Crystal gardens, p.1
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       Crystal Gardens, p.1

         Part #1 of Ladies Of Lantern Street series by Amanda Quick
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Crystal Gardens


  CRYSTAL

  GARDENS

  OTHER TITLES BY JAYNE ANN KRENTZ

  Copper Beach Summer in Eclipse Bay Absolutely, Positively

  In Too Deep Smoke in Mirrors Trust Me

  Fired Up Dawn in Eclipse Bay Grand Passion

  Running Hot Lost & Found Hidden Talents

  Sizzle and Burn Eclipse Bay Wildest Hearts

  White Lies Soft Focus Family Man

  All Night Long Eye of the Beholder Perfect Partners

  Falling Awake Flash Sweet Fortune

  Truth or Dare Sharp Edges Silver Linings

  Light in Shadow Deep Waters The Golden Chance

  BY JAYNE ANN KRENTZ WRITING AS AMANDA QUICK

  Quicksilver Don’t Look Back Deception

  Burning Lamp Slightly Shady Desire

  The Perfect Poison Wicked Widow Dangerous

  The Third Circle I Thee Wed Reckless

  The River Knows Seduction Ravished

  Second Sight Affair Rendezvous

  Lie by Moonlight Mischief Scandal

  Wait Until Midnight Mystique Surrender

  The Paid Companion Mistress With This Ring

  Late for the Wedding

  BY JAYNE ANN KRENTZ WRITING AS JAYNE CASTLE

  Canyons of Night Silver Master After Dark

  Midnight Crystal Ghost Hunter Amaryllis

  Obsidian Prey After Glow Zinnia

  Dark Light Harmony Orchid

  G. P. PUTNAM’S SONS

  New York

  Amanda Quick

  G. P. PUTNAM’S SONS

  Publishers Since 1838

  Published by the Penguin Group

  Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014, USA •

  Penguin Group (Canada), 90 Eglinton Avenue East, Suite 700, Toronto, Ontario M4P 2Y3,

  Canada (a division of Pearson Penguin Canada Inc.) • Penguin Books Ltd, 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL,

  England • Penguin Ireland, 25 St Stephen’s Green, Dublin 2, Ireland (a division of Penguin Books Ltd)

  • Penguin Group (Australia), 250 Camberwell Road, Camberwell, Victoria 3124, Australia

  (a division of Pearson Australia Group Pty Ltd) • Penguin Books India Pvt Ltd, 11 Community Centre,

  Panchsheel Park, New Delhi–110 017, India • Penguin Group (NZ), 67 Apollo Drive, Rosedale,

  North Shore 0632, New Zealand (a division of Pearson New Zealand Ltd) • Penguin Books

  (South Africa) (Pty) Ltd, 24 Sturdee Avenue, Rosebank, Johannesburg 2196, South Africa

  Penguin Books Ltd, Registered Offices:

  80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England

  Copyright © 2012 by Jayne Ann Krentz

  All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without permission. Please do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the author’s rights. Purchase only authorized editions.

  Published simultaneously in Canada

  Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

  Quick, Amanda.

  Crystal gardens/Amanda Quick.

  p. cm.

  ISBN: 978-1-101-58042-4

  I. Title.

  PS3561.R44C84 2012 2011049449

  813’.54—dc23

  Printed in the United States of America

  1 3 5 7 9 10 8 6 4 2

  Book design by Meighan Cavanaugh

  This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, companies, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

  While the author has made every effort to provide accurate telephone numbers and Internet addresses at the time of publication, neither the publisher nor the author assumes any responsibility for errors, or for changes that occur after publication. Further, the publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content.

  ALWAYS LEARNING

  PEARSON

  For my husband, Frank,

  with all my love

  Table of Contents

  One

  Two

  Three

  Four

  Five

  Six

  Seven

  Eight

  Nine

  Ten

  Eleven

  Twelve

  Thirteen

  Fourteen

  Fifteen

  Sixteen

  Seventeen

  Eighteen

  Nineteen

  Twenty

  Twenty-one

  Twenty-two

  Twenty-three

  Twenty-four

  Twenty-five

  Twenty-six

  Twenty-seven

  Twenty-eight

  Twenty-nine

  Thirty

  Thirty-one

  Thirty-two

  Thirty-three

  Thirty-four

  Thirty-five

  Thirty-six

  Thirty-seven

  Thirty-eight

  Thirty-nine

  Forty

  Forty-one

  The Lost Night

  One

  The muffled thud of the shattered lock echoed like a thunderclap in the deep silence that drenched the cottage. Evangeline Ames recognized the sound at once. She was no longer alone in the house.

  Her first, primal instinct was to go absolutely still beneath the covers. Perhaps she was mistaken. The cottage was old. The floorboards and the ceiling often creaked and moaned at night. But even as the commonsense possibilities flitted through her head, she knew the truth. It was two o’clock in the morning, an intruder had broken in and it was highly unlikely that he was after the silver. There was not enough in the place to tempt a thief.

  Her nerves had been on edge all afternoon, her intuition flickering and flaring for no obvious reason. Earlier, when she had walked into town, she had found herself looking over her shoulder again and again. She had flinched at the smallest rustling noises in the dense woods that bordered the narrow lane. While she was shopping in Little Dixby’s crowded high street, the hair had lifted on the back of her neck. She had felt as if she was being watched.

  She had reminded herself that she was still recovering from the terrifying attack two weeks ago. She had very nearly been murdered. Little wonder her nerves were so fragile. On top of that, the writing was not going well and a deadline was looming. She dared not miss it. She’d had every reason to be tense.

  But now she knew the truth. Her psychical intuition had been trying to send a warning for hours. That was the reason she had been unable to sleep tonight.

  Cool currents of night air wafted down the hall from the kitchen. Heavy footsteps sounded. The intruder was not even bothering to conceal his approach. He was very certain of his prey. She had to get out of the bed.

  She pushed back the covers, sat up quietly and eased herself to her feet. The floorboards were chilly. She stepped into her sturdy, leather-soled slippers and took her wrapper down off the hook.

  The assault on her person two weeks earlier had made her cautious. She had considered all possible escape routes when she had rented the cottage. Here in the bedroom, the waist-high window was her best hope. It opened onto the small front garden with its lattice gate. Just outside the gate was the narrow, rutted lane that wound through the dark woods to the ancient country house known as Crystal Gardens.

  Out in the hall a floorboard creaked under the weight of a booted foot. The intruder was moving directly to the bedroom. That settled the matter. He had not come for the silver. He had come for her.

  There was no po
int trying to silence her movements. She pushed one of the narrow casement windows wide, ignoring the squeak of the hinges, and clambered through the opening. With luck the intruder would not be able to fit.

  “Where do you think you’re going, you bloody stupid woman?” the harsh male voice roared from the doorway. It was freighted with the accents of London’s tough streets. “No one slips away from Sharpy Hobson’s blade.”

  There was no time to wonder how a London street criminal had found his way to Little Dixby or why he was after her. She would worry about those questions later, she thought, if she survived the night.

  She jumped to the ground and stumbled through the miniature jungle of giant ferns that choked the little garden. Many of the fronds were taller than she was.

  To think she had come to the countryside to rest and recuperate from recent events.

  “Bloody hell, come back here,” Hobson howled from the bedroom window. “Make things difficult, will ye? I’ll take my time with ye when I do catch you, just see if I don’t. You’ll die nice and slow, and that’s a promise. Bloody little bitch.”

  A string of savage curses told her that Hobson was finding it impossible to squeeze through the casement window. A tiny whisper of hope swept through her when she did not hear the pounding of footsteps behind her. Hobson would be forced to use one of the two doors in the cottage. That meant she had a little breathing room, time enough, perhaps, to make it to the only possible sanctuary.

  There was no escape through the woods that bordered the lane. The moon was nearly full but the heavy canopy of summer leaves blocked the silver light that should have dappled the forest floor. Even if she’d had a lantern, she would not have been able to make her way through the thick undergrowth. She knew just how impenetrable the vegetation in the vicinity of the old abbey was because she had attempted to explore it during the day. The trees and undergrowth around the ancient ruins flourished in what the locals whispered was an unnatural manner.

  She found the graveled garden walk and flew down it, the hem of the wrapper flapping wildly. She paused long enough to unlatch the gate and then she was out in the moonlit lane, running for her life. She knew that Hobson would see her as soon as he emerged from the cottage.

  Heavy footfalls thudded behind her.

  “I have ye now, ye silly bitch. Ye’ll soon get a taste of Sharpy’s blade.”

  She risked a quick glance over her shoulder and saw the dark figure bearing down on her. She would have screamed but she would have been wasting her breath. She ran harder, heart pounding.

  The ancient stone walls that protected the vast grounds of Crystal Gardens appeared impregnable in the moonlight. She knew from previous explorations that the massive iron gate was locked.

  There was no point trying to run the length of the long wall to the front door of the sprawling country house. There was no time. Hobson was gaining on her. His footsteps were closer now. She could hear his harsh breathing, or perhaps it was her own labored gasps that she heard.

  She reached the back wall of the ancient abbey and raced toward the mound of overgrown foliage that concealed the jagged hole in the stone barrier. She had discovered the opening a few days ago and had decided to indulge in some discreet exploration before the new owner arrived to take up residence. She could not help herself. Her sense of curiosity was linked in some ways to her psychical talent and the mystery of Crystal Gardens had fascinated her from the start. It was the reason she had chosen to rent Fern Gate Cottage instead of one of the other properties available in the countryside around Little Dixby.

  The fact that the rent on the cottage was considerably cheaper than it was for the other suitable lodgings in the area had also been a factor. But she had discovered soon enough why the little house was a bargain. The locals feared the abbey and the woods around it.

  She slammed to a stop in front of the concealing foliage and pulled aside a curtain of cascading greenery. The jagged opening in the stone was about two feet above ground level. It was large enough for a person, even a man the size of Hobson, to squeeze through. But if he did pursue her onto the grounds she might have a chance.

  She looked back one last time. Hobson had not yet rounded the corner of the wall, but he would at any second. She could hear him—his thudding footsteps and his ragged breathing—but she could not yet see him. She had a few seconds.

  She put one leg over the broken stone and then the other and then she was inside the grounds of Crystal Gardens.

  She caught her breath, transfixed by the eerie scene that surrounded her. She had seen enough of the strange gardens by day to know that there was something bizarre about the energy inside the walls and that the vegetation was not normal. But at night the paranormal elements were unmistakable.

  The foliage on the vast grounds glowed with an eerie luminescence. In the very center of the gardens, where the ruins of an ancient Roman bath were said to be located, the psychical light was as dark and ominous as a violent storm at sea.

  She knew from the guidebooks that she had purchased from Miss Witton, the proprietor of the bookshop in Little Dixby, that Crystal Gardens was divided into two sections. The outer region in which she stood was called the Day Garden on the maps. It surrounded the walls of an elaborate maze, which, in turn, encircled the interior portion of the grounds, known as the Night Garden.

  In the nearly two weeks that she had resided in Fern Gate Cottage she had not ventured much farther into the gardens than where she was tonight. But she knew intuitively that the peculiar nature of the atmosphere inside the walls would provide her with her best chance of escaping Sharpy Hobson’s knife.

  There was a steady stream of curses as Hobson yanked and clawed at the foliage.

  “No little whore gets away with making Sharpy Hobson look the fool. I’ll teach you to show some respect, see if I don’t.”

  She looked around, summoning up a mental image of the layout of the gardens. The maze was the obvious place to hide. Her talent would very likely ensure that she did not get lost inside. But on a prior expedition she had discovered that a locked gate blocked the entrance to the labyrinth.

  She started toward the gazebo. The graceful domed roof and the pillars glowed with a faint blue light that seemed to emanate from the very stone of which it was constructed. She hurried but she did not run. She wanted Hobson to see her.

  He finally scrambled through the hole in the wall, grunting and swearing. She stopped and looked back, wondering how much of the paranormal light he could perceive. There was a shocked silence as Hobson took in his surroundings.

  “What the flamin’ hell?” he growled. He rubbed his eyes.

  Then he saw her and promptly forgot about the strangely luminous landscape around him. He yanked a knife out of the leather sheath at his hip and lunged toward her.

  “Thought you’d get away from me, did ye?” he growled.

  She whirled back toward the gazebo. Her goal was the darkly gleaming pond in front of the structure. With luck Hobson would not be able to see it until it was too late. Her senses told her that if he tumbled into the gleaming black pool he would quickly lose interest in her. There was something nightmarish about those waters.

  She was so focused on her plan to lure Hobson to the pond that she was unaware of the presence of the man in the long black coat until he walked out of the shadows and into the moonlight. He stopped directly in front of her, blocking her path.

  “Is it the custom around here for visitors to call at such an unusual hour?” he asked.

  His voice was as dark as the obsidian surface of the pond and charged with a similar chilling power. It stirred all of her senses. In the strange moon-and-energy-lit shadows it was difficult to make out the man’s face clearly, but there was no need to see him. She recognized him immediately. Indeed, she thought, she would know him anywhere. Lucas Sebastian, the mysterious new owner of Crystal Gardens.

  She stumbled to a halt, trapped between Lucas and Sharpy Hobson.

  “Mr. Se
bastian,” she said. She was breathless and her heart was pounding. She struggled to identify herself, afraid he would not recognize her in the darkness, dressed, as she was, in her wrapper and nightgown, her hair falling around her shoulders. They had met only the one time, after all. “Sorry to intrude like this. Evangeline Ames, your tenant at Fern Gate Cottage.”

  “I know who you are, Miss Ames.”

  “You did say to call upon you if I had a problem. As it happens, I do have one.”

  “I can see that,” Lucas said.

  Hobson pulled up short. He made a slashing motion with the knife. “Get out of my way and ye won’t get hurt. I just want the little whore.”

  Lucas regarded him with what could only be described as detached curiosity. “You are trespassing. That is a very dangerous thing to do here at Crystal Gardens.”

  “What’s going on in this place?” Hobson looked around uneasily.

  “Haven’t you heard the stories?” Lucas asked. “Everyone around here knows that these grounds are haunted.”

  “Sharpy Hobson ain’t afraid of no ghosts,” Hobson vowed. “Won’t be hanging around long enough to meet one. All I want is this bitch.”

  “What do you want with Miss Ames?” Lucas asked.

  Evangeline was floored by Lucas’s matter-of-fact tone. It was as if he was only casually interested in Hobson’s reasoning.

  “None of yer bloody business,” Hobson snarled. “But I can tell ye she’s worth a nice bit of blunt dead and I’m not going to let anyone get in my way.”

 

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