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So, I had originally intended this next story to be a single, stand alone piece but, as usual, the characters had much more to tell me than I had predicted. I had to fight the urge not to reveal Dark was the Night as yet another full-length novel. As such, this story will be told in multiple installments this month.
Dark was the Night
I can’t believe I’m doing this.
Dry autumn leaves crackled beneath her feet. The wind howled through the trees around her, carrying a chill that nipped at the exposed skin of her cheeks and wrists.
I should turn back.
No sooner had Felicity had the thought than she saw her destination peering out at her through the black night. The skittering sounds of the creatures that rustled in the brush around her feet caused yet another shiver to play its tune down her spine. She took a deep breath, swiping strands of her auburn hair out of her damp lashes, and tugged her blue shawl more closely around her shoulders.
I’ve come this far, haven’t I?
The windows of the tiny cottage looked like the eyes of some giant, lurking beast, glaring out at her from between the trunks of the large oaks that surrounded it. Felicity glared right back. The eyes of the massive creature seemed to brighten, daring her to come nearer. She swallowed past the lump that had risen in her throat and took another step.
Her brown dress snagged on the grasping branch of an elm, and she had to stop to pull it free. In those few crucial seconds, something happened. The lights in the cottage ahead went out with an almost indecipherable pop.
The very air around Felicity seemed to come alive as darkness descended on her like a pack of hungry wolves. The night wavered, the blackness settled and became complete. Felicity could feel her heart pounding in her chest. She could hear the blood rushing in her ears. Her hair fell around her shoulders and tumbled into her eyes once more. She shoved it away again irritably, her eyes straining to make out anything in the pressing blackness. The night thrived with silence. It was this, above all else, that made her breath hitch in her chest with terror.
“You shouldn’t have come here, my dear.”
The voice spoke so close to the back of her neck that she felt it dampen the small hairs there in passing. Felicity repressed a shriek as a lamp flared a few feet away from her.
The person holding the lamp came as something of a surprise. Not crotchety, not ugly and old with warts and a bulbous nose. Not an anciently terrifying woman with a chant and a broad stick. No. Not a woman at all.
He was very handsome. His white blonde hair fell into his eyes with a lazy indifference that made it clear he had not a care for what he looked like. His jaw was strong and there was something wolfish in the grin he was bestowing on her. His eyes were a piercing shade of icy blue. Handsome had not been the right word. He was beautiful. In a haunting way that made chills break out over Felicity’s pale skin. In the way a horrible accident is drawing, she desperately wanted to stop looking at him but she couldn’t tear her eyes away. His evil grin widened.
“Are you lost?” His beautiful lips said the words, but his sharp blue eyes told her he knew the truth.
Felicity straightened up from the bent position where she had still been trying to untangle her skirt. “I’m not lost,” she said, trying to inject a note of confidence into her trembling voice. “I wish to speak with the woman who lives over the way.” Felicity nodded her head to the place where the grotesque eyes of the cottage beast had paralyzed her only a few moments ago. His smile widened further still. He looked like a cobra, capricious and cruel, with no hint of humanity in his steady gaze.
“There is not a woman over the way,” he whispered.
Felicity sighed. She still could not look away from him. They were the only two living beings in a sea of night. The moon, the stars… they all seemed to have dimmed. There was nothing but her and this handsome, evil creature in front of her.
His light blue gaze flickered over her body and he licked his lips hungrily. Felicity felt chills erupt wherever his eyes touched, he seemed to look through her.
“Then I am lost,” she said, ignoring the pressing danger of her situation. “I am looking for the one who can bewitch enemies and help crops grow. The one who made Bishop Dreyers fall in love with Emily Peebles.”
He chuckled, and Felicity knew he laughed at her, not her words.
“What?” she asked irritably, tugging on her trapped skirt again without taking her eyes from his.
He said nothing, but approached her slowly, holding his lantern aloft. After a moment’s cursory examination, he bent down and freed her from the elm’s clutches. The branch seemed to shrink back, as though it had been reprimanded. Felicity stared at him as he rose, and his proximity brought an unwelcome blush into her cheeks.
“Which is it?” he asked unblinkingly.
“Which is what?” snapped Felicity growing frustrated with the way he ruffled her generally stoic personality.
“Do you desire to bewitch an enemy? To make your family’s crops flourish? Or do you desire love?” He said this last word in such a scathing tone that Felicity could not help but be insulted.
“What I do not desire,” she said, swirling her skirts and finally severing her gaze from his fine form, “is to be made a game of. I will see my way to my destination, sir. There is no need for you to accompany me with your light.” She turned away from him, but the insolent man caught hold of her elbow.
“If you leave now, you will never receive the thing you seek.”
Felicity jerked her elbow from his grasp, “how dare you presume—”
“It is love then,” the beautiful man said with an exasperated sigh, and he shook his glorious blonde head. “It is always love with the young ones.”
“Forgive me, sir,” she spat, “But you do not appear to be the expert on the subject with which I wish to speak.”
His dazzling smile was back, it made him look quite demented. “But I am he,” he said, his words slithering out of his mouth like the forked tongue of a serpent. “I can give you what you desire.”
Felicity narrowed her eyes at him. Was he playing her for a fool?
He said nothing, but that horrible, manic grin stayed in place.
“Emily said I was to look for a witch,” she said, shock flitting into her mind. “You are certainly not a witch.”
“Wizard would be the more preferable term,” he said idly, examining his fingernails. “Witch always sounds decidedly feminine, and as you can see,” he glanced down at his handsome frame, “I am decidedly not feminine.”
He had a point there. Felicity let her eyes do a bit of their own exploring and she found her interest piqued, despite herself.
“Although, I would prefer to be addressed by my name,” he said. He stooped to pick up his lamp and offered her his arm. Felicity hesitated before placing her gloved fingers on his forearm.
“Which is what?” she asked as he guided her through the trees to the small cottage over the way.
“My mother named me Damien,” he said and he glanced down at her with another terribly beautiful smile. “It has been a long while since I heard my name on another’s tongue.”
“Damien,” repeated Felicity, and she watched him close his eyes briefly, like a lion in a ray of sunlight.
“Yes,” he said, and his lilting voice was a purr. There was something predatory in the look he cast her as he pulled her to a halt in front of the cottage door. Felicity hadn’t even noticed them approach it. She glanced at the unlit windows on either side of the threshold as he pulled out a set of keys and shouldered the heavy wooden door open. The hinges screeched wretchedly and even Damien winced.
“I meant to oil them weeks ago,” he said suddenly looking much more human-like indeed as he rubbed the back of his neck in an abashed sort of way.
Felicity smirked at him as he held the door open for her, she hesitated once more before moving into the darkness within. Damien shut the door with a snap behind her, and he stepped forward, bumping into Felicity.
“My apologies,” he said and his breath in her ear sent another dancing shiver over her body, as though she was enjoying some sort of illicit thrill from his closeness. She felt him move away from her and a moment later, her eyes adjusted as the lantern in Damien’s hand swung into view, illuminating the modest surroundings.
The cottage was made up of a single room. There was a small bed in the corner next to the fireplace with a set of bookshelves surrounding the entire length of the headboard and the wall beside it. A single rocking chair sat opposite the bed on the other side of the room and two more bookcases lined the walls next to that. Felicity felt her eyes go wide as Damien made his way across the room and bent to start the fire. She watched him with feminine appreciation for some time before realizing what she was doing and hastily turning her gaze to the rest of the room.
She stood in the middle of what appeared to be a tiny kitchen. She smiled as she noted the tidiness of the place. Even here there were books. Neatly lining the sill of a third window that sat above a sunken basin in the countertop. Felicity approached it interestedly and saw a pump sticking out of the top of the basin, much like the one her family had outside their home next to the garden. She was always having to cart loads of dishes and laundry back and forth from it to get water. How nice it would be to have it directly in one’s home. There was a small, brown, wooden table in the corner, a single chair sat next to this. It looked as though it had been pushed back in a great hurry. Scroll upon scroll of parchment littered this table and a small candle, nearly burned down to the stub sat perched upon it. In fact, given his obvious proclivities for the paranormal, she was shocked by how normal everything in his house seemed.
Damien cleared his throat and Felicity spun back to him. His white-blonde hair looked gold in the firelight.
“Shall we get started then?” he said, rubbing his hands together. His blue eyes gleamed excitedly. Felicity caught sight of herself in a mirror across the room. She looked haughty and pale, although her cheeks were flushed and her chestnut locks were rather tousled from her journey through the woods in the dark.
She held up her hands, palms out.
“I would like to discuss methods of payment before we begin,” she said, crossing her arms in front of her, and lifting her chin obstinately.
“I require a kiss,” said Damien. His evil grin was back. He looked more likely to devour her whole rather than kiss her, and Felicity felt her resolution waver once more.
“A kiss?” she asked doubtfully, turning on the spot to keep him in view as he prowled around her in a hungry circle.
What was she doing? I am alone in a cottage with a strange man that I met in the woods. Not a soul knows where I am.
“A kiss,” Damien repeated, coming to a stop in front of her and blocking the path to the door, still grinning as if he knew exactly what she was thinking, and was highly amused by it. Felicity swallowed, lifted her muddy skirts, and made to stride around him.
“I will not bend to such an impertinent request. I am not a strumpet. I am a well-bred lady, and your outrageous suggestion has now brought me to my senses. I will bid you a good evening, sir, and return from whence I came.”
He stopped her once more by taking hold of her elbow. At the same moment, he fished something out of his jacket pocket.
“All you require,” he said, a hint of coercion wheedling its way into his deep, throaty voice, “is in this bottle.”
It was a tiny little thing, no larger than her thumb, wider at the base and slimmer at the top with a small wax seal holding the cork in place. It was full of a light green liquid and seemed to sparkle in the dancing flames of the cracking fire. Felicity halted as the firelight glanced off the bottle in his hand and made Damien’s eyes glimmer too. Sparks erupted from the place where he still held her forearm.
She eyed the tiny bottle with the air of a practiced salesman. “In that bottle?” she almost scoffed, taking hold of his fingers and forcibly removing them from her arm. “I doubt that the contents of that bottle would cause any significant change in my circumstances.”
Damien’s grin did not falter, but he looked suddenly forbidding in the shadowed light. “You think I would cheat you?”
“I think you are not so much a witch, as a swindler, trying to lure young women into your trap.”
He looked annoyed at her blatant disregard for his opinion of the word witch. Then his wolfish smile returned. “You think I wish to entrap you, my dear?”
Felicity nodded decisively. “I think that is precisely what you are doing. For surely a kiss from my very own lips is worth far more than the contents of that bottle.” She lifted her skirts once more, and this time, she stepped out of his reach as she made her way to the door. “I will take my leave of you, sir.”
She reached the door and managed to slip the catch, but as it crept open, shrieking in protest, Damien’s hand came down on the back of it, and the door slammed closed once more.
She could feel his hot breath as he all but buried his unshaven jaw in her long auburn hair. It sent chills up the back of her neck and caused the muscles of her stomach to tighten in protest. He pressed his body uncomfortably close to her and Felicity registered the intense heat that emanated from him. He didn’t touch her, but he leaned so close that she could feel that heat against every inch of her body, then whispered in her ear:
“I could entrap you easily, pretty. There are miles of woods between us and the village. Who would hear you scream?” He backed away so suddenly that Felicity almost collapsed with relief and strangely, with disappointment. She watched him as he strolled casually over to the table and pulled out a new sheet of parchment. Without looking at her, he unscrewed the cap on an old ink pot, dipped a quill into it and began to write.
When Damien next looked up at her, he gestured her over to see what he had written. Felicity frowned at him and approached warily, lest he seek to grab hold of her once more. He did not move, but extended his arm and blew on the parchment, waiting for the ink to dry.
“There it is. Binding. A sales agreement. A single kiss for one love potion. All you have to do is sign.” He tapped the end of his quill next to the place where he had signed his own name. Damien L. Sharman.
“Sharman?” she asked disbelievingly.
Damien gave a shrug. “Everyone has to have a name, Felicity.”
“How do you know my-” he gave her another wicked grin and added a roguish wink. “I’ve no doubt you would be very surprised to know the things I know, my dear.” Felicity glowered at him and Damien chuckled.
“Do we have a deal then?”
Felicity dithered on the spot. This was what she had come here for. Although, she had expected to make a deal with the Woodland Witch, what she had not expected was that the Woodland Witch would be a devastatingly attractive and evilly charming young man. She bit her lip as she stared down at the contract in his hand.
“Can I not tempt you with the gold in my pocket?” she said half-heartedly.
He glared at her.
“We are not haggling, miss. A kiss is the price. Love for love. It is an even exchange.” He suddenly sounded business-like, and Felicity had the impression he had struck deals like this before. The thought did not soothe her consciousness, but the little green bottle glittered on the table before them, and she thought of Laurent. Of his dark, wavy curls and the way he smiled at her as they passed in the street. She wanted him more than she had ever wanted anything in her life, and Felicity Devonshire was used to getting what she wanted.
Without giving herself another moment to change her mind, she swiftly grabbed the quill from Damien’s hand and signed her name just below his.
“Very good,” he said. He blew on the parchment, and Felicity’s eyes found his lips. They were full and inviting; they looked warm. Her mind wandered. What would they feel like against her own?
Damien was speaking again, and her eyes snapped guiltily away from his mouth.
“When you have given him the potion, you must wait five minutes and then invite him to take a stroll with you. He will accept. And if he does not, you may return here for a full refund.” His eyes glinted mischievously, and Felicity felt a blush creep into her cheeks once more.
“You may rest assured that I will not be returning, sir, no matter the outcome.”
“We’ll see,” he held out the bottle to her. Felicity reached out a hand to take it, but he snatched it back out of her reach. “Ahh, I believe it is time for payment, my dear.”
“Oh, very well,” said Felicity and before he had a moment to prepare himself, she took hold of his face and planted a firm, unyielding kiss on his hot lips. He tasted of musk and cinnamon. She could feel him fighting to take control of the situation, but before he could pull her any closer, she had backed away, now holding out a long-fingered hand for the tiny bottle.
He frowned at her, the corner of his mouth wrinkled in discontent. “I’m sure I could have got just as much enjoyment from kissing a block of ice.”
“You did not specify what kind of kiss was to be had, only that one must take place. In fact, I rightly could have made you kiss the backside of a horse rather than my own lips.” She pointed at the contract. “One kiss, you wrote. Your payment has been made in full. Hand over the bottle.” She cricked her fingers at him when he was slow to obey.
With an irritable growl, Damien removed the tiny bottle from the table and slapped it into Felicity’s hand. “Thank you, sir. It was a pleasure doing business with you.” With that, she tucked the bottle into her blouse, turned on her heel and stomped out the front door, leaving the infamous Woodland Wizard standing stupefied in his neat and orderly kitchen.
Felicity couldn’t believe what she’d just done. Feeling slightly triumphant, she exited the cottage and raced for the patch of lights she could see in the distance. Home was that way, and so was Laurent.
Rain began to fall an hour later as she drew closer to her family’s estate on the outskirts of Hannigan. It was still very dark, and though she’d finally found the road again, she had no idea how she was going to explain the damage she had done to her dress. The hem was coated with mud and grime, and she was still pulling the odd twig or leaf out of her tangled hair. Why did it have to rain now, why?
By the time she reached the backyard gate, the morning sun was creeping over the nearby hills and she was greeted by the crowing of the rooster in the hen house. Shaking her head, she removed her shoes, crept silently through the back door and down the hallway to her bedroom, very conscious of every creaking floorboard she met on her way.
It was with a sigh of relief that she slid her bedroom door softly closed and turned to face the empty room. She caught sight of herself in her dressing table mirror and gasped. She was quite the sight. She’d managed to smear mud over her right cheek and her dress would need darning in several places. Her hair was lank and damp, and she caught sight of a few spare twigs she had not yet managed to extricate.
With a groan, she moved across the room to her bed and lifted the dust ruffle. Placing her filthy boots beneath the mattress, she reached for the buttons of her dress and began to strip off.
By the time she was finished cleaning herself up, the water in her wash basin was a murky brown, and clumps of dirt littered the floor around her feet. Grumbling to herself, she dressed in a fresh outfit, tossed the water out the window, and went in search of a broom.
Greeting Laurent at the mercantile with deep-set rings around her eyes and a countenance so pale she was nearly insubstantial had not been her initial plan. However, as nothing else had gone to plan as of late, she couldn’t really begrudge fate the little extra jab in the ribs.
Mother had sent her to market first thing after breakfast, and though she’d pleaded a headache, her pleas had fallen on deaf ears. So it was that Felicity was to be found a few hours later strolling through the aisles with bleary eyes and a basketful of fruit.
Due to her exhaustion perhaps, she did not immediately recognize her beloved when he smiled at her as they passed.
“Laurent,” she shrieked, nearly dropping her basket. Heads turned in their direction and Felicity had to force herself to remain calm. He approached her, looking concerned.
“Are you feeling well, Miss Devonshire?” he asked, fixing her with his heavy-lidded eyes.
“Very well, indeed Mr. Lakewood,” she said, choosing not to draw more attention to her outburst than was necessary. “And how is your mother?”
Laurent frowned, but tactfully let the subject drop. “She is finally gaining on her illness,” he said, inclining his head. “I thank you for your concern. Is your family well?”
“Quite well, yes, thank you, and yourself?”
“Very well, indeed. Might I ask why-”
“Oh, Dottie!” exclaimed Felicity, purposefully cutting Laurent off in mid-sentence, “What is it you have there?”
“`Tis not so exciting, Miss,” responded the woman behind the fruit stand, “`Tis only the cider from Mr.MacDarren’s apple orchard.”
“Might we try some, please?”
Dottie looked surprised. “Well, of course, Miss,” she said with a smile, and she poured two glasses, one for Laurent and one for Felicity.
“I’ll get us some sugar, shall I?” said Felicity, and she whipped away so fast that Laurent barely had time to mutter:
“I don’t much care for sug-”
In a flash she was back again, stowing the empty little bottle in her basket and handing Laurent the cup. As he took a sip, victory reared to life in her chest. Aha, she thought, it is done.
And done it was. Laurent smacked his lips appreciatively as he handed Dottie back her glass. “That was scrumptious,” he said, delightedly. “I do believe I will take some home to Mother.”
Felicity watched, anxiously counting the minutes, as Laurent paid for his cider and gave both Dottie and herself deep bows.
“Ladies, I thank you,” he said and he prepared to take his leave. It was now or never. Felicity spoke to the back of his frock coat.
“Oh, Mister Lakewood, won’t you care to accompany me on a morning stroll?”
Laurent Lakewood stopped in his tracks and turned to stare at Felicity with such intensity that for a moment, she feared Damien’s drink had driven him mad. Then his face split into a wide grin.
“Well, of course, Miss Devonshire. I could use a brisk morning jaunt.”
He spun round, offered her his arm, and guided her away from the mercantile and into the nearby street.
That was the beginning of the most scandalous courtship the small town of Hannigan had ever known. In no time at all the entire town was talking about how Laurent Lakewood was courting Miss Felicity Devonshire, a young woman far below his station. Felicity’s parents could not have been more thrilled, and unfortunately, Laurent’s parents could not seem to talk sense into him. There were rumors that an engagement would soon be at hand.
“Mother was telling me just the other day,” those eight words. If Felicity never had to hear those same eight words again as long as she lived, she might die happy. Annoyed, but happy.
Laurent was lounging on the settee in his parents richly furnished parlor room, sucking on the straw that was sticking out of a glass of apple cider.
Felicity was watching him with a disgusted look on her face. His tongue snaked out of his chapped lips and wound its way around the straw, pulling it into his mouth. How had she ever thought him attractive?
“Laurent?” he scowled at her as she interrupted his monologue, but then brightened. She had been perusing his father’s library, which was perhaps, more limited than the selection she had seen in Damien’s cottage but impressive none the less.
“I would like to call a halt to the proceedings. I am no longer interested in being courted by you.” She did not look at him while she spoke. She was accustomed to letting his words wash over her,mand doubted he had even heard her interruption. He had.
“What do you mean, darling?” he said idly, sticking out his tongue again to search for his wandering straw.
“I mean what I said,” Felicity spun to face him, her hands on her hips. “I’ve had enough of you and your nonsense.” She gestured to the way he lay sprawled across the settee. Laurent sat up suddenly, his boots scraping across the mahogany table in front of him.
“You can’t end our courtship,” squawked Laurent, aghast, “I will not allow it!”
“You will allow it. I refuse to be involved any further with you. Your attentions are no longer welcome. I will not marry you.”
With that, Felicity left the wealthiest household in all of Hannigan, her dreams of love and wealth irritatingly shattered.
It was not as easy as that, though. Laurent Lockwood was not used to being told no, and he begged and pleaded for her to return to him in the most annoying fashion until Felicity was quite sick of it.
“That is enough,” she said to herself, looking at how her room sparkled with gifts and tokens from him. “I’ve never met a man who was so incurably selfish, even while in love.”
Felicity sighed. Unfortunately, she knew what she would have to do to rid herself of the pestilence that was her former beau. She was going to have to shelve her pride and visit Damien once more.
Click HERE to read Chapter Two of Dark was the Night
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