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by Angela Cameron
Description: Cool breath caressed my skin. "I don't want to do this without your permission, but I need your blood." Stubble scratched across my jaw as his head moved down to my neck. "You smell delicious." In that moment, I would've given him anything if he would just ask again in that voice... Gabrielle Pearce lost her husband. Her baby. And her life. Being abducted and thrown into a room in a dilapidated plantation home with a darkly seductive vampire could be the start of the life-and the storybook romance-she's been missing. What do you when you've lost it all and true love could cost you your life? A dark, seductive, and suspenseful Southern romance you can sink your teeth into.
eBook Publisher: Ravenous Romance/Ravenous Romance, 2010
eBookwise Release Date: February 2010
14 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [212 KB]
Reading time: 141-197 min.
Fourteen months after the worst of my life was over, in the beginning of the cooler fall weather everyone in Alabama had been anticipating, I was unpacking in a new house. Not new exactly, but a different house. This was the same building I'd lived in after the death of my parents, when I went to live with the Aunts. It had been my home through the worst years of my childhood life, and would be again now after the worst of the adult years. But it wasn't all bad memories in this home. There were wonderful memories, too. Like on the white railed front porch, where I'd kissed a boy for the first time. In the back yard, I'd read the acceptance letter from Auburn University, my first pick for college before I met Phillip. And up in the bathroom, where I'd waited those few agonizing minutes for the little plus sign to show up on the pregnancy test that announced the baby's presence.
I still couldn't believe it was all gone.
My entire life--everything I'd worked for--had been a castle of sand that Phillip had decided to scatter. Maybe if I'd had a real life, it wouldn't have been so hard, but I hadn't taken it well. Instead, there had been the suicide attempt that Phillip had interrupted so ungraciously. Afterward, I'd seen my own personal hell. I'd lived there, refusing to visit the human world around me. After I left inpatient therapy at the hospital, I'd wiped out the bank account and moved into an apartment. I divorced Phillip without speaking to him again. Then I'd locked out the entire world. I painted, something I hadn't done in years, but now the paintings were all in darks and reds. Phillip and other family members rang my phone off the hook, as if they cared. It panicked them that I'd always given to them, done as they asked, and tried to keep the peace. There was just something that changed once you decided to die and failed. You just didn't give a damn anymore about etiquette, consoling others, or making waves. They all thought I was insane.
Eventually, the Aunts came knocking and refused to leave. For three days they hounded me. Finally I caved: I took a bath, fixed my hair, and went out for a margarita with them.
But I was better now. I knew my limits and the way that darkness would suck me down into a bottomless pit if I let myself go there.
I pulled the last book from the box, my tattered and dog-eared copy of Romeo and Juliet, and laid it on the bedside table next to the small lamp. I'd read it so many times, letting it carry me away to a romantic place where I hadn't been in my marriage for years. It was frustrating and tragic, but I'd always thought that if I ever found love like Juliet found, one where my Romeo would sacrifice everything for me, then I'd die for him. I'd had my fill of loveless relationships. If true love found me now, I'd give everything to hold onto it.
Not that true love was even a reality. It was a dream. A silly, immature fantasy that we were taught as kids. There were no Cinderellas. No Prince Charmings. The reality was the best most people could hope for was a relationship where they didn't want to poison the other person on a daily basis.
"Gabby?" Aunt Maye's round face peered around the door. Her waist-length wavy auburn hair, identical to mine, was half twisted into a loose bun with the remainder swinging into view.
I grabbed the last empty cardboard box and broke it down.
"Oh, there you are, dear. We were just going down to look at your store one last time. Sherry can't decide if she likes the khaki or beige drapes better."
I laughed and tossed the box onto the pile of boxes in the floor next to the door. "I can't believe she's that worried about it. I don't care what the drapes look like."
"Oh." She smiled warmly. "Wait till you hear about the chairs. I finally made her draw from a hat."
"She was okay with that?"
"I told her it would be letting fate decide."
I laughed again. Only Maye knew how to work so easily within Sherry's eccentric world. Tossing the choice up to fate was a moment of pure genius.
"So you want to go with us?"
I smiled. "I think I'm going to stay here. I'm almost finished."
"Well, if you get hungry, there's a fresh banana pudding in the fridge."
"Thanks, Aunt Maye, but I think I'm going on a diet. The medication made me gain weight." It was true. The antidepressants had put on twenty pounds in the last year. It wasn't a total disaster since I was tall and carried my weight well, but it was enough to make me feel completely uncomfortable in shorts. Swimsuits were out of the question.
"Oh, hush. Banana pudding's not fattening."
"Yes it is."
"Not this one. I squished all of the calories out." She winked at me. "Go have some, and we'll be back in a bit."
She closed the door, and her footsteps faded down the hardwood hallway, then down the stairs. In a moment, the sound of the front door slamming shut echoed through the house.
The silence was heavier than I'd hoped. Living alone had been hard after the company of a husband. I'd lain on the couch in my apartment so many nights listening to that damned grandfather clock tick away. I finally smashed it one night with Phillip's baseball bat. They were both things I'd taken when I left him. The grandfather clock because I'd bought it for him, the bat because he'd spent so many nights playing ball with the guys while I sat at home alone.
Now in the Aunts' house, another clock ticked in the silence.
I groaned and jabbed the button on the front of the radio. AC/DC's Back in Black was playing, and I didn't bother to search for another station. There were only four that would pick up so far outside the city. The other three were country. Besides, Back in Black was perfect to describe how I felt. I was beginning to feel a little spark of that old fight coming back to me. It had been so long since I had felt alive--long before the last year--and black was definitely the color for my mood.
I grabbed the pile of cardboard on the bed and headed down the stairs to put it next to the other trash. There, I glanced around at the forest and the lake shore off to the right. Coming back to Cold Springs would be the beginning of more apologies and questions from curious acquaintances. I'd hidden long enough. Now was time to start again, even if it meant letting people hug me and ask tons of questions.
I didn't have to answer them. All they needed to know was that I'd moved back to town to escape the hustle of the bigger city and to take care of my aging aunts.
Oh, and to open the town's newest bookstore. The only one had been owned by Mr. Carter, who had died last year. His son from Birmingham had closed the little store on Alabama Avenue when no one jumped at the chance to buy it. There was a limited market for business ownership in a town where most of the citizens either worked in Birmingham, where the real jobs were, or at one of the factories that didn't pay enough to allow any one employee to save up for such a large purchase. With no chance of a quick sale, closing it seemed more a desperate attempt to avoid returning to Cold Springs than anything else.
There was a time when I'd have done the same. As we'd said when we were kids, Cold Springs is a pit. The place had a strange way of pulling even the most rebellious of its ex-citizens back in. Like quicksand, you could never quite escape. That's why so many of the kids who'd seemed so full of promise in high school never managed to make it out. There was little opportunity for the children of factory workers to move out of the family rut.
There was just no escape if you didn't make your break early on.
And I was back, too. Though I'd made my way out, it hadn't lasted. Now, after the worst things that could've happened, I was back. My life as a wife and mother in Huntsville was over. Gone.
That was a different person, and I was back to live the life of a single woman again in this tiny Southern town. It was almost a cliche. But it wasn't as bad as spending every day in that mine field of memories that Huntsville had become. I'd had enough of that for ten lifetimes.
I climbed onto the bed, on top of the sage comforter, and curled onto my side, gripping a pillow in my arms. The tiny gold band on my finger stared me straight in the face, like a gilded shackle. But it was a form of self-binding. I'd put it there. I'd barely worn it during most of my marriage. It caught so easily on everything. But the night I'd tried to die, I'd put it on. Then I'd refused to take it off. Phillip had thought it was because I wanted him so badly, but it wasn't that. I wanted to keep it as a reminder of how I'd honored our vows and how he'd broken them in every way possible. I needed it to keep me strong, focused.
The constant reminder would have to come off soon. I needed it to. It was time to move on.