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BOUND BY NIGHT
Once featured in a horror movie, the crumbling Wolfram estate is said to be haunted by ghosts, witches, and worse. But Elena doesn’t believe a word of it—until she spends the night and wakes up in the arms of a compelling stranger…
Tall, dark, and disturbingly handsome, Drake is the most beautiful man Elena has ever seen. For centuries, he has lived alone, and Elena is the first woman to enter his lair—and survive. And Drake is the first man to touch her heart and soul. By the time she discovers who he really is—and what he craves—it’s too late. Blood lust has turned to love, and Elena is deeply under Drake’s spell. But forever comes at a price for each of them.
His favorite lair was in the remains of a castle that had been built only a few years before he had been turned. He came back every thirty years or so, whenever the noise and the smell and the busyness of modern life became more than he could bear. He much preferred the life he had once known, before the advent of cell phones and iPods, a time when life had been slower, simpler. There had been a beauty to those days long gone, a grace that was missing now. An innocence that could not be restored, and sorely missed.
But Wolfram Castle remained, exactly the same as it had always been. It was an impressive structure, rectangular with round turrets at three corners and a high, arched entrance. Battlements edged the flat roof. A barbican surrounded the building. The single entrance, flanked by two towers, faced the rising sun. Stone steps, many of them broken, led to the imposing entrance. The outbuildings, save for a large stable in sore need of a new roof, had been destroyed long since.
The ground floor of the castle housed the kitchen and storerooms; the main hall occupied the first floor, along with several smaller rooms, including a garderobe and a bathing chamber, as well as quarters in the rear that had once housed the servants. The chambers on the upper floor had been used exclusively by the Wolfram family.
Drake had purchased the castle and the surrounding acreage from Thomas Wolfram, the last of the Wolfram line, over four hundred years ago. In this day of malls and superstores and housing tracts, holding on to the land had been no easy task, but a good lawyer, and a bit of supernatural magic, had ensured that the castle, the ground it sat on, and the meadow below, would be his as long as he lived.
Standing in the pouring rain, Drake ran his hand over one of the ancient walls. Even though the castle was inanimate, he felt a kinship with it, for they had both endured much in the course of their long existence.
He had survived angry villagers eager to burn him alive; the king’s guards, who had desired his head on a pike; pious minions of the Church who had hoped to redeem his soul before they drove a sharp wooden stake through his heart; mercenaries who wanted to sell vials of his blood to the highest bidder.
The castle had been ravaged by fire and flood, pummeled by rain and hail, struck by lightning, buried in an avalanche, and yet both he and the castle remained, still strong and nearly indestructible.
On rare occasions, he had thought of tearing the place down and building something more contemporary, but it had been a favorite retreat of his for centuries. Destroying the castle would be like destroying a part of himself.
He grunted softly. Maybe ending his existence wouldn’t be such a bad idea. Perhaps he would find peace in true death. He might even find forgiveness. At the least, he would find an end to his hellish thirst, to the loneliness that could never be assuaged by brief encounters with nameless women. An end to watching the rest of the world change and develop while he remained forever the same. Best of all, it would put an end to what was expected of him.
He shook all thought so self-destruction away. Suicide was a cowardly thing to do. Perhaps it was time to go to ground, to rest for a hundred years or so. When he awoke, the world would have changed. There would be new things to see, to learn, a whole new world to explore.
He gazed into the distance. Dark clouds hovered low in the sky, spitting rain and lightning. There was little to see in this part of the country save for the castle, and a small township at the foot of the mountain. A movie company had used the town as the backdrop for a horror movie that had, to everyone’s surprise, become a worldwide phenomenon. Since then, tourists had come from all over the world to take pictures and buy souvenirs and pretend, for a day or two, that they were part of that fictional world.
He shook his head. He had little interest in movies, but the tourists who wandered throughout Romania looking for Dracula made for easy pickings. The rain would keep most of them inside on a night like this, but there were always an adventurous few who were willing to brave the elements in search of excitement.
He smiled inwardly as the hunger rose up within him, and with it, the urge to hunt. Any tourists out looking for a thrill tonight would find more than they bargained for.
Elena Knightsbridge paused outside the back door, her gaze drawn to the gray stone castle at the top of the hill. No one knew exactly how old the castle was, only that it has been passed down from one generation to another. No one had lived there for as long as Elena could remember. From time to time, developers had come, hoping to buy the land, tear down the castle, and build a Dracula theme park, but the land was held in perpetuity for the heirs of Thomas Wolfram.
There were those who said Wolfram Castle was haunted, that ghosts wandered the long dark halls. There were other tales as well, scary stories whispered in the dark of the night, of witches and warlocks, of demons and dragons.
There were other stories, too, of young women who had been lured into the castle in days gone by, never to be seen or heard from again. Elena’s uncle, Alfred Broderick, insisted that stories of devil worship and witchcraft were a bunch of nonsense, and that the girls who had supposedly disappeared had been employed at the castle as hired help. Whether any or all of the old stories were true or not, there was something about the castle that repelled visitors.
With a shake of her head, Elena bent over the wicker laundry basket and began hanging the clothes on the line. A haunted castle was nothing compared to the hell her life had become since her parents were killed in a car accident ten years ago, when she was nine, and she had been sent here, to this nothing little town in Transylvania to live with her father’s sister, Henrietta, Henrietta’s husband, Alfred, and their daughter, Lucinda, who was a few years older than Elena. Life had been too bad when her aunt was alive, but Henrietta had passed away some years ago, and Lucinda had run off with a boy from the next town.
Elena shuddered when she thought of her uncle, with his cropped brown hair, thick brown mustache, and close-set gray eyes. Uncle Alfred was such a skinflint, he refused to buy a new dryer. Times were hard, he said, they didn’t have money for silly things like dryers. He had money for whiskey, though. She supposed, if the washing machine broke, she would find herself pounding the laundry on the rocks in the river. Her workload load had doubled since her aunt passed away and Lucinda had eloped.
Caring for the house, doing the washing and the cooking and the mending, and feeding the chickens and cleaning the coop left little time for anything else. The only bright spot was that her uncle, who was now the chief of police, was rarely home these days. Truly a blessing. He had made her uncomfortable for as long as she could remember. She hated the way he called her “my little cabbage,” the way he smiled at her, the way he found excuses to touch her.
He had grown bolder since Lucinda ran off with one of the neighbor boys. Her uncle’s touches had become more intimate, and more frequent. It was all Elena could do not to cringe when he caressed her hair or stroked her cheek. His conversation was laced with double entendres. Lately, Elena wanted to hide whenever he was in the house. The way he looked at her, like a hungry wolf contemplating its next meal, made her skin crawl. One night, during dinner, he had reminded her that he was her uncle by marriage and not by blood.
Last night, she had awakened to find him standing by her bed, staring down at her. Though she had no experience with men, every instinct she possessed had warned her that she was in danger. She had kept very still, feigning sleep, until, after what seemed like hours, he tiptoed out of her bedroom.
Lucinda had made veiled references to abuses by her father, hinting that, since her mother died, he had come into her room. She claimed that he had done things so vile she couldn’t repeat them. Elena hadn’t wanted to believe it. The kind of things Lucinda whispered about only happened to other people.
These days, Elena wondered if Lucinda had been telling the truth. If that was why she had run away from home.
Elena looked out the window, a shiver of unease snaking down her spine when she saw her uncle staggering up the street.She needed to get away from here, but where could she go? Walking to Brasov was out of the question. It was many miles away, on the other side of the mountain. She had no car, no cash, no one she could turn to for help.
Elena was acutely aware of her uncle’s repeated glances in her direction at dinner that night. Though the table was large, he insisted she sit close beside him. She flinched when his arm brushed against hers, gagged at the smell of his whiskey-sour breath.
“How old are you now, Elena?” he asked.
“Far past the time when a young woman should be wed. Do none of the young men in town appeal to you?”
He nodded, looking pleased, and then thoughtful. “Perhaps you would prefer an older man? One with experience, if you know what I mean?”
She swallowed hard, her heart pounding. “No, sir.”
“It’s been five months since Lucinda ran off. It isn’t proper for the two of us to continue living together without a chaperone.” He laughed, a mean, ugly sound. “People might get the wrong idea.”
Elena clenched her hands in her lap, sorely afraid she knew what was coming, and dreading it.
“I think we should marry.” He nodded, as though pleased with the idea. “I need an heir, someone to carry on the family name.”
She stared at him, mute with horror at the idea of sharing his bed.
Smiling, he took hold of her arm and drew her closer. “You’d give me a son, wouldn’t you?”
She tried to pull away, but he tightened his grip on her arm, his pudgy fingers digging into her skin to hold her fast. And then he leaned forward and kissed her.
Eyes wide with revulsion, she fought down the urge to vomit as his tongue plunged deep into her mouth.
Tonight, she thought when he released her. Tonight she would make her escape. The castle on the hill was a good distance away. Old and run-down, with no electricity or modern conveniences, it would be the last place anyone would think to look for her - if she could just find the courage needed to go inside.
Better to face the ancient ghosts in Wolfram Castle, Elena thought as she got ready for bed that night, than to endure another moment in her uncle’s presence.
It was well after midnight when she tiptoed into the kitchen, carefully avoiding the squeaky board in the floor. Since she hadn’t been shopping in almost a week, there was little in the refrigerator, but waiting another day was out of the question. She dropped a few apples and a doughnut into a sack; then, holding her breath, she opened the back door as quietly as possible and slipped outside.
She paused a moment, suddenly unsure. Was she doing the right thing? How would she survive on her own? Maybe she should wait. If she was lucky, she might find someone to take her to Brasov. But she didn’t have the luxury of waiting, not with Uncle Alfred talking about marriage. The idea of sharing his bed, of having his hands pawing her, his mouth on hers, lent wings to her feet and she ran away from the house and into the darkness.
It seemed as if the night closed in around her as she hurried up the hill toward Wolfram Castle. She was half-way there before it occurred to her to wonder if she would even be able to get inside. For all she knew, the place was locked up tighter than banker Bramwell’s vault.
A sudden, wayward wind lifted the hair from her shoulders and sent a flurry of dry leaves skittering across her path. Dark clouds gathered overhead, shutting out both moon and stars.
The wind grew colder, stronger, causing the trees to moan as they swayed back and the forth. The tall grass bent as if in supplication to the force of the wind as it howled across the land.
An omen, Elena wondered, shivering. She lowered her head and drew her coat closer around her shoulders as thunder rumbled overhead.
Continuing on, she realized the castle was a lot farther away than it looked. She paused several times to catch her breath, wondering if she would ever make it to the top of the hill.
The clouds released their burden just as she reached the castle door.
Taking a deep breath, she reached for the latch, blew out a sigh of relief when, with a creak loud enough to wake the dead, the heavy wooden door swung open.
Hurrying inside, she quickly closed the door, shutting out the wind and the rain, and then stood there, her heart pounding with the realization that it was pitch black inside and that she had forgotten to bring a flashlight. But at least she was away from her Uncle.
With one hand outstretched, she moved across the floor, a soft cry of pain rising in her throat when she bumped into something. Exploring with her free hand, she discovered it was a high-backed sofa. It was late and she was tired. She dropped her food sack on the floor, then stretched out on the sofa, her coat spread over her. No matter what tomorrow held, she was safe from her uncle’s repulsive advances tonight.
Drake paused when he reached the castle door, his preternatural senses alerting him to the fact that there was a human female inside. A human who was either very brave, he thought with a wry grin, or very foolish. The castle possessed a dark aura that kept most people at bay. Few dared to come here in the light of day; no one came here after sunset. There was little need to lock the door; those who ventured inside never stayed long. And yet, the fact remained, there was a woman in the castle.
Materializing inside the great hall, Drake moved unerringly toward the high-backed damask sofa in front of the hearth, his nostrils filling with the combined scents of lavender soap, peppermint toothpaste, and salty perspiration tinged with fear.
And over all, the intoxicating scent of woman.
He stared down at the sleeping female. She was a comely lass, with sun-tanned skin, delicately arched black brows, and a mass of long ebony hair that fell in soft waves over the arm of the sofa and down her slight shoulders.
Pretty, yes, he mused with a frown. But who the devil was she and what the bloody hell was she doing here?
He considered tossing her out on her lovely arse.
He considered leaving her on the sofa.
In the end, he tossed her plain brown coat aside, then scooped her into his arms.
She stirred as he started up the winding stone staircase. Her eyelids fluttered open, revealing a pair of velvet brown eyes. Before she could scream, he trapped her gaze with his. Summoning his preternatural power, he lulled her back to sleep.
With a shake of his head, Drake continued up the stairs and into the lord’s chamber. After removing her t-shirt, khaki shorts and hiking shoes, he tucked her under the thick blankets in the big four-poster bed. He glanced at the hearth and a fire sprang to life. He needed neither the light nor the warmth; he could see perfectly fine in the dark, was impervious to the cold. But there was a chance the woman would awaken during the night.
He gazed down at her for several long moments, admiring the unblemished smoothness of her skin, the sweep of long sooty lashes against her cheeks, the pale pink of her lips.
Unable to resist, he lifted a lock of her hair. Thick and silky soft, it curled around his fingers as though each strand had a life of its own.
He felt the first stirrings of desire as he inhaled the fragrance of warm fresh blood flowing sweetly through her veins.
Sitting on the edge of the mattress, he gathered her into his arms, then lowered his head to the curve of her throat. He tasted her with his tongue and then with his teeth.
She was incredibly sweet.
Having satisfied his curiosity and his thirst, he headed for the lair hidden behind one of the tapestries in the great hall.
He smiled as he drifted into oblivion. For the first time in centuries, he had something to look forward to when darkness again covered the land.
Alfred Broderick frowned when he entered the dining room. The table had not been laid. His breakfast tea was not at his place, nor was his newspaper. There was no fire in the hearth, no noise or scent of food coming from the kitchen.
And no Elena standing at the stove.
Where was the girl?
Thinking perhaps she had overslept, he went down the hall to her room and knocked lightly on the door. “Elena?”
When there was no answer, he rapped again, harder this time. And when there was still no reply, he opened the door and stepped into the room. The bed, neatly made, was empty.
Moving into the room, he went through the dresser drawers, peered into the closet. As far as he could tell, all of her clothes were there, so she couldn’t have gone far, but the question remained? Where was she?
He checked the other rooms, then went outside, but she was no where to be found.
Rubbing a thoughtful hand over his jaw, he returned to the house. Had she run off with one of the village twits? That seemed unlikely. Just last night, he had asked if she had taken a liking to any of the young studs and her reply had been a resounding “no”.
Had his declaration that he intended to make her his wife frightened her off?
He shook his head. That was ridiculous. He was a wealthy man in his prime, respected for his wisdom and power by those in the town. Any woman worth her salt would be proud to bear his name.
Hunger rumbled in his stomach. Not one to prepare his own meals, Alfred put on his coat and left the house. He would breakfast at Honeymead Inn and then he would ask if any of the townspeople had seen Elena. Though he was affluent, she was not. She had nothing to call her own, only what he had given her.
Alfred was a man who knew what he wanted, and he wanted Elena for his bride. And so it would be. She was but a woman and his ward. Like it or not, she would do as he commanded or suffer the consequences.