Gabriele Ziegler is a young art student who becomes infatuated with charismatic archeologist Dr. Emeryk Quintillus. Only too late does she realize his true designs on her. He is obsessed with resurrecting Cleopatra and has retained the famed artist Gustav Klimt to render Gabriele as the Queen of the Nile, using ashes from Cleopatra’s mummy mixed with the paint. The result is a lifelike portrait emitting an aura of unholy evil . . .
The Mortimer family has moved into Quintillus’s former home, Villa Dürnstein. In its basement they find an original Klimt masterpiece—a portrait of Cleopatra art scholars never knew existed. But that’s not all that resides within the villa’s vault. Nine-year-old Heidi Mortimer tells her parents that a strange man lives there.
Quintillus’s desire to be with Cleopatra transcends death. His spirit will not rest until he has brought her back from the netherworld. Even if he has to sacrifice the soul of a child . . .
Praise for Catherine Cavendish’s Wrath of the Ancients
“Cavendish has constructed such an elaborate plot—combined with painstaking research into Egyptian mythology—that the fantastical events taking place seem to literally ‘come alive’ on the pages before you.”
“Cavendish offers up an atmospheric gothic horror tale that effortlessly blends together history and the supernatural to create an unsettling horror story that will appeal to almost any horror fan.”
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"That's the last of them." Yvonne Mortimer breathed a sigh of relief and sank onto the couch, grateful for the deep cushions that cocooned her aching limbs. "I don't care if I never see a cardboard box ever again."
Ryan, her husband, rewarded her hard work with her favorite expression. The one where his eyes sparkled in the wake of a smile, emphasizing the high cheekbones that were her favorite feature of his. Well, one of them, at least.
"I'll open that champagne," he said, planting a kiss on her forehead. "You've earned it. The bottle should be well chilled by now."
He left her alone in the sumptuous library and she looked up at the richly illustrated ceiling. Cleopatra's entry into Tarsus painted by Gustav Klimt. There she sat in her golden barge, her splendid white gown floating around her. That must have cost a bundle. All that gold leaf. All those people on the banks of the river — or was it the sea? Geography had never been Yvonne's strongest subject at school. Whatever it was, there were plenty of sightseers, all exquisitely detailed. There were some slaves, by their costumes ... and over there a young woman in a flowing scarlet gown, holding back some reeds that were obscuring her view. The serpentine bracelet on her arm gleamed with yet more gold leaf.
Ryan reappeared, bearing champagne flutes and an ice bucket containing an opened bottle of Bollinger.
"Here you go," he said, handing her a glass of frantically fizzing wine.
"To us," Yvonne said, raising her glass.
They clinked glasses.
"Can I have some?" Their nine-year-old, with bright blue eyes and shining gold hair, stood framed in the doorway.
"No," Yvonne said. "But you can have some lemonade."
"No. Almdudler," the little girl cried, running to her mother for a hug.
Yvonne laughed. They had only been in Vienna a matter of weeks and already their daughter was being influenced by the local TV commercials. The alpine cry of "Almdudler!" had become a particular favorite, though one taste of the distinctive fizzy, herbal drink had been quite enough for Yvonne. Over the top of her daughter's head, she said, "You've started something now, ever since you bought her a bottle yesterday. She loves it. Sorry, sweetheart, we'll have to get some from the supermarket when we go shopping tomorrow."
Her daughter released herself from her mother's arms and pouted.
Ryan tried to grab her hand but she pulled away. "Now, Heidi, don't behave like a spoiled child. You're a big girl now. You can have lemonade today and Almdudler tomorrow. Okay?"
Heidi seemed to consider this for a moment before a bright smile returned to her face. "Okay, Dad. As long as you don't forget."
"Promise. High five?" Heidi smacked her small hand into his much bigger one and laughed the tinkling sound that always tugged at Yvonne's heart.
They had almost lost Heidi to meningitis when she was eighteen months old. She had made a full recovery, but only after months of anxiety when her development had to be carefully monitored for any signs of lasting effects. Yvonne thanked whatever deity might be listening that they had been spared the fate of so many parents. Heidi had grown into a happy, healthy child with a lively imagination and quick wit. Toward the end of August she would start in grade four at the International School here in Vienna and, with excellent school reports behind her, the future looked bright for their miracle child.
Yvonne joined Ryan and Heidi in the kitchen. "I've always wanted plenty of space to cook in," she said, stroking the granite counter. "Weird about that basement though, isn't it? I wonder what's down there." She strolled up to the strong, stainless steel door. "Who padlocks a locked and bolted door?"
Ryan placed the bottle of lemonade he had been pouring for Heidi back in the fridge. "Who wears a belt and braces? But some people do, you know. Some men at least."
"Suspenders," Yvonne said, absently, as she peered closely at the locks.
Yvonne turned her head toward him. "They call braces suspenders in the States. You'll be working with a lot of Americans here. They won't understand you. Oh, and if you're using a pencil, don't ask for a rubber."
"A rubber is a condom in the US. Ask for an eraser instead."
Ryan laughed. "Why on earth would I be using a pencil when I have a perfectly good computer?"
"I'm just saying ..." Yvonne went back to her padlock inspection. "I'd love to see what's behind this door."
"You heard what Anton said. No way. The owners — the von Dürnsteins — are adamant that no one should be allowed down there."
"But he won't say why."
"It's their house. I suppose they have their reasons. I know we have a lease, but it's not like we own the place."
"All the same ..." Yvonne dropped the padlock and it clattered against the door. "I bet I could pick those locks."
"Why would you want to do that?"
Heidi ran in. "Can I go out and play now? I've finished my lemonade."
"Yes, okay, sweetheart," Yvonne said. "Stay in the garden, though. No wandering off into the street."
Heidi nodded enthusiastically. "I want to go exploring. There's lots of secret hiding places under the trees."
Yvonne watched her skip out through the kitchen door. "You don't think she's a little ... young for her age?"
"What do you mean? She looks fine to me. Her teachers are happy enough with her progress." Ryan put his arm around his wife and drew her to him. "She's great. She's passed every test with flying colors — both physical and mental. Don't try to make her grow up too fast. She'll be a rebellious teenager soon enough."
"She still plays with her dolls a lot. I don't think I did at her age. I think I gave them up when I was about eight."
"You were precocious. Your mother told me so."
"Mum always took your side." She reached up and kissed his nose.
"Besides, you said yourself, she uses her dolls like characters in a story. She's highly creative, like her mother. She'll be writing romantic fiction next."
"Just as long as she doesn't have her dolls acting out Fifty Shades of Grey."
"Er, right. Yes. Fancy some more champagne?" "Thought you'd never ask."
They wandered, arm in arm, back to the library.
Half an hour later, with the empty bottle upended in the ice bucket, they relaxed on the sofa.
Yvonne nestled into Ryan's arm, her long hair falling over his chest like a fragrant golden wave. "I'm so happy we came here," she said.
"So am I. I never expected to get this posting. Phil was supposed to be here for three years. He only lasted a few months."
"Strange, that. They've never heard from him?"
"No. He came back from New York and that's the last anyone knows of him, or Paula for that matter. It's as if they zapped into the twilight zone."
"I liked Paula. I was never sure about Phil, though. There seemed to be something shady about him. As if he was hiding something."
"That's your writer's imagination talking."
Yvonne sat up. "Maybe, but I always suspected he was having an affair."
"Oh yes? Anyone we know?"
Yvonne shrugged. "As you say, probably my imagination." She yawned. "Will we ever get this place straight? Remind me in future. I don't like moving house."
Ryan laughed. "Sorry, we'll be on the go again in three years."
Do we have to? But she knew they did. And she knew she would make the best of it when it came time to leave. Heidi would be nearly thirteen by then. Oh great! Teenage angst and a major relocation. Better get some serious writing in now while she still had her sanity. For the time being, though, the prospects for the next few years were as sunny as the day outside. In the late afternoon, part of the garden was already in shade. That would make the early July temperature at least bearable.
"Let's join Heidi in the garden. See if she's found any fairies." Yvonne stood and shook off her tiredness.
"Fairies? Now who's reverting to childhood?"
* * *
Outside, they found Heidi at the bottom of the garden, picking flowers. As they approached, she thrust out the colorful little bunch. "For you, Mum."
"Oh, thank you, darling." Yvonne took them and sniffed the mixed scents. Blooms she didn't recognize, brightly colored in reds, oranges, blues, and purples.
"A rainbow of flowers," Heidi said.
"It is indeed."
Heidi skipped off happily.
Yvonne smelled the scent of new-mown grass. Anton had sorted out the gardener he had promised them. An efficient, experienced man called Willy had arrived, along with every conceivable garden implement known to humanity. He worked swiftly and showed he knew exactly which of the abundance of plants and shrubs needed attention — or removing completely — and which should be left to thrive on their own. He trimmed, pruned, and mowed but thankfully didn't overmanicure. The garden looked tidy, but still natural. The tall pines provided much-needed shade and Yvonne joined Ryan on a bench under one of them. She rested her feet on springy turf. "There's nothing better than sitting in a beautiful garden on a perfect summer day, listening to the birds singing," she said.
"Mmm." Ryan's eyes were closed.
Pretty soon, Yvonne's eyes grew heavier and she gave up the battle to keep them open. Around her, the small birds kept up their cheerful summer chorus and lulled her to sleep. Only to be woken a few minutes later.
"Mum. Dad. There's a man in the basement."CHAPTER 2
"Can you see anything?" Yvonne crouched next to Ryan, who had his nose pressed to the grating. Through the elaborate wrought iron and murky basement windows she could see nothing but blackness, and her knees were beginning to ache from kneeling.
"He's there, Mum. I saw him."
"I can't see a thing," Ryan said. "It's too dark."
"You know, the consultant said her eyesight had been affected by the meningitis," Yvonne said. That was why her pupils contracted and dilated more than usual and she could see almost as well in the dark as a cat. One specialist after another had examined her. They had never seen a case like it. Meningitis did not give gifts. If it had lasting effects, they were generally of the negative and debilitating kind. After a year, and scared their daughter was being used like some sort of lab rat, Yvonne and Ryan had withdrawn their consent for any more investigations. Enough was enough. Their daughter had a special gift and they were thankful for that. Time to move on with their lives.
Yvonne stood and took Heidi's hand. "You know we can't see the way you can. Tell us exactly what you think you saw."
Heidi gave a loud, exasperated sigh. "I don't think I saw him. I did. He was standing in the corner and he had long black hair and a funny hat."
"What sort of funny hat?" Ryan asked.
Heidi drew a tall shape in the air above her head.
"A top hat?" Yvonne asked.
"Sort of. But bigger. I think I saw one in a book once. An American president with a beard. He had a hat like that. This man had a beard, too. Maybe it was him."
Yvonne thought for a moment and then remembered. "She means Lincoln," she said. "She was reading a book about the American Civil War."
"Well, I hardly think Abe Lincoln would have found his way to a basement in Vienna." Ryan smiled. "Okay, Heidi, show me where you saw him. Point to the spot and I'll use the flashlight on my phone."
Yvonne watched as her little girl knelt down and grabbed the grating, pushing her nose as close as she could get. Ryan took the phone from his pocket and selected the flashlight.
"He's not there now." Heidi stood. Her disappointed face was only a hair's breadth from tears.
Yvonne took her hand. "Show me where you thought ... where you saw him earlier."
Heidi knelt down again and pointed. Ryan crouched down behind her and shined his flashlight. Yvonne peered into the gloom, disappointed that she could only see indistinct shadows and an annoying reflection off the glass. He withdrew his phone, changed the setting, and fired off a few flash photographs.
"It's too bright to see them out here on this phone," he said. "Let's go in and I'll upload them onto my laptop."
The family trooped into the library and Ryan quickly uploaded the shots. Yvonne's disappointment grew with each successive shot. Nothing but camera flash and yet more window reflection.
"But he was there. I saw him," the little girl protested.
Yvonne's heart went out to her distressed daughter. It was horrible not to be believed, especially at her tender age. "I'm sure you saw something," she said, gently. "But you can see it would be impossible for anyone to live down there. What would the poor man eat?"
Heidi appeared to consider this for a moment. "Maybe he doesn't need to eat."
"Everyone needs to eat, sweetheart."
Heidi shrugged her shoulders. She was clearly reluctant to let go of her belief.
Ryan fluffed her hair. "Tell you what, let's you and I go out for some of that Almdudler you like so much. Forget waiting until tomorrow."
Heidi's eyes lit up. She clapped her hands together. "Yes."
Yvonne laughed. "While you two are out, I'll make us a salad."
Heidi trotted off happily, holding her father's hand.
Yvonne opened the fridge and removed a pack of assorted cold meats, tomatoes, lettuce, radishes, and potato salad. She busied herself with preparing their meal and laid the kitchen table with knives, forks, and condiments. From the freezer, she selected two baguettes of garlic bread and turned on the gas oven. Those could go in when Ryan and Heidi returned so the bread would still be hot and fragrant.
Her tasks done for the time being, Yvonne returned outside and wandered round to the grating they had been peering through. She knelt down again and retrieved her phone from the back pocket of her jeans, shone the flashlight through the windows and strained to see anything at all that could have given her daughter the impression of a man in a stovepipe hat. She fancied she could make out objects of some kind. Perhaps it was only her eyes playing tricks on her.
Then, only for a second, over in the far corner where Heidi had said he was standing. A shape. Dark. Tall. It moved.
Yvonne nearly dropped her phone. She struggled to her feet, panting. A pulse throbbed at her temple. She struggled to control her breathing. She must look again. What if there really was something ... someone ... down there? But there couldn't be. What would he live on? While her left and right brain struggled for supremacy, Yvonne forced herself to kneel once more. She shone her light. There, in the corner. No. A piece of furniture maybe? Nothing moved. Only her imagination.
The flashlight died as her phone battery went dead. At least she could understand why Heidi, with her superior vision, could have been so convinced. She almost was herself. Thank God it was only almost. She smiled at herself and returned to the kitchen to charge her phone.
The coolness of the house brought a welcome relief from the unrelenting heat outside, where not a breath of wind troubled the leaves. Yvonne was looking forward to the refreshing shower she would indulge in after their meal. She poured herself a glass of cold, crystal clear water from the tap and drank deeply. Vienna was noted for the quality of its drinking water, and it had such a freshness about it, Yvonne decided she would never bother with the bottled variety again.
Only the internal sounds of her swallowing and breathing broke the silence in the kitchen. Yvonne took her glass and strolled across the hallway, into the library. There, Gustav Klimt's commissioned masterpiece dominated the entire room. Her laptop stood, ready for her to start work again tomorrow morning. This would be the latest historical fiction novel in the Marquand Sisters series she had been contracted to write for a leading independent publisher.
Yvonne delighted in beating deadlines, and she had plenty of time before this one was due to go to her editor. She had left the Marquand Sisters deep in the middle of uncovering a plot to kidnap the Russian tsarevitch, and once Yvonne had worked out how to extract them from a seemingly impregnable dungeon below the Yusupov Palace, they would be able to complete their mission and restore the tsarevitch to the bosom of his loving family. The only problem was they were locked in there. How were they going to escape? She sighed. What the hell? She always had been one to present herself with a challenge. This represented merely the latest in a long line. Unless they didn't escape. She could kill them off. Tempting. Then she remembered. She had been contracted for three more books in this series. Of course, she could always have them solving their crimes from beyond the grave.
Yvonne shook her head. Her editor would never forgive her. Hell, her readers would never forgive her. Switching genres midseries? Unheard of. Ah well, never mind. Back to the drawing board. A solution would come to her; it always did. Probably in the shower. That's where most of the really good ideas emanated.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Damned by the Ancients"
Copyright © 2018 Catherine Cavendish.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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