Natasha Desmond is a woman on the run. But the castle in which she seeks refuge may harbor a greater menace. She hopes she's found a new love, but does Garrett Kilburn serve the castle's ancient terror?
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Excerpt from "Highland Vampire"
by Suz deMello
Published by Harlequin Spice Briefs
I had fled as fast and as far as I could. I could run no farther than to the edge of the world, here at the northwestern corner of Scotland.
The gloaming was deep upon the land when I found Kilburn Castle. Isn’t that what Scots called it, the gloaming? That mysterious time between day and night, when blue dusk dims the sky and magical beings wander forth.
I let my little rented Vauxhall roll to a stop and considered the broody hulk of a castle high on a hill above the sea, silhouetted against the deepening night. The crash of the waves against the cliff was interrupted by a car roaring out of the fortress’s gate. It sped past me, almost clipping my bumper in its haste, and raced down the hill, its headlights switching on as it traversed a curve in the narrow road.
Darkness fell, and I shivered theatrically. A light winked on in a small stone gatehouse a few yards from me. It illuminated a sign written in neat script, thick black on white.
That settled it. I got out of the car, shivered non-theatrically—it was chilly—and walked toward the gatehouse, my boots crunching on the stony earth. I rapped on the glass-fronted door.
After a few seconds, it opened to reveal a pale-skinned man, a local from the look of him. I’d noticed that everyone here wore a pallor indicative of little sunlight. His eyes, however, were the green of snapping turtles, and he had hair as dark as the other side of the moon. His beard was burgeoning.
He held a pipe, which on any other twenty-something male would look stupid and pretentious, but seemed natural in his hand.
He was sexy, and I was surprised I’d noticed. I hadn’t thought about sex since Auntie Jacqueline had collapsed and died. But this man’s pale, well-cut lips, high cheekbones and masculine stubble shot my mind straight to deep kisses and hot sex.
“Do you have a bed for the night?” I asked. I tried not to scope out his body, but I noticed that he was fit, if slender, and clad in a dark sweater and jeans, like me.
“I do indeed.” His voice was rich, melodic, accented. “And who wants one, may I ask?”
I stuck out my right hand. “Natasha Desmond.” I didn’t see the point of concealing my identity. I didn’t have a fake passport, and all hoteliers asked for papers.
When he shook my hand, I noticed his grasp was firm, his fingers cool. He released me quickly. “Well, Natasha Desmond, are ye certain ye wish to stay at Castle Kilburn?”
“Sure. Why not?”
A short pause. “Ye’ll be our only guest. Even the staff leaves after sundown.”
I remembered the car that had sped down the hill a few moments ago. “That’s not safe,” I said. “What if I fall in the shower? What about dinner?”
“There’s an emergency cord in the loo,” he said.
Like in institutions. Like in the kind of place my family had wanted to put me. Great.
The gatekeeper continued, “And there’s food in the buttery.”
“The pantry. A buttery was a storage area for liquor,” he explained. “We don’t make whiskey any more, so we use the room for food stores.”
“Oh. All right. I suppose.” I silently questioned the usefulness of Auntie’s billion-dollar bequest if I had to stay in a drafty castle with no staff and dubious food.
But I had gotten myself into the situation by randomly driving around the Highlands. I had no one to blame but the skinny blond girl I saw in the mirror every day when I brushed my teeth. I certainly couldn’t blame the gatekeeper.
“The gate’s open,” he said. “I’ll meet you at the front.”
Good heavens. There was a portcullis. I drove through quickly, mindful of the many films I’d seen which featured portcullises (portculli?) trapping knights, or orcs, or whatever.
Whatever, it was creepy.
I drove into the castle courtyard and passed what looked like a firepit. When I reached the massive front doors of the castle, he was already there. The gatekeeper. How had he done it?
There had to be a quicker way than driving through the huge front gate, I decided, and he’d taken it, along with the terrier that gamboled in his wake.
I got out of the car and opened its back door for my suitcase. The gatekeeper got there first—again—and pulled it out. “Just the one bag?” he asked.
“Yeah. Um, by the way, you are…”
“Garrett Kilburn.” He turned and smiled at me. “Welcome to Castle Kilburn, Miss Desmond.”
“This is your castle,” I said, surprised. I bent to pat the dog, who licked me enthusiastically.
“Indeed it is. Sort of,” he added under his breath.
“Excuse me?” I straightened, wiping my damp hand on my jeans.
“Come along through here.” He ushered me in through the carved wooden doors. Bound with massive dark metal bands, they were straight out of Robin Hood, or perhaps they’d been used on the set of Lord of the Rings. But these were the real thing.
“I’m awed,” I told Garrett. “This place is magnificent. I’m honored to stay here.”
He handed me a key. “Let’s see what ye say in the morning.”
* * * *
I ate, bathed and went to bed, and by the time dawn rolled around was wondering if perhaps my family was right, and I was crazy.
I’d become convinced that Castle Kilburn was haunted.
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