Once Upon a Temptingly Ruinous Kiss - Bree Wolf
London, October 1802 (or a variation thereof)
Shadows danced everywhere, their eerie movements taunting her with each step she took down the darkened corridor. They seemed to have arms and hands, reaching out for her, tugging upon her skirts and trailing cold fingers through her hair. She felt sharp tugs upon her scalp, her skin prickling with the sense that something evil and dangerous was lurking nearby.
Somewhere in the shadows.
In the dark.
Just out of sight.
Her teeth began to chatter as she turned her head from side to side, her eyes wide as she tried to glimpse the contours of whatever hid in the dim world around her. Her heart tensed painfully as though afraid to continue on, tempted to simply stop its rhythm here and now, afraid to experience another moment of this torture.
Still, her steps carried her onward. Somehow, she knew she could not linger. She should not linger. If she lingered—
Cold hands seized her, appearing out of nowhere and clamping over her arms.
Her heart contracted painfully, and a scream was torn from her throat.
She began to tug upon her arms, desperate to free herself, but the cold hands remained. They felt like iron shackles, ice-cold and unbreakable. She tried to scream again, but no sound fell from her lips.
Panic swept through her as she was shoved backwards, those cold hands still wrapped around her arms, until her back slammed into the wall behind her. Pain radiated through her body, and she tasted blood as she bit her lip, her eyes momentarily pinched shut.
She was afraid what she would see if she opened them.
A growl rang in her ears, and she felt her body grow cold under his touch. It was a him; she was certain of it. She could feel it in the way those hands moved over her body, sending ice down her limbs, freezing her resistance as though she were a puppet, unable to move on her own.
And then her eyes flew open, and she found herself staring at a faceless demon. Its eyes glowed in the dark, bottomless pits that held no pity, no concern, no compassion. The sight froze her heart anew, and she knew that there was no escape.
As though sensing her surrender, he pushed closer, his breath upon her skin as—
“Leonora!” a familiar voice called. “Leonora, wake up! You’re dreaming!”
Surging upward, Lady Leonora Beaumont, daughter to the Earl of Whickerton, opened her eyes and found herself looking at the darkened contours of her bedchamber. Her heart beat fast in her chest and her breath came in gasping pants as her gaze turned to look upon her sister, seated beside her on the bed. “Louisa?” she gasped, squinting into the darkness.
“It’s me,” her sister confirmed, her hands still upon Leonora’s shoulders, giving her one last shake. “It’s me.”
Again, Leonora closed her eyes, only this time in relief, her lungs drawing in one long, deep breath, hoping that it would chase away the nightmare, knowing that it would not.
It never did.
“Were you dreaming of…?” Louisa’s voice trailed off, her face contorted in regret and shame.
Leonora nodded, knowing that what had happened to her had not been her sister’s fault. Yes, it had been Louisa’s idea to sneak out of the house and attend the masquerade, but it had also been Leonora’s choice to follow. Louisa had not wanted her to; except Leonora had insisted.
She had no one else to blame.
Whoever he was.
Louisa pulled Leonora into her arms. “I’m so sorry, dear sister.” She rocked them both from side to side as they clung to one another the way they had from the first. Always had they walked hand-in-hand, which had been the very reason Leonora had insisted on accompanying her sister that night roughly six months ago.
It had been her decision.
“What can I do?” Louisa murmured into her sister’s hair. “Please, what can I do?”
Leonora heaved a deep sigh. “Go back to bed and sleep,” she whispered, unwilling to place this burden upon her sister’s shoulders. She could feel that deep-seated tremble reach for her limbs and knew that if Louisa did not leave soon, she would see Leonora break apart.
It was a torturous routine, and Leonora knew it well.
First came the nightmares.
Vivid and stirring.
Stirring in a way that left Leonora a mere shadow of herself.
Then came the shivers and that violent trembling that shook her to her bones and threatened to undo her in every sense of the word. It was followed by uncontrollable weeping, forcing her into a dark