Authors: Jordan Summers
Rose tried to pull back, but Hamish wouldn’t allow it, growling deep in his chest like some feral beast, standing over a fresh kill. Her senses whirled and her head grew light, as he demanded her total surrender. There was a fleeting thought to fight, but Rose quickly dismissed it, then her body yielded to his. She didn’t see triumph in his expression, but she felt it as his muscles locked more securely around her.
It was in that moment that Hamish pulled away, his chest heaving with effort to draw air into his lungs. Rose’s lashes fluttered, then her eyes widened as her gaze took in his harsh features. Pain, desire, surprise and something far darker flitted across his face. Hamish looked positively stricken.
Rose took a step back in confusion, her heart pounding in her chest. Somehow, she’d done it again. She had made another social mistake with Hamish. Rose knew with sudden clarity that she should never have allowed him to kiss her, no matter how badly she’d desired so at the time. He thought she was a lady, a true lady. And she’d acted as nothing of the sort.
She held her head high. “If you’ll excuse me, my lord,” she whispered, not trusting her voice.
Hamish stepped aside. Rose felt the familiar rise of humiliation as she strode to the door. She turned the knob, but the door refused to budge. Silently, Hamish came up behind her. Heat poured off his body like a blaze in a hearth. She shuddered. He reached into a pocket and produced a key. Rose didn’t turn to face him. She couldn’t for fear of showing the desperation she felt. She simply waited for him to unlock the door, then slipped out into the tapestry lined hall. Tears filled her eyes as she walked away. Her embarrassment rose when she realized that he hadn’t followed.
Once a whore, always a whore.
Hamish stood unable to move as he watched Rose’s retreating form. What had happened? One minute he’d been warning her about Lazarus, the next he’d been holding her in his arms, his tongue shoved halfway down her throat. The kiss had been better than he’d even imagined. Her unfettered passion had risen to meet his own. His reaction to it, to her had stunned him.
He knew he shouldn’t have touched her, but when she’d started to leave he couldn’t help himself. The thought of Lazarus having her made him insane. Not that Hamish was foolish enough to believe that had been his sole motivation. No, he’d wanted to taste Rose from the moment he’d laid eyes on her...and he had, almost to the point of exposing his true nature. He’d wanted to bite her as much as he’d wanted his next breath, perhaps more.
Hamish willed himself to move. His muscles protested. He shut the door of the library, trying to regain his composure as he strolled across the room to the fireplace. An ornate gold leaf mirror hung above the mantle. Hamish glanced at his reflection. His eyes glowed red with need. He smiled, exposing the fangs in his mouth.
It had been a miracle that she hadn’t run screaming from the room at the sight of him. He remembered Richard’s words. She’d allowed him to feed without the use of
. He groaned in hunger. Hamish knew without a doubt that he must stay far, far away from Lady Rose Carlson, for her safety and his sanity.
* * * * *
Hunger ate at Lazarus. After so many years encased in stone, it was a living, breathing thing that he couldn’t hope to control. He had to feed soon or risk losing form. Time to press his suit. He stepped from the alcove he’d been perched in to search for Lady Abigail. Movement to his right caught his attention. Rose rushed past unaware of his presence. Lazarus noted the tears in her eyes and her flushed complexion. He cursed under his breath. What had the vampyre done?
Before he gave himself time to change his mind, Lazarus strode down the hall in the direction Rose had came from. Light winked out from beneath the last door at the end of the hall. Without hesitation, he turned the knob and entered.
Hamish MacDougall stood near the fire, his skin pale, his eyes filled with pain. He turned slowly and glanced at Lazarus, grimacing as he realized who had intruded upon his thoughts. “What in the hell are you doing here, grotesque?”
Lazarus propped a shoulder against the doorframe and crossed his legs. “Checking to see why my new
just left the ball in tears.”
Hamish flinched, then his jaw hardened. “Stay away from her.”
Lazarus cocked his head. “Now why would I want to do that?”
Hamish’s hands clenched. “Because I said so.”
He snorted. “You know I don’t take orders from vampyres.”
“I’m warning you, grotesque.” Hamish took a step toward him.
Lazarus laughed. “Warn away. From what I just witnessed, it doesn’t look like you hold rights to the lady’s affections…unless I’m missing something. Do you plan to
Hamish’s eyes flared in panic. “I do not!”
Lazarus shrugged negligently. “Then I don’t think you should concern yourself with my future
. Like you, I seek only sustenance.” Which was a lie, but baiting the vampyre was becoming his second favorite pastime. “It’s not my fault that my way of feeding happens to be more pleasurable than yours.”
“I’ll kill ye, if you touch her,” Hamish bellowed.
Lazarus arched a brow. “I find it odd that you claim not to care, yet threaten so much violence in the next breath.”
“You know not what you speak.” Hamish turned away as the statement hit its mark.
an eternity can be a long time to spend without an
. I would know.” Lazarus left the vampyre to brood in the library.
He returned to the ballroom to find Abigail surrounded by suitors. With a few well-placed suggestions aided by a little magical compulsion, the men stepped back, allowing Lazarus to take his rightful place at her side.
“I thought perhaps you’d left us, Lord Hyde.” She glanced up from beneath exotically long lashes. Her flawless face glowed softly in the candlelight.
“I’d never do that, my lady,” he said. “Not without saying goodbye first.”
“So is this farewell?” she asked, meeting his gaze. Her expression remained openly serene, but her blue eyes were laughing at him.
He slanted his head to get a better look at her porcelain features. “Do you wish it to be?” Lazarus braced for her answer. He didn’t think she’d say yes, but what if she did?
Her answer was slow in coming, almost as if she’d drawn it out to torture him. “No.” She smiled.
“Good,” he said.
Abigail pulled her gaze away. “Lord Henry has been regaling us with a story about his military years,” she said.
“Was he now?” Lazarus glanced at the auburn-haired man, who held himself with an air of authority. His intentions toward Abigail were written clearly upon his patrician face. A second later Lazarus probed his thoughts. Lord Henry’s war experience had been slightly exaggerated, no doubt in an attempt to impress Abigail. Instead of leading the charge on the battlefield, he’d spent the campaign behind a desk. Lazarus planted the thought that he must tell the truth, then withdrew from his mind.
By the time Lord Henry finished speaking, his face was mottled and he quickly excused himself from their presence. Lazarus systematically eliminated every man until he was the only one remaining.
“My lady it appears your admirers have gone,” he said innocently.
She looked at him and her blue eyes narrowed. “Yes, that is odd that your arrival coincided with their departure.”
“But fortunate for me.” Lazarus grinned. “May I have this dance?”
Abigail glanced around at her guests. “I really shouldn’t.”
“It’s just one dance,” he encouraged. “We’ll be in plain view of everyone, so it’s not as if we’ll get tongues to wag.”
She looked around the crowd once more, and then acquiesced. “Very well, one dance.”
Lazarus led Abigail out onto the dance floor, his body tense in anticipation. The musicians struck the first notes of a waltz. The moment he took her into his arms it was like coming home. She possessed a pliant grace that automatically drew him. Her soft laughter tickled his spine as he whispered outrageous observations in her ear. Instead of being offended, Abigail seemed to grow bolder with each exchange.
Lazarus’s fingers shook as he drew her nearer. The warmth of her flesh through her rich blue gown scalded his hand, ratcheting his need. Abigail’s pleasure grew and Lazarus heard his stomach growl in anticipation. He needed to get her alone, long enough to kiss her and seal their fate. He knew he wasn’t playing fair, but neither did the gods. Time was against him. It would take all his skill as a grotesque to convince her to slip away. “Meet me on the terrace,” he whispered the dare.
“I cannot.” Her gaze darted around the room as good sense warred with desire. “As host, I have responsibilities. I would be missed.”
“I wish to speak with you privately. I won’t keep you long.” Another lie slipped easily from his lips as his power reached for her, seduced her, drew her to him. He couldn’t make her go. His magic wouldn’t allow it, but he could entice her into wanting to go.
“What do you wish to discuss?” she asked, calling his bluff.
Lazarus hesitated, then said the first thing that popped into his mind. “Your friend, Rose.”
Abigail stiffened and her gaze skittered away. “She is very beautiful. I’m sure she would welcome your interest.”
Lazarus blinked. If he didn’t know better, he’d swear that Abigail was
. But how could that be? They’d only just met and he hadn’t kissed her yet. He kept his smile in check and his expression carefully bland. When he didn’t respond, she continued.
“Rose told me she had a headache and left. I’m sure she’ll be well enough tomorrow to receive visitors,” she said, waiting for his reaction.
“I believe there was more to her departure than that, but I’d rather discuss it in private,” Lazarus said, sure beyond all doubt that Abigail was indeed jealous of her friend. She had no need to be, but he wasn’t about to disavow her of the idea, since it played perfectly into his plans.
Abigail searched his face, then sighed. “Very well, but only for a moment.”
Lazarus fought the smile that would reveal his triumph. He kept his expression placid, giving nothing away. “You leave first. I’ll join you.”
She nodded as they left the other dancers swirling on the floor. The rustle of material mixed with the gentle strumming of the stringed instruments formed a soothing cadence. Abigail was anything, but calm. Her stomach churned at the idea of Lazarus being interested in her friend. Why it would matter? She refused to consider the answer. She thought about Rose. When she’d approached earlier her eyes had been red-rimmed and her face blotchy as if she’d been crying. If something had happened to her friend, Abigail wanted to know about it.
Abigail just wasn’t sure that she trusted Lazarus enough to slip out of the ball with him. He was a stranger. Yet when she stared into his sherry-colored eyes Lazarus didn’t seem like stranger at all. Quite the opposite in fact. She felt as if she’d known him for a lifetime. And that was even more unsettling. She pictured Rose’s face. What kind of friend would she be, if she didn’t at least hear him out?
She made her way toward the French doors, chatting with guests along the way. She broke out her fan and flicked her wrist, letting people believe the heat was getting to her and that she was in need of a breath of fresh air.
Abigail looked around one final time, then slipped out the door. The terrace was dark, despite the light coming from the ball. It took a minute for her eyes to adjust. She stepped deeper into the darkness. The cool air felt slightly damp against her heated skin, causing her shiver. Strong hands landed upon her shoulders. Startled, she spun around, her gown twisting about her ankles, and fell into Lazarus’s open arms.
She gasped. Before she could demand he release her, he stepped back and asked her to stroll with him, effectively spiking her guns. Abigail placed her quivering fingers on his arm and allowed Lazarus to lead her down the length of the terrace.
“I feel it is my good fortune to have come this evening. Thank you for sending the invitation,” he said mildly.
“You’re welcome.” Abigail tried to recall issuing an invitation to anyone named Hyde, but drew a blank. Not that it mattered, since she was beyond grateful that he chose to attend her party. It had been years since a man had caught her attention, made her feel deliciously alive, utterly feminine. She hadn’t taken a lover after her husband’s death. Had never found anyone who’d interested her in such a manner…until she’d spotted Lazarus across the room.
He guided her to the end of the terrace, then turned to stroll back.
“You mentioned something about Rose,” she prompted.
“Yes, I believe I saw her conversing with Laird Hamish MacDougall prior to her sudden departure.”
Abigail frowned. Hamish had always been a perfect gentleman. She couldn’t imagine he could have possibly said to upset Rose so. “I’ll look into it,” she said, then added, “how come we’ve never met until now?” Abigail examined his chiseled features in the low lighting. He reminded her of the statues she’d seen in the museums in France as a child. Perfectly formed and nearly flawless, their beauty trapped in marble for an eternity.
Lazarus tensed momentarily, then casually shrugged. “I’ve been locked into...doing business in London. Escape until now has not been possible. May I ask you a personal question?”
Lazarus squeezed her fingertips in reassurance.
She took a deep breath. “Of course.”
“Why have you not remarried? You are such an exquisite creature that I can’t imagine one of these young bucks not snatching you up,” he said. “Though I am grateful that they did not.”
She blushed. “Thank you, but the answer is quite simple, I have no wish to marry again.”
Lazarus glanced at her, clearly intrigued by her response. “Why is that?”
Abigail laughed. “I am sure that through the eyes of a man a woman not seeking marriage is somewhat of an oddity, but I relish my freedom.”
He pondered her answer, then said, “It’s possible to be married and have freedom.”