A Darker Dream - By Amanda Ashley

He had always loved the night. His favorite pastimes - drinking, gambling, the pursuit of a beautiful woman - were best accomplished in the hours of darkness.

The best times of his life had been spent in dimly lit saloons and smoky gambling dens, or in lush candlelit bedrooms. But that had been long ago.

Only now did he fully understand what he had lost when the light had been taken from him. Because she was like the sunlight - bright, warm, beautiful.

And, like the sun, she could never be his.
Chapter One
I hide in the shadows

and lust for the light

For I am Vampyre

forever imprisoned by the night.

Millbrae Valley, 1843

Rayven sat back in his chair, trying unsuccessfully to mask his disgust as he watched Vincent McLeod attempt to auction off the eldest of his five daughters.

Head down, hands limp at her sides, the girl stood mute, like a beast bound for slaughter. Her hair, a dull dirty blond, tumbled over her shoulders, hiding her face as effectively as the shapeless gray dress hid the body beneath.

"See here, Rayven," Montroy complained. "Can't we have a little more light?"

Rayven shook his head. The room was dark, and he liked it that way - dark wood paneled the walls, a dark green carpet covered the floor, matching draperies hung at the windows, the lamps were turned low, as always. Anyone who shared the back room of Cotyer's Tavern with him knew he avoided bright light. It was one of his many quirks, one the rich young men of the town endured for the sake of being in his rather questionable company.

"Well, if we can't turn up the lamps, then have the girl disrobe," Lord Tewksbury called from the back of the room. "I refuse to bid on a pig in a poke."

"Aye," Nevel Jackson agreed. "Tell the girl to peel off those rags so we can see what we're buying."

The call was taken up around the room. Vincent McLeod hesitated, then whispered something to the girl. Head still bowed, she began to unlace the bodice of her dress.

Rayven watched through narrowed eyes, noticing the way the girl's hands trembled as she unfastened the shabby frock. Though he could not see her face, he knew her cheeks were flushed with embarrassment, knew her heart was pounding like that of a fawn caught in the jaws of a wolf.

"Enough." Just one word, softly spoken, but it carried throughout the room.

"See here, Rayven," Tewksbury protested. "I think..."

Rayven silenced him with a quelling glance. "The girl is mine," he declared, having decided, in that moment, to buy her, though he still had not seen her face.

"Seeking a new mistress?" Lord Montroy inquired.


"A housemaid, perhaps?"

Rayven met Montroy's gaze. Dallon Montroy was a tall, good-looking man, almost as wealthy as Rayven himself. Of all the men Rayven gambled with, Montroy came closest to being a friend.

Ignoring the viscount's question, Rayven waved to the old man. "Bring her here."

"Aye, milord." Hastily, Vincent McLeod grabbed his daughter by the arm and dragged her across the room. "You won't be disappointed, milord. She'll serve you well."

"Yes," Rayven murmured. "She will, indeed."

Reaching into his pocket, Rayven brought out a handful of bank notes and thrust them at the other man.

"Has she a name?"

"Of course, milord. It's Rhianna, but she'll answer to anything you wish to call her."

"You know where I live?"

"Aye, sir." Everyone knew of Rayven's castle. Located at the top of Devil Tree Mountain, it stood like a sentinel over the town, tall, dark, and mysterious, like its master.

"Take her there. My man will look after her."

"Aye, milord."

Rayven waved his hand in a gesture of dismissal. Turning back to the game, he picked up his cards.

"You lose again, Montroy," he drawled softly, and spread his hand on the table.

Dallon Montroy tossed his cards into the pot. "Seems to be your lucky night," he remarked good-naturedly.

Rayven grunted softly. "Perhaps you're right," he mused as he watched the girl follow old man McLeod out the door. "Perhaps you're right."

Rhianna huddled on the narrow wagon seat beside her father, unable to control her body's trembling, or to accept the fact that her father had sold her to a man like Lord Rayven, a man who was rumored to have many strange and unusual habits.

The spires of Castle Rayven loomed in the distance, a dark shape rising out of the smoky gray mist that shrouded Devil Tree Mountain both summer and winter.

With each passing mile, her trepidation increased. She thought briefly of jumping out of the wagon and taking