Byron is a vampire killer, himself as old as time. Then came the haunting music, and the intoxicating scent of female flesh. Antonietta is an ageless beauty, arousing men's darkest desires. Her newest prey is her greatest obsession. Byron and Antonietta are perfect for each other. But who is the hunter - and who is the hunted?
Fog, thick and dense, blanketed the sky, muffling every sound. Muffling the sound of conspiracy. Of murder stalking the night. Of dark, ugly intentions hidden within the white, swirling mists and the deeper shadows. The fog was the perfect cover for the predator as he moved silently across the sky, searching for prey. He had been alone too long, far from his own kind, fighting the insidious call of power, of evil, that whispered to him every waking minute of his existence.
Far below him were the humans, his prey. His enemies. He knew what they would do to one of his kind, should they discover him. He still woke choking from his slumber, trapped for those first waking moments in his past. His body would always bear the scars of torture, though it was nearly impossible to scar his kind. He was Carpathian, a species as old as time, with tremendous gifts to hold dominion over the weather, the land, even animals. He could shift shape and soar high, run with the wolves, yet without the light to his darkness, he could so easily give in to the whispers of temptation, the call for power, and turn wholly evil. He had the potential for becoming the undead, as so many of his kind had chosen to do.
He traveled the world, hunting the vampire, seeking to maintain a balance of life in a world of bleak loneliness. Seeking to maintain honor when he felt he'd lost it. And then he heard the music. It was playing on a television set in one of the stores he passed late in the evening, and the music caught him as nothing else had. Ensnared him. Mesmerized him. Wrapped his soul in golden notes until he thought only of the music. He could only hear the music playing in his head. It was so powerful it even dulled the relentless hunger that was ever present in his life. He traveled to Italy, drawn by the music. And he stayed for other, much more compelling reasons.
He flew across the sky with silent stealth, pulled in the same direction on every awakening. With his acute sense of smell he caught the scent of salt from the sea and the fuel from a boat tossed about on the rolling waves. The wind also brought him the scent of man. For a brief moment his lips drew back in a silent snarl, and he felt his incisors lengthen in hunger. In distaste. Most humans had become his enemy, although he sought their protection. Humans used him as a trap to draw others of his kind, nearly succeeding in killing the life mate to his prince.
The stain of shame would always be on him. Would always keep him from being completely comfortable in his homeland and with others of his kind. He would never be able to bear their forgiveness. He could not forgive himself. His self-imposed penance had been service to his people. He actively hunted their mortal enemy, the vampire, engaging in battle after battle when he had never been a warrior. He went from country to country in a relentless, merciless hunt, determined to rid the world of the evil stalking his kind. Every kill brought him closer to the edge of madness. Until he found the music.
The night enfolded him, embraced him as a brother. In the darkness, his eyes glowed the fiery red of a predator on the hunt. Far below him, he glimpsed the lights of the villas dimmed by the thick bank of fog, houses crammed close to one another set precariously on the hillsides. In the distance he could just make out the Scarletti palazzo, a work of art created so many centuries before.
The music originated there, in the great palazzo. Concertos and operas were composed and played on a perfectly tuned piano. He stayed close by to hear the beauty of the masterpieces created and performed. The notes soothed him and gave him a sense of hope. He had even gone so far as to purchase several CDs and a machine on which to play them, keeping his treasures deep beneath the earth in the lair he kept to be close to the woman he knew belonged to only him.
Her family knew he was dangerous by looking at him. They sensed the predator in him, but Antonietta thought herself safe with him. And she was the only one he wanted. The one woman he would have.
Antonietta Scarletti stared blankly toward the elaborate stained glass window of the palazzo. Outside the walls of the villa, the wind shrieked and moaned. She touched the glass with her sensitive fingertips, tracing the lead and the familiar patterns. If she tried, she could remember them, the vivid colors and frightening images. She laughed aloud at the thought. As a child she had certainly been frightened by the gargoyles and demons decorating the fifteenth-century palazzo, now she simply appreciated their beauty, although she could only see them through her fingertips.
Her home had been modernized many times over the centuries, but the Gothic architecture had been preserved as closely as possible to the original. She loved every secret passageway with the Machiavellian traps and every carefully cut stone that made up her home. Strangely, she was sleepy. Most nights she wandered, wide awake, through the large hallways or played her piano, the music moving through her and onto the keys, to pour out the torrent of emotion that sometimes threatened to overwhelm her. Tonight, as the wind howled and the sea pounded on the cliffs, she plaited her hair into a thick rope and thought of a dark poet.
Tasha, her cousin, had commented at dinner that threads of gray were already beginning to appear in her mass of long hair. Antonietta knew she was vain about her hair, but it was her only call to glory, and now with the gray beginning to appear, it was only a matter of time before that small vanity would vanish. Her self-mocking laughter was soft as she moved without hesitation across the room, unerringly to the piano. Her fingers slid across the keys, immediately responding to the laughter in her heart.
She loved her life, blind or no. She lived it the way she wanted to live. Music flowed into the night. A summons. She knew the music called to him. Byron. Antonietta thought of him day and night. A secret obsession she could not get over. The sound of his voice touched her like she imagined his fingers on her skin would. A caress of sound. He was her only regret. Her money and fame allowed her to lead the life she wanted in spite of her loss of sight, but it also provided a barrier between her and every man. Even Byron. Especially Byron. His quiet acceptance, his continuing interest--so completely focused on her--threatened to involve her emotions as well as her body, and that, she couldn't afford.
Antonietta seated herself at the bench, her body leaden with unexpected fatigue. Her fingers raced over the ivory keys. The music flowed into space, unrequited love, boundless passion unanswered. Heat. Fire. A hunger that would never be sated. Byron, the dark poet. Brooding. Mysterious. A man for fantasies. She had no idea of his age. He often answered the summons of her music. Ever since the day four months earlier when he saved her beloved grandfather from a car accident, he would suddenly appear in the room with her, somehow getting past the security to sit quietly while she played. It was a degree of her obsession that she never questioned him, never asked him how he managed to get into her home, into her music room.
Antonietta always knew the moment Byron entered the room, although he never made a sound. Her family had no idea how often he came, appearing in the great music room late at night and staying up till all hours with her. He rarely talked, just listened to the music, but sometimes they played chess or discussed books and world affairs. Those were the times she loved best, sitting and listening to the sound of his voice.
He had courtly, Old World mannerisms and spoke with an accent she couldn't quite place. She imagined him a chivalrous prince coming to call whenever she allowed her girlish imagination to get the better of her. He rarely touched her, but he never objected when she touched him, reading his expressions. He took her breath away each time he came into the same room with her.
The music swelled beneath her fingers, rose to a crescendo of rioting emotions. Byron. Her grandfather's friend. The rest of her family were wary and on edge around him. Most left the room soon after he entered. They thought him dangerous. Antonietta thought he might be, despite the fact that he was unfailingly gentle with her. She sensed behind Byron's calm exterior a predator hunting. Watching. Waiting. Biding his time. It only added to his allure. The unattainable fantasy. The dangerous, dark prince lurking in the shadows... watching...her.
Antonietta laughed again at her own fanciful nonsense. She presented a certain image to the world: a confident, renowned concert pianist and respected composer. She dreamed her passionate dreams and turned each of them into soaring notes of music to express the fires burning deep inside where no one could see.
Her fingers raced across the keys, fluttered and coaxed, so that the music took on life. There was no warning whatsoever. One moment she was lost in her music, and the next, a rough hand clapped over her mouth and dragged her backward off the piano bench.
Antonietta bit down hard, reaching back to pound at the face of her assailant. It was then she really noticed how leaden her body felt, sluggish, almost unwilling to follow her orders. Rather than striking hard, she barely tapped the man. She had the impression of strength. He smelled of alcohol and mints. He thrust a cloth over her nose and mouth.
Antonietta coughed, thrashed in an effort to be rid of the foul-smelling material. She felt dizzy and lost the ability to move, sliding down, down toward semiconsciousness. At once she stopped fighting, slumping like a rag doll, pretending she was already unconscious. The cloth disappeared, and her assailant lifted her.
She was aware of being carried, of someone breathing hard. Of her heart pounding. Then they were outside in the biting cold and piercing wind. The sea raged and thundered loudly, and sea spray reached her face.
It took a few moments to realize that they were not alone. She heard a man's voice, slurred, incoherent, asking something. A chill went down her spine. Her grandfather, frail at eighty-two, was being dragged up the path to the cliffs right along with her. Determined not to allow anything to happen to him, Antonietta fought her way back, breathing deeply to draw oxygen into her laboring lungs, gathering her strength, biding her time. In her mind she began to chant his name, using it as a prayer, a litany of strength: Byron. Byron. I need you now. Hurry, hurry. Byron. Where are you?
Byron Justicano circled above the small city before winging his way toward the palazzo. As he moved across the sky, hunger crawled through his body, demanding he feed, but he ignored it, answering the sudden uneasy feeling churning in his gut. Something was wrong. Some intangible vibration in the air made him aware of the drama unfolding on the rocks below. A snarl exposed his fangs. Eyes glowed a frightening red in the dark of the night. A savage, bestial growl escaped his throat as he increased his speed, hurtling through the sky over the towering palazzo with its many stories and turrets and battlements.
Above the many terraces and lofty stories loomed a high, rounded tower where it was rumored more than one woman had been murdered in the murky past, earning the palace the dubious name of Palazzo della Morte. Winged gargoyles stared blankly at him out of the heavy, white fog, looking almost real as the creatures seemed to swarm up the side of the villa. Sitting on the craggy cliffs above the raging sea, the sprawling castle was dark and foreboding with the blank eyes of the statuary always watching.
The heavy forests that had once grown wild, a refuge to a multitude of animals, were long gone, replaced by groves and grapes. Byron preferred the freedom of the forests and mountains of his homeland, where he could run with the wolves if he desired, but the need to protect the occupant at the palazzo had become all consuming.
Alarm spread, a premonition of danger he couldn't shake. Byron increased his speed, streaking through the sky, flying low over the sprawling estate. The palazzo rose up out of the fog, architecture belonging to an era long gone, made of stone and stained glass, almost alive in the swirling mists. Byron ignored the ancient statues and the gleaming windows piercing the fog like so many eyes.
He first heard the voice whisper in his mind. Byron. Byron. I need you now. Hurry. Hurry. Byron. Where are you? She had never used a telepathic connection to him before. He had never taken her blood, yet he heard the words clearly and knew her need must be great to reach out to him.
Wicked forks of lightning whipped from cloud to cloud, anger he couldn't contain. She was in danger! Someone dared to threaten her. The sky roared, thunder splitting open the heavens to reveal a fury of flame. He took a breath, fought to control the elemental fear for her. The ground was reacting, rolling and buckling in answer to his mounting anger.
Byron hurried out toward the cove and the jagged rocks with his pulse pounding to the beat of the sea. The wind shifted and brought the haunting echo of a scream. His heart nearly stopped beating in his chest. It was the sound of despair, of death itself.
He swooped even lower over the sea, uncaring that he might be seen and discovered for the predator he was. Waves leapt toward the heavens, foamed, and collapsed with an angry boom, greedy for a living sacrifice.
"Byron!" This time she called his name aloud, her only chance while the clouds spun dark threads and the fog thickened in an attempt to cut off all escape. "Help us." The wind whipped the cry out over the roiling waves, straight to him.
There was a plea in her voice, soft and musical and alive with awareness. She knew he was close, as she always seemed to know. Antonietta Scarletti. Heiress to the Scarletti fortune. Composer of the most beautiful music the world had known in a long time and owner of the priceless Scarletti palazzo. The Palazzo della Morte, palace of death. Byron feared the curse of the palazzo would bring death to Antonietta, and he was determined to stop it.
Her voice brought alive the colors of the night, sharp and vivid and focused, where for so long there had been nothing but bleak gray. His heart stuttered, stammered, as it always did at the unexpected gift. It was that way each time he heard her voice, when she spoke his name in velvet tones. When she lit his world with colors and vivid details he had long ago lost.
Byron flew so low the churning waves splattered him with water as he raced over the choppy surface straight toward the sound of her voice. Through the swirling mists Byron saw Don Giovanni Scarletti in the greedy sea, clawing desperately for a purchase on the slick boulders. The waves slammed the old man hard, tossed him as if he were a small string of kelp, nothing more. The foaming water closed over the gray head and took him under.
"Byron!" The call came again. Haunting. Unforgettable. He knew he would hear that voice echo forever in his dreams.
She was up in the jagged rocks, near the edge of the crumbling cliffs, struggling with a large man. Below her, the water slammed against the rocks, reaching higher and higher as if to drag her down. It was only the increasing fury of the storm, the earthquake sending shocks through the cliff that prevented Antonietta's attacker from flinging her into the sea. The man staggered, nearly fell, even as he wrestled with her. Lightning exploded around them, whips of energy rained hot, glowing sparks. Thunder crashed so loud the man yelled in fear.
Fangs exploded in Byron's mouth, black venom swirled in his gut. He was on them in an instant, uncaring of his enormous strength, catching Antonietta's assailant by the nape of his neck and wrenching him backward, away from her. With the ferocity of his animal nature, with the rage of his human side, he shook Antonietta's attacker, his hands crushing the throat. An ominous crack was loud, even with the sea roaring in accompaniment to his rage.
Byron dropped the body carelessly, allowing the empty carcass to crumple to the ground. He turned quickly toward Antonietta. She was moving to get away from them, her arms stretched out full length to try to feel her way. There was nothing but empty space in front of her and the sea below, swelling and booming with relentless fury.
"Stop! Don't move, not a single step!" The command thundered through the night air, reached her atop the cliffs. Trusting she would obey that merciless compulsion, Byron plunged straight into the sea. Diving deep, down into the cold, dark abyss until his fingers found the material of the old man's collar, and he grasped it hard in his fist, kicking strongly to bring them both to the surface.
Byron shot from the sea, straight into the air, dragging the leaden body against his own as he headed for the top of the cliffs. The white mist thickened and swirled around him like a living cape, creating a shield from prying eyes. The old man choked and gasped for air, for life. He clung convulsively to Byron, not quite aware of his surroundings, not able to believe he was hurtling through space. Don Giovanni, grandfather to Antonietta, had his eyes tightly shut while his chest heaved and saltwater spewed from his mouth. The water poured from their clothing and hair, adding to the droplets of mist in the air as Byron alighted on the ground.
The old man began to pray loudly in his own language, calling on the angels to save him, but he never once opened his eyes.
Antonietta turned toward the sound, but her feet remained perilously close to the edge of the cliff, exactly where they had been when Byron roared his command. His heart in his throat, Byron carefully stretched the old man out on the ground, well away from the edge, and rushed to gather Antonietta into his arms. Into safety. Holding her tightly, knowing she was safe, he forced air through his lungs, forced down his rage and fear to allow the violent storm to calm.
Despite the fact that his clothing was soaked, she burrowed close to him, her hands finding his face unerringly, mapping his features with loving fingertips. "I knew you'd come. Our guardian angel. My grandfather? Is Nonno going to be all right? I heard him fall into the sea. I couldn't get to him. I couldn't see to get to him." She turned her head toward the coughs and grunts the older man was making, tears glistening in her huge, dark eyes.
"He will be fine, Antonietta," Byron assured her. "I will not allow him to be anything else." And he meant it. He couldn't bear the sight of tears in her eyes.
"You saved him, didn't you, Byron? That's why you're soaked. You always come to us when there's trouble. Grazie, I cannot live without my grandfather." She stood on her toes, her body soft and pliant, melting against his hard strength, oblivious to his soaked clothing, and she pressed her mouth to the corner of his.
That small tribute shook him to the very core of his being. Fire streaked through his veins. Every cell in his body reacted, reached for her. Needed. Hungered. His arms tightened possessively for just a moment. He made a conscious effort to remember his own strength, to remember she had no idea who or what he was.
Byron swung her up, cradling her body close. She was shivering in the biting wind. "Did he hurt you? Are you injured, Antonietta?" It was a demand, pure and simple.
"No, just frightened. I was so frightened."
"What were you doing on the cliffs?" His voice was much harsher than he intended. "And where is the rest of your family?"
Her fingers moved over his face, an intimate exploration. She had read him many times, but this seemed different somehow, or maybe he was far too aware of her. "Someone put a cloth over my mouth and nose and dragged me outside. I was so afraid for Nonno. I could hear the sea." The pads of her fingers sent tiny flames dancing over his skin as she mapped his face. As she traced his frown. "The sea sounded angry, much like you sound right now. I couldn't get to Grandfather, and I heard him fall over the cliff." She was silent a moment, dropping her head to his shoulder. "I was struggling with the man who dragged me out here. He was trying to throw me into the sea, too." Her voice was shaking, but Antonietta struggled for composure.
"Did he say anything to you?"
She shook her head. "I didn't recognize anything about him. I'm certain he's never been to the palazzo before. No one said anything to us, they just tried to throw us into the water."
Byron set her carefully on the ground beside the old man. "I want to take a look at your grandfather. I think he swallowed half the sea. Do not move. It is dangerous up here. You are on the high cliffs, where the edges are crumbling, and the fall could kill you." He couldn't look at the innocence on her face, the childlike trust there. He knew she belonged to him, yet he had once again failed to keep safe those he was sworn to protect. "You do not realize it, Antonietta, but you are in shock. Do not move, just sit here and breathe for me."
He came from an ancient race, a species that could claim immortality. He had seen the passage of time, witnessed his race nearing extinction. Without women and children, it was impossible to live anything other than a bleak, soulless existence. Unless one was lucky enough to find his life mate. Antonietta Scarletti was his life mate. He knew it unerringly. She came from a long line of psychics, people gifted with talents beyond mere sight. Byron had listened often to the history of her family. He knew that many of Antonietta's ancestors, both male and female, were strong telepaths and healers. Only a human who was psychic could be life mate to one of the ancient Carpathian race. Antonietta Scarletti was a very strong psychic.
Don Giovanni struggled to sit up, his chest heaving while he gasped for air. He caught at Bryon's wide shoulders with gnarled hands. "How did you know to come? The sea claimed my life, but you brought me back." His teeth were chattering with cold, his thin body shaking uncontrollably. "That is twice now that you have saved me."
Byron held him gently. "Do not talk so much, old friend. Let me see what I can do to take the chill from you."
Antonietta couldn't see Byron, but as always, the sound of his voice intrigued her. It was beautiful and compelling, much like the symphony of music always playing in her head. She wanted to think of him as her grandfather's friend, but it was a difficult task when she listened for the sound of his voice and hungered for the slightest physical contact between them.
Antonietta learned years earlier that she was not the kind of woman men looked at for reasons other than her fortune. She had far too much Scarletti pride to be loved for her money. She didn't believe in buying a man, although she knew many women in her position did so. She was no young girl to dream of white knights. She was fully grown, with a woman's voluptuous figure and a face scarred by the blast of an explosion that had robbed her of her sight. There was no handsome lover on a white charger ready to whisk her away for endless nights of romance. She was a practical woman, a successful pianist and composer, who poured all of her dreams into her music where they belonged.
Antonietta carefully ran her hands over her grandfather, to see him, to assure herself he would survive his escape from the sea. Her hands encountered Byron. She rested her fingers lightly on the back of his hand. He never showed annoyance when she touched him. He never acted repulsed or impatient with her. He simply continued with what he was doing, while her hands rested on his. She could hear the steady rhythm of his breathing, slow and uniform, so that her breath, moving in and out of her lungs with such frantic intensity, slowed to follow his lead.
Byron's hands generated tremendous heat. She could feel it flowing like a fine wine into her grandfather's veins, slowly warming him. She didn't dare speak, but she felt him. Heard his breath, his heart. She saw things without her eyes that others couldn't see. She knew Byron was far more than a mortal man. Right now he was a miracle worker. She saw him so clearly, yet it was only through her fingertips resting so lightly on the backs of his hands.
Byron closed his eyes and shut out all the sounds and scents of the night. It was difficult to get beyond the touch of the woman he was always so aware of, but his examination had detected something in the older man's lungs. Don Giovanni was too old and fragile to fight off infection or pneumonia. Byron separated himself from his body, setting his spirit free to enter the aging man lying so cold and helpless on the rocks. Healing in the way of his kind, from the inside out, Byron made a thorough inspection, determined to give Antonietta's grandfather as many years of life as possible.
The wind rushed across the cliffs, pierced right through Antonietta's clothing in spite of the fact that Byron had positioned his body between hers and the wind. She could feel the warmth radiating from Byron into her grandfather. But there was something much more, something even more rare. She understood it, and she believed in it. Byron Justicano had left his own body and entered that of her grandfather's. She didn't need eyes to see the miracle of a natural healer. She felt him. Felt the energy and the heat. She knew it required total concentration, so she did nothing to distract him. She sat in the biting cold and thanked the heavens Byron had come to her family to watch over them.
"There is poison in his system." Byron's grim voice startled her. "Small amounts as if he is being fed them, but it is in his muscles and tissues."
"That can't be," Antonietta denied. "You have to be wrong. Who would want to harm Nonno? He is much loved by the family. And how could such a thing happen accidentally? You must be mistaken."
"When I was young and impetuous, I made mistakes, Antonietta. Now I am much more careful in the things I say and do. In the things I covet or seek to call my own. I am most careful in my friendships. Don Giovanni has been poisoned, much like his ancestor before him. Is that not the legend of the Scarletti family?"
Antonietta shivered, lifted her hands away from Byron in hopes he wouldn't notice her reaction. "Yes, centuries ago, another Don Giovanni, an ancestor of ours, and his young niece were poisoned. The healer was sent for, and Nicoletta arrived to aid them. He chose her as his bride. I don't believe in curses, Byron. There is no curse over my home or my family." She slipped her arm around her grandfather.
"I tell you there is a poison in his system that will eventually kill him if more accumulates. There is also the remnant of a drug to make him sleep. When I examine you, I am certain I will find the same thing."
"Do you suspect my chef of trying to kill me?" Antonietta gripped her grandfather hard, hanging on to her poise by a mere thread. "That is ludicrous, Byron. He would have nothing to gain. Enrico's been in our family since I was a child, and he's completely devoted and loyal to every member of the Scarletti family."
"I did not mention your chef, Antonietta," he replied patiently. "That may be your best guess, but it is not mine." When she remained stubbornly silent, he sighed his exasperation. "I must remove the poison from your grandfather. Then I will attend to you." His teeth gleamed very white in the darkness, but she didn't see, she could only hear the promise of menace in his voice.
It made her shiver, aware that she knew very little about him. "Byron." She said his name to keep calm, to remind herself he had always been gentle with her. A guardian watching over them. Antonietta had always been safe with him. She wouldn't allow the aftermath of the attack to weaken her nerves and make her fear the very man who had come to her rescue. "It is true that accidents have always plagued the lives of the Scarletti family. There have been intrigues, political and otherwise. Our family has always had a great deal of power and money."
"Your own parents were killed when your yacht exploded. You were blinded, Antonietta. It was only luck that a fisherman was in the vicinity and got to you before the sea swallowed you."
"An accident." It came out a whisper when she wanted to sound certain.
"You want to believe it was an accident, but you know better." There was a distinct bite to his voice. She had the impression he wanted to shake her.
She would not talk about the explosion on the yacht that had blinded her and left her an orphan. There was guilt and fear and too many other emotions. She kept that door firmly closed in her mind. "Who is he?" She knew her assailant was dead. It should have frightened her that Byron had killed so swiftly, so efficiently, but truthfully, she was grateful.
"I have no idea, but he could not possibly have done this alone. Someone had to have drugged you both, someone within the palazzo. And it would take two people to bring you both up here. It isn't that far, but the path is steep, and with both of you drugged, it wouldn't have been easy. It would have made better sense to heave you both into the sea. One of them must have been in a hurry to do something else."
"What of my family, Byron?" Antonietta's fingers plucked at his sleeve. "They are perhaps helpless, drugged in their beds, awaiting their fate as we speak. Please go to them."
"It is more likely they are searching for something, not intending to murder your entire family."
Antonietta gasped, one hand going to her throat. "We have many treasures. Priceless art. Jewels. Artifacts. Our ships carry classified cargo, the manifest is usually kept in the offices at the palazzo rather than in the offices on the dock because the security system is so much better. They could be after anything."
"Go, Byron," Don Giovanni encouraged. "You must see to it that my family is safe. Scarletti is an old and revered name. We can't have any doubt on our reputation. Make certain nothing has been taken from the office."
"You want me to leave you both here, unprotected on the cliffs? That would be far too dangerous." Byron simply stood, lifting the old man, drawing Antonietta up as he did so. "I will take you both to the palazzo with me. Put your arms around my neck, Antonietta."
A protest welled in her mind. She was too heavy. He couldn't carry both of them. He had to hurry. Sensing his impatience, Antonietta remained silent and did as he instructed, circling his neck with her arms. Her body pressed close to his. Byron's muscular body was as hard as a tree trunk. She had never felt more feminine, more aware of how curvy and soft her form was. She simply melted into him.
Antonietta was thankful it was night and the darkness hid the faint blush stealing under her skin. She should have been thinking of the honor of her family name; instead, she was thinking of him: Byron Justicano. She clung tightly to him. One of his arms wrapped securely around her waist. Almost at once she felt her feet leave the ground. Her grandfather cried out in fear, thrashing against the restraint. Byron murmured something softly to him, something she didn't catch, but his tone was commanding. Her grandfather subsided, going so quiet she thought he must have fainted.
She turned her face up to the wind, relaxing, wanting to savor every moment. She was blind, but she was alive. She lived in a world of sounds and textures, rich and wonderful, and she wanted to experience everything life could offer. She was moving through space, across the sky, with the sea boiling and thundering below her and the clouds roiling above her. And she was safe in Byron's arms.
What should have been the worst night of her life had turned into the experience of a lifetime. "Byron." She whispered his name, an ache in her voice, thinking the wind would take the sound far from them, out over the ocean where no one would hear her most secret desire.
Byron buried his face in the fragrance of her hair as they soared across the sky. There was no fear in Antonietta. He rarely detected fear in her. Because her brain patterns were so different, it was difficult to read her mind, where he could most humans. Now that his heart had settled back to a natural rhythm, he could admire the way she fought for her life there on the cliffs. She was an extraordinary woman, and she belonged to him. She just didn't realize it yet.
Antonietta had a strong personality and a determination to control her life and her business. Claiming her in the way of his people, Byron suspected, would not only make her resistant but would cause her great unhappiness. Years earlier, he had learned a hard lesson of attempting to take something too fast, for his own benefit, without thought of consequences.
Antonietta was his world. He could put aside his own needs and urges and the terrible hunger to give her the things she needed. He would have her, he knew that. There was no other choice for either of them, but he wanted her to come to him willingly. To choose him. To choose his life, his world. And even more, he wanted to give her all the things he suspected she had never had in her life. He wanted her to know her own worth as a woman. Not a Scarletti. Not a pianist. Not a shipping magnate. A woman.
"Are you afraid?" He whispered the words, half aloud, half in her mind. Knowing she wasn't and wanting her to acknowledge what they were doing. He hadn't protected her from their method of traveling. She might be blind, but she was more aware than any other human he knew.
Antonietta laughed, the sound one of joy. "How could I be afraid, Byron? I'm with you. I'm not going to ask how you do this until my feet are safely on the ground." She answered him as honestly as she could. There was a wild exhilaration in her heart. If she was truly afraid, it was only of the unknown. Soaring through the sky was a dream, a fantasy come true. Her childhood dreams of flying had been so vivid she often believed she had soared across the night skies. "I do wish I could see the view." There was a wistful note she couldn't keep from her voice, and she was ashamed that he heard it. "I wish you had the time to describe it to me."
"There is a way you could see what I see." His heart was pounding now. The moment he noticed, he allowed it to seek the rhythm of hers. To connect them, heart to heart.
Antonietta's grip tightened around his neck. For the first time, she turned her face into his throat. He could feel her breath warm on his throat, and his body tightened in reaction. In anticipation. "What are you saying?" Now it was her heart that was pounding. He could work miracles. Heal. Hear a call for help across the raging sea. Dive deep into roiling surf and pull a drowning man from the depths, carrying him to safety. Soar through the night sky while carrying two adults as if they weighed no more than small children. She dared not hope for the impossible.
Her voice was low, but her lips were pressed against his skin. Against his pulse. Byron's body burned with heat, throbbed with need, with hunger. She seemed unaware of his reaction. He fought the nearly overwhelming urge of his kind, keeping his face turned from her, from the temptation she presented. He couldn't answer her with his incisors lengthened and his body craving hers.
Fortunately, they were close to the great palazzo. Byron turned his attention to finding the location of every human in the area. He scanned the villa and the surrounding region. The aftermath of violence still vibrated in the air, but if the other conspirator had rushed back to the villa to find the manifest for cargo or the Scarletti family treasures, he had already managed to do so and was long gone, or he was in his bed feigning sleep. Byron could detect no foreign enemy present within the walls.
Family members were sleeping peacefully in their own beds. The entire household seemed to be unaware of the attack on Antonietta and Don Giovanni. Suspicion found its way into his heart.
--from Dark Symphony by Christine Feehan, Copyright © 2003 by Christine Feehan, published by Jove, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., all rights reserved, reprinted with permission from the publisher.
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