Released: Nov 2011
Behind rumours and legends there are often ordinary people just wanting to be loved.
Nineteen year old Alicia Stanton dreams of a handsome and rich man to marry and when the enigmatic reverend Crosby asks for her hand, she thinks all her wishes have come true. But then disaster strikes and she needs a place to hide and fast.
Because of an affliction, twenty one year old Damien Lucius has spent all of his life behind the walls of the spooky old Lucius mansion on the cliff, which has slowly become his prison. Villagers say vampires live there and he’s only too happy to encourage the tales, if it keeps them away. With the years of loneliness and despair taking their toll, he’s ready to end it all, but Fate it seems has a job for Damien. A night of rare rebellion, and his first time out of the mansion, finds him and his cousin Alex on the moonlit cliff road where they encounter a terrified young woman in need of refuge.
In the Dark With You is a long, character-based novel of 163,000 words about two young people growing up, making their own destiny and finding love in the unlikeliest of places. But love is only the beginning. All too soon they must each ask themselves what they’re prepared to sacrifice for the people they love.
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Read An Excerpt
Devon, England 1835
“Aunt Joan, it’s so good to be back in England. How could I have ever thought of staying away? Are you not happy to see Devon again?”
“Indeed I am, Alicia. What a journey, though. I do believe that I’m becoming too old for all this travelling. I am quite exhausted.” Aunt Joan extracted a lace handkerchief from her sleeve and fanned herself vigorously. “But you, my dear? Returning with no husband? After all your expectations. Are you terribly disappointed?”
Alicia leaned out of the window, eager for the first view of the family home as the cliff path turned inland.
“Quite the opposite, Aunt. I’ve never met a duller group of young men as those. I really had believed myself capable of marrying a fortune, but now I know there must be more. Love even, fanciful as that may seem. Oh, there it is! I cannot wait to see Dana. She will be so grown up I’ll not recognise her.”
Her aunt smiled indulgently. “Ahh, fanciful indeed, but when you get to my age you will realise that a fortune will warm you better than any young buck you might take your fancy to. Mark my words.”
Alicia smiled at the thought and settled down as the house disappeared from view. “Was your first marriage not for love, Aunt? And what is all this talk of being old? You cannot be above forty years of age.”
Aunt Joan chuckled, and preened a little at the compliment. “He ran off with a tavern wench – once he had spent most of my inheritance, of course.” She stopped and contemplated her young charge. “I have been indulgent with you, Alicia. You have always been my favourite. I do not believe you should be forced into a marriage not of your choice, but your father will not be quite so lenient. He will expect you to make a good marriage. And soon. Why, you are nearly twenty years of age. Were it not for your beauty, one might consider you already on the shelf.”
“Then I shall happily die an old maid. Look, there’s the Lucius mansion.” Alicia deftly changed the subject. “How scared we used to be of the place when we were children.” She leaned forward to take in the familiar shape of the creepy old house that stood, as always, like a watchful guardian on the cliff edge. Four years since she’d last set eyes on it, and the grey stones still looked as grim and dark as they ever had.
“And with good reason. Old Lord Lucius was a monster. Evil to the core. They say that when he died…”
“Yes, I’ve heard this story many times, Aunt. They say the devil himself came for him.”
“It may be true, my dear, and you would do well not to mock.”
Alicia laughed, leaning forward to touch her aunt’s arm. “Calm yourself, Aunt. Surely you, of all people, do not believe these stories? Did anybody see the devil when he came?”
“Several of the villagers claim to have seen the coach glowing in the dark and racing at speed through the village. And cloven hoof-prints were said to have been found near the mansion gate.” Her aunt’s hand covered hers. “You may laugh, Alicia, but what does one make of a family that never shows itself? Of children who never grow to manhood? And of a husband and wife who simply disappear? Such strange comings and goings.”
“But there was a son who lived, was there not? I saw him once, in the grounds.”
“Did you now? There were rumours that a child survived. They say he had the face of an angel, but that his soul was so black even the devil did not want it.”
Aunt Joan let go of Alicia’s hand and retrieved her handkerchief. “Dear me, it is so hot, but thank goodness we have arrived at last. How do I look, my dear?”
Alicia was already opening the door to the coach as it rattled to a stop on the gravelled drive, the Lucius mansion and tales of the devil forgotten. She flicked a quick glance over her aunt’s grey travelling gown. “You look like a woman who has just sold all her American estates and is returning a very rich widow.”
Aunt Joan nodded and allowed herself a satisfied smile. “A fortune, part of which you will inherit one day, young lady. I have named a sum in trust for you on my death, as you know. But I intend to live for a good while yet.”
“And so you will, Aunt. Look, there they are.” Alicia hitched up her skirt and jumped from the carriage, dodging the surprised groom who was waiting to put up the steps. “Dana,” she cried to the young lady waiting with open arms. “Look at you – why, you are taller than me now, and what a beauty you have become.”
“Lissa!” Dana ran to her sister and squealed as she was engulfed in a hug. “You must tell me everything,” she cried breathlessly. What was it like? Did you have a beau? Oh, what a beautiful gown, you will let me borrow it, won’t you? Lissa, it’s so good to have you back.”
Alicia released her sister and stood back to study her properly. “Look at us both. You are almost seventeen and I am nearly twenty. We are no longer Lissa and Dana, we are Miss Stanton and Miss Dana Stanton.” They both dissolved into a fit of giggles, lost for a moment in the joy of the reunion. Alicia linked arms with her sister and turned to the tall, thin woman standing on the step.
“Alicia.” Her mother stooped and offered her cheek. “You are looking well.”
“As are you, Mama.” Alicia kissed her, not surprised at the restrained formality of the welcome. Her mother’s nervous disposition had obviously not improved in her absence. Stepping back, she dropped Dana’s arm and stood demurely for inspection. After nothing more than a cursory glance, her mother gave a slight nod, then turned her attention to Aunt Joan, who was huffing towards them.
“I should have thought her married by now.” Her voice was tight, irritation evident. “After all, was that not the purpose of the visit?”
Aunt Joan stopped to recover her breath and waved a hand dismissively. “I tried my best, but you know Alicia. She has vowed to marry for love or die an old maid, or some such romantic nonsense. That girl takes after me, no doubting it. Now, how about some tea? I’m quite parched.”
Alicia blushed crimson at her aunt’s words, suddenly feeling like a prize cow on display at the marketplace. She didn’t miss her mother’s small scowl of disapproval, or Dana’s look of concern. Her adventure was over, she realised with a sinking heart.
Alicia glared at her mother’s back. She’d been quite prepared to make a life in which her major concern would be which gown to wear to the next ball. Was it her fault if the reality had not matched the dream? Dull as dishwater, the lot of them. Aunt Joan had wheeled out one marriage prospect after the other, but none had caught her fancy.
One had even attempted to kiss her and the experience had been so revolting that it had almost put her off men altogether. The memory of his over-eager lips crushing hers, his tongue pushing into her mouth caused her to shudder.
The little party made its way into the house, with Alicia only half- listening to her mother’s prattling. Her days of freedom were numbered. Despite her protestations, she knew she would have no say in her inevitable marriage. All she could hope for was that her father would choose a half-way decent man who she could at least tolerate. And who knew? Perhaps she would be lucky and he would be at least, handsome.
Alicia patted her hair and pinched her cheeks to bring some colour into them, more nervous than usual at the prospect of facing her father. He’d set great store by this trip to America and had all but instructed her to marry the richest man she could find. He wasn’t bothered that she return, only that some of the fortune might filter its way back to England and into his pocket. Mr Stanton seemed unable to be subtle when it came to money, grasping at any chances of acquiring it with a grim and most unbecomingly cynical determination. Alicia wiped her hands on her skirt and took a deep breath, stopping as she looked with trepidation down the corridor leading to his study.
“Come along, Alicia,” her mother chided. “Your father is anxious to talk with you.
She pushed her towards the door and Alicia raised a hand to knock, glancing at her mother as she did so. “How is he, Mama?”
Mrs Stanton reached forward and tucked a stray curl back into place for her. “He is not pleased, Alicia. Not pleased at all.”
* * * *
Damien snapped the journal closed and threw the quill pen into the inkpot. A blot of ink splashed onto the front of the leather-bound book and Damien leaned his aching head carefully onto the desk to watch it spread.
That’s by far the most interesting thing that has happened today, he thought miserably. Dipping his finger in the blot, he stirred it around, wondering why he didn’t seem to be able to get drunk enough tonight to reach the blissful oblivion he craved. It would be infinitely preferable to this remorseless self-pity. More wine was what he needed. He lifted his head and closed one eye, trying to decide which of the two cups now floating before his vision was the real one.
Neither of them, he decided. They were a mirage, nothing but a dream, like his whole life. Suspended, like him, in some half-reality where things had form but no substance. He cocked his head, studying the wavering, silver goblets and imagined he could see right through them.
But, obviously, they were something because when he tentatively reached out to test his theory his fingers connected with solid matter and with a soft thunk the cup tipped over. Red wine raced to the edge of the desk where it dripped over the side and onto his lap and the drunken philosopher was quickly replaced by the plain drunk. Damien sprang back in alarm, knocked over his chair and landed, with a loud curse, on the floor.
“Damnation,” he muttered and flopped onto the rug in resignation. Tipping back his head he studied the ornately carved leg of the huge four-poster that dominated the room. Was it even worth getting up to stagger the few feet to the soft feather mattress? Who was there to notice or even care if he slept off his evening’s indulgence on the carpet? Damien closed his eyes and felt the self-pity creeping back.
Except Flora, of course. Thoughts of his childhood nurse caused him to groan and push himself into a sitting position. He squinted down at the sticky red stain that had plastered the white shirt to his stomach, and indulged in a wry smile. It looked as if someone had run him through with a sword.
Hell, I wish someone would, and put an end to this miserable existence.
His head ached too much to listen to another of Flora’s lectures on proper behaviour befitting a lord, so he pulled the shirt off himself and threw it across the room, staggered upright and lunged for the bed. From what he’d read, this was completely normal behaviour for a nobleman.
“Flora. Flora. Where are you when I need you?” he muttered. The door opened and Damien turned, blearily trying to focus on the person entering the room
“You’re not Flora,” he observed with difficulty, screwing up his eyes and looking the dark-haired young man up and down. “You… Damien staggered sideways again. The young man rushed forward, hooked him under the arms and hoisted him up.
“It’s Alex. Mother will be here in a moment. Jesus Christ, Damien, let’s get you over to the bed.”
“Al-ex-an-der.” Damien said it slowly, almost mockingly. “Are you scared of me Al-ex-an-der?” He allowed the man to manoeuvre him to the bed and flopped back, flinging his arms wide.
“Why not?” Damien bared his teeth. “Am I not even remotely scary?”
Alex stepped back and folded his arms. “For ‘eavens sake, you wouldn’t scare the cat. Do you need any more ‘elp?” He nodded at Damien’s trousers and arched an eyebrow, his lips holding just the hint of a mocking smile.
“Bugger off.” Damien sat up and started on the buttons himself. “Go light a fire or something, and get me Flora. Where is that bloody woman?”
“I’m here, Damien, don’t you go fretting yourself now.”
Damien’s face lit up at the sight of the short, plump woman who hurried into the room. “Where were you Flora? I want to go to bed,” he said ignoring Alex’s exaggerated eye-roll.
“And so you shall, so you shall.” Flora finished knotting up her hair and secured it with a pin. “My, look at the state of this room,” she said, stooping for the quilt which had fallen to the floor.
Damien felt himself relaxing as she took charge, only half-hearing her whispered command to Alex.
“Don’t just stand there, you dimwit, fetch the sleeping draught. You know where it is.”
Alex shot Damien a look, shook his head and left the room, mumbling under his breath. Flora returned her attention to her charge. “Come here, my sweet.” She gave an indulgent smile. “Let me see if I can soothe that head of yours.”
Damien leaned his head gratefully onto her ample lap, relaxing further as she stroked his hair.
“Flora, I think that tomorrow I shall stand in the sun again.”
“No, you will not stand in the sun.” Flora sighed like one used to this conversation. “You know what it would do to you.”
“But maybe I’m cured?” Damien lifted his head, a spark of hope in his eyes. “The ointment from Arabia. It worked a little. I could feel it.”
“‘Tis but temporary – and look at your skin.” Her fingers lingered gently on his sunburnt cheeks, causing Damien to suck in a sharp breath. “I will put more ointment on this tomorrow, but you must promise me to stay inside.”
He dropped his head back into her lap. “They say I’m a vampire, you know.”
“Idle gossip, my lamb. Nothing but an old legend. Ahh, there you are.” Flora took the sleeping draught from Alex and lifted it to Damien’s lips. “There now, drink it all up,” she said sliding an arm around his shoulders.
Damien stared at the cup for a moment before snatching it up and tossing the contents back without protest, watching Flora stand through half-closed eyes.
“Now go to sleep,” she instructed, as if he were still five years old. “And tomorrow perhaps less of the wine?”
“It’s my only friend, apart from you.” Damien threw an arm across his eyes to block out the flickering candle-light. “I wrote a poem. Would you like to read it?”
“Tomorrow. Sleep now, Damien.” Flora arranged herself in the rocking chair by the bed. “Would you like me to sing to you?”
“No. Am I cursed, Flora?”
“No you are not. Simply an unfortunate accident of birth. ‘Tis very unfair, but you are not cursed.”
“Was my father?”
“Sleep, my pet.” She started singing softly; an old lullaby he’d heard countless times. Damien lay back and let it wash over him like a comforting blanket.
“You never answer that question,” he said drowsily, feeling the draught move through his veins. This was the best part of the day. When oblivion took charge and he had nothing to think of but the welcoming blackness that came with it.
“I think I am cursed,” he mumbled as sleep overtook him at last.
* * * *
Flora stood stiffly and smoothed out her skirts.
“Fetch a cloth and clean up that mess.” Alex jumped when she poked him and indicated the wine stain. “Don’t just stand there gawking, you dimwit. And I do wish he would not talk about going out into the sun. It worries me quite to death.” She started to bustle about, picking up Damien’s discarded clothing, then stopped and thought for a moment. “I fear his melancholy increases.” She held up the stained shirt and handed it to Alex. “There, use that to mop up the wine.”
Alex looked at the shirt, then over at Damien who was snoring lightly. “Enough to drive anyone mad, this place is. Specially with you treating ‘im like a baby.”
“For twenty-one years, I have sat and watched over him.” Flora gazed at Damien fondly as he slept, reaching down to pull the quilt over his bare shoulders. “And I will continue to do so while I have breath in my body. Make sure you extinguish the candle when you leave. Goodnight, Alex.”
“‘Night, Mother.” Alex continued dabbing at the wine stain until his mother’s footsteps faded. When he was sure she was safely in her room he threw down the shirt and reached for the candlestick. He took another moment to study Damien, shaking his head as he did so, then opened the drawer to the desk and felt about at the back for the slim volume he knew was kept there. His heart-rate increased as he opened it and angled the pages toward the candle-light, unable to read a word but fully appreciative of the illustrations therein. With eyes as wide as saucers and a growing bulge in his trousers, he flicked through the pages, turning the book, and sometimes his head, to get a better view. Then Damien stirred and started mumbling in his sleep, so Alex snapped The Gentleman’s Book of Physical Love closed and hastily replaced it in its hiding place.
He pinched out the candle and made his way back to his room, rubbing at the front of his breeches. Damn, but he needed to leave this place and get this itch scratched once and for all. Then Damien would have to show him some respect. He’d make sure his Lordship knew about it. Would taunt him with it, because, along with going out into the sun, it was something Damien would never do. What woman would want to bed a vampire?
Alex chuckled softly and shook his head. Vampires indeed! If only people knew what really lurked within these walls, they’d be weak with laughter, not with fright.
End of Excerpt…
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