Authors: Maggie Mundy
|Soul Mate Publishing (2014)|
In Bath in 1850 a witch is murdered in a ritual granting longevity to four men. What they are not aware of is that she has bestowed the same power to another called Seth to avenge her death.
Cara is a descendant of the witch and fills her days with food with her Irish-themed catering business. Her nights are another matter; they are full of erotic dreams of a mysterious lover, or nightmares with mutilated bodies. So this wasn’t the best time for her Nana to tell her she is coming into her power.
Of the original four immortals, Vincent is the only one left and to stop his own long life from fading he needs another witch to kill. Seth was meant to protect the witch’s descendants from a distance, but with Cara he can’t stay away. He has to make a choice to love Cara, or avenge the original death and possibly die himself. Cara has the fight of her life on when one man comes to kill her, and another to love her.
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To my family, Alan, Jenny, and Rachel,
who never stopped believing in me.
To Tricia and Clare,
who make the world a better place.
Special thanks go to Delwyn Jenkins, my critique partner, who made me look at my writing in a much deeper way.
To Louise Cusack, my mentor who was a guide on my journey.
To the South Australian Romance Authors, who are a wonderful group of ladies who laugh and share so much.
Vincent’s breath quickened. He needed to remain under control, but this experience felt more satisfying than opium. The heady sensation never failed to reassert itself whenever he killed. This time would be different. He had an audience. He wanted to smile but feared it might be seen as gloating.
His clients paid well, but lately they were getting bored consuming drugs and participating in orgies. Neither pastime had ever appealed to him much anyway. He liked control, which drugs took away and women or men sexually had never really interested him. Tonight he would show them the supreme thrill of how to take life. “Stand beside me, gentlemen.”
The oil lamps flickered. Strange shadows formed on the brick walls of the cellar as his three clients staggered towards the table in the center of the room. These fops in their finery attracted too much attention in Bath. They thought him lackluster, but being boring had its benefits. Nobody noticed the commonplace.
The whore lying unconscious on the table before them looked pale, her chest hardly moving. Vincent cursed under his breath. He had given her too much laudanum. He hadn’t wanted her to fight. She had been willing to have sex with them but he needed her more complacent for this next part of the evening. His clients didn’t like to be bruised, but some form of awareness of her fate would have been more satisfying and more consistent with his exorbitant fee. He had no inheritance to rely upon so these men would provide the money for his home and travels.
He wanted this slaying to be as the book stated. This death would be a beautiful thing, just like the dagger in his hand. There were markings etched into the blade and the handle was the shape of two snakes, one black and one white coiled around each other. The way the black one devoured the head of the white one made him smile. It represented the way he saw the world. The weak would be devoured by the strong.
He had found the book and the dagger in a small bookshop in Bristol. When the owner had not wanted to part with it, he had persuaded him with a knock to the head.
Each cut, each stab, had to be precise.
The ritual was said to bestow immortality.
He didn’t believe such things, or the reference to witches with odd colored eyes, one blue, one green. Who cared? It was just convenient the whore matched that description. It was all superstition from centuries past when the uneducated believed such things. The description of the sacrifice held within the plain little leather-bound book was suitably spectacular for what he required. He took a deep breath and savored the moment.
The whore’s lips were slightly parted and blue tinged like irises. He hated the flowers. They had been all around his beloved mother’s coffin. She had been the only woman who had meant anything to him and had died pointlessly in childbirth because of his father’s needs.
He ground his teeth as he observed the fools before him. They were drinking too much and would not remember tonight. He peered back at their victim who said her name was Rosie. Who knew with these women? It was of no importance.
“Pick up your blades, gentlemen.” Vincent indicated the four daggers placed beside the body. His heart beat fast with exhilaration and expectation. “Edgar, perhaps you would like to be the one to begin this sacrifice.”
Edgar brushed the woman’s hair back and placed the point of the dagger on one side of her forehead. At least he was not so drunk that he could not remember the instructions. His precise moves impressed Vincent. Edgar’s cut was clean and without hesitation and caused Rosie to groan softly, but she still didn’t move. Damn her.
Nigel and James made similar incisions just above Edgar’s, from one side of her temple to the other. The blood oozed from the wounds. It pooled in her eye sockets and ran down into her ears. Little red puddles started to form. They flowed over her earlobes and down her neck to soak into the white tablecloth. Vincent wanted to lick the blood off of her body the way he did with previous victims. His clients were not quite ready for that just yet.
Untying Rosie’s chemise, Vincent pulled it wide to reveal her breasts. James reacted with a sudden intake of breath. Edgar was always the first to be violent, whereas James was always the first to fornicate. Taking the dagger from Edgar, Vincent sliced Rosie from her chin to her navel, and then from her right breast to her left. Rosie whimpered and the men’s faces lit up in anticipation of her enduring more pain but then she lay still yet again.
The next cut meandered down the body like a river around the previous wounds. The blood seeped to the surface, dark red in contrast to Rosie’s pale skin. He wanted to rub his hands in it. Maybe he should have killed her on his own. The audience was not enhancing the experience but limiting it.
Vincent held the dagger above her heart. The knife was a magnificent weapon and the blade so sharp it sliced through the flesh with ease. It had needed fixing and he only had himself to blame. The bookseller he had stolen it from had fallen on the blade. Vincent was lucky the man’s girth had not snapped the dagger in two. Nigel had had his local smithy do the job. An excellent repair.
“I want you all to place your right hands around mine as I hold the dagger. I’ll say the words and you repeat them. We appeal to Kocshie, the Immortal Lord of death to accept this life so we can extend our own. In payment we give our own souls when our lives are complete, so he may once again return to the world.”
On the second repetition, they were to plunge in the blade. Excitement showed in their gazes. Their eyes opened wide at the prospect. Vincent licked his lips as he struggled to control his breathing. He would not falter now when the means to the life of luxury he wanted was so close at hand. He needed their money and would not give up. As he pushed the tip of the blade beneath her skin, Rosie’s eyes opened.
Vincent grinned. He relished the power over life and death. He needed her to know she was losing hers. Rosie’s lips moved but no sound was emitted. He tried to tell himself fear stared back at him from her eyes, but it looked more like defiance. It was irrelevant; her life was about to cease.
James whimpered as the blood oozed around the blade. Someone helped Vincent push. That would be Edgar. The dagger slid beneath the skin with ease and Vincent moved his hand and angled the blade upwards so it would penetrate the heart. The lanterns flickered and weakened in strength. Rosie sighed and let out her final breath.
Vincent shivered. The cellar darkened. Shadows reached out from its very walls to grab them. Then a glow emanated from Rosie’s chest, beginning to light the room. Blood around the dagger shone like molten metal flowing over their hands. His heart beat wildly with fear. This wasn’t supposed to happen.
Vincent tensed with the onslaught of burning pain. It shot up his arm into his chest. The blood covering their joined hands disappeared. Somehow, he could still not loosen his grip on the dagger impaled in her chest.
Vincent gritted his teeth and tried to control his breathing as he watched. Even through the agony, he was fascinated. The skin on James’ hand slowly peeled back leaving the bones white and bare as if maggots had stripped a corpse. James’ screams filled the air. They continued while he ran from the table. He hid in the shadows in the far corner of the cellar.
Next was Edgar. He let go of the dagger and grabbed his left wrist yelling obscenities. His hand shriveled up like a rotten tree root. Vincent shook his head as he tried to think back to how much laudanum he had imbibed himself over the evening with these men.
They were all having hallucinations. They had to be. Edgar collapsed on the floor and curled up like a baby. Nigel stood silent as he watched his hand swell and the skin rip apart. As blood oozed, he laughed. The laughter continued as Nigel left the table.
Vincent gazed down to see his own hand. He held the dagger in his grasp, but what was in front of him appeared as a bloody stump cut off at the wrist.
The dead body of Rosie glowed. He had killed many times. He knew when life no longer lingered in a form and hers was gone. He tried yet again to let go of the dagger. He couldn’t. His arms were on fire. A burning sensation flowed over his shoulder and towards his neck. The pain increased. A surge of power from Rosie’s chest illuminated the cellar. It threw him against the opposite wall that he hit with a resounding thud. His chest ached where the wind had been forced out. Vincent shook his head to clear the dizziness that threatened to overwhelm him.
Rosie’s ghost sat up but her body still lay translucent and flat on the table. The dagger protruded from her chest. Her ghostly gaze fixed on Vincent. Then her ethereal form glided across the room and stood in front of him. He pulled his knees up to his chin as he struggled to retain the contents of his stomach under her angry glare. Her blue and green eyes now looked red as if a flame burned in them. His body shook as the sight filled him with dread of what was to come.
Rosie’s raspy voice echoed around the cellar. “You’d no right to take my power. I’ll give what’s left of my life to one who shall avenge my death.”
Rosie’s apparition disappeared as the lamps flared, lighting the cellar again. Vincent edged over to the table. He inspected the body. She was truly dead. Her chest didn’t rise again. The dagger was still embedded in her heart. He had killed so many times, but he had never seen a ghost. He hadn’t believed they existed until tonight. Fear surged through his veins at what this could mean. Would the spirits of all those he had killed over the years return to haunt him? He had his pride and would not let his concern show before these men. Edgar came and stood beside him, placing his tremulous hand on Vincent’s shoulder.
“I’m impressed, Vincent. Whatever you mixed with the opium tonight was very effective. I thought she had come back to life and my hand rotted away.” He laughed, but the sound appeared to catch in his throat. “I think I shall try and discover where Nigel’s lurking. James is in the brandy again, I fear. I assume you don’t need us to deal with the body.” Edgar raised his left eyebrow as he looked at the dead woman with distaste.
Vincent shook his head.
“A most satisfying evening I think, don’t you?” Edgar slapped him on the back. “My man will be here in the morning with the money we owe.”
Vincent waited by the body until he was alone. Of course he would get rid of the evidence, but before he did there was something he needed to confirm. He went to the corner of the cellar where he kept his tools and knives.
Placing his hand palm down on the table he thrust the blade between the sinews and muscles. He clenched his teeth in pain. Removing the knife, he watched the cut heal. It left a faint scar. For the first time since seeing her apparition, he allowed himself to feel vindicated at this killing. He was long lived and so were his customers this evening. The story in the book had turned out to be true. He needed to know more. Knowledge was power and he craved it.
Westbury, Wiltshire 1849
S. SCANLON, BLACKSMITH. That’s what the sign at the front of the cottage stated. Drunk, cheat and reprobate would have been a better way of summing him up. Seth wished death instead of drunken oblivion would take him. It was what he deserved.
Instead he sat alone at his kitchen table in the dark. He didn’t have to accept what was missing in the dark. The forge was his refuge when the sun was high, but at night the guilt of what he had done to Rosie and Anne consumed him.
He wiped his wet cheeks with the back of his hand. He had no right to cry. This was his home, but a home was meant to be a place of love. The bed upstairs stayed empty and he would sleep with his head on the table again. With the stubble on his chin and the smell of the filth on his clothes, no one would have wanted him anyway. His large muscled body and stern face scared people. He had never frightened either of the women he missed. Which was more the pity, as they might have stayed away from him.
The light of the full moon shone in through the windows. Seth held up his hands. They were strong hands that should have protected others. Yet in the thirty years he had lived, all he had done was destroy the things he touched. Anne had never been happy wedded to him, but she deserved better than to die in childbirth.
Wild reckless Rosie. She needed his protection and he failed her. He should end it all before he caused anyone else more pain. Tonight, he would use one of the sharp blades he made on himself and end it all.
His fingers appeared a pasty gray color. Even in a stupor he could tell this was more than moonlight. With eyes half-open, he gazed towards the back door expecting to see someone enter with a lantern. No one was there. He rubbed his eyes as a shape formed, pale and insubstantial at first, but more recognizable as it became solid. It was Rosie. Seth jumped up. His chair tipped over, along with his beer. It spilled to the floor, the aroma filling the air.
As he held onto the dresser, his heart raced. Dizziness overwhelmed him. His legs weak, he squinted at the apparition before him. He shook his head but she was still there. She beckoned. He found himself drawn to the specter. He touched her face with his fingertips. Could she be real? Her skin was as cold as ice. Something beyond his drunken haze told him he should be afraid, but this was Rosie. She would never harm him.
With rough fingers he brushed blood soaked hair aside to reveal gashes cut deep across her forehead. He had run his fingers through her red curls in the past when lovemaking but never again. Who could have done this to her? Blood oozed from the wounds and dripped down her face in streaks.
Tears streamed down his face. His heart ached at what was before him. Seth glanced down to see her undergarments ripped and her flesh sliced open. The sign of a cross with a meandering wound like a red river on top cut deep into her skin. A curtain of blood soaked into her white chemise and petticoat. A dagger embedded to its hilt in her chest sliced into her heart. He wanted to turn away. He wanted to believe this wasn’t happening but stood frozen in horror at the sight before him instead. Then she started to speak.