Phantom Pleasures: Sexy Paranormal (Book 1, Phantom Series)

BOOK: Phantom Pleasures: Sexy Paranormal (Book 1, Phantom Series)
7.19Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

P
HANTOM

P
LEASURES

JULIE LETO

 

When hotshot hotel developer Alexa Chandler finally finds the perfect property for her next luxury resort, she has no idea of the black magic she’s about to unleash.  Thanks to vivid tales from the locals, no one has breached the shores of the mysterious island or entered the abandoned castle that is its centerpiece in recent memory.  But once inside, Alexa discovers another mystery—the portrait of a dark and brooding nobleman.

 

With a single touch, Alexa unleashes a phantom who has been trapped within the canvas for over two hundred years.

 

Contained by a gypsy curse, Damon Forsyth has had centuries to think of nothing but revenge and retribution until intense desire draws the beautiful Alexa to his lair.  Though free of the painting, he is still bound to the castle.  Only by using the dark magic that enslaves him can he initiate a game of seduction that will end with his freedom—and her undoing.

 

Unable to resist, Alexa surrenders to Damon’s ghostly touch.  But will she thwart the magic that holds Damon in thrall...or sacrifice her own mortality in the name of love?

 

Phantom Pleasures

First published by NAL/Signet Eclipse, a division of Penguin Group (USA), Inc.

Print Copyright Book Goddess, LLC, 2008

 

E-Book Copyright Book Goddess, LLC, 2011

E-Book Published by Book Goddess, LLC, 2011

 

E-Book Cover Photo
Earthly Charms

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.

Phantom Pleasures
 

To new beginnings. . .again

 

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

 

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 again! 

 

This book has been a long time coming. I conceived the story line nearly fourteen years ago, if you can believe it, and actually wrote a book with similar characters, setting; and story line, but alas, I was ahead of my time. When I finally had the time and experience to tackle the idea again, I did not do so without help from some very special people. Writing is a solitary business, but not as much as it used to be. And I’m particularly fortunate to have the best people to lean on when I’m in need. I can only hope that I can return the favor a few times over the course of my life.

As always, my love and appreciation go to the Plotmonkeys: Janelle Denison, Leslie Kelly, and Carly Phillips, whose encouragement and plotting expertise helped me take what was a relatively simple story line and turn it into the multilayered novel that is Phantom Pleasures. I wouldn’t have had the guts to revisit this dream without you. Also, to Helen Breitwieser, my amazing agent, whose unstoppable enthusiasm about my work keeps me going during the roughest times. Of course, to Susan Kearney, who read the original version of this story all those years ago and also encouraged me to bring this concept back into the light. The same goes for my aunt, Rosie Glatkowski, Bobbie Walters, and my sister-in-law, Joy Leto, who read this work in the early stages and never let me forget what they loved about it.

Special acknowledgment goes to award-winning and bestselling author Jo Beverley, who took the time from her own busy writing schedule to help .me with the historical aspects of the story. Her knowledge of the Georgian period and all that is England boggles the mind, as does her generosity of time and spirit. Thank you, Jo! Also contributing to my historical knowledge were Mary Jo Putney, Susan Pace, and Virginia Henley. I’m incredibly fortunate to have access to such brilliant women.

I cannot ignore the many “experts” I found on the writer’s loop for Novelists, Inc., who have answered my calls for information and resources with complete generosity. One day, I suppose, we might find a topic at the NINC link that no one knows anything about—but I doubt it. Same goes for my friends at the Tampa Area Romance Authors.

And if I left anyone out, please know that I will make it up to you in the next book!

PROLOGUE
 

Austin
, Texas

April 2008

 

His hand shaking, as much from age as from fear, Paschal Rousseau, noted Romani scholar, shut the door to his study and said a silent prayer for more time. He’d once thought he’d had more of that commodity than he could stand, but not any longer. His enemies were closing in on him of this, he was sure. He wouldn’t go without a fight, of course, but despite his best efforts to remain in good shape, ninety-plus years did take their toll on a man. In the meantime he had to bolster his arsenal with as much information as he could gather in the quickest, if most draining, way he knew.

To that end, he had to act. He had to push through the final barrier of his mind and connect with the past.

Not his past. He knew his own history, his own wild tale, which had led him here to the States to seek the objects he needed to counter the Gypsy curse. No, tonight he had to attempt something more dangerous. He had to seek a path into the distant past—into memories that were not his.

Flicking on the lamp on his desk, he stared at the oil painting he’d propped up on the blotter, knowing it had been the artist’s last work. The purplish clouds scuttling across the top of the canvas raged with rain. The whitecaps beneath the listing schooner sparked with anger and turmoil. Paschal had searched for this stormy seascape for years, learning more about the intricacies of art dealing than he’d ever intended. But he’d found the piece, and now it was time to use his so-called gift to take the final step.

He sat. Clutching the curved armrest of his chair with one hand, he reached out with the other and gingerly traced the name of the artist, rendered in bold strokes across the bottom of the canvas.
Damon
. He concentrated on everything he knew about the man, closed his eyes and painted his own picture of the artist in his mind. The only other rendering of the man existed in a place Paschal could no longer reach. Luckily, although he’d lived a somewhat unnaturally long life, his memory remained strong and reliable.

Once he saw Damon’s dark hair, steely eyes and rigid jaw in his mind’s eye, Paschal spread his fingers and palm over the center of the painting. At first he felt nothing but cool canvas and the stiff texture of dried enamels. But then, slowly, his hand seemed to meld into the painting. His flesh transparent. His mind transported.

The connection made, he pulled his mind’s eye out of the schooner in the gyrating ocean and concentrated on the night, more than two hundred and sixty years ago, when the artist and his entire band of brothers disappeared forever.

Valoren

I747

 

Tonight the war began.

The war? No, the slaughter. And if Damon Forsyth and his brothers didn’t reach the town of Umgeben before morning, their cherished sister would die in the impending massacre.

Damon kicked his heels hard into his mount’s sweaty flanks, pushing the animal onward despite the blinding rain and rocky landscape. Lightning flashed, briefly illuminating the distant cliffs. They were close to the cursed town. He could feel the vibrations beneath his horse’s hooves. The electricity spiking through the sky connected with the magic that pulsed beneath the ground and surged through his soaked clothes.

Valoren, land of the lost, prison to the Gypsies exiled from England by the first King George, was tucked into a mostly uninhabited corner of land between Germany and Bohemia. For nearly thirty years, Damon’s father, a British baron, governed the land. But even he had been powerless against the magic—powerless against the enemy who had used sorcery to steal Sarina from her family.

Damon howled a curse and kicked the horse harder. A few lengths behind him, his brothers echoed his battle cry. The chorus of five pulsed with desperation, anger. . .fear. Fear for their sister. Fear for their exiled family. Fear for the very continuation of the Forsyth name.

At the sight of a rider charging toward them from the west, Damon yanked on the reins. He held up his hand, and his brothers stopped alongside, their horses snorting heavily so that their hot breath created a gray mist in the frigid rain. Molded to his horse’s back like an extension of its spine, the approaching horseman galloped over the crags and rocks in the road.

Damon immediately recognized his half brother, Rafe, who slid into their circle and tossed back the hood on his cloak. His long, raven black hair merged with the darkness, but his clear blue eyes—so much like Sarina’s since they shared the same mother—were bright with fury.

“The mercenary army advances at dawn,” he reported.

Damon nodded, though his mind reeled. How had the confrontation escalated so quickly? From his trips to court, he’d known that the second King George often grumbled about reclaiming his land from the wanderers. Over the years, rumors flew that troops comprised of British and German mercenaries were being gathered to cleanse the enclave of the Romani. But Damon had never believed troops would arrive. Or that the offensive would put his family—good British citizens, save his Gypsy stepmother, youngest brother and only sister—in such grave peril.

“Then we have time to find Sarina,” Damon declared.

His brother Aiden, next in line to inherit, drew his sword. “Not if Rogan has spirited her away. He’s brought this danger on her. On us. He must pay for his betrayal!”

Rogan. Damon’s blood froze. He had brought Lord Rogan here to Valoren from London, introduced him to his family—and to his starry-eyed, trusting, barely seventeen-year-old sister—never guessing that the wealthy traveler had designs on taking the Gypsy land for his own. Rogan’s machinations had likely stirred the jealous king to action. Damon had unleashed the lion into the coliseum, and now everyone in the Gypsy colony would pay with their lives.

Damon held his hand against Aiden’s weapon, which glittered white when another bolt of lightning streaked across the sky. “Remember, we must find Sarina before we kill Rogan. He cannot die until we know where she is.”

The brothers said nothing, but their faces darkened, their jaws tightened and their eyes burned with hatred.

“We must ride!” Damon declared.

Once again, their band took off toward the cliffs. Between the rocky jags they narrowed their line, entering through the pass one rider at a time. By the time all six of them emerged in the valley, a cold weight dropped with a thud in Damon’s stomach.

The village of Umgeben appeared untouched. Still. Had the Gypsies not received the warning sent a few hours before? Fires flickered in the windows, smoke curled from the hearths of the common houses and music echoed from a faraway
vardo
, an elaborately decorated wagon the Gypsies had been forbidden by English law to move. But John Forsyth, their governor, had rescinded the order hours ago to help the Romani escape the incoming hoard. Why weren’t they uprooted? Hitched to mules in advance of the exodus that could possibly spare their lives?

Colin, the third brother, rode up silently, his voice only slightly louder than his usual whisper. “Where is everyone?”

Damon urged his mount through the town’s open gates and from his saddle tore open the curtains of the nearest cottage with his blade. He smelled meat stewing on the hearth, yet no one tended the fire. He rode around to the back and saw the animal pens unlocked and empty. He heard his brothers behind him as their horses’ hooves sucked in and out of the slick clay, each one riding to nearby houses and announcing the same results.

The Romani had disappeared. The entire population of Umgeben was gone.

“What sort of magic spirits away an entire town?” the elder twin, Logan, shouted to Rafe, who’d dismounted. “They had but an hour’s warning. They could not have abandoned their homes without our meeting them on the road.”

Rafe, the only brother with Gypsy blood, looked as confused as the others and shook his head wildly. Damon’s anger surged. If his youngest brother, so adept at maneuvering through the Gypsy world, was shocked by these events, what chance did they have at saving Sarina?

Aiden raised his sword, pointing east. “Colin, search the chapel in case the citizens have simply taken refuge. Rafe, find the
Chovihano
,” he ordered, directing their youngest brother to the Gypsy elder. “See if he’s remained, and if so, what he knows. You two,” he barked, indicating the twins, Logan and Paxton, “check the storerooms. See if the tinker is about. He alone is allowed to travel from this place. He might have known of this attack long before we heard the news, and warned the others away before our message arrived.”

The brothers dispersed, leaving only Damon and Aiden behind. Aiden had just returned home from fighting with the king’s army, scarred but alive. Now betrayal hardened his features. Damon reached out and placed a calming hand on his shoulder.

“We shall find her,” he said.

“I’ll seek out Rogan,” Aiden replied.

Damon shook his head. “I brought that viper into our midst. It is my right to slay him. But only after Sarina is back in our care.” Damon sat straighter on his mount. He’d allowed his brother to take the reins a moment ago, but now he had to act. He was the eldest. He bore the responsibility of justice.

“Check the armory,” he ordered. “See if the Gypsies armed themselves to fight before they left.”

Aiden opened his mouth to protest, but then quickly deferred. He sheathed his weapon and rode west.

Alone, Damon cantered through the village, his destination looming just beyond the ramshackle cottages and immobile
vardos
squatting along the main path. Lightning ignited the flecks of glass embedded in the stone of Rogan’s castle and shimmered up the tall spires that rose into the sky like snakes about to strike. The large stone structure was intimidating, just as the architect had intended. But Damon wouldn’t hesitate to enter. Not when he guessed that this castle would be the most likely place for Rogan to hide Sarina, if they’d stayed behind.

Which Damon suspected they had. He could smell the stench of Rogan’s power even through the falling rain. On missions of their own, his brothers would be safe from the battle to come. And when his combat with Rogan ended, they would reunite in victory.

At the entrance to the castle, Damon dismounted, unsheathed his sword and smacked his horse on its rump so it shot into the darkness, out of the storm. Out of danger. He climbed the steps boldly and kicked open the heavy door. Pain shot up his thigh. He cared not. He removed his cloak and balanced his blade in his hands. Rogan would die tonight.

Something crunched beneath Damon’s boot as he stepped toward, the grand staircase. He bent down and his heart clenched. Sarina’s necklace. The chain broken. The charm damaged beyond repair. Who had ripped the ever-present amulet from her throat? Damon’s footfalls reverberated on the stone floors until the sound of his steps was muffled by one of the many rich carpets. The only light came from two torches at the top of the stairs.

From there, Rogan smiled down on him.

Damon smirked. Not the man, but the portrait, hung with conceit as the centerpiece of the staircase. The oil on the canvas portrayed the villain with perfect accuracy.

“Rogan!” he shouted.

Damon stomped up the stairs.

“Rogan! Release my sister and face me.”

His voice shook the atmosphere, but there was no response.

Only silence. Deadly silence.

The absence of sound was ripe with magic. Damon could taste the metallic flavor on his tongue.

At the portrait, he stopped and stared into the eyes of the traitor, fighting off a chill spiking from the black irises. In the dancing light from the flickering torch flame, Damon spied the makings of a sneer on the man’s slim lips, even while he petted the beloved cat curled in his lap. Cursed beast. Black. Long-haired. Amber-eyed. Mean as a devil. The perfect personification of dark and dangerous magic.

Why hadn’t Damon seen the evil in his so-called friend before? Damon had once prided himself on his ability to judge people. What kind of charm had Rogan employed to make Damon believe him to be a noble companion? To convince all the Romani exiled to Valoren that Rogan had their best interests at heart?

Pushed by a surge of wind, the manor door behind him banged closed. The torches faltered, then flamed, but in the seconds between light and dark, Damon glimpsed a figure move within the painting.

Not Rogan. In a doorway curved over Rogan’s left shoulder.

A woman?

Damon’s stomach dropped.

“Sarina?” he whispered.

He stepped closer, sheathed his sword and yanked the heavy portrait off the wall. Startled at the weight of the carved and gilded frame, he took care not to damage the canvas. Even the Gypsy
Chovihano
, the shaman Damon’s father had consulted when Rogan’s dark intentions had started to manifest, feared that Rogan had mastered the blackest of magical arts. Could the sorcerer have tucked his sister away in a place from which no mortal man could release her—even someplace as inconceivable as inside a painting?

Damon dragged the portrait closer to the torch and stared hard into the shadowy doorway painted in the corner. Again he caught sight of a woman. But her hair wasn’t dark like his sister’s. This woman’s tresses caught and reflected the light from the flames.

In a flash of thought, he remembered his wife back in England. Flame-haired and filled with ice. If he died in the battle with Rogan tonight or with the king’s mercenaries at dawn, she’d care not. But his mistress. . .at least she’d weep for his loss, even if only for the absence of his generous purse. For his part, he’d miss her bold lovemaking, her insatiable, curvaceous body and the sound of her pleasured cries bursting in his eardrum. Suddenly he could hear her laughter, raucous and loud, burbling from the painting. His body instantly responded with needs that had no place here, needs that made him forget—momentarily—his missing sister.

BOOK: Phantom Pleasures: Sexy Paranormal (Book 1, Phantom Series)
7.19Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

The Ball Hogs by Rich Wallace
The Wizard And The Dragon by Joseph Anderson
The Bronze King by Suzy McKee Charnas
QueensQuest by Suz deMello
Fool's Gold by Ted Wood
The Weakness in Me by Josie Leigh
Killing Me Softly by Marjorie Eccles
1945 by Newt Gingrich, William R. Forstchen, Albert S. Hanser