Julian Kane is back in town.
Once, as a girl of seventeen, beautiful, headstrong Portia Cabot saved the cursed life of the dashing vampire Julian Kaneâwho marked her forever, then left to go in search of his soul. He returns five years later to find the enchanting young girl he left behind grown into a bewitching woman with a woman's heart . . . and a woman's desires.
Portia quickly discovers that Julian's seductive and forbidden kiss can still make her crave the night . . . and his touch. But the Julian who has returned to London is not the vampire she remembers. His fruitless pursuit of his stolen mortality has reduced him to drunken debauchery. And a recent spate of murders makes Portia fear that the man she has always adored may truly be a monster.
Julian knows he must drive Portia awayâbut his passion and hunger for her grow more irresistible every time they touch. For years he has fought the temptation to embrace his dark gifts, never realizing that Portia's love may give him the most dangerous gift of all . . . a reason to live.
It was a lovely day to die.
Feathers of snow drifted out of the dawn sky, blanketing the park meadow in white. It wasn't difficult for Julian Kane to imagine how that pristine counterpane would look spattered with his blood.
His shout of laughter profaned the hush of the falling flakes. "What say you, Cubby, my man? Shall we sing a few rousing choruses of 'The Girl I Left Behind Me' to spur us onward to glory?" He stumbled as a contrary hillock snagged his foot, forcing him to drape his arm even more heavily over the ample shoulders of his friend. "Perhaps 'Blow the Man Down' would be more fitting."
Cuthbert listed to the right, struggling to balance both Julian and the mahogany box tucked beneath his free arm. "I'd rather not, Jules. My head is aching something fierce. I can't believe I let you talk me into this. What sort of second allows his first to stay out all night getting foxed before a duel? You should have let me put you on that ferry back to the Continent while there was still time."
Julian wagged a chiding finger at him. "Don't scold. If I'd have wanted a nag, I'd have married one."
Cuthbert gave a doleful snort. "If you'd have had the good sense to fall in love and marry some unfortunate chit, Wallingford wouldn't have caught you nuzzling his fiancée's ear at their betrothal supper and I'd be tucked in my cozy bed right now, dreaming about opera dancers and toasting my feet on a warm brick."
"You insult me, Cubby! I never met a woman I didn't love."
"On the contrary, you love every woman you meet. There is a distinction, however subtle." Cuthbert grunted as his friend trod upon the side of his foot. He had imbibed nearly as many bottles of cheap port as Julian had, but at least he could still stand without assistance. For now.
"Shhhhhhh!" His friend's exaggerated plea for silence startled a flock of starlings from the branches of a nearby alder. Julian pointed one elegant gloved finger. "There they are now, lurking beneath that copse of firs."
From what Cuthbert could ascertain, the gentlemen waiting beside the crested town coach on the far side of the meadow were making no attempt to lurk. Miles Devonforth, the marquess of Wallingford, was pacing a shallow trench in the snow. His tautly controlled strides never varied, not even when he jerked his watch from its fob pocket to glower at its face. A trio of companions hovered behind himâtwo gentlemen in voluminous box coats and a dour figure garbed all in black. Probably some disreputable surgeon who dabbled in undertaking, Cuthbert thought grimly, summoned to treat the loser of this illegal contest.
Or to measure him for his coffin.
A shiver of dread coursed down his spine. He raked a sandy lock of hair out of his hazel eyes and tugged Julian to a halt, his desperation mounting. "Beg off, Jules. It's not too late. What are they going to do? Run us down in their carriage and shoot you in the back? Why, I'll even go back to the Continent with you! We'll sail the Rhine and climb the Carpathians and conquer Rome. My father will forgive me in time. He's already cut off my allowance because I bought that diamond brooch for that delicious little actress you introduced me to in Florence. What more can he do? I know my father. He'll never disinherit his only son."
Julian stifled his blathering with a reproachful look. "Bite your tongue, Cubby. Surely you're not suggesting that I prove myself to be that most despised of all creaturesâa man without honor."
Beneath the sable fringe of his lashes, Julian's soulful dark eyes fixed him with a gaze rife with wounded pride and wry self-mockery. Most women found the combination irresistible. Cuthbert was equally devastated.