next man I take to my bed will be of my choosing," Rose whispered the vow under her breath. The unmarked carriage her friend, benefactor, and resident vampyre, Richard Sebastian Stuart, the sixth Earl of Lyon insisted she take whisked her and a chambermaid out of London at a brisk pace.
After ten years of forced whoring, she was well and truly free. Men no longer held power over her, neither did conniving women. A picture of the brothel's female owner, Josephine flashed in her mind. She'd taken advantage of the young naive woman Rose once was, but only after her family had abandoned her. She had long ago forgiven Josephine because like Rose, she’d made the best of a bad situation. Her family on the other hand was a different story. So concerned about their reputation, they’d turned their only daughter out to fend for herself. Some things were unforgivable.
One mistake with a gentleman Rose had thought she'd loved had cost her everything.
Bitterness over Lord William Longfellow’s betrayal threatened to swamp her. She brushed aside the emotion. It was wasted on a man who’d never truly cared for her and as useless as trying to hold water with her fingertips. Truth told, she'd stopped feeling sorry for herself a long time ago. What's done was done. The past was just that. As a wealthy woman with extensive property, she need not accept unwelcome advances from anyone. It was time to enjoy her hard-won freedom.
The hooves of the four matched geldings thundered on the cobbles as the soot-covered buildings of London began to fade into a patchwork of lush green countryside. It had been years since she had left the city.
Rose stuck her face against the cool window and stared out, soaking in the beauty. She inhaled, attempting to draw in the freshness through the beveled pane. Even the air smelled different away from the city, crisp, clean, new. She shivered, tucking a throw around her skirt for warmth. She glanced over at Gladis, whose nose remained buried in her stitching.
Grateful for the silence, Rose sat back against the cushioned leather seat, rocking gently with the sway of the carriage. She tried to focus on the scenery, but her lids drooped time and again. The landscape became a green blur.
The carriage's jerky halt brought Rose out of her slumber and into awareness. Her neck ached from remaining in the same position for too long. She blinked against the fading sunlight and then squinted. Where was her home?
For a half second fear enveloped her, until she glimpsed an inn and livery sitting outside the carriage window. Rose scooted across the leather seat to peer out the other side. The road stretched on out of sight. She harbored no wish to delay arrival at her new home. She wanted to continue on, anxious to get settled in.
"We'll be stopping here for the night," the coachman said, holding out a hand to assist her.
Rose took his hand and stepped down from the carriage, eyeing the inn warily. She opened her mouth to protest.
"Lord Lyon directed we rest here for the evening. He gave orders to ensure your comfort and safety, my lady. We were not to vary them under
circumstance. The road north is too dangerous to traverse at night."
Rose wouldn’t question Richard’s orders even though she’d hoped to be sleeping in her own bed tonight. She nodded at the coachman and then strolled toward the door, holding her skirt in one hand and her reticule in the other with Gladis in tow. The door opened before she reached it. A portly gentleman stepped out, wiping his hands on an apron as he welcomed her inside.
"I'm Mr. Bettlesworth, inn keep and owner. We've been expecting you, Lady Carlson."
Rose's brow furrowed and she shifted uneasily. It felt like a lifetime ago since anyone had addressed her by her proper name and title. Stunned, she stood frozen, trying to recall how to reply. The man waited patiently. Rose said the first thing that came to her befuddled mind. "You've been expecting me."
The man beamed. "We have your accommodations ready, my lady. Lord Lyon has taken great care of making the arrangements, sparing no expense. He said you are to be cared for as if he himself were staying with us."
Of course, Richard would think of everything. She smiled to herself. He’d had over century’s worth of experience.
"If you prefer to dine in your room let me know. I'll have a tray prepared and delivered to you."
"Thank you." Rose stepped past Mr. Bettlesworth and entered the inn. The place was cozy and clean with a massive fireplace on one wall. Scattered tables surrounded the blaze. A few travelers dined, while others drank ale. The aroma of fresh baked bread and bubbling stew filled the air. Rose’s stomach growled. She blushed, turning her face away. Warmth from the fire permeated her bones and she shivered. Perhaps stopping was the correct thing to do.
Rose squared her shoulders and lifted her head. She watched everyone cautiously, waiting for any sign that someone had recognized her. Other than an appreciative glance or two from a couple of the ale drinking men, none seemed to pay much attention. She released the breath she hadn’t known she’d been holding.
“Does it meet your standards?” Bettlesworth asked, wringing his hands.
“It’s perfect.” Rose relaxed slightly, her gaze raking the crowd once more, before turning to face him. "I think I'd like to dine in my room."
"As you wish, my lady. I'll have your things delivered to your room and then send a meal right up. My wife's a fine cook. Best in these parts, if I do say so myself. I'm sure you'll be pleased."
"I have no doubt. The food smells wonderful." Rose smiled and gave the man a small nod. His chest puffed out and he grinned back. He led her to her room and opened the door for her, before depositing the key into her palm.
"If you need anything else, do not hesitate to ask."
"Thank you. That'll be all. Good night." She closed the door and leaned against the wood. Rose felt her shoulders curl inward. She raised trembling fingers to her chest. Her heart pounded against her palm like a cornered deer surrounded by hounds.
Ten years away from society had left her shaky in social situations, even ones this minor. It would take her a while to remember all the subtle nuances, not that she planned to do much socializing. No, her plans were of the quiet variety, tending her garden, reading in her library, and enjoying the solitude. The thought calmed her nerves and she settled in for the night.
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They arrived at her new home at dusk two days later. The well-kept weathered manor looked like a fortress in the gloam. Not a surprise, considering the previous owner and the land’s history. Richard would be prepared for anything, including cannon fire. Neatly trimmed hedges lined the drive leading to the house.
Strangely carved creatures sat sentry on stone pillars at either side of the entry. Their mouths thrown open wide, exposing their long tongues and curved fangs. Definitely not a welcoming sight, but Rose supposed that was the point of placing them there. A shadow flickered, giving Rose the impression of movement.
She shivered, then frowned, squinting into the fading Scottish light, but the statues and everything around them remained still. She must be more nervous than she thought if she was jumping at shadows.
“You’ll get used to the grey, ma’am,” Gladis said. “If you like, I can stay a couple of days until you get settled.”
Rose smiled. “That won’t be necessary. Besides, you’ve got family waiting for you in Glasgow.”
“They’ll still be there in a few days,” Gladis said.
“That’s okay. You’ve done enough already.” Rose was beyond grateful that Gladis had traveled to Hyde Hall with her. No one in good society could claim social impropriety, since she’d had an escort.
“Well, if you’re sure,” Gladis said, hesitating.
“I am,” Rose said.
Gladis beamed. “Then I’ll be off tomorrow. I’m hoping to get there before my sister’s babe arrives.”
“Please wish her well for me.”
“I will, ma’am,” Gladis said.
Rose glanced back at the manor. Windows sporting candles blinked like several pairs of eyes, catching first glimpse of the new mistress of the manor.
This was it. The beginning of her new life.
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Lazarus felt the pull of her gaze all the way to his soul. For a moment, he’d actually allowed hope to fill his being. A flicker of movement shook his body, but instead of shifting, he remained encased in stone.
“No!” he screamed even though no one heard him. He had been close, so close to escaping this misery, only to have hope dashed at the last second. Damn the gods and their mischief.
How many more years must he wait to break this blasted curse? He’d already spent lifetimes. Despite the stasis he existed in, Lazarus still felt hunger. It ate at him, devouring his soul and sanity piece by piece. His existence had become a living hell with no beginning and no end.
Madness would be a welcome respite, but the gods wouldn’t allow it. They rejoiced in his suffering—the suffering of all his kind. He needed to feed and for a brief moment there’d been a chance of that happening, only to be snuffed like a candle left to the Scottish wind.
He watched the copper-haired woman shake her head and then look toward the house. Lazarus closed his eyes, trying to ignore the need surging through him. How long had it been since he’d held a woman? Three hundred? Five hundred years? Longer?
He groaned as his body shuddered inside. Today would not be the day he found his freedom, but perhaps her arrival harkened new hope. Lazarus prayed that the day came soon for the sake of his soul.
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Rose stepped out of the carriage and shook out her skirts. Her gaze traveled over the imposing stone structure she now called home. Hyde Hall. The name sent delicious shivers along her spine. She took a deep breath and strode toward the front door, while the coachman struggled with her trunk. Once again the door swung open and a well-appointed servant greeted her.
"Welcome home, Lady Carlson. We've been expecting you. I'm Geoffrey." He bowed low as she entered the front hall of the manor.
“So I’ve been told, Madam,” he said with a straight face, but she got the impression he was laughing on the inside.
Rose gasped as her gaze fell upon the entryway. She couldn't help it. Her eyes drank in the grandeur, feeding on its beauty like the starved falling upon a banquet. The home was magnificent with its polished wood banister leading up to the second tier and the mosaic tile floor in the shape of a... She stepped back to get a better look. It was a rose. Her lips curled into a grateful smile.
"Is everything to your liking, Madam? Lord Lyon left instructions for us to make any and all changes that you request."
Rose released a breath. Richard truly had thought of everything. "That won’t be necessary, Geoffrey. It’s perfect."
His chest puffed out with pride. "The staff is ready to meet you."
Staff? Rose almost giggled. It had been ten years since she'd had a staff at her disposal. "Yes, please," she said unable to keep the giddiness from her voice or the joyous heat from rising to her cheeks.
Geoffrey bowed again and then walked down one of the halls leading away from the entry. Soon a row of servants appeared. Geoffrey introduced each person. The women gave a little curtsy and the men bowed. It would take Rose a while to get their names straight, but she didn't care. She had all the time in the world now.
After meeting the staff, Geoffrey showed Rose to her room. Fresh pink linens covered the half tester mahogany bed and surrounded the pillows. A washstand lay next to her vanity and a wood writing desk sat against the far wall. A marble fireplace took up much of the other wall and was flanked by two over-stuffed burgundy chairs. The flames sent warmth into the room, chasing away the encroaching shadows outside. A tub of steaming water had been prepared, awaiting her arrival.
Geoffrey opened her wardrobe. New gowns hung inside, courtesy of Lord Lyon. Everything she could possibly need or want was here.
“Dinner will be served at eight, if madam wishes.”
“That would be fine, thank you.”