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Chapter One

            “Sometimes, Trev, when you least expect it, life grabs you by the short and curlies and gives you a firm squeeze.”  Trevelyn Sinclair Mershan vented his frustration to the pair of accusing green eyes, staring back at him from the rearview mirror.  Oddly, for an instant he felt as if he gazed at his twin brother.  Looking at the reflection was like looking at Jago; they were nearly that identical―on the outside.  Inside they were nothing alike.  St. Jago served as the conscience of the three Mershan brothers. 

            “And me?  Well, they might wonder if I have horns hidden in my wavy, blue-black hair.”  He laughed.  “They might be right, too.”

            Trevelyn downshifted the powerful Lamborghini Murciélago, burying the tac into the red.  His fingers flexed around the gearshift, relishing the engine’s deep growl of protest; the sound evoked an image of a panther roaring in the night.  At one with the darkness surrounding him, he guided the sleek, black roadster toward his destination.   He was a fool to come, he knew only too well.  Regardless, he was lured onward, unable to resist the siren’s song.

            “Ulysses had been tempted to hear.  Why should I be any different?” he said with a touch of self-derisiveness.

            Once more, he glanced to the mirror.  Questions were reflected in the arresting eyes.  Ones he didn’t like.  They asked why he raced through the night, compelled toward his goal, despite it being against his nature.  It was a stupid, foolish errand, and he wasn’t even going to summon reasons to justify what he was doing.  They’d be lies.  Shifting to speed through the sharp S-turns, he ignored the mental finger-pointing.  The answers were ones he’d rather shun. 

As a vice-president of Mershan International, so many responsibilities weighed upon his shoulders.  Frequently, he did deals before lunch which encompassed millions of dollars, hundreds of millions.  His signature on a contract often affected thousands of lives.  He liked the control, the rule.  

“Like it?  Bloody hell.  I get off on it.”

 And women―well, he never had a need to chase any female.  All he had to do was stand still and they were all over him.  It was often humorous, the lengths they would go to end up on his arm―and in his bed.  A parade of beauties had traipsed through his life, few ever lasting long enough to leave a lingering impression.  Flavor of the month, Agnes Dodd, his sour-faced secretary, was fond of sneering.   Likely, why this restlessness that propelled him headlong through the night rankled so.  He sighed, feeling his body tighten in age old instincts.

“For the first time in my life, I’m going after a woman.” 

            Not merely a woman―Raven Montgomerie.  This Montgomerie sister was a riddle.  Perhaps why he’d been unable to put the portfolio aside and go to bed tonight, leaving all this business until the gala tomorrow.  The sexy redhead haunted his waking hours.  Invaded his dreams.  Dreams so vivid, he’d repeatedly awoken bathed in sweat, his body cramped with agonizing need.  Endless cold showers did little to chase away the persistent hunger.  He was tired of reading reports or staring at the stack of photographs of Raven, irritated he had a hard time making the words and pictures go together.  Most frustrating of all, he refused to face the fact that he hadn’t taken another woman to bed since he’d seen her five months ago.  Jago would howl with laughter if he ever got wind of that fact.

            “You’re bloody losing it, old son.”  He clucked his tongue in a manner Jago often did when trying to shame him into being good.

            Why should Raven have such a hold over him when they’d never even spoken?  She was a beautiful woman, true, but then all the Montgomerie sisters were.  One of the pampered granddaughters of Sean Montgomerie, she’d been raised in the lap of luxury.  A silver spoon wasn’t good enough for her, only a service of gold graced the table of Colford Hall where she’d been reared.

            Lights of the ancient manor came into view as he rounded the bend.  In response his muscles tensed, his heart rate jumped, decades old resentment rising within him.  The glimmering windows cast their pale yellow light out onto the rolled lawn, the epitome of a wealthy English estate.  Trev slowed the car to a crawl as he wheeled past the towering, ornate gates of the winding drive, taking in the 14th century manor house that belonged to Raven’s family.  He swallowed back the black fury at the symbol that obscene house represented to him, to his brothers.  A palace with its five-story splendor, yet oddly, Raven eschewed living in residence, instead opted to make her home in a thatched cottage on the far side of the vast estate.

            Raven doing this simply made no sense.  Why live in a small house barely of notice when she could reside in the regal elegance of Colford and have servants waiting on her hand and foot?  People would kill to have the life she was born into; contrarily, Raven chose a path of modest means and generally kept to herself.  He guessed after learning how the other sisters lived, this bent of Raven’s shouldn’t perplex him to the point of obsession.  One of the older sisters, BarbaraAnne, stayed on a small isle in the north of Scotland, while Raven’s twin Asha lived in some strange time warp, running several small businesses out in the middle of bloody nowhere Kentucky.

“Lady Contradiction is thy name, Raven Montgomerie.  You’re a puzzle I intend to unriddle.  Then you’ll vex me no more,” Trev spoke softly as he pushed the car to speed.

            Small muscles that bracketed his mouth deepened at the idea Raven was also a twin.  It gave them a commonality, an understanding of what it was like to share your body with another while the thoughts and feelings inside were totally different.  That alone set Raven above other women, already burned her into his mind when the face of his last bed partner was fading into the vague mist in his recollection.

            Irritation furling, he punched the gas, flying down the little lane. These narrow roads of the English countryside were like a racecourse, a true challenge to go as fast as he did, yet calling upon his quick reflexes to keep from cracking up.  “One simply doesn’t crash a Lamborghini for the fun of it.  Damn insurance rate on this monster’s already high enough.”

            A short distance later, he slowed to take the turnoff.   Most people would zoom past and never notice it.  A narrow track, the surface was nearly non-existent, possibly remnants of an old Roman way.  It was fortunate the Lamborghini rode low to the road, for several tree branches bowed almost to the ground.  One slapped at the car as he passed, fingernails on a blackboard.  He grimaced that the mirror finish would be ruined.

            “Bloody hell, I really like this car.  Oh well, maybe midnight blue for the next one,” Trev mused arrogantly to his reflection.  He traded cars nearly as often as he did women.  His smirk switched to a scowl when the gas pan dragged in a rut in the road.  “Hmm…definitely midnight blue.”

            As the flicker of lights appeared in the distance, he shut off the headlights and slowed the roadster even more.  He didn’t want Raven to spot his car coming.

            All things weighed, he wasn’t sure why he’d picked Raven as the sister to target.  Perhaps the predator in him viewed her as the weakest link.  Possibly it was something more, some influence he didn’t even begin to fathom.  He enjoyed strong women, females who didn’t play coy.  A quick assessment of the Montgomerie sisters would peg them as warrior stock, with a tendency to intimidate most men.  Not Raven.  Haunting vulnerability wrapped about her like a mantle, and in a strange fashion it intrigued Trev, evoked a fey response within him that defied labels, unlike anything he’d ever encountered.  As a rule, softer women failed to hold his attention.  He took pleasure in the challenge of the hunt, the clash of wills, yet none of the other vibrant siblings mesmerized him in the manner Raven did.

            Trev could enumerate excuses why the other sisters failed to conjure his interest.  One-by-one he’d crossed them off the list, coming up with various logical reasons to give each a pass.  Leaving Raven.  Some might remark as the last choice.  Something told him that wasn’t true though.  Raven would never be the last choice.  She was the first choice, the only choice. 

            As the small knoll materialized in the ghostly fog, he cut the wheel, switched off the engine and allowed the car to coast across the lawn to halt under an oak tree.  The slight roll in the landscape saw the mound overlooking the thatched house, nestled into the odd crook in the land.

            “My, what a perfect location for tonight’s bit of work,” he said, his low voice loud in the stillness of the night.  “All the better to spy upon you, Little Red Riding Hood.”

            Pocketing his keys, he opened the car’s gull wing door, and then paused with foot balanced on the body’s fame while his eyes took him Raven’s home.

            The bungalow was two stories, though the second level was likely just a bedroom and bath due to the steep incline of the roof.  The only time he’d been in a thatched house was when he was small, in the months after his father had committed suicide.  He’d been too young to remember much of that time in Ireland.  Des remembered.  That period of their lives had left deep scars in his older brother.  Trev figured he’d look down his nose at Raven’s humble home.  Instead, he was fascinated.  An air of warmth and welcoming beckoned him toward the cottage, aglow with its amber lights.

            He sat on the hood of the car and studied the bucolic structure, trying to pinpoint Raven.  Playing Peeping Tom was easy.  The place was constructed of so much glass.  A gardener’s cottage once, there were two greenhouses―one on either side of the whitewashed abode.  The first had likely been a hothouse, the other for plants that required a more temperate clime.  Raven was an artist, a painter.  The report Julian Starkadder had compiled about her said she was working toward a one woman show for a local gallery come next spring.  The smaller glass room had been turned into a studio.  Even from this distance he could see the easel, though it was too far away to tell what she currently painted upon the large canvas.

            Aside from the two glassed in spaces, a dining room had been added, also with glass walls.  Raven Montgomerie’s life was on display, but he figured she never considered that.  Some beautiful women loved to put on a show for anyone looking―even Peeping Toms.  Still, for someone as gorgeous as Raven, she didn’t live her life on the stage she created here.  He’d be willing to bet the Lamborghini on that.  Raven was merely far away from people, nothing even remotely close, so obviously she felt no need to hide behind drapes.

            “Where the hell are you, Red?” he asked.  “Come out, come out, wherever you are.”

            Exasperated, all these walls of glass and he couldn’t spot her.  He knew she was at home.  She’d been working on the preparation for the gala all day, doing final touches.  After supper he’d grown twitchy, so had driven past the banquet hall that her brother, Cian, had rented for Montgomerie Enterprise’s big bash.  As he spotted her coming out of the building, he swung into a parking lot down the road and watched while she slid into her ancient MGB.  Keeping a distance, he followed her until she took the turn off for the cottage.  She was still there.  His predator’s sense confirmed that.

            Growing impatient, he pushed off the car and trotted toward the cottage.  The MGB was parked at the side of the house, attesting to her presence within.  Staying to the shadows, he circled around the larger greenhouse and toward the back of the dwelling.  As he cornered the far side, he pulled up when he saw Raven.  Her face was framed in the kitchen window, an overhead light nearly a spotlight on her.  From her movements, he saw she was washing dishes. 

            Raven’s face was more than beautiful, it was arresting, with a hint of feline ethereality.  While her jaw reflected the same Montgomerie stubbornness as her sisters, the thinness of her countenance softened the effect.  Trev shuddered.  His whole body cramped with longing. 

            “Longing?” he echoed aloud.

The word caused pause.  With any other woman he’d have said lust.  Trevelyn Mershan didn’t long for a woman.  He simply wanted to screw them.  Once he achieved that aim, they lost any fascination for him.  Longing required more than animal impulses.  It spoke of something much deeper.  And that bothered him.

            Music floated through the night, and it took a moment to identify the song coming from the kitchen, “Constant Craving”―an oldie by KD Lang.  Raven’s mouth moved as she sang along with the words.  Though he couldn’t hear her, a shiver slithered up his spine.  Yeah, he knew something about constant cravings.  Five months of it.  Ever since he’d seen her back last May at her grandfather’s funeral. 

            He recalled sitting with his brothers at the rear of the small church, watching the seven sisters in the pews at the front, then later while they exited the ornate building.  That memory haunted him. So peculiar, beyond her beauty, there was little about Raven that would normally attract him.  No, Raven Montgomerie was not his taste in women.  And yet, he’d known in that breathless instant when their eyes collided, outside the ancient Norman kirk, that in five months time he’d be coming for her, though hell should bar the way.  She was the key to getting him closer to the Montgomeries, so the Mershans could finally mête out their long-overdue vengeance. 

            His inner voice warned Trev that their objective had damn little to do with his coming here tonight.  A ravenous need was rising in him, something dark, dangerous.  A force primeval.

            Raven had auburn hair, straight and flowing down to the middle of her back.  The shade was a bit darker than her twin’s.  Right now, it was swept back in a ponytail, making her lovely face appear younger.  Trev wanted to go in to her, pull that black velvet band from around the dark red tresses, feel the heavy weight in his hands, then yank her head back and kiss her, kiss her until…until what?  Until he woke up the sleeping beauty?   He just put his finger on Raven’s existence here in this tiny cottage―she was hiding from the world.  She skirted along the edges of life, not putting her emotions out there, never taking risks.

            “Too bad, Red.  Life’s for the meat-eaters.”  Trev smiled, feeling much like a wolf, targeting a choice lamb to single it from the flock.

            She reached up, snapped out the spotlight, and then moved away from the casement.   It annoyed Trev he could no longer see her.  Prickly, impatient compulsion crawled over his skin.  He inched closer to the house, daring to go right up to the wall and look into the kitchen window. 

            Raven was bent over, pouring dry cat food from a big bag into two bowls.  The way the stretch jeans molded across her derrière riveted his attention, leading him to envision walking up behind her and running his hands over those rounded curves.  So intense was his fantasy, it took him a minute to notice the fat cats at her feet.  One grey and one marmalade rubbed against her calves, meowing.  He almost laughed aloud as a seagull hopped up and began stealing pieces of cat food from the bowls.  Hopped―because the silly bird only had one leg.  The scene grew even more surrealistic when a fat, black dog wandered in from the greenhouse.  Trev blinked thrice, having a hard time believing his eyes.  It wasn’t a dog, but a tiny pony!  He shook his head as she walked to the backdoor.

            “Come on, Marvin,” she ordered―though Trev was unsure whether it was addressed to the bird or the miniature horse.  “You know you’re not allowed in the main house.  Just the greenhouse.”

            Leaving the cats and the seagull chowing down on din-din, she marched Marvin the Pony toward the back of the house.   As they were halfway out the screen door, the pudgy equine midget wheeled around and tried to dodge between her legs to get into the kitchen.

            Nah-nananana… you…don’t.”  Raven leaned over and tried to herd the toy pony, barely taller than her knee, back toward the path leading to the barn.  “Marvin, you can’t stay in the house.  Get it out of your brain.”

            Trev watched from the corner of the porch as Raven prodded the pony down the pathway, to the small stable, at the far side of the heavily landscaped property, and then inside.  Itchy to see what she was doing, he followed, pulled to her as if she were a lodestone.  Clinging to the deep shadows, he stood so he could see into the barn.  Raven spread straw for the pony and gave him a scoop of corn and fresh water. 

            He liked watching her, how she moved.  There was a vital strength to the way her muscles shifted, stretched―sinuous, with the grace of a ballet dancer, though that body was built for sin.  Closing his eyes for a minute, he fought the waves of longing…hmm, lust…that racked his body.  His erection pushed hard against the zipper of his slacks to the point of painful.  Swallowing back the agony, he opened his eyes.  It had been a long five months.

            Trev suddenly felt a tickle to his nose.  He rubbed his hand against it to make the sensation go away.  It didn’t.  Instead, he felt a sneeze coming on.  If he sneezed, she’d hear him.  Ironically, he considered that Des would get particularly ticked at him if he were arrested for trespassing and being a Peeping Tom.  His brother would send his man Friday, Julian Starkadder, to bail him out, and he’d never hear the end of it! 

            Looking down, he saw what was provoking the allergy itch―the grey cat rubbed against his leg.  “Bloody feline,” he whispered. 

            Just great!  He was allergic to cats.  Not bad.  He merely needed allergy shots to be around them.  But that was the crux of the problem.

            “Needles,” he breathed out and shuddered in revulsion.

            There was something obscene about sticking pieces of metal into your body, thus he made a point of avoiding shots in any fashion.  The sneeze came, but he was quick enough to pinch his nostrils together, stopping it.  Of course, his head felt like a balloon blowing up.  As he was trying to equalize the pressure, a sharp stab hit his instep.   Glancing down again, he saw the stupid, one-legged seagull was there with the cat. 

            He frowned.  “I thought cats ate birds,” he growled to the seagull.

            The blasted thing looked up at Trev, cocked its head to one side and then the other, as if asking who he was and why was he here?  When no reply came, the evil creature began pecking at his foot again.  Damn beak was sharp and hard, too.  Trev gently shook his foot, trying to scoot the bird-brained bird away, but the cat reared up and rubbed a little higher on his leg.  The resulting sneeze―traveling 165 kilometers per hour―came and there was no holding it back.

            Raven’s head snapped around.  “Hallo?  Is someone there?”

            “Bloody hell,” he muttered under his breath.  He dashed back to the house, nearly tripping as the cat decided this was all a big game and chased around his feet.  “Shoo, you mangy feline.”

            Raven stepped from the barn, putting her hands on her hips.  She looked toward the cottage.  When she heard nothing more she cocked her head toward the road, staring out into the night.  Trev was positive she couldn’t see the black car under the centuries old tree.  Despite it being autumn, oaks wouldn’t lose the leaves until winter so it was still heavy with foliage.

            She finally noticed the bird hopping about.  “What are you up to, Atticus?  I didn’t know birds sneezed.”

            Closing the barn door, she scooped up the seagull, tucked him under one arm, and started back to the house.  Trev faded into the shadows of another oak, hiding behind its thick trunk.  He rotated a quarter turn around the tree’s body, keeping to her blind side.  She passed so close.  If he dared, he could reach out and touch her shoulder.  With the faint wisps of fog swirling close to the ground and the way the shadows caressed her face and body, she appeared exotic, mythical, a bespelling elfin creature, perhaps with powers of the Leanan Sidhe, a fairy lover conjured to drive a man to torment.  Her scent wafted to him―lemon and cinnamon, as if she had been baking earlier.  Not scents he would associate with a woman as being sexy, nothing otherworldly.  Silly, but his mouth watered.

            His hand lifted, and for an instant he craved to reach out and touch her…take her.  He ached to possess her, own her, bring his attraction to this woman down to pure animalistic cravings.  Nothing more.  Then perhaps these jumbled feelings she provoked within him would be banished and he could stop acting like a total idiot.  His hand dropped, allowing her to move on by.

            Raven stopped on the porch and deposited the bird to the wooden floor.  Her hand reached for the knob of the backdoor.  Hesitating, she slowly rotated to look directly at the tall oak where he hid.  Raven stood, her beautiful face softly lit in the pale yellow shadows from the kitchen light.  Perturbed, she stared out into the night watching, waiting, almost as if she knew he was there.  She could sense him.

            Prickles rippled up the back of his neck as he told himself not to get fanciful.  There was no way she could see him behind the tree.  No way she perceived his presence.      

            “Who is there?”  Raven asked of the night.  At length, one shoulder lifted in a shrug and she hurried inside.  The seagull hopped to the door and then pushed through a metal pet entrance built into the frame.

            “’Tis me the Big Bad Wolf,” Trev whispered.  “I hope you’re ready, Red, because I’m coming tomorrow.  Enough of these games of cat and mouse.”  As Raven had stood staring into the darkness, her gentle spirit seemed to reach out to him.  He could almost taste her fragile femininity.  “Bloody tough luck.  You’re about the meet the badest Mershan of them all.  Enjoy your safe, secure world with your menagerie of misfits one more night.  Tomorrow, Red, I’ll huff and puff and blow your house down…”

            Whistling an old tune by Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs, he made his way to the car.  Pulling his keys from his pocket, he glanced back to the house to see the light in Raven’s loft bedroom wink out.  “’You’re everything a Big Bad Wolf could want.’”

                                                                        ***

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A Wolf in Wolf’s Clothing

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Book 4 – To Bell the Vampire

 

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