Authors: Touch of Night
Julia drew in a shaking breath
and blinked, striving to focus.
She was pressed to Niclas’s firm chest, feeling quite small and delicate against his much larger frame. If he held her any more tightly, some of her bones would surely crack. As it was, the side of her face was firmly planted in the wool of his coat, and both the smell and weave were overpowering and irritating.
“I’ve put something about your neck,” she heard him say, his voice low. “It’s not merely a necklace, but a powerful enchantment that will protect you. As long as you wear it, you’ll be safe from Cadmaran and all other magic. But you must give me your solemn vow, Julia, that you’ll not remove it until I tell you to do so. That’s of the greatest import. Do you understand?”
“Yes,” she managed. “I think so.”
“It’s all right if you don’t. We’ll speak of it later.” She felt him pulling away, and sank her fingers into his coat with immediate desperation to hold him fast. “We must go,” he said, gently pushing until she reluctantly gave way.
With care, he grasped her chin and tilted her face upward. “Look at me, Julia, can you see me? Do you know who I am and where you are?”
“Yes,” she murmured, licking her dry lips. “I know you, Mister Seymour.”
He smiled faintly. “After tonight. . .Please call me Niclas, if you wish it. You may well want to call me something far less appealing before this night is done. . .”
Touch of Night
drew me into a magical world from the first page. Susan Spencer Paul is a master storyteller!”
New York Times
Susan Spencer Paul
If you purchased this book without a cover you should be aware that this book is stolen property. It was reported as “unsold and destroyed” to the publisher, and neither the author nor the publisher has received any payment for this “stripped book.”
TOUCH OF NIGHT
Copyright © 2005 by Susan Spencer Paul.
Touch of Passion
copyright © 2005 by Susan Spencer Paul.
Cover photo of castle by Mark Stephenson/Corbis, photo of man by InMagine, and photo of sky by Photodisc.
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews. For information address St. Martin’s Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10010.
Printed in the United States of America
St. Martin’s Paperbacks edition / August 2005
St. Martin’s Paperbacks are published by St. Martin’s Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10010.
10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
Dedicated with love to my wonderful sister, Rachel, who
possesses the rare and welcome gift of making the lives of
all those around her happier. Thank you for everything
you’ve done for me, Rachel, and for all that you continue
to do. I am truly blessed to be your sister.
ark night. Almost no moon showing through the fog-shrouded haze.
Still. Quiet. Peaceful. Lonely.
Just as Niclas wanted it to be.
Only those souls who haunted such nights were out now: prostitutes, gamblers, drunkards, and thieves. Those who were lost and those who sought respite in the black shadows. Even so, the docks were nearly empty, all saner folk keeping themselves well within taverns and gaming hells, out of the cold, damp darkness. The few whose steps and voices passed within his hearing wisely stayed away from Niclas Seymour’s tall, foreboding figure.
The Thames flowed beneath his feet, under the dock where he stood.
Dark. Deep. Slow and steady.
That was what he sought. Peace. But it was impossible to find, no matter how often or desperately he pursued it.
Peace wasn’t meant for people like him, who lived under
a curse; it was the blessing of the sinless and pure, and of those who sprang from untainted, earthly bloodlines.
He lifted his gaze toward the hazy stars, barely visible against the night’s fog, and tried to remember what it felt like to be at peace. At rest. There had been a time, only a few short years ago, when he had known the feeling well, and had so foolishly taken for granted the happiness it brought to his days.
What wouldn’t he give for even a few of those happy hours now? Just a few blessed hours of quiet nothingness. It would be worth every bit of his fortune, and more. But no amount of money could lift the curse that had been laid upon him. Niclas knew that full well. Money, for all the power it wielded on earth, held no value in the spirit realm. The residents who ruled that sphere demanded a far different manner of payment for wrongs done, usually like for like. Suffering for suffering. Loss for loss. Blood for blood. There was always a way, but only if the cursed one could find it.
And there, as the playwright had so aptly stated, was the rub. God alone knew how Niclas had tried and the lengths to which he had gone, but nothing had set him free. A saner man would have given way by now and either accepted fate or put his miserable life to an end, but Niclas, after three years, wasn’t anything approaching sane.
Tonight he would put into motion one final attempt, and if it wasn’t the answer . . . then, he supposed he would follow the course of so many who had gone before him.
Lowering his gaze, he turned to look across the Thames, where the lights of Mervaille glowed, their reflection shimmering on the dark surface of the slowly undulating water. It was one of the few remaining medieval
palaces that still existed along the river, and had been a safe haven in London for generations of Seymours. His cousin Earl Graymar resided there for a part of each year, during the months when Parliament met and while the season was under way.
Mervaille was not the family seat of the Seymours—only Glain Tarran, their domain in Wales, could lay claim to such intense love and devotion—but it was a very close second. It was a well-situated property, beautiful, private, and surrounded by lush gardens and vast green lawns that rolled down to the edge of the Thames. The palace, which at its inception had been only a simple fortress, was built not long after William’s appearance in England. The Seymour family had by then been wealthy landowners, but had kept themselves strictly within the borders of Wales, their beloved land. Following the Conqueror’s arrival, however, it became expedient for the family to maintain a presence much nearer to the center of both trade and political power. A small measure of monetary persuasion, combined with a somewhat greater amount of magic, had been all the Seymours, or Symwrs, as the family name had then been spelled, needed to secure the valuable land to build Mervaille. It had been dangerous to risk exposure by using their powers, but necessary, for the Symwrs were then a rugged Welsh clan who had for centuries been a stinging thorn in the necks of all occupiers. Without the use of magic, William surely would have hung Baron Symwr rather than gifting him with a rare piece of property.
As years and ruling families passed, the Symwrs built their proper London estate, establishing a place of power among the very people whom they still stubbornly resisted in Wales. The family gained influence and grew wealthy,
first as traders and then by building its own fleet of shipping vessels. Centuries passed, and they learned the art of politics, and how to use their money and friendships to gain safety. Other families like them, who were different and strange to common mortals, began to do the same, and before the day of Cromwell rose they had come together at last to form a bond of union. Seymour, Bowdon, Llandrust, Cadmaran, and others. They lent their various powers and skills for one common cause: to live safely in the world of mere mortals. They called themselves, simply, the Families.
By then Mervaille had been transformed from a simple fortress into an exquisite palace, the Symwr name altered to a more acceptable, Anglicized form, and the barony elevated to an earldom.
And all of it, the wealth, the politics, the rise in power, had taken place from Mervaille.
No, it was not the dwelling the Seymours held most dear, but it was surely the one for which they were most thankful. From Mervaille their kind had gained safety in the very midst of England’s greatest city. Its walls enclosed a refuge that only Glain Tarran in Pembrokeshire could equal, for when its gates were shut, mortals could not touch them, and those of magical heritage could fully relax, not having to worry, or even think, about stepping wrong.
It had been three long years since Niclas had known that kind of peace and safety. He had been banned, on that long-ago night when the world had come crashing down on him, from both Mervaille and Glain Tarran. None of the cursed could pass their gates. It was forbidden.
Niclas hadn’t realized, at first, just how greatly he would miss the family estates where he had spent so much of his
youth, or that he would come to yearn for a presence at the family gatherings that had once made him so impatient, but time had proved him wrong.
How different he was now. How different everything was. He’d taken so much for granted in the happy, easy life he’d once lived. Like Mervaille. Niclas gazed at it with longing and thought of what it would be like to be there, just once more. To drink in its beauty and be at complete rest, free from worrying about being found out by the world.
But it was impossible. Instead, he had to stand here, across the river, and content himself with the sight of his family’s estate. And wait for Malachi to come.
It wouldn’t be long. The earl would have received his summons by now. Niclas had only to ready himself to lay out his proposal and prepare for the arguments that his cousin would be certain to present. He already knew what they would be; he’d been saying them to himself during the past several days.
A familiar pressure in his temples warned Niclas that someone was approaching. He sensed a series of faint emotions—curiosity, then surprise, then a moment’s consideration, and then—Niclas sighed when he discerned it—pleasure. He didn’t have to turn around to see the two men who’d seen and decided to rob him. He already knew that they believed they could easily overpower him.
Both their footsteps and their emotions grew more recognizable as they neared, and Niclas, too weary to fight any more this night, said aloud, “Be wise, gentlemen, and leave me in peace.”
More surprise, and they fell still. Niclas could feel a touch of fear mingling with their growing excitement and
anticipation. He made a tempting target, he knew, despite his superior height and build. His garments, dirtied and torn though they were from several earlier altercations, were the clothes of a gentleman. No amount of dirt or blood could change their fine fabric or cut, nor could a great deal of mud or scuffing hide the make of his expensive boots. And that meant money, jewelry, or at the very least a decent pocket watch. Oh, aye, he was a tempting target, indeed. But it was often thus. This was the fifth time in the past week alone that he’d found himself in such straits, and perhaps the hundredth or more since he’d taken up his nightly wanderings. At some point he would surely run through all of London’s knaves and finally be left in peace.