Prologue and Chapter One of To Eternity.
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A little outside the village of Darnwell, in England, stands an ancient estate. The woods are dark, the wrought iron gates black, the vista hidden. A foggy haze rises both dawn and evening along its quiet cinder paths. The majestic house, beyond a wealth of trees, carries within a cruel secret, or so, after a pint or two in the pub, the Darnwell villagers will tell any traveler. Most visitors smile or nod at the tales, one or two might seem interested, a few even take a walk to try to see the house, brave enough until they arrive at the gates. Often then, business commitments force them to leave.
One woman has ventured to this place. Sian lingers where she has discovered love, but with the rare, precious sweetness, she’s found a fearful threat lurks. If she can’t learn to control the danger, her love will be nothing more than dreams. If she can’t control the dreams, her love will be nothing more than danger.
Lust and love battle for ascendency. Autumn mist rises like smoke from the dark water of the lake. A horror reaches out to be assuaged. Love, tenderness, and hope linger in the daybreak, in the evening shadows, too, for not all evils are without redemption.
Thank God. No claws.
Magnus examined his hand, a man’s hand, before he clasped Sian’s offered palm and met the massive dark pupils in her gaze as she set the padlock down. Naked, grimed by the process of transformation, he used her help to haul himself up from the floor.
She slipped the silver necklace with the key to his chains inside her shirt.
He grimaced as he wiped the scraps of crusty dust left after his transformation from his arms. October’s full moon had proved nothing like the last. This time there was no delightful shared dream.
Instead, Sian had met more of the wolf he carried within him.
Heaven help him, tonight she bore an injury to attest an encounter he couldn’t recall.
He gritted his teeth. His gaze fixed on her. “What happened?” He nodded to her bandaged arm dreading her answer. “How did you get hurt?”
“Here, Magnus.” Sian draped a warm robe around his shoulders. “I’m fine.” She glanced to her arm. “This, it’s not more than a scratch.”
He staggered away from the cage, where the beast spent his days, leaning on her for support. “I scratched you?” he managed to ask, begging for confirmation of his fears.
“It was my fault. I got too close to the bars. We’ll get you to the bathroom, then I’ll go make us something to eat.”
He dragged one slow step after another. Sian slipped her arm around his waist, and with her help, he made it along the corridor to the bathroom. She opened the faucet on the bath while he drank two glasses of water. All the time, he kept his gaze on her.
“You bathe, I’ll go cook. Please, Magnus, don’t worry.” She smiled. “We’ve survived this month’s full moon.”
He ached to kiss her, but not like this, not with the grime of transformation ingrained on his skin. She deserved better. Sian—his goddess, the woman he’d die to protect—deserved the best he could give her. “We’ll talk after I bathe.”
She nodded so her thick brandy-colored curls moved to lure his fingers. “Yes. Don’t be troubled.”
Reaching out, he touched the bandage on her forearm. She winced.
“Impossible,” he whispered. “I adore you, but I’ve hurt you.”
“It’s not what you fear. I remain mortal.”
“That’s how I want you to be. How you should be.”
“Hmm.” She turned off the taps. “We have to make a decision, Magnus. I’d like us to decide soon. I can’t bear this. Everything would be solved if…”
“I know. After I bathe, you can tell me what happened while we eat.”
Sian placed a kiss on the end of her finger and pressed it to his lips before she left. His heart ached for her hopes, for her confidence that she could make all well. He dropped the grubby robe, climbed into the tub, and closed his eyes. This full moon had pushed the usual boundaries. The additional power of Samhain seemed to have supercharged his appetite, but there was more than he’d anticipated. Though often he returned from transformation confused, his body still attuned to the senses of the wolf, this evening every muscle clenched tight, filled with lactic acid, as though he’d been rigid since Friday night when the full moon shifted his consciousness. Somehow, in his transformed state as the wolf, he’d spent hours fighting to keep himself still. The reason for such strange behavior in the beast eluded him.
He tilted his head back into the water, so the warmth might ease his corded neck muscles. The sensation of heat welcome, he sank lower in the tub until the water covered his hair. He hoped this would soothe his skin and his pain, but until he spoke with her about what had happened, nothing would pacify his fears. Annoyance that he couldn’t recall the acts of the beast swept through him. There had been times like this before. Even when he’d killed, a savage act any creature should remember, he could recollect nothing beyond the satisfaction of blood. But, if he’d harmed Sian, the wolf would have howled its sorrow until the walls echoed his repentance.
If only there were a way to force himself to remember. Truly, he was cursed.
Tired, his muscles clinging onto the edge of tension, he flipped on the shower attachment. He stood as the water drained from the tub. Angling the showerhead, he turned on the water and sucked in a breath at the cool blast. Skin tingling from his rinse, he clambered out of the bath. At least he now stood clean. Once he’d dried off, he put on a fresh robe, cleaned his teeth, and combed through his hair, following a morning routine despite the evening. Finally, he shoved his feet into rattan house shoes. Full of fear at what Sian may say, he made his way down the green, wrought iron, spiral stairs to the kitchen.
Sian sat at the broad table sipping from a big blue mug. Coffee from the aroma, bacon and eggs, too, were ready, the food hot from the stove under covered dishes. The residue of wolf senses fought with his man-brain to analyze all the information. Tonight, a ripe, powerful scent haunted his kitchen unlike any he’d known in an age. The odor of blood, an iron rich tang, packed with a sultry promise, smoldered around him.
“I must have wounded you deeper than you think,” he said, reaching for her arm but not touching in case he might cause further pain. “You must be bleeding still.”
“No.” She shook her head and glanced at the bandage. “It’s not the arm. It’s another kind of bleeding. I think it made things worse this month. I should have left the room once you were caged.”
“Oh,” he said, registering her meaning at once. “That’s something I’d not thought on.” He accepted the mug of coffee she put in his hand. Her hormones prodded the wolf senses with a fragrant lure. Instead of lying dormant as they should have after his transformation, they set an echo of desire through his bloodstream. “Yes, it may well have provoked the creature.”
“Hmm,” she murmured. “You could say that.”
He slid his arm around her, bent his head to her shoulder, and pressed a kiss to the warmth of her neck. “I’m sorry. So sorry.”
She stroked over his damp hair, brushing it back from his forehead. “It’s all right. I’ll know next time—it’s my fault—it took me a day and a half to understand what was going on. I was so worried about you, I’m afraid I got closer than I should have. I looked for you in the dreams as well, but no, not this time. I think you were buried deep within the wolf senses this month, much more than the last time. Me…” She glanced down. “Me being like this made things worse. Please, sit. You must be hungry as well as exhausted. You didn’t eat all the steak I gave you.”
“I didn’t?” He sat.
“No, so you must be hungry.” She lifted the lids on the covered dishes.
Glad to wean back another sense from the wolf for the here and now, he luxuriated in the smell of food.
Sian dished up several slices of bacon and added a generous helping of scrambled eggs, two cooked tomatoes, plus several mushrooms.
He accepted the plate. His stomach growled as though the wolf spoke from within, yet still he had to force himself to pick up the fork. “Forgive me?” he whispered.
“Of course.” Her gaze held his, a shimmer of moisture in her eyes. She swallowed hard, her smooth throat moving fast. “It wasn’t your fault. We both knew this month would be hard, with it being October. I didn’t understand your need, or the way I affected you. I’ll make sure it doesn’t happen again, but I think this must be another reason why you should consider making me your true mate.”
“Not yet!” A fresh wave of guilt barreled through him at her teary glance in response to his tone. His hopes to control the vile process of transformation lay in a ruin. Last month, the rage Franklyn had provoked in him by attacking Sian, empowered him to take control of the wolf and change at will. He’d hoped from that time on, he could control the shift even at the full moon, but no, the moon still dominated his world, his life, leaving him fearful for Sian. She could eventually control him, but she needed time to learn how to use her innate skills. “You are my true mate, my woman. But, please, don’t force more, not yet.”
“Eat.” She wiped beneath her eye with her knuckle. “There’s lots of time, you’ve said so.”
He swallowed a mouthful, then another, unable to meet her gaze right now, lost in the strangeness of the restoration of human needs. Most of all, he floundered in his anguish, for he’d explained so little to her. She remained at the mercy of the moon tides in his blood. He’d thought ensuring her safety from Franklyn’s cruel obsession his foremost duty, but he needed to do much more to help her find her path in the convoluted ways of the wolf. “You’re not eating?”
“No.” She shook her head. “I’m too tired.”
He shoved the plate away. “Then come here, we’ll go up to bed. We’ll sleep. Tonight we can dream together. In the dreams we’re free.”
“I’d like that, Magnus. Right now, I’d like to be free, just us, with nothing else to think of at all.”
He moved around the table as she pushed back her chair and stood. She gave a sigh as he took her into his embrace. Nothing could have spoken so loud as her soft breath to tell of the fears she’d tried to hide. “My brave, Sian,” he whispered, brushing his lips against her forehead. “I promise you next month will be easier.”
“I know”—she glanced down to her arm—“this isn’t too bad, Magnus. Perhaps, if we’d met in June things would have been different.”
“Yes,” he said, as they made their way up the spiral staircase. Every step he took, he hated himself for a coward. If he’d met Sian in June, things would have been easier for a brief time, perhaps, but she would still have had to meet the beast in its hunting state at some full moon. This month, the wolf within him had longed to hunt.
He stretched as she kicked off her sports shoes beside the curtained bed. She stripped off her shirt and cropped jeans before she lay down on the crumpled sheet. For the first time in a century, he regretted the arrangement he’d made for his housekeeper to not return until the first morning after a full moon.
Sian should have fresh, soft linen for her tender skin. He licked his lips and savored a taste of her warmth on the air.
The ache of need still squeaked through his muscles. A craving nagged in his body that had never followed him through to a waning moon’s dawn. Not the need for blood, or the wish for the savage hunt in the starlit night, but another primeval hunger. Lust. He covered her with the sheet, the quilt, too, until she appeared comfortable. “Sian,” he whispered.
“I’ll sleep apart from you tonight,” he said. Palms up, he took a pace back from the bed.
“Oh, why?” She sat up, her eyes wide.
“Because I understand the power of this. I have no wish to harm you more. We’ll wait a day or two before we share the bed again. Tonight would be a mistake.”
Her glassy gaze searched his. She blinked, breaking his eye contact. “I know,” she whispered.
“Remember, you are more important to me than anything in the world.” He turned toward the door, ignoring the little catch in her breath, though it tore at his heart. Her ripe fragrance lured him too much, made him want her with a savage need, a hunger no woman might understand. A she-wolf would, but Sian wasn’t yet a she-wolf. She’d not enjoy coupling with him as though she were. He closed the bedroom door behind him and strode down the corridor.
A sudden flash of memory hit. The reason for the solid painful muscles, protesting every movement he made despite his soak in a hot bath, thumped between his eyes. For three and a half days in wolf form, he’d wanted to mate, had lusted for her. Somehow, he’d held the savage need under control—just. The pinpoint vision of the moment sent a fiery flash to his groin so his cock twitched.
Confined for the time of the full moon in the small room with the cage, he had found her fragrant, sensual lure tortuous. When she had crouched on her knees to peer at him, all he’d wanted had lain beyond those solid bars. In the hope of gaining surcease, he’d reached through to grab her, scoring her forearm with a thick black claw. He’d sucked in a powerful blast of her scent as she had cried out.
Another inch would have made her his.
He’d have held her close enough to tear off the garments she’d worn and taken her. His damned wolf body would have reveled in the cure for his painful need. The beast had no conscience to trouble it.
He gripped the rail at the top of the stairs, could see nothing in the evening’s gloom but the vision of her sleek, pale beauty, the silken flesh of her parted thighs, the springing auburn curls, the juicy heat lodged within that promised bliss. A fresh hot spasm throbbed in his groin. His body demanded he find fulfillment. How he had wanted her. He still did. She was ripe to mate, ready to breed. He could taste her in the air. His seed would fill her. Their cubs would be bold, clever, bright, and sleek.
“No!” Kicking off the rattan shoes, he dashed down the stairs, along the corridor to the drawing room where he opened the secret doorway below the window. He ducked through and dragged in a breath as he ran along the terrace overlooking the lake. An icy thin slime of frost met his feet. He skidded, regained his balance, then pelted down the path. He raced onto the spikes of grass that yielded with the heat of his tread. Down the slope, into the night, he bounded in an effort to escape the pain. The frigid air cooled his ardor, exorcising the lust from his body with every breath he inhaled.
A fragile, starlit lattice of ice stilled any movement on the lake’s surface. He hurried across the causeway to the pagoda.
Each step on the boards of the jetty crackled and crunched, snapping the delicate icy crust from the walkway. Inside, in the gloom, he huddled in his robe on the day bed where he and Sian had first made love in the flesh, what seemed like so long ago. Though the search for peace drove him here, her scent still lingered to tease his senses. Memories of peeling her from her cashmere business trousers stoked the embers of his desire. He tried and failed to close off the recollection of her pleasure cries. Tonight they powered through his body as they had that day, charging his desire, tormenting his senses so he ached with a terrible longing.
Fearing he’d not be able to control his brutal need for her, he sought solace. Though he’d learned years ago self-satisfaction was a poor substitute for a woman, it proved one-step better than none at all. Tonight, he fought to achieve release. Only with her image in his mind, and with the lust of the beast rampant, did he reach orgasm.
It shouldn’t be this way.
He clutched a cushion as the moonlight diminished. A thin gray line defined the horizon. When the wedge of light, banishing the waning moon, spread wider, pale gold and pink hues smeared the sky to pronounce dawn’s arrival, no matter his darkest desires. He blinked gritty eyes, but found, at last, some semblance of peace.
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