Twilight Vows

Chapter 8


All the modern conveniences," she muttered, alone in her suite of rooms. He'd gone, left her here on her own, and he probably believed she preferred it that way.
She didn't. This place was too large, too hollow and quiet. Like a tomb.
She soaked in a tub brimming with steamy water, and sprinkled some of the aromatic oils in with her. Her bruises needed the pampering, and the heat did ease her aches somewhat. But she'd have to put her torn, dirty clothes back on when she got out, and the idea didn't appeal. She didn't suppose he'd let her go long enough to rush back to her room above the pub and fetch her own things. So would he expect her to spend her entire time here in the same clothing?
Moreover, did he expect her to spend it alone, in these rooms? He couldn't.
She wouldn't stand for that.
When the water began to cool, she got out, wrapped herself in a thick green towel, and stepped back into the bedroom. The double doors of a built-in wardrobe beckoned, and she went slowly toward them, hesitantly reached out, and pulled them open. "Lordy..." The closet nearly spilled over with clothing.
Satins, silks and lace in a hundred shades cascaded from hangers. To one side were drawers built into the wall, and as she- tugged them open she found nightgowns almost too fragile to touch, and underthings.
"But why?" She touched the garments, pulled the hangers along the rack one by one, saw that the sizes varied as widely as the colors and fabrics did.
She paused at a long full skirt, paired on the hanger with a white off-the-shoulder blouse. It looked like something a Gypsy might wear.
"Take anything you like."
She caught her breath and whirled, automatically clutching at the towel around her.
"Donovan. I didn't hear you come in." "I expected the door to be locked."
She blinked, saying nothing. But as she searched his eyes this time, she saw the pain there. The loneliness. He'd built these rooms on a whim, he'd said. But it was obvious to her he'd prepared them for a woman. Was she real? she wondered. Or only some distant wish he'd allowed himself to indulge in secretly?
When she still didn't speak, he took a step backward, his hand still on the doorknob.
"I'm sorry. I'll leave you alone." "No, don't go."
He stopped abruptly, looking at her. And she saw his gaze dip beyond her face, very briefly touching on her body, covered only by a towel.
And she knew her bruises showed, and her hair was damp and tangled, hanging over her shoulders. And still she felt some deep reaction to that gaze.
As if it were truly admiration in his eyes, and not only surprise.
"You... want me to stay?"
She turned back to the closet, removing the clothes she'd been drawn to, not looking at him.
"If you're going to keep me here, Donovan, the least you can do is entertain me. I'll go crazy if I'm to spend all my time in these rooms alone. Lovely though they are, I'd soon die of boredom."
He lowered his head.
"I... thought you'd want to rest."
"It's too early to rest. Besides, if I'm to sleep all night and you're to sleep all day..." She blinked, and tilted her head to one side.
"You do, don't you?"
He only nodded.
"Well, then how are you going to keep to our bargain? When will you have time to tell me all your secrets, Donovan?" He brought his gaze level with hers quickly, and a frown marred his brow.
"So you've decided to write the paper after all?" She shrugged, draping the clothes over her arm and heading toward the bathroom.
"You can believe what you wish. You will anyway. The truth is, I'm curious."
"That's all?" he asked.
She paused in the doorway to glance back at him.
"Yes. That's all.
I'll only be a minute. " And she closed the door. Quickly, she donned the skirt, long and loose, and moving around her like a spring breeze. Then the blouse, its sleeves dipping low on her shoulders, and the elastic waistline clinging high enough so that a bit of her midriff was visible. She ran a brush through her hair, frowning at the lack of a mirror in the room.
No mirrors. As if, even in his fondest fantasies, he hadn't allowed himself to imagine a mortal woman filling his loneliness. Only another creature like him.
She didn't fit the bill in the least, did she?
She blinked, and then frowned hard. It didn't matter! What made her think such a thing? Oh, but she knew. Was knowing more and more with each moment that passed. He was that gentle soul who'd pulled her from the river, he was that dark angel who'd comforted her when she'd cried in her bed, alone and afraid. And she'd loved him all her life.
He didn't trust her. She wasn't even certain she could blame him for that.
She was a Sullivan.
But she was meant to set it right, she sensed that. She was meant for him.
Finally, clearing her throat and gathering her wits about her, she stepped back into the bedroom.
Donovan looked her up and down, blinking as if in surprise. "It's hardly modern," she said, fingering the fabric of the skirt. "It's lovely. You're lovely."
She averted her face, feeling the heat creeping into her cheeks. ' "These rooms are so different from the rest of the castle... so is the great hall."
"Actually, it's only the north wing that's still in disrepair.
Unfortunately, that's where you ended up earlier. Most of the place has been restored, updated. " He reached out to move her hair off her forehead, and gingerly examined the bump there, a result of her collision with the wall.
"There's even electricity." "But you use the gas lamps?"
"I prefer them. Are you hurting much, Rachel?"
"I'm sore, but only a wee bit. I'll be fine," she told him. She eyed the soft golden glow emanating from the fixtures in the room and nodded.
"I agree, the gas lamps are far nicer. Will you show me around, then? Um ... the restored parts, I mean. I've no interest in seeing the north wing again."
"That's good. I'm afraid that wing is off-limits while you're here, Rachel."
She searched his face.
"So there are some secrets you won't be sharing with me?"
His eyes hooded, he shook his head. The north wing is unsafe, as you've already learned. Stay out of it, Rachel. " Her curiosity rose to new heights.
"All right," she said. She didn't think he believed her.
"Come." He offered his arm.
She took it. Closed her hand around his upper arm, and felt him.
Warm, not cold as one might expect. He felt real. He felt like a man.
Not a monster.
He had, she mused, the deepest, bluest eyes she'd ever seen, and hair a soft, dark brown, nearly black. She'd been incredibly attracted to him at first.
And she still was.
He led her through the main hall of this wing. Showing her other bedrooms, none in use, but many ready for company. Odd, for a man who expected to be alone forever. Then he guided her back down the stairs, where he showed her the library, a huge room lined with books on shelves that towered to the ceilings. Leather chairs sat in pairs by the towering windows.
"" Tis a sad room," she said, speaking in muted tones as if she were at a funeral.
"Sad? Why do you say so?"
She walked forward slowly, pausing between two chairs beside a tall window that was completely enshrouded by heavy velvet drapes.
"The seats... they're in pairs. All of them. But you've no one to sit in them with you."
When she glanced back at him, he only shrugged. She turned forward again, and fingered the deep honey velvet.
"It's as if the world is a place you'd rather not see. But it's too beautiful to shut out, you know."
Stepping forward, he pulled the cord and opened the drapes.
"Yes, I know."
She glanced out, then drew a surprised breath. The windows looked out on a flagstone path that meandered amid lush shrubs and bushes she couldn't identify. In the center, the moonlight glistened on a fountain, ancient, but completely restored. A stone image of some pagan goddess stood on a pedestal, spilling clear water from her outspread palms to splash into the pool spreading below her. '"Tis beautiful," she whispered, but then she drew her gaze away, staring in confusion at the other windows, their draperies drawn tight.
"They're only drawn by day, Rachel. As soon as darkness falls, I part them."
He looked past her, into his garden.
"I love the night."
"And the daylight?" she asked, in a voice that emerged as a bare whisper.
"It would kill me. The way it killed Dante." He turned to face her.
"Would you like to walk in my garden?"
"Yes. Yes, I'd like that very much."
He reached for her hand. He seemed to make a habit of doing that. She let him take it, though, and followed as he led her to the far end of the library, to yet another set of drapes. These parted to reveal French doors, that opened onto the garden.
"It's larger than I could tell from the window." Nodding, he cradled her hand in his, perhaps unaware of doing so. Or maybe not.
"It stretches out on this side, and around to the rear of the castle, reaching nearly to the cliffs."
She fingered a delicate-looking vine that clung to the castle wall.
Narrow green buds nodded heavily from it.
"I've never seen this before."
"Wait," he told her.
"We'll sit. Here." He pointed to a stone bench with claw feet and lion's heads for arms. They went to it, sat down.
"Is that why you rest by day? Because you can't be exposed to sunlight?"
He turned toward her.
"Not entirely."
She only waited, willing him to answer while he searched her face for.
something. Her true evil intent, she imagined. "As daylight approaches our functions begin to slow. By dawn we're usually unconscious, whether we want to be or not. And it's not the sort of sleep from which one can be roused."
"Like... death?"
"Not so deep as death, I imagine. But far deeper than any mortal's sleep."
"So if someone were to poke you, or shake you or shout in your ear....."
"Or set me aflame or drive a stake through my heart," he finished for her.
"I'd be aware of it, but likely unable to react enough to defend myself."
"That must be frightening."
"It's the reason for the coffins, hidden in the bowels of the castle.
I'm most vulnerable while I rest. and why I'm telling you any of this I can't say. "
"Maybe you're starting to trust me?"
"I trust no one, Rachel. Beautiful mortal females least of all." She blinked.
"You... find me beautiful?"
He stared at her for a long moment, and his eyes seemed to heat as they moved lower, raking her before slowly meeting hers again. Then he simply turned away, facing the castle, and the curious vines. "Look."
She looked. Then she caught her breath as one by one, the green buds seemed to split. Bit by bit they opened, milk-white petals unfurling, their faces turning up to the moon as if in welcome. Welcoming the night.
"I've never seen anything like them."
"They're very rare. Moon lilies. I had them imported."
"They're beautiful." As she looked around, she noticed other plants in bloom.
"I have no flower that closes up by night. Everything either remains open through the dark hours, or only blooms in darkness."
"It makes sense. Day lilies or morning glories would be wasted here."
He nodded.