There was something about him. No, it was only her imagination playing games with her. Yes, he was pale, but only slightly so. And that grace about him, the way his every movement seemed as fluid as a part of a dance. it was simply his way. It didn't mean a thing.
He wasn't the guardian of her imagination. Her savior. He gripped the iron ring and opened the doors, waiting and allowing her to enter first. Taking a single step into the looming, echoing blackness, she stopped, battling a shiver of unease that kept tickling at her spine.
"I can't see a thing," she said, reaching into her pocket for the lighter once again.
She felt him enter behind her. He stood close to her back as she fumbled in her pocket, and the deep moan of the door closing behind him made her heart skip a beat. Closing her hand around the lighter in her pocket, she pulled it out and promptly dropped it on the floor.
"It's all right," he said.
"As if I could do anything else," she replied, and hoped he didn't detect the tremor in her voice.
He moved past her then. She never heard his footsteps, and it seemed they should echo endlessly here, the way her every whisper did. There was a flare of light, a glow that illuminated his face for a moment, making it come alive with light and shadow as if he were some sort of undulating demon. But then he leaned over, and in a moment the glow spread as he touched the match to the tapers in a silver candelabra, lighting them one by one. And lifting it, he moved around the room, lighting others. It seemed to Rachel there must be candles everywhere in this place. By the time he returned to her side, the entire room glowed with them, shadows leaping and dancing, soft yellow light spilling over everything.
He took her hand. Drew her forward. Rachel went with him, her fear dispelled as her curiosity leapt to the fore. The room was as big as a barn, and high, high above her, she saw something glittering in the candle glow "Is that a chandelier?"
Donovan looked up, then nodded.
"The entire place is equipped with gas lights, but I'll need to connect the main line and open the valves before they'll be of any use."
"What I wouldn't give to see this place in the daylight," she breathed. She felt him tense and wondered why.
Twin fireplaces stood at opposite walls, each one laid ready, waiting only to be lit. Each one had a huge stone mantel, and above them tapestries hung.
Breathtaking tapestries. She moved closer to the one nearest her, covering Donovan's hand with her own to lift the candelabra higher.
"They must be ancient," she muttered. "Quite old, medieval, or so Dante said."
Her spine prickled.
"Dante said that, did he?"
Donovan looked down at her rather quickly.
"Or so the story goes. I'm only repeating what's been told to me."
She tilted her head, studying his face in the soft glow.
"Are you, now?"
Nodding, he moved her to the left of the fireplace, lifting the light again and nodding toward the wall, where two crossed swords hung.
"The broadswords are medieval as well, but Irish, whereas the tapestries are Italian."
"This Dante must have been quite a collector."
Donovan shrugged and moved on, pointing out other relics fastened to the walls, a suit of armor standing in a corner, looking ridiculously short, and the furnishings. Large chairs with embroidered cushions and elaborately carved, utterly straight backs, were grouped around the fireplaces. A large, ornate table with smaller, less elaborate chairs surrounding it held the room's center, each of its legs the size of a small tree. And there were weapons everywhere. Lances, maces, shields with their crests emblazoned across the front. And every so often, they'd pass an archway of darkness, leading off into some other part of the castle. Each time, she'd peer into the blackness, eyes narrow, eager to see more.
But each time, she saw nothing.
When they'd walked round the entire room, he led her to one of the cushioned chairs, setting the candles on a marble stand at its side.
Then he turned and knelt before the fire, and a second later it blazed to life, though she'd never seen him strike a match. She let the warmth rinse through her, chasing the chill of autumn away. And Donovan settled himself in the chair beside her. "I'd offer you something to drink, but" -- "I know," she said.
"You've only just arrived. I can't very well be expectin' your cupboards to be fully stocked so soon." She smiled at him. '"Twill be cold... lonely, living here in this place, don't you think?"
"Yes. But there's a history here I needed to... touch. I had to come back."
"Come back? You have been here before, then?"
He blinked slowly, averting his eyes.
"Long ago." "In your childhood?"
"Something like that."
She nodded, not pushing him further, though she was fully aware he hadn't really answered her. He couldn't have been the man who saved her from the river. That was twenty years ago. He was far too young.
"Is this--this great hall--the only room you're willing to show me, then, Donovan?"
"For now," he told her.
"It wouldn't be safe to take you farther..."
A long pause as his gaze burned into hers.
"Without more light." Her throat went dry. She tried to swallow, and found she couldn't. He had a hungry look about him, a predatory look that shook her. "Perhaps I should go then. Leave you to get settled in."
"Perhaps," he said.
Nodding, she got to her feet. He rose as well.
"I ... I'd like to come back. To talk to you about the legend."
"I don't know much about that. You'll be disappointed."
"I get the feelin' you know more about it than anyone else, Donovan O'Roark."
She turned and walked toward the door, and he trailed her. She sensed he was eager for her to go.
But when he pushed the huge door open, a blinding flash of lightning cut a jagged path across the sky. The rain slashed in at them, and thunder rumbled in the distance.
Closed within the huge stone walls, they hadn't even been aware of the change in the weather, and there wasn't a window to be seen in this room, she realized for the first He stood motionless. Said nothing. Well, then, there was no way around it. She lowered her head and took a step out. only to feel his hands closing on her shoulders, drawing her back inside. She nearly sighed in relief.
"You can't walk back to the village in this." He said it as if he regretted it right to his bones.
"I could. I'm not sugar, Donovan, and I won't melt in a wee bit of rain."
He closed the door, lifted a hand and swiped the droplets from her face, and then her hair.
"Not melt, but get soaked through and take sick, at the very least. Or worse, get crushed beneath a falling tree, or struck down in your tracks by a bolt of lightning. No, I can't let you leave."
"You sound sorry about that."
He nodded, surprising her by not denying it.
"I like my privacy, Rachel. You'll do well to remember that about me." "Oh."
He frowned at her.
Shrugging, she lifted her brows.
"I guess I was thinkin' there might be some other reason my being' here disturbed you so much. No matter though."
She was only half teasing him, and she thought he knew it. She was drawn to the man, in a way she didn't understand. It was as if some sort of spell were being worked on her, to make her. She closed her eyes, gave her head a shake.
"I believe I must be more sleepy than I realized."
"There should be some bedrooms made up," he said, his voice gentle.
Did she detect a slight tremor in it?
"Lead the way, then."
He nodded, picking up the dancing candles once more "Best stay close to me, Rachel. I've no idea how safe the entire castle is, since only parts of it have been kept up. Besides, you could get lost very easily in these halls."
She nodded her assent, and as he led the way into the dark, vaulted corridors, she held tighter and tighter to his arm, aware that with every step she took she was leaving safety farther behind. Not that she feared him.
Oh, but she did.
The halls twisted, turned, veered off in countless directions. He took her up spiraling stairways that felt like tunnels, they were so narrow and dark.
And then down more hallways.
He paused, and turned to look at her there in the darkness. "Are you deliberately leading me round and round, only to keep me from knowing my way out?"
Solemnly, he shook his head.
"Just the opposite, Rachel. The room is near a back exit. So you can leave first thing in the morning." ' "And why would I wish to do that, when you could just as easily lead me out of here yourself?"
"I ... I won't be here. I have a pressing engagement, I'm afraid. Very early. So by the time you wake up, I'll be gone." Tipping her head back, she studied him.
"Will you" now? " " Yes. And Rachel, I want your promise that you'll do as I ask. Leave here in the morning. No snooping, or exploring. I've already told you, it could be dangerous. "
Studying him a long moment, she said, "Is there something here you don't want me to see?"
He shook his head.
"You have as big an imagination as those locals at the pub, don't you?"
"Bigger. You wouldn't doubt it if you knew what I was thinkin' just now."
"And what was that?"
She lifted her brows and shoulders as one.
"That perhaps the reason you won't be here in the morning is because you have an adverse reaction to daylight. And that perhaps the reason you don't want me snooping about, is so I won't stumble upon the coffin where you rest." She threw her head back and laughed at her own foolishness, and the sounds of it echoed endlessly, long after she stopped.
"I guess I still have a bit of that gullible child in me after all. Or maybe 'tis simply livin' in Dunkinny that's made me so imaginative."
But he only stared at her until her smile died. She bit her lip, and her hand trembled slightly as she lifted it to touch his face.
"I've hurt your feelin's now, have I? I don't really think you're a vampire, Donovan. But just a man. A... a beautiful man." She lowered her gaze, not quite believing she was about to say what she was.
"I hope you don't think it bold of me to tell you this. But I-- I'd like to see you again. Not because of the legend, but just . just because. " And still he said nothing. Lowering her hand, she rolled her eyes ceiling ward and drew a short, sharp breath.
"Landsakes, Donovan, say something, will you? Am I makin' a total fool of myself, or..."
"No." He reached out to brush a curl off her forehead.
"In fact, I've been trying very hard not to ... feel anything toward you, all evening."
She felt the blood rush to her face.
"Oh." Then, licking her lips, meeting his eyes again, she whispered, "Why were you trying so hard not to feel that way, Donovan?"
"Because nothing can come of it." Her heart squeezed.
"You're married, then."
"No. Of course not. It's just..." He shook his head.
"You'll have to trust me, Rachel. Nothing can come of this. I ... I probably won't even be here very long, and besides that, I" --He sighed deeply.
"It doesn't matter. Here, this is your room."
He pushed a door open and stepped inside.
Rachel followed, drawing a deep breath as the candlelight spilled on a canopied bed draped in sheer fabric of softest ivory. "" Tis beautiful. "
"It's been restored. This is the room Dante had made ready for Laura Sullivan, the woman who betrayed him."
"My... my heartless ancestor slept here?"
"No. No, she killed him before she ever saw it." Rachel turned toward him, a new idea creeping into her mind.
"Are you puttin' me here, Donovan, so you won't forget whose blood runs in my veins?"
He didn't answer, only lowered his head.
"But you can't possibly blame me for what my forebears did."
"No. And I don't. I simply thought..." He shook his head.
"I honestly don't know what I thought."
She took a step closer, drawn to him beyond reason, and driven by more than her usual boldness. She felt as if she knew him, as if she'd always known him, and there was no hint of shyness, and no earthly reason to temper her actions. Simply being near him seemed to have stripped her inhibitions away.
"I can tell you what I think, Donovan O'Roark," she said. And when he looked up, she moved still closer.
"I think you haven't the nerve in you to kiss me goodnight."
His lips quirked, as if he wanted to smile and was fighting it.
"Do you? Is that meant as a challenge, Rachel Sullivan?" "Indeed, it is.
I don't like this idea of you fightin' so hard to dislike me. An' I know that if you kiss me once, you'll forget about all that nonsense my ancestors did to yours, and simply see me. Not Alicia, nor Laura, but me. Rachel Sullivan. "
He started to shake his head.
"I dare you," she whispered.
"But I don't think you've the nerve."
His eyes darkened and she knew she'd won. He set the candelabra down on a nightstand and he came toward her, a distinct purpose glowing in his midnight eyes.