When Darkness Comes,
THE MORNING AFTER
Abby rolled onto her side to study the man who slept at her side. No, not man, she fiercely reminded herself. Vampire. Studying the wickedly perfect features in the dim light, it seemed impossible that she hadn’t guessed the truth before. He was every woman’s fantasy.
Barely aware of what she was doing, Abby silently lifted the duvet to reveal the lean, muscular form. Although the jeans rather disappointingly remained, he had removed his silk shirt to reveal a chest that was just as lethally beautiful as she had imagined in her heated dreams.
“Good morning, lover,” a husky voice abruptly intruded into the silence.
Jerking her head up, Abby took in the slit of silver glittering beneath the heavy black lashes. She abruptly dropped the duvet as if it might scorch her fingers.
“I . . . didn’t realize that you were awake.”
“I may be dead, but not even I can sleep while a beautiful woman ogles me. Tell me, sweet, what were you searching for? A horn and tail?”
“I suppose I was curious. You seem so . . . normal.”
“You mean human?”
Without warning, she discovered herself rolled onto her back with Dante looming above her, his hands planted on either side of her head.
“Perhaps I don’t possess three eyes or have acid dripping from my fangs,” he said, his beautiful features unexpectedly somber, “but you should never make the mistake of pretending that I’m human. I am a vampire, Abby, not a man . . .”
Books by Alexandra Ivy
WHEN DARKNESS COMES EMBRACE THE DARKNESS*
Published by Zebra Books
When Darkness Comes
Kensington Publishing Corp.
All copyrighted material within is Attributor Protected.
Table of Contents
THE MORNING AFTER
Books by Alexandra Ivy
EMBRACE THE DARKNESS
About the Author
The scream ripped through the night air. Pulsing with a savage agony, it filled the vast chamber and tumbled down the vaulted corridors. Servants cowering in the lower halls of the castle clamped hands over their ears in an effort to block out the piercing shrieks. Even hardened soldiers in the barracks made the sign of the moon, the protector of the night.
In the southern turret, the Duke of Granville paced across his private library, his shadowed features lined with distaste. Unlike his servants, he did not cross his forehead in an effort to ward off the evil eye. And why should he?
Evil had already struck. It had invaded his home and dared to taint him with its filth.
The only thing left was to purge the infestation with a ruthless strike.
Tugging at the hood to his robe to ensure his marred countenance was fully hidden, he grimly squared his shoulders. Patience, he told himself over and over. Soon enough the moon would move into the proper equinox. And then the ritual would at last be at an end. The child he had sacrificed to the witches would become their precious Chalice, and his suffering would be at an end.
Turning abruptly on his heel, he marched back toward the slotted window that offered a fine view of the rich countryside. In the distance he could witness the faint glow of fires. He shuddered. London. Filthy, peasant-infected London that was being punished for its foul sins.
A punishment that had spewed out of the ramshackle whorehouses and swept its way to his sanctuary.
His hands clenched at his sides. It was untenable. He was a just man. A godly man who had always been richly rewarded for his purity. To have that . . . vile disease enter his body was a perversion of all that was due to him.
That, of course, was the only reason he had allowed the heathens to enter his estate. And to bring with them that creature of evil that was currently shackled in his dungeon.
They promised him a cure.
An end to the plague that was consuming his life.
And all it would cost him was a daughter.
“Oh God, Abby. Don’t panic. Just . . . don’t . . . panic.”
Sucking in a deep breath, Abby Barlow pressed her hands to her heaving stomach and studied the shards of pottery that lay splintered across the floor.
Okay, so she broke a vase. Well, perhaps more than broke it. It was more like she shattered, decimated, and annihilated the vase, she grudgingly conceded. Big deal. It was not the end of the world.
A vase was a vase. Wasn’t it?
She abruptly grimaced. No, a vase was not just a vase. Not when it was a very rare vase. A priceless vase. One that should no doubt have been in a museum. One that was the dream of any collector and . . .
Panic once again reared its ugly head.
She had destroyed a priceless Ming vase.
What if she lost her job? Granted, it wasn’t much of a job. Hell, she felt as if she were stepping into the Twilight Zone each time she entered the elegant mansion on the outskirts of Chicago. But her position as companion to Selena LaSalle was hardly demanding. And the pay was considerably better than slinging hash in some sleazy dive.
The last thing she needed was to be back in the long lines at the unemployment office.
Or worse . . . dear God, what if she was expected to pay for the blasted vase?
Even if there was such a thing as a half-price sale at the local Ming outlet shop, she would have to work ten lifetimes to make such a sum. Always supposing that it was not one of a kind.
Panic was no longer merely rearing. It was thundering through her at full throttle.
There was only one thing to be done, she realized. The mature, responsible, adult thing to do.
Hide the evidence.
Covertly glancing about the vast foyer, Abby ensured that she was alone before lowering herself to her knees and gathering the numerous shards that littered the smooth marble.
It was not as if anyone would notice the vase was missing, she tried to reassure herself. Selena had always been a recluse, but in the past two weeks, she had all but disappeared. If it wasn’t for her occasional cameo appearances to demand that Abby prepare that disgusting herb concoction she guzzled with seeming pleasure, Abby might have thought that the woman had done a flit.
Certainly Selena didn’t roam the house taking inventory of her various knickknacks.
All Abby needed to do was ensure that she didn’t leave any trace of her crime and surely all would be well.
No one would ever know.
“My, my, I never thought to see you on your hands and knees, lover. A most intriguing position that leads to all sorts of delicious possibilities,” a mocking voice drawled from the entrance to the drawing room.
Abby closed her eyes and heaved in a deep breath. She
For a moment she kept her back turned, futilely hoping Selena’s houseguest, the utterly annoying Dante, would disappear. It could happen. There was always spontaneous combustion, or black holes, or earthquakes.
Unfortunately, the ground didn’t open up to swallow him, nor did the smoke detectors set off a warning. Even worse, she could actually feel his dark, amused gaze leisurely meandering over her stiff form.
Gathering her battered pride, Abby forced herself to slowly turn, and keeping the broken vase hidden behind her as she regarded the current bane of her existence.
He didn’t look like a bane. God’s truth, he looked like a delicious, dangerously wicked pirate.
Still kneeling upon the floor, Abby allowed her gaze to travel over the black biker boots and long, powerful legs encased in faded denims. Ever higher she skimmed over the black silk shirt that hung loosely upon his torso. Loose, but not loose enough, she acknowledged with a renegade shiver. Much to her embarrassment, she had caught herself sneaking peeks at the play of rippling muscles beneath those silky shirts during the past three months.
All right, maybe she had indulged in more than mere peeks. Maybe she had been staring. Gawking. Ogling. Occasionally drooling.
What woman wouldn’t?
Gritting her teeth, she forced her gaze up to the alabaster face with its perfectly chiseled features. A wide brow, a narrow aristocratic nose, sharply defined cheekbones and lushly carved lips. They all came together with a fierce elegance.
It was the face of a noble warrior. A chieftain.
Until one noticed those pale, silver eyes.
There was nothing noble in those disturbing eyes. They were piercing, wicked, and shimmering with a mocking amusement toward the world. They were eyes that branded him a “badass” as easily as the long raven hair that carelessly tumbled well past his shoulders and the golden hoops he wore in his ears.
He was sex on legs. A predator. The sort that chewed up and spat out women like her with pathetic ease.
That was, when they bothered to notice women like her in the first place. Which was not very damn often.
“Dante. Do you have to skulk about like that?” she demanded, desperately aware of the priceless clutter just behind her.
He made a show of considering her question before offering a faint shrug.
“No, I don’t suppose I have to skulk about,” he murmured in his husky midnight voice. “I simply enjoy doing so.”
“Well, it’s a very vulgar habit.”
His lips twitched with amusement as he prowled ever closer. “Oh, I possess far more vulgar habits, sweet Abby. Several that I don’t doubt you would enjoy fully if only you would allow me to demonstrate.”
God, she just bet he did. Those slender, devilish hands would no doubt make a woman scream in pleasure. And those lips . . .
Abruptly she was squashing the renegade fantasy and stirring up the annoyance she most certainly should be feeling.
“Ack. You’re revolting.”
“Vulgar and revolting?” His smile widened to reveal startling white teeth. “My sweet, you are in a very precarious position to be tossing about such insults.”
Precarious? She battled the urge to glance down and discover if any shards of her crime were visible.
“I don’t know what you mean.”
With a flowing elegance, Dante was on his knees before her, those disturbing fingers lifting to lightly stroke her cheek. His touch was cool, almost cold, but it sent a startling flare of heat searing through her.
“Oh, I think you do. I seem to recall a rather precious Ming vase that used to sit upon that table. Tell me, lover, did you hock it or break it?”
Damn. He knew. She desperately attempted to think of some feasible lie to explain the missing vase. Or for that matter, any lie, feasible or not. Unfortunately, she had never been particularly skilled at prevarication.
And it didn’t much help that his lingering touch was turning her brain to mush.
“Don’t call me that,” she at last lamely muttered.
“What?” His brows lifted.
“For the obvious fact that I’m not your lover.”
“Tsk, tsk.” Dante clicked his tongue as his fingers moved to boldly outline her lips. “Has no one ever warned you that it is dangerous to dare fate? It has a tendency to come back and bite you.” His gaze drifted over her pale countenance and the soft curve of her neck. “Sometimes quite literally.”
“Not in a million years.”
“I can wait,” he husked.
She gritted her teeth as those skillful fingers traveled down the arch of her throat and along the neckline of her plain cotton shirt. He was merely toying with her. Hell, the man would flirt with any woman who possessed a pulse. And maybe a few who didn’t.
“That finger moves any lower and your stay in the world is going to be considerably shorter.”
He gave a soft chuckle as he reluctantly allowed his hand to drop. “Do you know, Abby, someday you’re going to forget to say no. And on that day, I intend to make you scream with pleasure.”
“My God, how do you possibly carry that ego around?”
His smile was purely wicked. “Do you think I don’t notice? All those covert glances when you think I’m not looking? The way you shiver when I brush past you? The dreams that haunt your nights?”
Conceited, puffed-up toad.
She should laugh. Or pooh-pooh. Or even slap his arrogant face. Instead she stiffened as if he had hit a nerve that she didn’t even know she possessed.
“Don’t you have somewhere you need to be?” she gritted. “The kitchen? The sewers? The fires of hell?”
Surprisingly the pirate features hardened as his lips twisted into a sardonic smile.
“Nice try, my sweet, but I don’t need you to condemn me to the fires of hell. That was accomplished a long time ago. Why else would I be here?”
Abby gave a lift of her brows, intrigued in spite of herself by his hint of bitterness. For God’s sake, what more could he want? He possessed the sort of cushy life that most oversexed playboys could only dream of. A glamorous home. Expensive clothes. A silver Porsche. And a sugar mommy who was not only young, but beautiful enough to make any male hot and bothered. His life was hardly in the gutter.
Unlike her own.
“Oh yes, you must really suffer,” she retorted, her gaze flicking over the silk shirt that cost more than her entire wardrobe. “My heart simply breaks for you.”
The silver eyes flashed with a startling heat as the fierce power that always smoldered about him prickled through the air.
“Do not presume to speak of things you know nothing about, lover,” he warned.
Just let it be, Abby, she sternly warned herself. Whatever his easy charm, the man was dangerous. A genuine bad boy. Only fools deliberately toyed with fire.
Of course, when it came to men, she might as well have the word idiot tattooed on her forehead.
“If you dislike being here, then why don’t you leave?”
He regarded her in unnerving silence before his eyes slowly narrowed. “Why don’t you?”
“I’m not the only one suffering here, am I? Every day you seem to fade a bit more. As if your frustration and sadness has taken another piece of your soul.”
Abby nearly tumbled backward at his sharp perception. She had never dreamed that anyone could possibly have noted her desperation at her tedious existence, nor the budding fear that she would soon be too old and tired to care that she was going nowhere.
Certainly not this man.
“You don’t know anything.”
“I know a prison when I see one,” he murmured. “Why do you remain behind the bars when you could so easily slip away?”
She gave a short, humor
“Because I need this job. Unlike you, I don’t have a generous lover to pay my bills and keep me in style. Some of us have to earn our pay with actual work.”
If she thought to insult him, she was far off the mark. In fact, her sharp words merely returned that mocking humor she found so damn annoying.
“You believe me to be Selena’s whore?”
He lifted a broad shoulder. “Our . . . relationship is a bit more complex than that.”
“Oh yes, no doubt being a boy toy to a rich, glamorous woman is astonishingly complex.”
“Is that why you try to keep me at a distance? Because you believe I share Selena’s bed?”
“I keep you at a distance because I don’t like you.”
He leaned forward, until his lips were nearly touching her own. “You may not like me, sweetness, but that doesn’t keep you from wanting me.”
Her heart forgot to beat as she struggled not to close that shallow distance and put herself out of her misery. A kiss. Just one kiss. The tingling need was nearly unbearable.
No, no, no. Did she really want to be a poor joke to relieve his boredom? Hadn’t she played that humiliating game before?
“Do you know, Dante, I’ve met my share of jackasses in my time, but you—”
The rather tidy insult was brought to a stunning halt. In the air there was a sudden, crackling heat. As electrifying as a strike of lightning.
Unnerved by the prickling sensation, she turned her head toward the stairs just as a thundering concussion ripped through the house. Caught off guard, she tumbled backward, her breath knocked from her body.
Just for a moment she lay perfectly still. She half-expected the ceiling to come crumbling down upon her. Or the ground to open up and swallow her.
What the blazes had happened? An earthquake? A gas explosion?
The end of the world?
Whatever it was, it had been enough to tumble the pictures from the walls and knock over tables. Suddenly the Ming vase she had broken matched every other priceless object.