Read an Excerpt
New York City, Present Day
Alexandra Barret tilted up her head toward the warm water that streamed in steady waves down her naked body. She ran her hands along her wet hair, smoothing the long and heavy mass against her scalp. Over the sound of the shower, she could hear the television in the background. It was 8:00 p.m. The familiar voice of the news reporter beamed with excitement as he relayed the latest development on the Central Park sightings.
With her eyes closed, she reached down and shut off the water. Her pink terry robe, which had been draped over the towel rack, was quickly donned, then she wrapped a towel around her hair and padded out of the bathroom. A single lamp on her bedside table cast a dull glow about her New York apartment. She sat on the edge of the bed and began to towel dry her hair.
"The eyewitnesses state that the creature resembled a pterodactyl with a reported wingspan of about twelve feet," the reporter continued. "This new sighting brings the count to five during the last month. Authorities have been hard-pressed to find any clues to aid in their investigation. I'm Anthony Newman with KB1 News."
The corny tune of a car insurance commercial filled the room. She stood and walked toward a small table in one corner of her room. Notes and photographs lay scattered upon it. She often brought her work home and her latest assignment was a story about the people affected by a series of mysterious fires in the Hyde Park community. At twenty-eight she was a successful features writer at one of the biggest heralds in New York, the Daily Sun. But where others relied on their interrogation skills to complete a task, she depended on a more mysterious talent.
Ever since she was a child she'd been gifted with a rare sight. At first it had been limited to her dreams, in which images had appeared to her, often seemingly meaningless. A few days later, she'd realize they were glimpses of events that had occurred. She'd never been able to predict the future, but with the added ability of tapping into others' emotions, she was often able to make accurate guesses, enabling her to complete assignments with uncanny insight. This ability propelled her to the top of her field.
Briefly, she skimmed through the photos then moved toward her dresser. She shook her hair out and gazed at her reflection in the mirror. She picked up her comb, a fancy silver and ivory family heirloom, and ran it through her long dark curls.
That's what her father had always called her. Michael had been American and her mother, Marciela, Romanian. Her father had been a journalist. He'd met her mother thirty years ago while doing a story on Romanian folklore. It had been love at first sight. Within three weeks of their meeting, Marciela and Michael were wed. They'd remained in Romania for a year, but after Marciela's father had died Marciela and Michael decided to emigrate to the U.S. As her parents' only heir and the last of the Dancescu bloodline, Alexandra had inherited the entirety of her family's estate.
Alexandra put down the comb. Nearly two years had passed since the accident. She missed them sorely. Tears welled in her eyes and she exhaled a shuddering breath. She wasn't going to do this to herself again. Her parents wouldn't want her moping over their untimely deaths. They would want her to move on and find happiness.
She switched off the television, stepped out of her robe, climbed into bed and turned off the lamp. The room was completely enveloped in darkness except for a narrow bar of light that spilled in through the window. She stared at it for a moment, feeling the hairs rise at her nape. She had the oddest sense that she was being watched.
She sat up slowly and glared through the glass door. A few seconds skipped by and she sighed. She really had to stop getting herself worked up.
She returned to her pillow and gazed at the ceiling as she tried to banish the thoughts she'd awakened. It wasn't long before her lids grew heavy and her eyes closed as she slipped into a restless sleep.
Marius Drakon perched on the metal rail of the small balcony outside the seventh-story window, his attention fixed on the form of the woman on the bed. He'd been following her for several days, and if all his father had said was true, then she was the last of the Dancescu bloodline. As his family had come to learn, the witch Necesar had been reincarnated throughout the centuries within the bodies of her descendants. There had been occurrences when her abilities had manifested within them when confronted by members of his clan, but Necesar had never gone out of her way to make her presence known. With the death of this final descendant—which he'd come to deliver—his family would be set free of their five-hundred-year-old curse.
He shifted his weight, his massive wings spreading to beat against the night air. He'd gladly volunteered to leave his Romanian castle and venture into the West to seek out the one woman who stood between him and freedom. He yearned to taste her blood on his lips. It would be sweet, like fresh air drawn into drowning lungs. No more would the shadows be his home at night and stone his prison by day. No more would he be damned—a gargoyle cursed to walk the earth for eternity.
From his vantage point, his gaze raked her body. She lay on her back and slept soundly. The pale sheets clung to every curve, outlining her femininity.
For months he'd envisioned killing her, a faceless descendant of the witch Necesar who'd cursed his family so many years ago. He'd never expected her to be so lovely. He remembered the softness of her face. She was young, too. It was a pity she had to die.
Years ago his parents had gone to every sorcerer and witch on every continent and had learned the true nature of the curse and what was necessary to end it. Every descendant of the witch Necesar had to be dead, and the last must die on the equinox and within the restrictions of a sacred ritual. It was imperative that the curse end this year, on the equinox, for the end of the Spring Equinox would mark the end of Necesar's five-hundred-year possession of her descendants' bodies— and another spirit would be allowed to take her place. The spirit of Lady Vivian Dancescu.
That could never be allowed to happen. From his father, Marius had learned that the deviant and malicious Lady Vivian wouldn't be so idle with Necesar's power at her disposal. His family—and perhaps, the world— would be damned as she exacted her revenge on the Drakon family and acted upon her greed for wealth and power.
Tonight, beneath the new moon, the Spring Equinox had begun and so, tomorrow, for the first time in one year, Marius would walk the daylight as a man instead of hardening into stone. He had twenty-eight days to carry out the ritual. Guided by the lunar sequence, each step would have to be completed individually before the next new moon. Before the first quarter, she would have to extend to him an invitation of trust, welcoming him into her home. By the full moon, a lock of her hair would be required. Before the waning crescent, a drop of her blood must be drawn. And finally, on the eve of the new moon, he would be permitted to slay her.
The fire raged on. The cries within the castle had ceased long ago, yet she stood there in the saffron light of the holocaust that lit the early morning. Villagers raced about with pails of water drawn from the lake as they fought to extinguish the flames.
She'd lost someone this night. She wasn't certain who, but there was a throbbing pang in her heart and she was consumed by grief.
Something slipped from her fingers and fell to the soft earth beneath her. She bent to retrieve it, then held it up to the light. It was a silver amulet much like the one she owned: the one that had been passed down through her family for generations.
Her fist clenched the object and anger seeped into her heart to replace the grief. Smoke burned her eyes and swept into her lungs with each ragged breath she inhaled. She would have her revenge! His name hovered before her in a haze of scattered thoughts. She closed her eyes, trying desperately to recall it.
Lord Victor D—
Alexandra's eyes flew open. Sweat beaded her forehead and her breathing came in short gasps. She'd been dreaming again—the same nightmare that had plagued her for years. Every time, the dream was the same: a beautiful woman, garbed in a velvet gown, walking calmly into a castle that was completely engulfed by flames. Alexandra could always hear herself screaming, trying desperately to stop her, but each time she'd failed. The woman's cries were always the last thing that filled her subconscious before she woke up.
The torturous dream had been the first manifestation of her gift. When she was younger, she used to try to stay awake to avoid the mayhem that might await her at sleep's threshold.
As her gift progressed, she'd begun to have difficulty venturing into crowded places, as she would be bombarded by images and emotions from those around her. Her parents had done a fair enough job of making life easier for her. She'd been tutored at home and provided with therapists and prescription medication, which had served to diminish her experiences for a time. Her mother had always tried to comfort her, telling her that her gift was something to be cherished and embraced. She'd told stories of women within their family who'd also had this talent. But considering the countless psychiatrists who'd described her condition as a rare case of psychosis and the fact that her own mother hadn't possessed any of the psychic traits, Alexandra had always been skeptical.
As she'd gotten older, she'd gained better mental control and could block out the imagery and emotions enough to fully function in everyday life, though she'd always been reluctant to date. There was no way to get close to someone without revealing some degree of her talent, and being rejected for being weird was painful. But she was tired of being alone, and a virgin.
The sound startled her and she groaned, pulling the sheet over her head. Today was Sunday. Who the hell was disturbing her at this hour? The ring chimed again and she reached onto her night table, feeling around until she found the phone then bringing the receiver to her ear.
"Hello?" The dial tone greeted her.
She sat up as she realized it was her doorbell ringing. Tossing the receiver aside, she slipped into her robe and hurried to the door. The bell sounded two more times before she spied through the peephole. Her best friend, April, stood on the other side, looking quite impatient.
Alexandra unbolted the door and swung it open. Before she had a chance to say anything, the other woman swept in.
"Do you know how long I've been standing out there?" April asked.
Alexandra closed the door then headed toward the kitchen. "Sorry. I'm just tired." She opened an overhead cupboard and reached in for a bag of coffee beans. "I haven't been getting enough sleep lately."
April seated herself on one of the counter stools, crossing her long, slender legs. "Still having those nightmares?" she asked.
At five-foot-seven, April was an inch shorter than Alexandra and a year older. She also worked at the Daily Sun.
"Yeah." Alexandra sighed. "And those pills Dr. Peters prescribed aren't helping. I think I need a stronger prescription."
"What you need is to get out of this apartment. When was the last time you did something fun?"
Seating herself on the stool opposite April, Alexandra slumped over the counter. "I think you're right," she agreed.
"Of course I'm right! You've been working too hard. Oh, and speaking of work, did you see my Friday article?" She reached into her shoulder bag and pulled out a copy of the Daily Sun, tossing it onto the counter. "It made front page."
The newspaper landed next to Alexandra's head with a flop and she looked up, reading the bold black letters that comprised the headline.
Winged Creature Sighted for Fifth Time in Central Park.
April turned the paper sideways so that they both had a correct view of the image. "Some guy was filming his kids when the thing appeared. He managed to get a few shots. It's not a good picture, but it's proof that something is out there."
Alexandra looked closer at the picture, which showed a huge dark shadow with wings. "It's a wonder I haven't spotted this thing. I have a perfect view of Central Park from my bedroom window."
The coffee machine bell went off. April hopped off her stool, waving a hand for Alexandra to remain seated. "I'll get it."
She smiled her appreciation then returned her attention to the article. "A pterodactyl? I heard the same thing on the news last night. Thanks." She took the mug from April.
April retook her seat. "Yeah, but I don't think it's a dinosaur." She took a sip from her own mug. "I mean, such things don't just appear out of nowhere, especially not in New York City."
"Well, what do you think it is? You're the one following the story. Have you come up with any conclusions yet? "
April looked pensive, her sleek brows furrowing together. "Either it's an elaborate hoax, or some govern ment experiment gone wrong. Anyway, enough talk about work. It's Sunday. Right now you need to get cleaned up. There's this huge fundraiser luncheon starting at twelve, and we have to be there."
Alexandra regarded her with suspicion. "When have you ever been interested in any fundraisers?"
"Well…" She stood, adjusting her short chiffon dress. "Ever since I learned that this one is collecting money for scholarships and that all the powerhouses of this city will be in attendance, many of whom are eligible bachelors." She checked her hair and makeup in the mirrored finish of the toaster.
"I should've known." Alexandra laughed.
"Oh, and speaking of eligible bachelors, have you met your new neighbor yet?"
"Yeah, I spotted him with some boxes while I was standing out there. He's moving into the apartment next door, and he's gorgeous." She took Alexandra's hand and pulled her from her seat then proceeded to drag her toward the front door.
On tiptoe, April spied through the peephole. "He's there again!" she said, then motioned for Alexandra to take a look.