As the first rays of morning came up over the Western hills, Phillip breathed in the cool morning air. The night was at an end once again and it was time he headed back to the mansion. It had been a long night of hunting and fun with his friend who had retired long before the sun but Phillip remained. What they had learned of the insurgence was unsettling. Lucas had heard that some of the vampires were already planning an attack. When or where was a mystery but Lavinia and Paul would have to be cautious.
When he got back a few minutes later, it was to find Rose… Zahra walking out of the building with a full pail of washing. He couldn’t approach her since she was surrounded by a full host of maids similarly laden. It didn’t matter, he was content to watch her.
It was strange that she drew him to her so. She was lovely and she smiled brightly. He also saw the pain and insecurity in her features – her past could not have been an easy one. As far as women went, she was on the prettier side but nothing else would or should have drawn his attention. For some strange reason that surpassed meaning, she had come to mean something significant to him.
Women had never been a problem for him before. Part of the reason being a vampire in the daylight was so difficult was the fact that they seemed to get more beautiful in their vampiric form. Humans easily got suspicious and hunted them down in this way. Even his scar, unsightly as it had been before hadn’t deterred women in the past. Perhaps that was why she didn’t resist him? But no, she had seemed to fight the attraction at first – something a human under a vampire’s spell never did.
The sun kissed her deep brown skin, gleaming off her dark hair, now in braids again. When she had freed it the night of the dance, it had flown around her like a glorious curly mane. What he wouldn’t give to run his fingers through her hair and kiss her like he had the other day in the secluded library. He had wanted to satisfy his curiosity of what she tasted like. He hadn’t expected to end up craving more of her.
He had been in something of a mood all of the previous day he’d had to be away from her – which didn’t make any sense. He had never wanted to be near another being as badly as all this. When he had thought he had been weaving a spell for her that morning in the inn, perhaps she had been the master spell-caster. He was stricken. A smile tugged at his lips. He had never been more sure of what he wanted than he was the moment his lips touched hers.
She would be his, there was no question about it.
And when next he got a free moment with Paul, he would make his position known. He was going to take her with him. To what end, he did not know. But recklessness was in his blood and the consequences were never in his mind. He did what he wanted and protected what he cared for. And seeing how much he cared for Zahra, he was going to protect her with his life – a promise he found he was very keen on keeping.
“A letter arrived for you,” said Lucas handing it to Phillip as he headed for his room. “Where were you until now?”
“Oh just sight-seeing,” replied Phillip with a smirk as he ripped open the envelope.
“Ah. The chit from the other day. You really do seem to have a soft spot for her. Are you really considering taking a human for wife?”
Phillip laughed but didn’t reply. Luckily, Lucas was too tired to continue the conversation. They had been halfway down the county chasing some choice game with a vampire pack to glean information. They had only just made it back with some more information and they were dead tired.
“We’ll speak to Paul when we wake up. Maybe then you can tell me just what you plan on doing with this girl. I don’t imagine Paul and Lavinia will let go of their staff all that easily,” he said poking Phillip in the ribs. With a yawn, he headed over to his own room and locked the door. Phillip shook his head and walked into his own room reading the letter.
The contents were unexpected and he read them twice with a frown. Something had gone wrong on his farm. For some reason, his foreman and his entire family had gone missing. They had left supposedly without a word. Phillip had a hard time believing that since Elias was as honest a man as they came. If he had left, he would have had a good reason. Also, since the harvest was due, there was no reason for him to leave.
More to the point, he wouldn’t have made his wife, fresh from delivery and with a new born in tow, travel all of a sudden. Something about this was all wrong and he would need to get to the bottom of it as soon as possible. He paced for a few minutes before coming to a decision. He needed to leave immediately. That would mean leaving Zahra behind which he wasn’t keen on but the message he’d received reeked of subterfuge. Something wasn’t adding up and if there was one thing he didn’t like, it was being deceived.
He made ready his plans despite his fatigue. Considering the coaches Paul kept and the well-trained, and paid, coachmen, he could rest on the way there.
The house was a flurry of activity when Zahra came back inside from doing the laundry. Her heart sank when she found out why. She headed down the hall to her next duty thinking about what she had heard.
Phillip was leaving.
She had only just accepted him as a part of her life and now he had to go. By all reports, he had never been a regular guest of the house so chances were that he wouldn’t come to visit again soon. She shouldn’t be so upset, she thought, he was never hers to begin with and never could have been. He was leaving before they had gotten too far in this… whatever it could be called. Certainly not a relationship.
So lost in thought was she that she hadn’t realised that she was in the wrong corridor. She was on the first floor when she was meant to be on the third. She needed to help clean out the attic today and pull out new drapes to put up around the house while the others were being washed. She turned back the way she’d come when a familiar hand grabbed her arm and dragged her into one of the rooms.
Before she had a moment to blink, she found herself held captive against the door with a hand over her mouth. For a brief moment, she considered biting that hand and making her escape since he had startled her but she stopped realising who it was trapping her there, his body flush against hers.
“Don’t scream,” whispered Phillip. She didn’t say anything for a long moment and he wondered if she would comply. “Please?” he pleaded. She narrowed her eyes at him and then nodded.
“What are you doing? What if someone saw us? You need to let me go.”
“No,” he replied with a wicked gleam in his eyes, “I’m holding you captive.”
“I’m kidnapping you for being so irresistible.” She attempted a frown and failed.
“You shouldn’t tease me like that.”
“I’m not.” When she met his gaze, her retort caught in her throat. She swallowed with some difficulty trying her best to ignore all of the wicked things he made her feel.
“You must let me go. Ms. Delaney would not be happy to know I was… I was…”
“In such a compromising position with me?” he helpfully finished for her. She cleared her throat.
“That’s not what I meant. I… you’re confusing me.”
“Am I now?” he asked tipping up her chin.
“You… I…” she said in a desperate attempt to sound incensed. Her voice only came out weak and breathy like a whimper. She was weak to his advances and he knew it, the cad. At that moment, however, she couldn’t even muster an ounce of good sense. When he glanced down at her lips, her breath caught in her throat.
“If I kissed you now, Zahra… would you stop me?”
He wouldn’t… would he? Here and now? He leaned in and she put a hand against his chest to stop him. He paused and looked back into her eyes. She found herself drowning in that darkened gaze. He had her right where he wanted her. Their breaths mingled and it was all she could do to concentrate on getting air into her lungs. She feared she had very nearly forgotten how.
She knew how wrong this was. He would be gone and in the wake of the dust cloud he would leave as he went would be the shattered pieces of her broken heart. She understood this with every fibre of her being but she understood something else as well. This, whatever it was that lay between them, existed. And it would not be ignored.
So when he leaned in again, she found her hand sliding up to his shoulder and around his neck. He pressed soft lips to hers gently at first, as he had that afternoon in the library. She tasted him again and she felt sparks dance down her skin at the contact. She knew this touch and it ignited her very soul. He smelled deliciously of fresh grass and the outside.
He pulled away slightly and she opened eyes she hadn’t even noticed herself closing to look at him. His irises were alight, flecks of gold in a sea of blue. Those bright sparks seemed to set her aflame; she certainly felt as if she was on fire.
This time, when he kissed her, there was no resistance. His tongue eased past her lips teasing them open and deepening the kiss. Her whimper only urged him on and she was powerless against the onslaught. It was all she could do not to lose herself in him, in his embrace, in this warm flood of uninhibited passion. This was what she had been resisting – what she only just realised she had been waiting for.
His hand slid down her back to her waist pressing her against him. His other hand went around her back trapping her completely in his hold.
He pushed her against the door with a groan, his thumbs brushing against her ribs. She gasped again and he took the opportunity to let his kisses wander down her chin to her neck. She clung to him fearing that her legs would no longer hold her up. Then she suddenly felt cool air brush against the skin on her chest. In the heat of their passion, she hadn’t noticed him undoing some of her buttons. Her usually high-collared dress was open up to just below her neck. She didn’t even stop him when she felt him undo another.
She made a small noise at the back of her throat. It was too much, too soon… but she was unwilling to stop it. She wanted more. She was drowning and he was her only anchor so she held on even as he placed feather-light kisses just above the swell of her breasts, his hands holding her in place, the touch seeping into her skin and burning like a brand. She ran her fingers through his hair and bit her lip.
She needed to stop him. They couldn’t do this. They really mustn’t.
Then she felt the cold air against her legs and when his hand touched her thigh, she felt like a bucket of cold water had been dumped over her head. She stiffened in that awful moment unable to move. Where there had only been warmth and love was now bitter cold and a desperate need to run. He stopped, raising his gaze to hers when he realised that something was very wrong. The fear he saw in her eyes almost made him kick himself. He took her face gently in his hands and made her face him. She was shaking like a leaf and her skin had suddenly turned cold.
“What is it?” he asked worriedly. The concern in his voice made her feel a little better but she only shook her head and pushed his hands away to try and put her clothes back in order. Sweaty palms smoothed her skirts in a bid to get rid of the moisture. Shaky hands reached up to fasten the buttons he had just opened failing once, then twice, then thrice. She shut her eyes and took a deep breath trying to calm her suddenly frantic heart.
She felt a deep unnamed fear and couldn’t seem to settle herself. She had altogether forgotten about the heat from before. All she knew was that she needed to run and she couldn’t do that looking as she did. That was when Phillip caught her hands in his. She opened her eyes, half expecting to see his anger or disappointment. Instead, she found a gentle smile that seemed to immediately put her at ease. He kissed her hands almost reverently and then reached for her buttons and, much to her surprise, did them up himself.
Zahra turned her face away and remained still and silent, not daring to meet his gaze. She was embarrassed and she was frightened. She had behaved like a wanton and suddenly changed her tune. He could demand what he wanted of her and nobody would think to complain but his actions now proved to her that he was not like that. When he had finished, he lay his hands on her cheeks again. She squeezed her eyes shut, shame filling her again. What had she just been about to do?
“Look at me Zahra,” he said softly, his voice gentle, as if he was coaxing a child, “open your eyes, sweetheart.” The endearment was not lost on her and she almost didn’t look up because it made her blush. It took a while but she finally did and he smiled at her.
“I will never take what you are not willing to give,” he said solemnly. It was a promise. She paused for a moment, searching his eyes for any sign of untruth. Deciding she could trust him, she nodded and for the third time, he pressed his lips to her forehead. She shut her eyes again and heaved a deep sigh, some of the warmth seeping back into her bones. And he stood there holding her against him, offering her comfort where her demons plagued her.
It had been so long since someone had just held her like this. She clutched his shirt and they stood there for a long while. Eventually, her breathing calmed and her heartbeat slowed. The shaking also stopped. Realising this, he pulled away from her and crooked a finger under her chin.
“I’m coming back for you,” he said suddenly. Alarm filled her at what he could possibly mean, and yet, she was thrilled with the news too. It had to be a lie. But Phillip didn’t seem like a liar. Could she really believe this?
Zahra blinked once, then twice. Did he mean what she thought he meant? Was he really considering taking her for wife? Unless he only meant to forestall their inevitable parting after a brief dalliance – but again, there was no need to take her away if that was all he wanted. She hardly dared hope but she felt it bloom in her chest despite her internal warnings. She made as if to speak but he pressed his fingers against her lips again. His gaze was unwavering and his voice firm.
“I promise I will come for you.”
She said nothing as he wrapped his arms around her again. It wasn’t practical by any means and things were moving much faster than she had ever dreamed. Here was Phillip, offering her a better life, a place to call home, freedom. She might never get her freedom if she continued to work at Larenby – or she might if she stayed long enough. Not to mention that the work there was good. This was secure and this was familiar.
But here, before her, lay an unknown path probably fraught with danger and hardship. She would never be accepted in society. It didn’t seem to matter to him. Maybe he really would protect her. Maybe she should just give in and let her fate carry her where it would. Taking her face in his hands again and kissing her once soundly, he reached behind her for the door handle.
“Now, you’d better get going before Delaney catches you,” he said with a cheeky grin. At least that got a proper smile out of her, even if it was more muted than the others he’d seen. He opened the door and peered out then let her go before him. She walked quickly down the corridor and up the stairs which was no doubt where she’d been heading when he abducted her.
What had she gone through, he wondered, to put that look in her eyes? He could only imagine… and none of it was pretty. That was a look of unfathomable dread. If he had gone any further, he would have hurt her.
She’d been an eager participant in the kiss. She had inflamed him more than he’d thought she would. He hadn’t even been intending to take things so far. He had only meant to tease her, to taste her lips one last time before he had to leave and maybe even give her the promise of his return… but she had sparked something in him and suddenly, one small chaste kiss wasn’t enough.
It was best if he left her now and took this up at a later date, he thought running his hand through his hair with a laugh despite himself. He was behaving as if he was an untried youth. If she hadn’t stopped him, he would have taken her right there against the door! No, some distance would be better. That way, he wouldn’t be tempted to push her past her limits and he would have time to get his affairs in order.
Lord knew his farm was obviously a mess and if he was really planning to marry her, he would have wanted to bring her to a happy, functioning home. He hoped he could hurry this strange business along however, so he could return as soon as possible.
He shook his head with a smile thinking just how foolish it was that he already missed her.