Authors: Julie Leto
ISS OF THE
After rogue archeologist Mariah Hunter dumps a cache of ancient Mayan coins in the Mexican jungle, she ends up with a bounty on her head and needs a quick cash infusion to cover the debt. So when she hears that a priceless stone is up for grabs in a remote region of Germany , she scrambles to reach it before her rivals.
Nearly three hundred years ago, in a futile attempt to rescue his family from a mercenary horde, Rafe Forsyth sprang an evil trap that has kept him captive within a hidden stone ever since. Alone with his grief and rage for centuries, he is unprepared for the rush of attraction he feels for the beautiful adventurer who liberates his body... but can she save his soul?
Together, Rafe and Mariah race against time to recover the stolen coins and discover the means to free Rafe from the curse’s evil magic. Because until the curse is broken, the Gypsy’s kiss is the truest danger of all...
Kiss of the Phantom
First published by NAL/Signet Eclipse, a division of Penguin Group (USA), Inc.
Print Copyright by Book Goddess, LLC, 2009
E-Book Copyright Book Goddess, LLC, 2011
E-Book Published by Book Goddess, LLC, 2011
E-Book Cover Photo
E-Book Format by
A Thirsty Mind
All rights reserved. No part of this may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental. All rights reserved. No part of this publication can be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, without permission in writing from Author.
Book Three in the Phantom series
Here’s hoping that what they say is true: Third time’s the charm!
This book is a digital reprint from a series published with Signet/NAL in 2008-2009. I’m thrilled to have the chance to reintroduce these characters to readers!
First and foremost, this book is dedicated to Dr. Richard Dillon and the nurses and staff of both Tampa Bay Women’s Care and the Women’s Center at University Community Hospital. Your excellent care led to the rapid writing of this book, because apparently, healing the body also frees the creativity of the mind. Thank you and bless you all!
As always, I owe so much to the Plotmonkeys: Janelle Denison, Leslie Kelly and Carly Phillips, for loving this series and helping me so much with every aspect from the plotting (obviously!) to the characterization and the actual business of putting words on paper. Also, to Susan Kearney, Diana Peterfreund, Anne-Marie Carroll and Kathy Carmichael, and my family in TARA, who are always instrumental in ensuring that I have a writer’s support group that is second to none.
I also have to give a special shout-out to my family, who support me in so many ways and make it entirely possible for me to follow my dreams. And I couldn’t have written this story without my agent, Helen Breitwieser, whose unwavering enthusiasm for my work gets me through the roughest times.
Gemma Von Roan dangled the antique keys in front of Paschal Rousseau’s face, shaking them enticingly, her back to the door he’d anticipated entering for more than six months. Inside a room hidden beneath this centuries-old manse in upstate New York was the secret horde of the K’vr, a cult founded to plunder the bounty of the eighteenth-century sorcerer Lord Rogan. Even through the thick oak door, Paschal sensed the blackguard’s bloody fingerprints on the cache within.
Gemma, young and stylish and cunning beyond measure thanks to a bloodline that she could trace back to the wizard himself, knew how badly Paschal yearned to explore the collection. Undeterred by his advanced age, she’d pulled out all the stops to entice him away from his family, promising him unlimited access to the vast assemblage of Gypsy-wrought artifacts.
All she wanted in return was the very thing Paschal had sworn he’d never give away.
“So we have a deal, yes?” Gemma asked. “I let you in and give you open access to my family’s store and you’ll show me how to do what you do.”
He frowned, his expression lost in the dim light. “It won’t be that easy.”
Gemma fussed with the keys, inserting one in the rusted lock as she spoke. “If my life were ever easy, we’d have had access to this place six months ago.”
“The radon and asbestos report really was genius,” Paschal complimented.
But Gemma only snorted in disgust. Having to resort to chicanery in order to gain entrance to a building owned by her family since the Civil War had chafed her pride raw.
Discounting her brother, currently awaiting trial for murder in Florida, Gemma was the last living descendant of Lord Rogan. And yet, because she was a woman, she’d been denied the leadership of the K’vr. For the past year and a half, the top spot of grand apprentice remained unclaimed while the council of elders determined if Keith Von Roan, the incarcerated brother, or Farrow Pryce, a wealthy businessman whose father had long served the Von Roan family, was better suited to serve.
But with Keith Von Roan looking at a long jail term and Farrow Pryce missing and presumed dead, the K’vr was in disarray. Never had there been a better time for Gemma to step in and fight the patriarchal attitudes of the elders. But instead she was helping Paschal, someone she’d once had a hand in kidnapping, in order to break into her family’s most secret and treasured storehouse. Paschal wasn’t sure why she’d chosen this course of action, but he had no doubt she’d betray him at the first opportunity.
Trouble was, he did not care. He just wanted her to find the right key.
“Need help?” he asked.
She flipped through the key ring again. “You’d think we already had the Source, with all these damned locks.”
Paschal cleared his throat unnecessarily. They’d carefully avoided this topic over the last six months. Both of them recognized that any conversation regarding the mysterious fire opal would go nowhere. She wanted it, but could not find it. Paschal knew precisely where it was—certainly not in this secret storeroom—but he would die before he gave away the location. The stone possessed a frightening amount of dark magic. In the wrong hands, the potential for devastation was too terrifying for Paschal to contemplate.
The Source had been the Holy Grail to the K’vr since Rogan’s disappearance in 1747. Gemma had probably been told bedtime stories about its limitless power. Yet, oddly enough, she did not seem to be after it at the moment. But even the powerful stone could not help Paschal in his quest. He needed whatever was inside the locked room, calling to him. Beckoning to him. Luring him to a fate that might just equal crashing on sharp and pitiless rocks.
“Let me try,” he offered.
Ignoring him, Gemma continued to try key after key. Paschal couldn’t help admiring how stubborn she was—or how lovely, no matter that she styled her hair like a porcupine. Her attempt to camouflage what amounted to a dollish, pretty face with spiked black and blond hair, dark eyeliner and darker lips revealed more about her true personality than she would ever admit. While on the arm of Farrow Pryce, she’d become a sleek, sophisticated seductress. Since his death, she’d taken on a tougher persona, from the shade of her lipstick to her Morticia Addams wardrobe. Paschal couldn’t help but wonder who was truly at the core of this ambitious young woman—or if he’d live long enough to find out.
To her knowledge, Paschal was over ninety years old...though he was still as virile as a man half his “age.” She no longer tried to use sex as a weapon against him, and for this he was grateful. He might be ancient, but he wasn’t dead. Besides, he was on her side now. She’d begun, a little at a time, to treat him more like a mentor than a conquest.
There was a responsibility in that role that Paschal had not experienced in years. While he’d enjoyed being a father to Ben, he’d spent too many years keeping secrets from his son to actually teach him anything of value. Now Paschal had a chance to influence a young woman who unknowingly possessed a unique power—one she could use for either good or evil. Perhaps her choice would depend on how he played this next challenge.
Gemma finally cursed and threw the ring of keys onto the ground, then kicked them until they ricocheted against the scuffed and rat-gnawed baseboard—a rare show of genuine, raw emotion. “What does any of this fucking matter if we can’t get inside?”
ed at her colorful language, retrieved the keys and ran them through his fingers, trying to get a reading off the energy embedded in the metal. His talent with psychometry was trained and specific. Accepting energy from every single item he ever touched would be like boarding a bullet train straight to an insane asylum. Instead, he’d taught himself to focus on only the energy signature of members of his own family or on Rogan’s dark magic—which over time had become inextricably intertwined.
He found the key on the second pass and inserted it into the lock. He attempted a twist, but while the lock mechanism gave way, the door did not budge.
“Hot damn,” she said, nudging him out of the way so she could grab the doorknob. “The lock is sticking. Means no one’s been inside for a long time.”
“Or someone hasn’t used the WD-40 in a while,” he offered. “When’s the last time you were inside?”
“Years ago. My father used to find me down here and totally lose his mind. If he ever found out I’d taken pictures of some of the items and kept them hidden, he would have died from an aneurysm rather than cancer.”
She grunted when the door finally yielded to the pressure of her shoulder. Stale air pressed into the dank tunnel. Almost instantly, Paschal felt the presence of Rogan’s magic. He’d had more than fifty years to hone his ability to sense the dark power, even from a distance. The trick would be to focus. According to Gemma, her ancestors had been notorious pack rats. If he did not call upon his psychometric tricks, it could take them weeks to explore every item warehoused in this underground cavern. And they didn’t have weeks. According to Gemma, they’d be lucky if they had days.
She flicked on the flashlight she’d brought along, found an ancient light switch and, with effort, flipped it on. After a few protesting flickers and the pop of a bulb somewhere in the distance, feeble amber light glowed above them. Paschal poked his head in and saw what appeared to be rows and rows of shelving. Layers of dust and cobwebs made everything gray and unappealing—to someone who had to rely on his eyes to find what he was looking for. Luckily, Paschal had other skills at his disposal.
Gemma groaned. “How lovely. You’d think the bozos running this outfit now would assign someone to dust down here every once in a while. My family’s legacy looks like piles of old junk.”
“You know what they say about one man’s trash,” he replied.
She snickered doubtfully. “If you can find a treasure in this abandoned trove, you’ll be worth the price I paid to get you here?”
Flashlight in front of him, Paschal moved through the rows. The shelves, stacked all the way up to the cramped six-foot ceiling, created a maze that snaked deep beneath the house. He found a wild array of vases and urns and boxes crafted in carved wood, fine pewter and even blown glass. Goblets and wineglasses collected inches’ worth of dirt and dust inside their sometimes uneven bowls.
Finally, he found the cup he sought—a pewter chalice marked with Rogan’s seal. Carved into the side of the dark metal, a hawk soared. A red stone glittered from within its talons. Gemma’s photograph of this exact item had lured him here. Could this cup possess the spirit of one of his missing brothers?
He hesitated before lifting it into his hands. He’d anticipated this moment for months. No, years. And yet, when he finally touched the cup, nothing happened; the metal was cold and dead in his hands.
He cursed, then noticed a second, identical chalice on the shelf. In fact, there was an entire collection of seven. Not a single one gave off the vibration he’d awaited for so long.
Yet he’d sensed Rogan’s magic even before he’d entered. Something of value had to be here. He simply had to find it.
The K’vr might be in disarray, but the storehouse of their legacy was divided down distinct boundaries. Household items. Jewelry. Crude mechanical devices and tools. Weapons. Paschal smirked as he looked over the swords, which were not quite as dusty as the rest.
“See anything interesting?” Gemma called, still in the entryway, from the sound of her voice.
“Not yet,” he murmured. But then, it wasn’t his eyes that were going to assist in finding what he sought.
When he approached a row of musical instruments, a shiver up his spine stopped him cold.
A golden circle of light rounded the corner. After a moment, Gemma joined him, holding a lantern as he pawed through a box of flutes.
He didn’t need two tries this time around. Not only did he recognize the instrument carved from ebony as belonging to his brother Rafe, but the echo of the half-Romani’s psychic signature, a mournful tune, nearly blasted in his ears. Gemma yelped and jumped back.
“Did you hear that?” she asked.
So, the time had come.
“Yes, my dear, I most certainly did.”
“Someone else must be down here.” She stepped back toward the aisle that would lead outside. He grabbed her arm.
“No,” he assured her. “We are quite alone.”
Paschal rolled the flute across his palm, blocking the images from overwhelming him, acclimating himself to what must happen next. He was torn between rejoicing in the fact that he’d finally found an item to connect to the past, and lamenting that under the circumstances, he had to show Gemma the secret that might just undo them both.
“But I heard music,” she insisted.
“From this flute,” he explained. “This once belonged to a man named Rafe Forsyth. He lived more than two hundred and fifty years ago in Valoren.”
Her eyes widened so that the whites nearly outshone the shocked blue of her irises. “How do you know?”
“That’s impossible,” she muttered.
He smiled. “You don’t really believe that or you would not have brought me here or struck our bargain. You’ve lived up to your end. Now take my hand and let me show you what you need to know.”
Surprisingly, she hesitated. “I never imagined that you were—”
“There’s no time. I need to know what happened to Rafe.”
“Shh,” Paschal said, then grabbed Gemma’s quivering hand. “Enough talk. Just hang on for the ride.”
The Romani colony at Valoren
Rafe’s heart froze, then dropped into the bile-rich depths of his stomach. From atop the
, where he’d climbed to get an all-encompassing view of the village of Umgeben, he saw a girl running into the forest, pursued by a man in a flapping cloak, shouting her name. For an instant, the flash of dark hair evoked his beloved, Irika. But she was gone, safely hidden by her father along with Rafe’s infant son. The village was deserted, but oddly peaceful. Nothing looked out of place. He had no reason to suspect any danger had touched his family—yet. They were likely in the mountain caves, waiting for the mercenary army sent by King George of England to find the Gypsy colony abandoned.
But Rafe’s sister was another matter. Her name, shouted again by her pursuer, rent the air. Sarina! Only hours ago, he and his brothers had read her hastily scribbled note, announcing her elopement with the Gypsy’s patron, Lord Rogan. Coupled with the threat of annihilation by a paid and ruthless army that had already crossed the Hanoverian borders into Valoren and would reach Umgeben by daybreak, Rafe and his father’s British-born sons had ridden to the village to find their sister and evacuate the Romani.
But upon arriving in the village, they’d found no one—until now. Sarina was running away from the man she’d so childishly professed to love. Running for her life.
Rafe opened his mouth to call to his sister, but she had disappeared into the trees only seconds before Rogan. The sound of their retreat was instantly swallowed. Even in skirts, Sarina was incredibly fast. Unfortunately, with cursed magic at his greedy disposal, Rogan moved with swiftness not unlike the wind.
Rafe leaped to the ground and shouted for his brothers, who, like him, were searching the village. While the lightning and thunder of the storm they’d ridden through had retreated, time was still their enemy. Why was Sarina running from the man she claimed she loved? No matter how Rafe and Irika had railed against her affection for the stranger, Sarina had defended him. Loved him. She’d abandoned her family to be with him. And now she ran from him as if her life depended on it?