The shadows had been invited.
After a painful breakup, Gwynneth Reese moves in with her best friend and takes a job at a retirement home. She grows especially close to one resident, who dies alone the night of a terrific storm. On the way home from paying her last respects, Gwynneth is caught in another storm and is struck by lightning. She wakes in the hospital with a vague memory of being rescued by a mysterious stranger. Following her release from the hospital, the stranger visits her at will and offers Gwynneth a gift–one that will stay the hands of death. Gwynneth is uncertain whether Julian is a savior or something more sinister… for as he shares more and more of this gift, his price becomes more and more deadly.
She stared into his pale eyes, which were the color of storm clouds. A scream welled up in her throat. He pushed her against the wall and shook his head in a warning.
“Do not scream.”
His voice was low and soothing. She nodded quickly, with every intention of screaming her lungs out as soon as he removed his hand.
“Do not scream,” he repeated.
Gwynneth could hear her breath heavy against his hand. He wore finely made black leather gloves. Why would he be wearing gloves inside? She thought frantically. It wasn’t cold enough to wear gloves. Dressed in the same black material from top to bottom, except for a white, high-collared dress shirt, he looked archaic. She tried to match him with a time period. Mid-eighteenth century? His demeanor, too, was somehow…archaic, proud. Small silver buttons ran the length of his jacket. They pressed sharply against her thin hospital gown.
“Do you trust me?” He studied her intently and removed his hand.
“You were there when I got hit,” she whispered.
“Why didn’t you bring me to the hospital? You left me at the funeral home.”
“I had no transportation. I left you where you would be found.”
“Why didn’t you stay with me?”
“I have my reasons. I am here now.”
“Well, thank you for saving me.”
“I wish something in return.”
“I-I don’t have anything.” She flinched as she felt a small tug from deep inside. It was as if probing fingers were searching for something. Fear bloomed within her. The probing stopped.
“Are you saying no?” His voice held an edge.
“I don’t understand.”
Confused, she nodded slightly. Suddenly, Julian grabbed her and they fell into blackness. Something powerful swirled around them. Something malevolent. She panicked and clung to him. There was pressure on all sides of her, as if the air was folding around them and becoming heavier and heavier. And then, everything stopped.
“Open your eyes, Gwynneth,” he whispered.
They were in a house. A Victorian. Fire burned in the fireplace. She could smell the burning wood. The light reflected off elaborate, but worn, wallpaper and furniture. A half-eaten biscuit lay on a delicate-looking plate. An empty teacup lay on its side.
Julian took her by the hand and led her up a winding staircase. She studied him from behind. Tall and lean, he was quite broad-shouldered. Fine white hair draped across his back like silk. His form-fitting, tailored jacket hit mid-thigh, and matching black pants were tucked into knee-high leather boots. He walked with catlike grace, his boots making light sounds on the stairs.
Otherworldly, her thoughts whispered. Still in her hospital gown, Gwynneth felt vulnerable and naked. Her bare feet pressed against the wooden floor. Grit stuck to her toes.
He led her down a hallway lit by fluted glass light fixtures along the walls. At the end of the hallway was a door.
Never taking his eyes off hers, Julian opened it.
Dark figures scattered like exploding glass. Red, so much red. There was blood everywhere. Blood-soaked sheets, pillows; blood pooled onto the wooden floor and soaked into an ornate carpet.
A woman lay across the bed. She wore an old-fashioned white nightgown, which was plastered to her body. Her long dark hair spilled across the sheets. Gaping wounds covered her chest. A knife lay on the floor. The windows were open, and white curtains fluttered in the evening breeze.
The creatures writhed in the corners as light from the hallway shattered their darkness.
A strangled sound escaped Gwynneth’s throat. Julian wrapped his arms around her and urged her forward. The figures that had fled into the corners seeped into the scene once more.
“They come for her. I want you to watch.”
Gwynneth shook violently, and he gripped her tighter.
The figures swarmed over the dead woman’s body, into her hair, along her bare legs. They snaked up and down her torso and made her body shudder. Gwynneth felt their need, burning and relentless.
“Oh my God, she’s not dead,” she moaned.