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Guardian Of The Night
By Debra Webb
Harlequin Enterprises LimitedCopyright © 2003 Harlequin Enterprises Limited
All right reserved.
His only escape from the prison he called home.
The deserted beach stretched out before him like a vast, uncharted universe. It moved like a shadowy serpent, ever undulating. Waves crashed, slid away, leaving a glittering residue on the sand that captured the sparse light of the cloud-veiled moon. While he stood perfectly still, the breeze whispered through the night, urging him to enjoy the freedom only the too-short hours after the gloaming and before the dawn could offer.
Noah Drake closed his eyes and inhaled deeply of the thick salt air. He burrowed his toes in the sand, smiled and imagined the infinite grains hot from the scorching sun, the heat baking his bare feet. He summoned the memory of how the sunlight felt on his face, warm, like a lover's kiss. With more slow, deep breaths, he persuaded himself to relax and he could almost feel the golden brilliance touching him, healing him as nothing else could.
He opened his eyes.
It was only a memory.
Noah would never know that invigorating sensation again. This was as close as he would get. The moon peeked from amid the voluminous purple clouds making the sand appear whiter, the water bluer. All else was lost to him. For five endless years he had been sentenced to darkness. The cold, empty truth filled him with an all-consuming rage. Adrenaline surged through his veins, as hot as Hades must surely be and as insistent as the breaking surf that was now as much a part of him as his own heartbeat.
So he tugged on the running shoes that lay at his feet and he ran.
Along the beach then through the dense forest that forged right up to the sand like a battalion of troops ready to conquer. Dense undergrowth closed in around him, and towering trees laden with moss rendered the shadows beneath impenetrable. All traces of the moon disappeared, all that remained was the silent foreboding. But that didn't stop Noah. His vision had long ago adjusted to this nocturnal existence, as his hearing had grown keener with the silence of his self-imposed exile from the human race.
He was alone, living in the darkness like a vampire but with no bloodlust to compel him to strive for survival.
He simply existed.
Noah ran through the night until he reached a place that no one else on St. Gabriel Island dared visit ... even in the bright, unforgiving light of day.
The concerto of cicadas was very nearly deafening. He drew the thick, balmy air into his lungs, exhaled again and again until his respiration had slowed and his skin had ceased to tingle. A slick coat of sweat had dampened his flesh and he felt cleansed by it.
He moved closer to the looming structure that had once reigned proudly in the center of a clearing. That clearing had decades ago been reclaimed by the semi-tropical forest. Ivy shrouded the ancient chapel's exterior, hiding the timeworn cracks in its sagging walls, disguising its proximity to inevitable collapse. Inside was cavernous and as dark as a tomb, which was fitting since the rumors on the island had pegged him as the walking dead, a distant cousin of Count Dracula, no doubt.
Some species of the local fauna scurried out through the wide door, open and partially unhinged on one side. Probably a raccoon, Noah decided, unafraid. He waded through knee-deep weeds that grew in the loamy soil as he moved past the chapel and to the cemetery beyond it. He had no fear of anything reptilian or otherwise, he was the walking dead, after all. What did Noah Drake have to fear?
Only the light.
And a past that had destroyed his future, and any semblance of a normal present. Camouflaged by the creeping flora, primitive headstones, crumbling with age, marked the final resting places of a few of St. Gabriel's former residents. No one on the island ever came near the place anymore. Not since the ground had been tainted some thirty or so years ago by the burial of one of Savannah's premier voodoo queens, or so went the gossip. Noah wondered if the woman had felt as alone in her beliefs as he did in his inescapable isolation.
But he was alone, not lonely, he reminded himself. He didn't need anyone. And there was his work ... his private expression of aloneness.
Minutes turned into hours as he wandered with no particular destination. He didn't often leave the house for this long, or travel this far from its sanctuary. A simple mistake such as falling and injuring himself could mean certain death if he were unable to return before dawn. But he'd needed to escape the demons from his past and this was the only way he'd known how.
They were coming ... for him.
All he could do was wait. It was the waiting that got to him, not the fear for his life. Just the waiting.
Acutely attuned to nature's predawn signals, he eventually moved back toward safety. He slowed as he neared the house. Inside lay reality. Out here, he glanced toward the east and the pink and purple hues already creeping above the horizon, was freedom, hope, possibility.
But his time was up. Going back inside wasn't a mere alternative, it was a necessity. If he remained outdoors and the sun came up, which it would inevitably do ... he would die.
As he trudged through the sand, he studied the details of the prison he'd chosen. The three-story Victorian Gothic-style house had a long ways to go before she would be fully restored to her former glory, but she was impressive still, at once brooding and enchanting if one was predisposed to romance.
Hurricane shutters, now closed at all times, masked the floor-to-ceiling windows. More than a century after the house's construction, that detail had become an important one for the new owner. Interior shutters and heavy drapes rendered the numerous massive windows - eyes to the outer world - completely sightless. No one saw in, no one saw out and not even so much as a glimmer of light penetrated his large, aboveground dungeon.
When he reached the screened porch that had been added sometime in the last half of the twentieth century, Noah turned around and looked out over the ocean one last time. That had actually been the deciding factor in his choosing this place. The sound of the surf, the immensity of its boundaries were breathtaking even without the aid of the sun.
It was all that kept him sane.
"Noah, you've been gone for hours." The gently scolding voice greeted him the moment he opened the door into the kitchen.
Tamping down the instant irritation, Noah manufactured a smile for his relentless companion, Lowell Kline. Companion, what an odd designation for his mind to conjure, Noah considered abruptly. But it was true. Lowell was paid well to live here, had been for a year now. Did the shopping, the cooking, the laundry, even the cleaning. He fussed over Noah like a grandmother every chance he got. Most of the time Noah avoided him, but sometimes, as now, Lowell would catch Noah off guard and that annoyed him immensely. Lowell wanted to be a true companion in that he wanted to be Noah's friend. But Noah didn't want that. He didn't want anyone to be too close.
(Continues ... )
Excerpted from Guardian Of The Night by Debra Webb Copyright © 2003 by Harlequin Enterprises Limited
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.