A night of secrets a par.., p.1
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       A Night Of Secrets, A Paranormal Romance, p.1

           Lori Brighton
 
A Night Of Secrets, A Paranormal Romance


  A Night Of Secrets

  Copyright 2011 Lori Brighton

  www.LoriBrighton.com

  All rights reserved. Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above , no part of this publication may be reproduced , stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise) without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the above publisher of this book.

  This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, brands, media, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. The author acknowledges the trademark status and trademark owners of various products referenced in this work of fiction, which have been used without permission. The publication/use of these trademarks is not authorized, associated with, or sponsored by the trademark owners.

  This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

  Prologue

  1855

  She knew she wasn’t alone.

  It wasn’t the shiver of unease that caressed her skin like an unwanted touch, nor the slight tightening of her gut that indicated someone’s presence. No, it was something she couldn’t quite explain.

  A knowing.

  Papa would call it a whispered warning from God. Whatever it was, the sensation pierced her very soul, warning that someone was nearby. Meg’s fingers curled against the crate she’d been pushing into the back of the wagon, the rough wood piercing her woolen mittens and scratching her fingers. A box of clothing for the destitute. Now she was the one in need of assistance.

  A bitter gust of wind burst down the road. A ruthless spirit attacking, tugging and pulling at her woolen skirts. Caught off balance, she slipped and stumbled forward, her boots whispering across the icy cobbled road. Desperately, she grasped onto the wagon edge. For a brief moment she played with the thought that perhaps Papa had returned to help her load the crates. Or perhaps she was merely fishing for an excuse because deep down she knew, she knew, someone was behind her.

  Her breath came out in clouds of white that hung suspended in the chill air as she wrestled with her fear. This was London, a place full of people so desperate they’d do anything for a coin or two. Hadn’t someone snatched her reticule from her hands only yesterday?

  Flurries, caught by the wind, kissed the back of her exposed neck, urging her to turn…turn. Her breath hitched and her pulse thumped a dance in time to the flickering street lamps that lined the cobbled lane.

  Ridiculous, she was being utterly ridiculous. It was merely a beggar, down on his luck. She’d seen Papa deal with needy men hundreds of times. She knew from past experiences that she could handle whatever situation the good Lord threw her way.

  Meg cleared her throat. “H…Hello?” Her voice, hollow and mournful, bounced against the stone cottages that lined the street, and echoed through the town.

  No one answered.

  Unable to resist, she pushed away from the wagon and turned. A cloaked woman stood in the middle of the lane, a small girl by her side.

  Shock gave way to relief, sweet and swift. How silly she’d been! Meg pressed her hand to her racing heart and resisted the urge to laugh at her own ridiculousness. Not an evil man in search of innocent prey, but merely a woman with a child who couldn’t have been much more than six years of age.

  Still, shocking all the same. Although the hood of the woman’s fine cloak hid her face, Meg knew by the cut of her gown the woman was from wealth. Dressed in a blue velvet gown, the child was her miniature version.

  “Good eve,” she said in an overly cheerful voice, although it was much too late to be considered evening.

  Meg pushed a dark lock from her forehead, her amusement fading. Yet they were still…so incredibly still that one could mistake them for statues in Hyde Park. What were they doing here in the eastend of London in the middle of the night? Were they lost? In need of assistance? They were certainly no washerwomen or hawkers.

  Meg crossed her arms, attempting to gather what little warmth she could from her own arms. Without much thought to her own safety, she moved forward, her boots sinking into thick snow that crunched loudly underfoot. “Can I help you?”

  The woman shifted, as if spurred forward by the sound of Meg’s voice, only to pause under the soft glow of the lamplight. Although it was only a few steps, the movement sent her hood backward, revealing raven hair and porcelain face so pale and perfect that Meg wasn’t sure which surprised her more, the woman’s beauty or sudden appearance. Shock gave way to envy.

  Suddenly aware of her loose, tangled curls and worn dress, Meg paused uncomfortably, barely aware of the biting wind. “Is there someone with whom you wish to speak?”

  The woman didn’t respond. Meg’s worry burst anew. There was something in her appearance that disturbed… Something in the exhausted stoop of her shoulders… Something in the very anxious air that stirred around them…

  With the child’s hand in hers the woman shuffled forward once more. One step…two… slowly, like one aged and decrepit, yet she couldn’t have been much older than Meg’s twenty one years.

  Wrong. Something was terribly wrong.

  She didn’t pause until she reached next pool of lamplight. Brilliant, eerie green eyes glowed from beneath thick, black lashes. Eyes that met Meg’s gaze and seemed to penetrate her very soul.

  “Au secours.” The wind carried the woman’s whispered words.

  French? Meg shook her head, unsure. “I’m sorry.” Desperate for help, she glanced at the stone church looming next to her, wishing Papa would appear. “But I don’t understand.” She rubbed her brow, an ache beginning to form behind her skull. “We’re not from here, you see. Merely visiting London, but would you like me to find the Vicar—”

  The woman’s legs gave out, her body folding like a building collapsing into a velvet heap.

  Meg gasped and raced the last few steps, her skirt whipping around her ankles and doing everything in their power to slow her progress. “Good Heavens!”

  The dark blue of her dress contrasted brilliantly against the snow, angry flakes pelting her thin body. Meg sank to the ground with a thud that jarred her knees. The woman’s pale face practically faded into the snow, ethereal, unearthly.

  “Papa!” Meg cried out, praying he’d hear her call. “Vicar Beazley!” But the ruthless wind merely took her words and tossed them into the cloudless night. Intending to stand, Meg pushed her hands into the snow, the ice soaking her mittens and stinging her sensitive flesh. “Let me find help.”

  The woman’s lips parted, those green, glowing eyes coming to rest on Meg’s face. “He’s coming.”

  Meg froze. Through the eerie howl of the wind, the woman’s words were barely audible. But Meg heard them as if she’d shouted.

  He’s coming.

  Icy fear trickled through her body, drip by drip. “Who’s coming?” She dared a glance down the empty street where whirlwinds of snow danced wickedly up and down the lane as if mocking their plight.

  “S’il vous plait,” the woman said, ignoring her question. “My little Colette. Please.”

  Meg spared the child a quick glance. She was trembling; her round face so innocent, so pure that she reminded Meg of her younger sister Sally. Compassion compelled Meg to move. “Yes, yes, your daughter.”

  She jumped to her feet, tripping over her skirts in her haste to reach the child. Colette’s hands were ice-cold. Meg pulle
d her forward, into the warmth of her woolen cloak. For once, London was empty. No one lurked on the corners, threatening danger. So why did the hair on the back of her neck still stand on end?

  “She’s here. Your child is here.” Meg started to reach for the woman when she noticed a halo… like a satiny poppy, soaking the snow and spreading around the woman’s body.

  Blood.

  The lamplight lining the lane blurred. The walls of the church faded. In her mind’s eyes she sat on the bed next to Julia.

  “Help me, Meg.” Her sister’s large eyes pleaded. But Meg couldn’t help; she couldn’t do a damn thing but watch Julia bleed to death, her red blood soaking the bed sheets until she was drained white.

  Meg’s body wavered, the thin link to her sanity growing weak. Julia disappeared and suddenly Meg was back on that road, the unforgiving winter wind sinking its bitter teeth into her exposed skin.

  “Help me,” someone whispered.

  Meg rubbed her brow, forcing herself to focus. Not Julia. No. A stranger. But someone in need all the same. She tightened her hold on the child.

  The woman latched onto Meg’s wrist with surprising strength. “Take care of my daughter. Hide her.”

  It was not a question, but a demand made by a mother desperate for help. Before Meg could agree or disagree, the woman released her hold and reached for Colette.

  “Mon bebe,” the woman whispered.

  At the contact, Collette came to life. Her lower lip trembled, a murmured whimper escaping her bow mouth. Confused, Meg shook her head. It was mad. The woman was receiving her last rites when they should have been focused on finding the injury.

  “Please, let me help.” Without waiting for permission, Meg nudged her way closer, determined to find the wound.

  The woman merely smiled; the soft, sad smile of a fallen angel. “It is too late.” Tears glistened in her eyes, wetness that clung to her dark lashes, then trailed slowly down her white cheeks.

  Meg shifted impatiently. “Please, just…”

  No, the woman wasn’t crying. The liquid was too dark for tears. Dark trails that contrasted against her pale, pale cheeks. Slowly, Meg lifted her hand and pressed a finger to that trail.

  Blood.

  The woman was bleeding from her eyes. Meg drew in a sharp breath and lurched back. Not just the woman’s eyes, but also from her nostrils. Two thin lines of blood, seeping down and around the corners of her perfect mouth.

  “Oh God,” Meg whispered.

  “Please,” the woman gasped. “Please, take care of Collette.”

  A mother’s desperation shone in the depths of the stranger’s eyes, a desperation that painfully pierced Meg’s heart. Her gaze shifted to Collette. Large, green orbs shimmered with tears, small fists pressed to a bow mouth. Meg had the urge to pull her close, to rush her into the church so she wouldn’t have to witness death; witness what Meg had witnessed at such a tender age.

  “Yes,” Meg whispered. “Yes, I—”

  An eerie cry pierced the quiet night. Meg jumped. An inhumane sound that sent a shiver over her skin. As quickly as it had come, it was gone. Silence fell; the only noise was the soft whisper of snow against the ground.

  Meg scampered to her feet, her heart slamming wildly against her chest. “Who’s there?”

  From the darkness, snow crunched. She spun around, searching for the intruder. No one was there. Panic clawed its way through her body.

  “Hurry,” Collette whimpered, taking Meg’s hand, her icy fingers startling Meg into action.

  “Go!” Meg shoved the child toward the wide, shallow steps that led into the church. “Go now!”

  The child raced toward the large, wooden doors. Time was running out. Meg slipped her arms around the woman’s waist. She would not abandon her here on the street with whatever was coming. She leaned back, her boots slipping over snow and ice as she dragged the woman toward the steps.

  “Leave me,” the woman whispered, her weak voice barely audible. “Leave me. They will know what to do with my body. They will take care of me.”

  Meg grunted with determination. “No, hush now. You’ll be all right.”

  “You don’t understand. They’re coming, you don’t have time. Leave me.”

  Snow crunched from her left. Meg jerked her head toward the direction of the sound. No one was there. Her heart made a mad dash for her throat. Was there someone out there in the shadows, or had fear finally made her insane?

  The woman reached up, her fingernails digging into Meg’s sensitive wrists. Meg cried out, releasing her hold. The woman slumped to the ground.

  “He will not allow me into the church.” Her voice came out in a low hiss that sent a chill over Meg’s spine.

  It made no sense. But then nothing made sense. Frustrated, Meg stomped her foot. “But…why?”

  “Meg!” Papa’s voice was a welcome relief.

  Meg spun around. Thank God! Her father would know what to do, know how to reckon with this stubborn woman. “Papa! I need your help. She won’t let me…”

  Papa froze at the bottom of the steps, his long black cloak swirling around his booted feet. His wide gaze was pinned to the woman. His face went pale, his lower lip trembling with some sort of emotion she couldn’t possibly understand. What the hell was wrong with everyone?

  “Papa?” Meg stepped closer.

  Her father latched onto Meg’s arm, his strong grip belying his old age. “Leave her, Meg.”

  “But Papa!”

  His weathered face grew fierce, those faded blue eyes flashing under his fluffy white eyebrows. “Leave her!”

  Shocked, Meg glanced down at the woman. How could her father be so cruel? This wasn’t the Papa she knew. Like a helpless doe, the woman was curled into a ball, a pile of velvet and blood. Her skin so pale, her face practically melted into the flurries, but for her eyes… her eerie, green, glowing eyes.

  “You promised to take care of my daughter,” she whispered, her lips lifting into a snarl as her gaze focused on Papa.

  “We will.” Papa pushed Meg toward the steps. His eyes were fierce, but his body was trembling…with fear or anger, Meg wasn’t sure. “We must go. Into the church now!”

  Stunned by the harshness of his tone, Meg stumbled back. But even in her confused state, she was aware of the shadows morphing from the darkness, men stepping into the lane, shifting into the light. Men, wearing long, black overcoats that swirled around their booted feet. Their eyes shadowed by the brims of their top hats, were as unreadable as their faces. Who were they?

  “Meg, now!” Papa grappled with the cross hanging around his neck and lifted the wooden piece high. “The Lord is my shepherd…”

  Without breaking his verse, he shoved Meg toward the church. She slipped and stumbled her way up the icy steps, her heart hammering so loudly she could barely hear her father behind her. Vaguely, she was aware of Collette standing still in the doorway, her gaze pinned to the scene beyond Meg’s shoulder. Reaching her side, Meg spun around. Papa was slowly making his way up the steps, his back to them.

  “I shall not want…” he mumbled, holding that cross high as if the necklace could help them, as if the necklace could waylay the men slowly making their way toward the woman like they were vultures after a sure kill.

  And all the while, the woman lay still upon the ground; a beautiful, fallen angel accepting her fate. Yet, no angel would have eyes that glowed green and skin as pale as snow.

  The three men moved slowly around her, forming a circle. Their faces as pale as the woman’s. And their eyes…Lord, their eyes glowed, lips that curled as an unnatural hiss slipped from their throats like serpents in the Garden of Eden.

  “He maketh me to lie down…” Papa stepped into the church, grabbed the brass handles and slammed the door shut with a thud that vibrated through the hallowed building. His breathing was harsh and despite the cold, sweat beaded on his wrinkled forehead.

  Meg dropped her gaze to the child, as if to find answers within her innocent fe
atures. Collette merely stared at those closed doors. What the hell was happening? With a cry, Meg pushed passed her father and raced to the small window alongside the door. The woman was gone, the men gone. The only thing that remained was the bright spot of blood that marred the pristine snow.

  The room spun, the sconces along the walls swirling lights that twirled and danced before her eyes. Meg pressed her hand to her belly. Fear and sorrow churned acid in her stomach until she thought she’d be sick.

  “No,” she whispered, leaning against the stone wall. “No.” Tears blurred her vision, her dry throat aching with the need to cry out for help. But there was no one to help, not now. It was too late. They’d left her outside to die, to be taken by those…monsters.

  Snowflakes beat against the windows like death come to steal the woman’s soul. She was dead. Meg knew that.

  Trepidation fought with the need for answers. Slowly, she turned to face her father. “Who were they? What were they?”

  Her father threw the bolt over the door, his body visibly relaxing. The candlelight lining the perimeter of the church flickered and hissed, highlighting his face and deepening the wrinkles making him look older than his fifty-eight years. “Sometimes it’s best not to know the truth.”

  He spun around, his dark robe flaring wide, and started down the aisle, his boots tapping over the stone floor.

  “Papa! I demand to know what they are!”

  He paused, his back to her. She was as shocked as he, for she’d never raised her voice to her father. For one long moment she thought he’d refuse to reply. Then he spoke, a soft whisper of words she barely understood. “They sacrificed their sons and their daughters to demons.”

  Confused, Meg wasn’t sure how to respond. Why was he quoting Bible verses? Surely he couldn’t mean…

  No. Impossible.

  “You mean to say…they were demonic?”

  He didn’t respond. He didn’t need to.

  Her body started trembling…shaking as if she were chilled with fever. “But if…if that’s true…” Her gaze dropped to Collette who still stood as still as a statue, as quiet, as pale, as a porcelain doll. “If that’s true, then what is she?”

 
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