When Darkness Comes

By: Alexandra Ivy


England, 1665

The scream ripped through the night air. Pulsing with a savage agony, it filled the vast chamber and tumbled down the vaulted corridors. Servants cowering in the lower halls of the castle clamped hands over their ears in an effort to block out the piercing shrieks. Even hardened soldiers in the barracks made the sign of the moon, the protector of the night.

In the southern turret, the Duke of Granville paced across his private library, his shadowed features lined with distaste. Unlike his servants, he did not cross his forehead in an effort to ward off the evil eye. And why should he?

Evil had already struck. It had invaded his home and dared to taint him with its filth.

The only thing left was to purge the infestation with a ruthless strike.

Tugging at the hood to his robe to ensure his marred countenance was fully hidden, he grimly squared his shoulders. Patience, he told himself over and over. Soon enough the moon would move into the proper equinox. And then the ritual would at last be at an end. The child he had

sacrificed to the witches would become their precious Chalice, and his suffering would he at an end.

Turning abruptly on his heel, he marched back toward the slotted window that offered a fine view of the rich countryside. In the distance he could witness the faint glow of fires. He shuddered. London. Filthy, peasant-infected London that was being punished for its foul sins.

A punishment that had spewed out of the ramshackle whorehouses and swept its way to his sanctuary.

His hands clenched at his sides. It was untenable. He was a just man. A godly man who had always been richly rewarded for his purity. To have that… vile disease enter his body was a perversion of all that was due to him.

That, of course, was the only reason he had allowed the heathens to enter his estate. And to bring with them that creature of evil that was currently shackled in Ms dungeon.

They promised him a cure.

An end to the plague that was consuming his life.

And all it would cost him was a daughter.

* * *

Chapter 1

Chicago, 2006

"Oh God, Abby. Don't panic. Just… don't… panic."

Sucking in a deep breath, Abby Barlow pressed her hands to her heaving stomach and studied the shards of pottery that lay splintered across the floor.

Okay, so she broke a vase. Well, perhaps more than broke it. It was more like she shattered, decimated, and annihilated the vase, she grudgingly conceded. Big deal. It was not the end of the world.

A vase was a vase. Wasn't it?

She abruptly grimaced. No, a vase was not just a vase. Not when it was a very rare vase. A priceless vase. One that should no doubt have been in a museum. One that was the dream of any collector and…

Freaking hell.

Panic once again reared its ugly head.

She had destroyed a priceless Ming vase.

What if she lost her job? Granted, it wasn't much of a job. Hell, she felt as if she were stepping into the Twilight Zone each time she entered the elegant mansion on the outskirts of Chicago. But her position as companion to Selena LaSalle was hardly demanding. And the pay was considerably better than slinging hash in some sleazy dive.

The last thing she needed was to be back in the long lines at the unemployment office.

Or worse… dear God, what if she was expected to pay for the blasted vase?

Even if there was such a thing as a half-price sale at the local Ming outlet shop, she would have to work ten lifetimes to make such a sum. Always supposing that it was not one of a kind.

Panic was no longer merely rearing. It was thundering through her at full throttle.

There was only one thing to be done, she realized. The mature, responsible, adult thing to do.

Hide the evidence.

Covertly glancing about the vast foyer, Abby ensured that she was alone before lowering herself to her knees and gathering the numerous shards that littered the smooth marble.

It was not as if anyone would notice the vase was missing, she tried to reassure herself. Selena had always been a recluse, but in the past two weeks, she had all but disappeared. If it wasn't for her occasional cameo appearances to demand that Abby prepare that disgusting herb concoction she guzzled with seeming pleasure, Abby might have thought that the woman had done a flit.

Certainly Selena didn't roam the house taking inventory of her various knickknacks.