The City of Easthaven, East Yorkshire, England, Autumn 1805
The misting rains of autumn had conjured a fog that quivered beneath the light of a lamppost. Just beyond the reach of its gas-lit glow, the night beasts drifted through the shadows.
Two men left a stench of alcohol in their wake. They leaned into each other for support, breathing hot laughter into one another’s ears. Ahead of them, the diaphanous material of a noblewoman’s gown fluttered through the mist like a banner.
The woman posed a tall figure, as slender as a willow. Rainwater dappled her ivory skin, glittering beneath the fabric of the parasol resting on her shoulder. Beneath her cover, curls as silver as the stars bounced lightly across the smoothness of her back. For the moment, she seemed not to have noticed her followers.
Together, the three disappeared around the corner and out of sight.
The sole witness to the scene stood at some distance from the lamppost. For his height which surpassed that of most men of the age, the black fabric of his suit, and the umbrella that masked his face in shadows, the man gave the impression of a spirit of death. The only contrast he offered to the surrounding darkness was the paleness of his features and the golden blond of the waves that framed them. He stood still as the rain increased in intensity around him. Finally, with a slight curl of a full lip, the Lord stirred himself from his vigil.
He followed a few paces behind them, making little by way of sound as the steady tap of his shoes upon the cobblestone blended with the rhythm of the raindrops. They moved southward, where the stink of fish and river water rolled in on wet winds, briefly masking the odor of liquor and sweat that clung to the men.
The caravan of beasts and their prey marched onward toward the Rookery. There, the grease-stained row houses were packed so tightly against one another that the brickwork bulged with the strain, and the streets between them barely had room for a carriage to pass. Bolted against the buildings, rusty lanterns created pockets of trembling light.
One of the drunkards finally grew tired of the game and tripped over himself as he stumbled forward. He laughed, reaching out to catch hold of the sheer fabric of the woman’s gown.
No sooner had his fingers brushed the material, then his body careened violently to one side as if plucked up by an invisible hand and thrown. He crashed against the wrought iron fences that bordered the flats. Coughing hoarsely, the man jerked and began to make the effort to untangle himself only to give up with a strangled whimper.
His companion stared dumbly at the place he had landed, and the Lord saw the profile of the drunkard’s mouth tremble open before his head swiveled toward the woman.
By then, she too had turned around, lifting her parasol away so that the lantern light carved the elegant contours of her face from the shadows. Her attention was not on the drunkard, but over his shoulder, meeting the gaze of her blond watcher.
The gray of her eyes became a swirl of teal — the glow of the beast beneath her skin.
The man who remained standing of the duo let out a curse and a yelp, his foot scuffing backward in a splash of water before he too went flying.
With a cry, he landed upon his friend; and though it was no doubt a softer landing, neither of the men rose.
The silver-haired noblewoman and the blond Lord stood in silence for a few moments before he lifted the crook of his arm in invitation.
As if she had been waiting for just such a signal, the woman began to close the distance between them. She shifted the parasol into her opposite hand and slid the length of a slender arm into the crook that he had offered.
“Almost to the Rookery this time, amato,” she said, her words nearly lost beneath the sound of the rainfall. “There was a time you had less patience for fools.”
Shadows weighted her speech with the echo of loss.
“I am thankful to have gained something in my years,” he answered. “Had I not found patience, I might have found more cause for growing weary of the game instead.” He tilted his head to glance at her. “You could have tended to them more gently without my interference if it was your desire, my Queen.”
For a moment, the rain filled the quiet between them. What he could see of her expression behind the veil of water was gentle, but the muted ripples of music that threaded across the weave between their souls was not.
The Lord turned his focus to the walk ahead, speaking softly, “Despite what I have become, I would not let another touch you or the children. You know this.”
“I do.” Her elbow shifted beneath his to draw him closer before relaxing again. “As much as I know that the touch beyond reach has as much power to hurt as that which intends to harm,” she ended quietly. Her struggle distorted the perfection of her features. “Lian.”
She spoke his name and the withered cast around his soul cracked; a single note of his song escaping on the soft touch of a piano key. It fell as silent as he remained, and only the patter of rain on cobblestone and the cadence of their steps echoed through the darkness.
He led her back to the warmer light of the lamp posts and the open streets where the row houses were well-washed and maintained. When they stopped, he drew his arm from hers and took her fingers instead.
Lian left a kiss against the coolness of her knuckles and lingered there to breathe in the scent of age like old parchment that wafted on her Immortal skin. “I wish I did not harm you so,” he murmured and turned her hand to press another kiss to her palm. “I will not forgive myself for it.”
Straightening, he released her.
She finally met his eyes, and their shine belied the effort she made at assurance. “There is nothing to forgive, amato.” A smile trembled on her lips and slipped away into the shadows. “I am only weak tonight.” She claimed his fingers and lifted them to salute the blood-red signet that rested there with a kiss. “My Lord,” she murmured.
Lian Redmond, Earl of Rosse and Sovereign of Britain’s Aegean Immortals lowered into a bow befitting the Queen that she was. When he rose again, it was to watch her turn to depart, and he whispered his farewell between the raindrops.
“Be safe on your hunt, Celia.”