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Twilight Phantasies

Chapter 1


a beautiful vampire woman in front of a full moon with the cover of the novel and a quote by Christine Feehan saying "My inspiration has always been Maggie Shayne!"

Dear readers,

I thought it was high time I put a lengthy excerpt from Twilight Phantasies here. It was my first publishable novel, though it was the second one release by just four weeks. That had more to do with scheduling than anything meaningful. I was my fifth novel overall, but the first few were what we in the biz used to call "practice books." The ones writers cut their teeth on, as they're learning the craft. These practice books are never meant to be seen by readers. Today, though, writers are skipping this step, becasue they can hit "publish" all by themselves. It's a huge mistake to publish too soon, or without a professional editor.


I have written more than 100 stories since this once. As I read it today I find it quite overwritten, with a lot of purple prose. Purple is my favorite color. (Or maybe red.) If read aloud, the emotion would be the absolute height of angst in every line. My description of this book's mood is Uhhhhn sound you make with fists clasped and teeth bared when your feelings are too much for mere words to convey. Yeah. It's dialed up to a ten pretty much the whole time.


And I love it. I'm a better writer now. But this one is my precious.


You can read the whole thing free in KU or for a few bucks in eBook at Amazon. Paperbacks are available at Amazon, too.


I hope the excerpt will convince you that resistance is futile.


TWILIGHT PHANTASIES

by Maggie Shayne

COPYRIGHT 1992-2024 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. DO NOT COPY

Chapter One

In the dream she was running. From something, toward something. Someone. She plunged through dense forest woven with vines and brambles that clawed at her legs, snared her, pulled her back. Swirls of smoky mist writhed, serpentlike, around her calves. She couldn’t even see where her feet touched the ground. All the while she kept calling for him, but, as always, when she woke she couldn’t remember his name.


Jet hair stuck to her face, glued there by tears and perspiration. Her lungs swelled like those of a marathon runner after a race. She dragged in breath after ragged breath. Her heart felt ready to explode. Her head spun in ever-tightening circles and she had to close her eyes tightly against the horrible dizziness. She sat up quickly, pushing the damp hair from her forehead, and glanced at the clock beside the bed and then at the fading light beyond the window.


She needn’t have done so. The dream assaulted her at the same time each day, just one part of her increasingly irregular sleep patterns. Nighttime insomnia, daytime lethargy and vivid nightmares that were always the same had become a predictable part of her existence. She’d made a habit of rushing to her room for a nap the second she got home from work, knowing it would be the only sleep she was likely to get. She’d sleep like the dead until just before dusk, only to be wakened by that frightening, lingering dream.


The effects slowly faded, and Tamara got to her feet, pulled on her satin robe and padded to the adjoining bathroom, leaving tracks in the deep, silvery pile of the carpet. She twisted the knob on the oversize tub and sprinkled a handful of bath oil beads into the rising water. As the stream of water bubbled and spurted she heard an urgent knock, and she went to the door.


Daniel’s silver brows bunched together over pale blue, concern-filled eyes. “Tam? Are you all right?”


She closed her eyes slowly and sighed. She must have cried out again. It was bad enough to be certain her own sanity was slipping steadily out of her grasp, but to worry the man who’d been like a father to her for the past twenty years was too much. “Of course, I’m fine. Why?”


“I...thought I heard you call.” His eyes narrowed to study her face. She hoped the circles beneath her eyes didn’t show. “Are you sure you’re—”


“Fine. I’m fine. I stubbed my toe on the bedpost, that’s all.”


Still he looked doubtful. “You look tired.”


“I was about to take a nice hot bath and then I’m down for the night.” She smiled to ease his worry, but it turned to a frown when she noted the coat over his arm. “You’re going out? Daniel, it’s been snowing all day. The roads—”


“I’m not driving, Tam. Curtis is coming to pick me up.”


She felt her spine stiffen. Her breath escaped her in a rush. “You’re going to spy on that man again, aren’t you? Honestly, Daniel, this obsession you have—”


“Spying! It’s surveillance. And don’t call it obsession, Tamara. It’s pure scientific study. You should understand that.”


Her brows rose. “It’s folklore, that’s what it is. And if you keep dogging the poor man’s every step he’s going to end up dragging you into court. Daniel, you’ve followed him for months. You have yet to come up with a shred of evidence that he’s—”


“Daniel.” Curt’s voice cut her off, and in a moment he’d hurried up the stairs to join Daniel outside her bedroom door. “Are you ready?”


“And you!” Tamara rushed on as if he’d been privy to the entire conversation. “I can’t believe you’re encouraging this witch-hunt. For God’s sake, the three of us spend every day in a high-tech, brass-and-glass-filled office building in White Plains. We’re living in the nineties, guys. Byram, Connecticut, not fifteenth-century Transylvania!”


Curt stared at her for a moment. Then he tilted his head to one side and opened his arms. She sighed and allowed his embrace. “Still not sleeping nights?” His voice came smoothly, softly.


She shook her head against the damp fabric of his coat.


“I’m worried about leaving her alone,” Daniel said, as if she were not there.


“I have experiments to finish in the basement lab,” Curt offered. “I could hang around here, if you want to do the surveillance alone.”


“I don’t need a babysitter,” she snapped.


Daniel ignored her. “I think that’s a good idea,” he said. He leaned over to plant a dry peck on her cheek. “I’ll be back around dawn.”


She pulled from Curt’s arms and shook her head in frustration.


“Daniel and I know what we’re doing, Tam,” Curt told her, his tone placating. “We’ve been in this business a lot longer than you have. DPI has reams on Marquand. It’s not legend.”


“I want to see the files.” She sniffed and met his gaze.


His lips tightened at the corners. “Your security clearance isn’t high enough.”


It was the answer she’d expected, the same one she got every time she asked to see the data that the Division of Paranormal Investigations had on the alleged vampire, Marquand. She lowered her head and turned from him.


His hand on her shoulder stopped her. “Tamara, don’t be angry. It’s for your own—’’


“I know. For my own good. My tub is going to run over.’’ She stepped away from him and closed the door.


Curtis would sequester himself in the basement lab and not give her a second thought, she was sure of it. He didn’t worry about her the way Daniel did. He did seem to feel he had the right to boss her around more than usual lately.


She shrugged, vowing not to worry anymore about Curt’s proprietary attitude toward her. She stopped the water in the bathtub and stared down into it for long moments. No hot bath was going to help her sleep. She’d tried everything from warm milk to double doses of a prescription sleep aid she’d pressured her doctor into giving her. Nothing worked. Why go through the motions?


With a frustrated sigh she padded to the French doors. On a whim, she flung them open and stepped out onto the balcony. A purple-black sky, lightening to silvery blue in the west, dropped snowflakes in chaotic choreography. The sun had set fully while she’d been arguing with her insane guardian and his stubborn cohort. She stared, entranced by the simple grace of the dancing snow. All at once she felt she had to be a part of it. Why waste all this nervous energy lying in bed, staring up at the underside of the white canopy?


Especially when she knew sleep wouldn’t come for hours. Maybe she could exhaust herself into oblivion. How long had it been since she’d been able to put aside her gnawing worry and enjoy some simple pleasure?


She hurried back inside, eager now that the decision was made. She yanked on tight black leggings and a bulky knit sweater, two pairs of socks and furry pink earmuffs. She grabbed her coat and her skates from the closet, dropped them into her duffel bag, shoved her purse in beside them and opened her bedroom door.


For a moment she just listened. The hollow dinosaur of a house was silent. She tiptoed through the hall and down the stairs. She paused at the front door just long enough to stuff her feet into her boots, and then she slipped silently through it.


Crisp air stung her cheeks and her breath made little steam clouds in the falling snow. Twenty minutes of walking and snow-dance watching brought her to the outskirts of Byram. Childish delight warmed her when her destination came into view.


The rink sparkled from its nest amid the town park’s shrubbery and carefully pruned elms. Meandering, snow-dusted sidewalks, wrought-iron benches with redwood slatted seats, and trash cans painted a festive green made a wreath around the ice. Tamara hastened to the nearest bench to change into her skates.

 

When he woke, Eric felt as if his head were stuffed with wet cotton. He’d swung his legs to the floor, landing with unusual clumsiness. He hadn’t needed a window to sense the pale blush that still hung in the western sky. It hadn’t been the coming of night that had awakened him. Hadn’t been that for weeks. Always, her cries echoed in his head until he could no longer rest. Fear and confusion were palpable in her wrenching pleas. He felt her need like a barbed hook, snagged through his heart and pulling him.


Yet he hesitated. Some preternatural instinct warned him not to act hastily. No sense of imminent danger laced her nightly summons. No physical weakness or life-threatening accident seemed to be the cause. What, then?


That she was able to summon him at all was incredible. No human could summon a vampire. That anything other than mortal danger could rouse him from his deathlike slumber astounded him. He longed to go to her, to ask the questions that burned in his mind. Yet he hesitated.


Long ago he’d left this place, vowing to stay clear of the girl for her own sake. He’d hoped the incredible psychic link between them would fade with time and distance. Apparently, it had not.


He relaxed for an hour in the comfort of his lair. With the final setting of the sun came the familiar rush of energy. His senses sharpened to the deadly keenness of a freshly whetted blade. His body tingled with a million needles of sensation.


He dressed, then released the multitude of locks on the heavy door. He moved in silence through the pitch-black hall and pushed against a heavy slab of stone at the end. It swung inward easily, without a creak of protest, and he stepped through the opening into what appeared to be an ordinary basement. The door, from this side, looked like a well-stocked wine rack. He pushed it gently closed again and mounted the stairway that led to the main house.


He had to see her. He’d known it for some time, and avoided the knowledge. Her pull was too strong to resist. When her sweet, tormented voice came to him in the velvet folds of his rest, he felt her anguish. He had to know what troubled her so. He moved into the parlor, to the tall window, and parted the drape.


The DPI van sat across from the front gate, as it had every night for two months now. Another reason he needed to exercise caution. The division had begun with a group of pious imbeciles, intent on the destruction of any and everything they did not understand, over a century ago. Rumor had it they were now under the auspices of the CIA, making them a threat not to be taken lightly. They occupied an entire office building in White Plains, according to Eric’s information. It was said they had operatives in place all over the United States, and even in Europe. The one outside seemed to have made Eric his personal obsession. As if the front gate were the only way out, he parked there at dark every night and remained until dawn. He was as bothersome to Eric as a noisy fly.


He shrugged into a dark-colored overcoat and left through the French doors off the living room, facing opposite the front gate. He crossed the back lawn, stretching from the

house to the sheer, rocky cliff above Long Island Sound. He went to the tall iron fence that completely surrounded his property, and vaulted it without much effort. He moved through the trees, gaining the road several yards behind the intense man who thought he was watching so well.


He walked only a short distance before he stopped, cleared his mind, closed his eyes, and opened himself to the cacophony of sensations that were usually denied access. He winced inwardly at the bombardment. Voices of every tone, inflection and decibel level echoed in his mind. Emotions from terrible fear to delirious joy swept through him. Physical sensations, both pleasure and pain, twisted within him, and he braced himself against the mental assault. He couldn’t target an individual’s mind any other way, unless that person was deliberately sending him a message—the way she’d been doing.


Gradually he gained mastery over the barrage. He sifted it, searching for her voice, her thoughts. In moments he felt her, and he turned in the direction he knew her to be.


He nearly choked when he drew near the ice rink and caught sight of her. She twirled in the center of the rink, bathed in moonglow, her face turned up as if in supplication—as if she were in love with the night. She stopped, extended her arms with the grace of a ballerina and skated slowly, then faster, carving a figure eight into the ice. She turned then, glided backward over the ice, then turned again, crossing skate over skate, slowing her pace gradually.


Eric felt an odd burning in his throat as he watched her. It had been twenty years since he’d left the innocent, raven-haired child’s hospital bed after saving her life. How vividly he recalled that night—the way she’d opened her eyes and clutched his hand. She’d called him by name, and asked him not to go. Called him by name, even though she’d never seen him before that night! It was then he’d realized the strength of the bond between them, and made the decision to leave.


Did she remember? Would she recognize him, if she saw him again? Of course, he had no intention of allowing that.


He only wanted to look at her, to scan her mind and learn what caused her nightly anguish.


She skated to a bench near the edge of the ice, pulled off the earmuffs she wore and tossed them down. She shook her head and her hair flew wildly, like a black satin cloak of curls. She shrugged off the jacket and dropped it on the bench. She seemed unconcerned that it slid over the side to land in the snow. She drew a breath, turned and skated off.


Eric opened his mind and locked in on hers, honed his every sense to her. It took only seconds, and once again he marveled at the strength of the mental link between them. He heard her thoughts as clearly as she did.


What he heard was music—the music she imagined as she swooped and swirled around the ice. It faded slightly, and she spoke inwardly to herself. Axel, Tam, old girl A little more speed...now!


He caught his breath when she leapt from the ice to spin one and a half times. She landed almost perfectly, with one leg extended behind her, then wobbled and went down hard.


Eric almost rushed out to her. Some nearly unheard instinct whispered a warning and he stopped himself. Slowly he realized she was laughing, and the sound was like crystal water bubbling over stones.


She stood, rubbed her backside and skated away as his gaze followed her. She looped around the far end of the rink. That’s when Eric spotted the van, parked in the darkness just across the street.


Daniel St. Claire!


He quickly corrected himself. It couldn’t be St. Claire. He’d have heard the man’s arrival. He would have had to arrive after Eric himself. He looked more closely at the white van, noticing minute differences—that scratch along the side, the tires. It wasn’t St. Claire’s vehicle, but it was DPI. Someone was watching—not him, but Tamara.


He would have moved nearer, pierced the dark interior with his eyes and identified the watcher, but his foot caught on something and he glanced down. A bag. Her bag.


He looked toward Tamara again. She was completely engrossed in her skating. Apparently the one watching her was, as well. Eric bent, snatched up the bag and melted into the shadows. Besides her boots the only thing inside was a small handbag. Supple kid leather beneath his fingers. He took it out.


An invasion of her privacy, yes. He knew it. If the same people were watching her as were watching him, though, he had to know why. If St. Claire had somehow learned of his connection to the girl, this could be some elaborate trap. He removed each item from the bag, methodically examining each one before replacing it. Inside the small billfold he found a plastic DPI keycard with Tamara’s name emblazoned so boldly across the front that it hurt his eyes.


“No,” he whispered. His gaze moved back to her as he mindlessly dropped the card into the bag, the bag into the duffel, and tossed the lot back toward the place where he’d found it. His heart convulsed as he watched her. So beautiful, so delicate, with diamond-like droplets glistening as if they’d been magically woven into that mane of hair while she twirled beneath the full moon.


Could she be his Judas? A betrayer in the guise of an angel?


He attuned his mind to hers with every ounce of power he possessed, but the only sensations he found there were joy and exuberance. All he heard was the music, playing ever more loudly in her mind. Overture to The Impresario. She skated in perfect rhythm with the urgent piece, until the music stopped all at once.


She skidded to a halt and stood poised on the ice, her head cocked slightly, as if she’d heard a sound she couldn’t identify. She turned very slowly, making a full circle as her gaze swept the rink. She stopped moving when she faced him, though he knew she couldn’t possibly see him there, dressed in black, swathed in shadow. Still, she frowned and skated toward him.


My God, could the connection between them be so strong that she actually sensed his presence? Had she felt him probing her mind?


He turned and would have left but for the quickened strokes of her blades over the ice, and the scrape as she skidded to a stop so close to him he felt the spray of ice fragments her skates threw at his legs. He felt the heat emanating from her exertion-warmed body.


She’d seen him now. Her gaze burned a path over his back and for the life of him he couldn’t walk away from her. Foolish it might have been, but Eric turned and faced her.


She stared for a long moment, her expression puzzled. Her cheeks glowed with warmth and life. The tip of her nose was red. Small white puffs escaped her parted lips and lower, a pulse throbbed at her throat. Even when he forced his gaze away from the tiny beat, he felt it pound through him the way Beethoven must have felt the physical impact of his music. He found himself unable to look away from her eyes. They held his captive, as if she possessed the same power of command he did. He felt lost in huge, bottomless orbs, so black they appeared to have no pupils.


My God, he thought. She already looks like one of us.


She frowned, and shook her head as if trying to shake the snowflakes from her hair. “I’m sorry. I thought you were...’’


The explanation died on her lips, but Eric knew. She thought he was someone she knew, someone she was close to. He was.


“Someone else,” he finished for her. “Happens all the time. I have one of those faces.” He scanned her mind, seeking signs of recognition on her part. There was no memory there, only a powerful longing—a craving she hadn’t yet identified. “Good Night.” He nodded once and forced himself to turn from her.


Even as he took the first step he heard her unspoken plea as if she’d shouted it. Please, don't go!


He faced her again, unable to do otherwise. His practical mind kept reminding him of the DPI card in her bag. His heart wanted her cradled in his arms. She’d truly grown into a beauty. A glimpse of her would be enough to take away the breath of any man. The glint of unshed tears in her eyes shocked him.


“I’m sure I know you,” she said. Her voice trembled when she spoke. “Tell me who you are.”


Her need tore at him, and he sensed no lie or evil intent. Yet if she worked for DPI she could only mean him harm. He sensed the attention of the man in the van. He must wonder why she lingered here.


“You must be mistaken.” It tore at his soul to utter the lie. “I’m certain we’ve never met.”


Again he turned, but this time she came toward him, one hand reaching out to him. She stumbled, and only Eric’s preternatural speed enabled him to whirl in time. He caught her as she plunged forward. His arms encircled her slender frame and he pulled her to his chest.

He couldn’t make himself let go. He held her to him and she didn’t resist. Her face lay upon his chest, above his silent heart. Her scent enslaved him. When her arms came to his shoulders, as if to steady herself, only to slide around his neck, he felt he’d die a thousand deaths before he’d let her go.


She lifted her head, tipped it back and gazed into his eyes. “I do know you, don’t I?”


 


Vampire woman, moon background, cover of twilight phantasies, endorsement by Christine Feehan

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