Betrothed from the cradle, separated by cruel deceit … determined to find each other once again.
From the moment of her christening, Robyn belonged to Dax. But that was years ago. Her life is no longer a fairy tale but a nightmare. And the beautiful young Robyn has never met the man Dax has become—one cursed by a Phantom that dwells within him.
Night after night, since that stinging cold day he was captured by the Curse, Dax must fight the Phantom. Returning to England to uncover the secrets of his past, Dax's heightened senses lead him straight to Robyn, who is in desperate need of help. Unless Dax fully unleashes his Phantom, Robyn won't survive. But allowing his darkness to surface will place her in even greater peril—this time from him.
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About the Author
Known for her “lyrical prose” and adventurous stories, Lindsay Randall is the award-winning author of historical and contemporary romances.
RT Book Reviews lauded her with a Reviewers Choice Award for Best Historical Paranormal Romance, and readers respond to the “solid writing and engaging action” found in the pages of her books.
For Lindsay, writing is not simply a joy but a compulsion. “I feel called to write,” she explains.
A devotee of the written word since the third grade, Lindsay began her journey as a writer in the form of journaling. Her first diary was a gift from her mother and the pages were soon filled to bursting within two short weeks.
Decades later, Lindsay is responding still to an urge within that wants to write.
The author’s private life is as steeped in creative endeavors as is her professional one. She spends time experimenting with various artistic mediums from watercolors to digital photo editing and enjoys the practice of yoga, as well as exploring the natural environment around her.
Lindsay makes her home in the beautiful Pennsylvania Wilds, where she was born and raised. She invites readers to connect with her at http://www.lindsayrandall.com.
Read an Excerpt
By Lindsay Randall Dorchester Publishing
Copyright © 2008 Susan M. Anderson
All right reserved.
The Boy and his Phantom Riders
Along the Sussex Coast of England April 1803
A cold wind swept inland from the Channel, bringing with it freezing rain that would soon turn to snow and coat the night in white. A young boy framed in the small-paned window of a chilled and tiny seaside cottage stared out at a deserted stretch of road gradually being covered by chunks of hail. He could perceive the clatter of an approaching carriage, and beyond that the ominous sound of rapid hoofbeats. He stretched his thoughts past the unexpected coach, focusing on what followed: riders, three of them, a few leagues distant and coming fast. Coming for him.
He'd first felt their presence in France four months ago, when the man his father had hired to protect him had whisked him through the winter-bare province where his mother had been born. It was as if his brief time there had brought something dormant to life, something evil stirred by his nearness and now determined to find him. Every day since then he'd felt whoever or whatever it was pressing closer.
He'd not shared any of this with his guardian, Sir Dysart Carlyle, for to do so would have meant having to explain his suddenly heightened sense of hearing and sight. It would have meant trying to explain theconstant chill in his body, the urge to roam that invaded him every time night cloaked the land, and the fact that he no longer needed more than an hour's sleep. But worst of all, it would mean revealing the terrifying wisdom that had crushed his innocence, filled him with a knowledge too burdensome for a boy of twelve.
For weeks he'd wished the riders would catch up to him and end this odd existence into which he'd been thrust. Now they nearly had. By dawn, he'd either be damned ... or dead.
He shifted his focus. From the corner of the room behind him he could hear the whispered exchange of Sir Dysart and the mysterious woman who'd come to meet them at this desolate place. They thought he couldn't make out their hushed words. They were wrong. He heard sounds other humans couldn't, perceived images others never would, and felt things he wished to God he didn't.
"You have watched him?" the woman asked Sir Dysart.
"I have. Constantly."
"Nothing. He shows no signs of being ... like them."
A breath of relief escaped her. "Perhaps that means we have been wrong."
"Perhaps," Sir Dysart murmured. "Still, I don't think it is wise to introduce him to the girl. Not yet, not until we're certain."
"I disagree," the woman said. "I believe my niece holds far more gifts than her mother and I combined. Meeting her will give the boy hope, a glimpse at what his future can hold if only he and she-"
The woman immediately fell silent, leaving the sentence unfinished as she finally heard the approaching carriage come rattling down the pitted, icy road and haul to a stop.
"Dax," Sir Dysart called.
Dax, eyes narrowing at the words the two had shared and thought he couldn't hear, turned slowly about. He watched as the woman drew up the hood of her cloak, cast him a warm smile, then quickly headed outside.
"Step away from the window, my boy," Sir Dysart gently coaxed. "We don't want anyone seeing your face."
Irritation bolted through him. "You have brought me to what looks like the edge of the world, sir. Who is there to see me?" he demanded.
Sir Dysart frowned wearily. "One can never be certain, Dax. Surely I have taught you that much."
Dax. How he hated the name that wasn't his own. He was so much more: the son of a titled Englishman and Parisian-born mother. But Dax was what he would be called once he and Sir Dysart left Sussex and continued on the too-familiar journey of finding a safe haven for him.
In the past, he'd been given other names, on other continents. Robert, John, Michael ... The list was unpleasantly long. It shouldn't have mattered to be given yet another new name. Not after so many years of being bustled about, hidden, kept "safe." Not when the riders trailing him were nearly upon him.
But that's precisely why it did matter. He felt suddenly as if he would never reach the edge of another morning, felt as if something sinister would snare him this night.
He was tired of running, of not knowing why he'd been forced to leave home. His life should have been different. His father should be here to protect him, his mother to comfort him. But his father feared him, and his mother was dead-her soft, white throat cut by a knife-wielding thief who had lunged into their coach one evening. The clearest memory he carried from his past was the moment when he was five and his mother had been murdered. The small, crescent-shaped scar just beneath the outer corner of his left eye reminded him how miserably he'd failed to defend her. Held tight in that memory was how his father, bereft yet coldly stern, had forced him from home in the days following.
"Do not call me Dax," he suddenly blasted. "It's not my name. I am-"
"No," Sir Dysart cut in. "You are Dax, born in some hapless village, orphaned, and unable to recall your earliest years. Is that clear?"
He didn't reply.
"God's teeth, lad! For the sake of your father and your own life, you can be nothing more, do you hear?"
Dax turned to the window again, hating the flat, ugly reality of his life. "I hear you," he muttered. B'god, he heard everything. But he didn't understand a bloody thing about his luckless past ... and wondered if he ever would.
Silence then. Nothing but the wind blasting against the aged slats of the cottage, the hail pounding down ... and the far-off thundering of hoofbeats as the relentless riders cut through the ice-ridden night in search of him.
Dax stared out at the frozen world. For seven long years Sir Dysart had kept him secluded from all others, tutoring him, pushing him through countless hours of study as they journeyed far from England. It had always been just the two of them. Now they'd returned to English soil and Sir Dysart had brought this woman to see him, with another carriage in her wake. It made no sense.
Dax watched the driver of the coach let down the steps and pop open the door. A young girl emerged. The running lamps of the coach caught and held in her gaze, and for the flash of a moment Dax could see clearly that she had the most stunning violet eyes. The woman had whispered to Sir Dysart that the girl possessed "gifts." Dax wondered what those gifts might be in one so young. Fistfat, dark curls framed her face, which was couched in an ermine-trimmed hood. Huddling against the wind and hail, the girl eagerly reached out a gloved hand to the woman and hurried for the door of the cottage with her.
The chill that swept inside with them matched the ever-present cold in Dax's bones. "Who are they?" he demanded of his guardian. "Why have they come?"
Sir Dysart frowned. "Where are you manners, lad?"
"I have none," he shot back. "I am Dax, remember? Orphaned, luckless, with a past not worth recalling."
"Young man, my patience with you this day is wearing thin. You will introduce yourself to the ladies and-"
"Dysart," the woman interrupted, her gaze not leaving Dax, "do not scold. He has a right to ask questions." Her eyes warmed. "I am Lady Amelia Archer, and I'd like for you to call me Amy. I am your godmother, and your sweet, lovely mother was my closest friend."
Heat streaked through Dax's chilled body, searing his chest, the pain twisting his heart. He couldn't remember his mother's face. Only the scent of rosewater and the softness of her hands remained vivid in his memory.
"Has anyone ever told you that you've eyelashes very much like hers, long and curling at the ends ... and that you've also her height and grace of form?"
Dax shook his head, choked by the huge lump forming in his throat.
"Well, you do," Amelia said, "and it is a shame you haven't been told as much by now. But I am here to change all of that." She tilted her head to one side, her gaze soft. "Though I can see your mother in you, I can also see the stamp of your father. I see him in the way you boldly stand and how you tip your chin up, just so, as if questioning everything, trusting nothing."
Dax felt a tug deep inside his soul. "You ... know my father?"
Amelia nodded. "It is the reason Sir Dysart has brought you here, so that I can tell you about your parents-and also for you to meet Robyn." Amelia glanced down at the girl by her side. "This is my niece-Lady Robyn Sophia Amelia Sinclair, daughter of Lord and Lady Chelsea. I call her Robbie."
Dax's gaze slid to the girl who couldn't have been more than six or seven years old.
Lady Robyn sent him a shy smile as she clutched her aunt's arm, pressing her cheek against it. "Hullo," she said, though fabric and her fear of him muffled the word. Even so, the sound of her voice was like a warm blanket fluttering down over the coldness in Dax.
"Robyn is your betrothed," Amelia said quietly.
His world slammed to a stop.
"Your parents chose her on the day of her christening to be your wife, and Lord and Lady Chelsea agreed ... or rather, the Countess of Chelsea, my sister, agreed." Amelia waited a moment, then added, "I thought, given all the years you and Sir Dysart have been on the road, that you needed to know this."
Emotion bloomed hard inside of Dax. He felt the prick of tears, but blinked them away. It was difficult to believe there existed in this bitter world someone with whom he was destined to share a life, to create a home, a family. How he ached to be part of a family.
"Well?" Amelia whispered. "What do you think of all this?"
What did he think? He thought her too young and shy, but mostly he thought of his parents and how much he missed them. "Perhaps my father does not hate and fear me as much as I have believed all these years," Dax whispered, his voice rough with feeling.
"Of course he doesn't."
"Then why did he order me taken from him? Why does he not allow me to come home? It is because he believes I am the reason my mother died, isn't it? He cannot stand the sight of me or the memory of what I caused ... and he lives in fear of what I-I may still cause. That's it, isn't it?"
"No," Amelia said, and then, more softly added, "You are not the reason your mother died, and your father does not fear you. He fears for you. He keeps you hidden because he wants to keep you safe." She let out a soft breath and glanced briefly at Sir Dysart, then back at Dax. "It's time you were told, my sweet, that your father has a very powerful enemy. We believe they are responsible for your mother's death. They've been trying to ruin your father by casting doubt on his allegiance to England. And we also believe they will harm you if they ever find you."
Dax could scarcely believe all he was hearing ... about a hidden enemy and whispers of treason. Anger churned inside him at all that he'd lost. "But why come after us? What did we do?" he cried in frustration.
"If we knew the 'why,' it would be much easier to find the 'who,'" Sir Dysart said. "I'm sorry, lad, but right now this is the best way to keep you safe."
"Sometimes," Dax muttered, "I feel as though I have come from nothing and-and am headed for nothing. It is as though I have no past and will never have a future."
"But you do have a future," Amelia said. "That is why I've brought Robyn here to meet you, so that you can have a glimpse of that future." She smiled down at her niece, who was still half hiding in the fold of her cloak. "Robyn has a gift for you. It is something that has been handed down through our family for years and is filled with goodness, isn't it, Robbie?"
Robyn nodded. At her aunt's urging, the girl stepped forward and held out her left hand, which was fisted around the secret treasure. "Aunt Amy says this will keep you safe," Robyn said, turning her gloved hand palm down and then opening her fingers as Dax reached out.
It was a hammered piece of old silver worn smooth, heavy and heart-shaped and threaded to a hair ribbon as red as a valentine.
A necklace. "Um, thanks," Dax said.
He heard the wind moan outside-and more: the hoof-beats again, closer this time, too close. How had he let himself forget about the riders? He should have told Sir Dysart and Amelia before now. He should have told them when Amelia first entered the cottage. Now Robyn was at risk-all of them were.
Suddenly, there came a loud knock at the cottage door. Sir Dysart glanced out one window and then opened the door, asking for a report from the breathless man who stood there.
"Riders, sir," the man answered gravely, casting a glance in Dax's direction.
"Three. Spotted to the west and coming fast."
"You know what to do, Harry," Sir Dysart said.
"I am being followed, aren't I?" Dax demanded.
Amelia's mouth thinned into a straight line. "Yes, but you've not yet been found," she said firmly, not giving Dax a chance to explain that he'd known of the riders for months. "I've planned for this." She looked at her niece. "Robbie, my love, I'm sorry, but you'll have to head back to Land's End. You'll go in one carriage." Her gaze slid to Dax. "You, Sir Dysart, and I will head south in the other. We must all move quickly. Everything will be all right."
Dax didn't believe her. Nothing would be all right, he knew, until he faced the riders from his mother's birthplace and met whatever terror they held. "No," he said. "The rest of you go." They wanted him.
Amelia wasn't listening. Neither was Sir Dysart.
Amelia kissed Robyn on the forehead, then moved to whisper with Sir Dysart at the opposite side of the room. Dax would have focused on their hushed words, but Robyn, her very nearness, drew his attention solely to her.
He stared hard at the slip of a girl who had made him think about his past and had allowed him to dare to dream of a future. "Do you have gifts?" he asked, the question just tumbling out, his need to know strong.
"You mean presents?"
"No. I mean ... like magic."
"Oh," Robyn said, and then shook her head. "My mama does ... and Aunt Amy. They say I will, too. Someday."
Dax said nothing, only listened.
"Mama says that all my magic is in my heart."
Dax tightened his fist around the hammered silver, wanting to believe.
Sir Dysart called out, telling Dax it was time to leave.
Robyn's gaze remained locked on him. "My mama tells me to breathe when I am afraid."
And Dax breathed.
He sucked in a breath so hard it caused the scent of Robyn to whisper deep inside of him. Though it was winter, she smelled of warm, dreamy days-the kind he'd once known-and of hope. She smelled deeply of hope.
He didn't want to leave her. Not now. Not ever. Wanting desperately for Robyn to remember him, Dax pulled the lone plume from his hat. "Will you do one thing for me?" he asked.
Robyn, eyes going wide, nodded shyly.
"Take this," he said, handing the feather to her. "Let it be a wing for your every dream. Will you do this for me-for always?"
"Why?" she whispered.
Dax blinked back his tears and every one of his fears. "Because I don't think I'm going to have any of my own dreams come true. It will make me happy to know that all of yours will."
Long after Robyn was put into one carriage and he into another, Dax thought about that moment, about what he'd said. Always had never been a concept he could grasp ... not until he'd met Robyn.
The mysterious riders overtook them an hour before dawn as their carriage raced fast along a lonely stretch of road. There came a shot of gunfire, then another and another. The lead horse crumpled in a hideous flailing of limbs. The driver was cut down on his seat, and Sir Dysart, bravely trying to climb out onto the box, was shot in the chest as he opened the carriage door, his body falling lifelessly away.
Dax cried out, his mind tumbling with stark terror and disbelief.
It was Amelia who kept a cool head. She pulled from her pocket a small, loaded derringer and pressed it into Dax's shaking hands even as the two of them were tossed about the inside of the vehicle. She managed to haul Dax up by his coat collar and then steady both herself and him near the door.
"You have to jump!" she told him.
Dax shook his head.
Amelia stared him straight in the eyes, willing him to be brave. "Once you hit the ground," she yelled over the wild wind and the mad creaking of the carriage, "you must get to your feet and start running and not stop. Do you hear me, Dax? Do not stop. Not for anything."
"But what about you?" he yelled.
"I'll follow if I can."
"And if you can't?" He suddenly sensed they wouldn't end the jump together.
"You keep going. Don't let them catch you. Do what you must to save yourself."
Dax, feeling the small pistol in his hands, knew what she meant. "I-I don't want to do this. I don't want to leave you!"
Dax thought again of that final carriage ride when his mother had been killed. He couldn't allow the same to happen to Amelia.
Holding tight to the handle of the derringer, Dax turned to face the open door. He slammed his eyes shut against the driving, icy rain, against the blur of land whizzing past ... and jumped.
He hit the hard earth, bounced and rolled and bounced again and again. He felt the bone of his nose crack, felt his shoulder jam into his back. His face was soon covered with blood and his left eye was stinging mightily. The ground was hard and wet, coated with icy snow. Down and down he rolled, thrust forward by a momentum he couldn't control ... until finally he stopped, his head ramming hard into a tree trunk just as the derringer fired in his fist and the world went black.
Excerpted from Phantom by Lindsay Randall Copyright © 2008 by Susan M. Anderson. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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