IN THE WORKS
Demetri stood atop the roof of the old manor house he called home. Located at the top of a high hill, it overlooked the seaside town below. All looked peaceful in the light of the midnight moon, but with his preternatural vision he could see the footpads haunting the dark streets, the night guards patrolling the wealthier part of town, the drunks huddled in the alleys, bottles clutched like lovers to their chests, the light skirts plying their age-old trade along the wharf.
He frowned when he saw a young woman creeping down one of the back streets. She stopped frequently to glance over her shoulder. He rarely involved himself in mortal affairs, but he found himself wondering who she was running from, and why.
He leaned forward as a man wearing a black mask stepped out of the shadows and trailed the woman. He caught up with the woman a block later. Catching her around the throat, he slammed her up against the side of a building. Moonlight glinted off the knife in his hand.
Lorena let out a strangled cry as she tried to fight off her attacker, but to no avail. She couldn't stop staring at the knife in his hand, knew she was moments from death.
And then, from out of nowhere, another man appeared. At first, she feared he was in league with the first, until he jerked the knife from her assailant's hand and drove it deep into his chest.
Lorena stared at the second man, but it was too dark to see him clearly. It didn't help that he was dressed in black from head to foot. All she saw before she fainted dead away was a pair of glittering red eyes.
Demetri caught the woman before she hit the street. Cradling her in his arms, he carried her to the nearest inn where he procured a room for her. He paid for a week in advance, then carried her up the stairs and put her to bed. She was a pretty thing. Her hair, dark red and curly, fell to her waist. Earlier, he'd noticed that her eyes were gray. Her lashes long and thick, her skin unblemished. He wondered again what she'd been doing skulking through the dead of night.
The scent of her hair, her skin, the whisper of the rich red blood flowing through her veins stirred his senses. Did she taste as good as he imagined? Bending down, he brushed her hair aside and gently sank his fangs into the slender curve of her throat, satisfying both his thirst and his curiosity.
Lorena came awake with a start, the remnants of last night's nightmare still fresh in her mind. She had been accosted in the street by a man wielding a knife, and then another man had appeared, seemingly out of nowhere and killed the first. She must have fainted then, because she didn't remember anything after that.
Sitting up, she glanced around. She was fully dressed, in an unfamiliar bed, in an unfamiliar room with no recollection of how she had gotten there.
Rising, she tiptoed to the door and opened it. A glance left and right showed a carpeted corridor with rooms on either side. An inn, she thought, someone had brought her to an inn.
Brow furrowed, she made her way downstairs, then stopped at the desk.
"Good morning, miss," the clerk said with a cheerful smile. "I'm glad to see you looking better this morning. How may I help you?"
"This may sound a little strange, but do you know who brought me here?"
"Why, no, miss. He didn't leave his name. I assumed…" He cleared his throat, his cheeks suddenly flushed. "That is, ah, I assumed he was your husband."
"No. How much do I owe you for the room? I'm afraid I can't pay you right now but –"
"No need. The gentleman paid for a week's rent."
"He did?" Lorena shook her head. Why would a stranger do that?
Nodding, she turned away from the desk. She had no money to pay for a room or for anything else. Not even a cup of tea, she thought, as her stomach rumbled in a most unladylike way.
Feet dragging, she returned to her room. Better to go hungry than go back home, she thought glumly.
She was trying to think of a way to earn enough money to pay for transportation out of town when there was a knock at the door.
Frowning, she called, "Who is it?"
"Robert Carstairs. I'm the desk clerk."
Wondering what he could want, she opened the door.
"I…uh…thought you might like something to eat," he said, thrusting a cloth-covered tray into her hands.
Lorena stared at him.
"You don't have to pay me back," he said, the words coming out in a rush.
"I don't know what to say."
"No need to say anything. I've got to get back to the desk." And so saying, he turned and practically ran down the stairs.
Lorena kicked the door closed with her heel, then carried the tray to the small table in the corner. Sitting down, she lifted the cloth, revealing two poached eggs, a thick slice of ham, toast and marmalade, as well as a cup of tea. Bless the boy!
She hadn't eaten since yesterday and it took all her self-control not to gobble her food like some hungry street urchin.
When she was finished, she sat back, wondering how long she would be able to hide from the monster who owned her body and soul. Lord Fairfield was a powerful man. A wealthy man. Sooner or later, he would find her and drag her back home.
Blinking back her tears, she crawled into bed and sought forgetfulness in blessed sleep.
Demetri rose with the setting of the sun. He washed quickly, combed his hair, and dressed, strangely eager to see the woman he had rescued last night. She didn't look like a harlot, she hadn't been wearing a wedding ring. Yet it was obvious she wasn't from the gentry, since he had found her creeping along a back alley. A thief, perhaps? A runaway?
No matter. He wanted to see her again.
He quickened his steps. If she had left the hotel, it would take little effort to track her down.
Lorena looked up when there was a knock at the door. Hand pressed to her heart, she took a deep breath, wondering who it could be. No one knew she was here, she thought. Perhaps it was Carstairs, kindly bringing her another meal. Her stomach growled as she went to the door. It had been several hours since breakfast.
She was reaching for the latch when the door swung open. Her heart threatened to leap out of her chest when it wasn't Carstairs standing in the hallway, but a tall, broad-shouldered stranger with hair as black as the devil's breath and eyes as dark as a midnight sky. "Who…who are you?" she squeaked. "What do you want?"
Uninvited, he stepped into the room and closed the door behind him. "I merely wished to see how you were this evening."
Taking a wary step backward, she stared at him. His voice was like dark velvet, tinged with an accent she didn't recognize.
"I see you do not remember me. I came to your rescue last night."
"Oh. I…thank you. If you've come to collect for the room, I'm afraid I can't repay you."
Smiling wryly, he shook his head. "I am not in need of your money."
Lorena took a step back, her arms crossing protectively over her breasts. "What do you want?"
"Not what you are thinking."
Demetri lifted one shoulder, let it fall. "I have not yet decided." He glanced around the room. It was small and clean. The table in the corner held the remains of a morning meal. He wrinkled his nose against the lingering stink of cooked meat and eggs. "What are you running from?"
"I'm not running from anything," she said, with a defiant tilt of her chin.
"You are a poor liar."
She puffed up like a ruffled hen. "How dare you!"
He shook his head. "I can smell a lie at a hundred paces."
She glared at him. Then, shoulders slumped, she sat on the edge of the bed. "I ran away from the man who owns me."
"Some years ago, my father lost a great deal of money on several bad investments. When he couldn't pay his debts, he sold me to one of his creditors to pay the mortgage and keep food on the table."
Demetri swore under his breath. It wasn't an unusual occurrence. He knew it happened all the time. Why it bothered him now was beyond his comprehension. "Shall I kill him for you?"
"What? No! Of course not!"
He shrugged. "How are you called?"
His assessing gaze moved over her from head to heel. "And your surname?"
"Come along, Miss Halliday," he said, reaching for her hand. "I have need of a housekeeper."
"But…I don't know anything about you. Not even your name."
"I am Demetri. That is all you need to know."
She stared up at him. He was an austere man, obviously a man of good breeding and accustomed to giving orders, judging by the cut of his clothes and his imperious manner. Some might call him handsome, with his clean-cut features but she found him quite frightening. Still, she shuddered at the thought of going back to Lord Fairfield's estate and fighting off his unwanted advances – advances that had grown more frequent and increasingly more intimate since his wife's passing a few months ago.
She stared at Lord Demetri's outstretched hand. Some said better the devil you know, but she didn't agree. Hoping she wasn't making a dangerous mistake, she put her hand in his and let her new employer pull her to her feet. For better or worse, her fate was now in his hands.