Her heart was beating quickly, rapidly pounding blood through her rigid body as she stared out of her bedchamber window. Yes, something was out there that shouldn’t be. She exhaled as her sapphire eyes searched the dark night, her warm breath fogging up the window. The guests would be arriving at any moment now; Victoria could already see the first of the carriages making it’s way slowly down the extended drive.
It was raining out. She could see the shimmer of the water across the land as it reflected the moonlight. Victoria gazed up into the grim sky knowing the storm had just begun. This was not an ideal night for a Grand Ball. Most of the guests would have to stay the night for the roads would be too dangerous to travel, a death trap with the mud.
Victoria closed her eyes and she placed her palm on the freezing window. She turned her head as she listened intently, straining her mind. Something felt wrong. The hairs on the back of her neck were standing on end and her breathing escalated with each passing second. What was she feeling? There was a particular vibration in the air that teased her senses, alerting her to new heights of awareness.
Something was very wrong.
Victoria needed to be already dressed but she couldn’t focus enough to do so. She ran a hand down her face, aggravated. Mayhap it was just the storm making her act paranoid. After all, she wasn’t wearing her choker.
With that sudden thought Victoria smiled, yes. That was the reason why she felt as though she wanted to jump out of her skin. She wasn’t wearing her choker! Oh course, she always felt too alert and nervous when she wasn’t wearing it. Damnation.
She laughed shaking her head then instantly froze. She heard distant yelling coming from somewhere down the hall and as she listened, the sound neared. Dear God it sounded like complete chaos. Multiple voices were in the mix of the yelling and screaming. Her tunnel vision set in as she zoned in on her bedchamber door, her heart jumping a beat as she listened. No, don’t stop in front of the door. Let this not be about me...
“Victooo-ria!” the shrill voice echoed and vibrated the walls.
Her heart dropped. Victoria ran to the door to pull it open but before she could it was thrown open almost hitting her square in the face. The sight she beheld was horrifying as she stumbled backwards. Her Aunt and Uncle stood on one side of the door while her cousin on the other. Their faces was a mask of rage, their narrowed eyes were fixed on her. The amount of hatred that danced in their gazes alarmed her. What had she done?! Her uncle appeared to be in the middle of dressing for his shirt tales were out of his breaches and his carvet hung loosely around his shoulders. This worried her; the Duke would never leave his room without looking impeccable. Henrietta and her Aunt were dressed, thankfully, but they didn’t look any less menacing. They shot daggers with their eyes as if they were mentally slaughtering her to pieces and loving it.
“Your stupid horse is ruining everything! The guests are terrified!” Henrietta cried, her voice cracking, eyes blood shot. She inched forward, her face contorting into a look of utter revulsion. Her elaborate violet gown swished with each step, the amount of cream lace seeming to take up Victoria’s small room. “You ungrateful little wretch! Tell me one good reason why I shouldn’t strangle you?!”
The Duke also marched into the room, pushing his daughter to the side. His round face was flushed and a sheen of sweet glistened on his forehead. “What the devil did you do!? That’s a prized mare!” he continued, “You—”
“Daddy, she did it because she wanted to spoil my birthday! She was jealous, angry that I would wear her choker for only one night.” She wiped her eyes, her theatrics perfected.
Victoria looked from left to right trying to piece together what was happening. Her Uncle looked at her, his dark eyes budging with fury. “Tell me what have you done you little brat! I will beat it out of you if you do not speak! Fifty lashes I will!”
Victoria held up her trembling hands, a frightened tear streamed down her cheek. “I don’t know what you are talking about,” she pleaded, whispering to ease their tempers.
Henrietta glared at her, seething. “Your horse has gone mad! Trampling anyone in her bloody sight! She had broken out of the stables—”
“What! No…” Victoria paled, her mind flustered.
“Oh yes, no one can get her to calm down! I know you rode her earlier and you did something! Now the dogs are acting up, following your brainless mare!” she shrieked. “She is charging after my guests, nearly running over high nobility! Ramming into other horses causing utter chaos on my birthday! I shall be the laughing stock!” she shrieked, tears springing from her puffy, red eyes.
Victoria’s heart was beating out of control. “Please, Brat does not even listen to me, how could I drive her to do something like this? And why? I didn’t—“ Victoria tried to plea her case but her mind instantly blurred and her vision came in and out. Pain seared her cheek from her uncle’s obvious slap for his hand was still held up high.
“Don’t you dare interrupt my daughter, you hear me? You are the only one who rides that retched horse. You must have put one of your curses over the animal, your witchcraft.” he spat with a deadly glint in his eye, daring her to deny the claim.
Victoria closed her eyes unable to comprehend what was being said. What a mess. Right then one of the footmen came running into the tension filled room, pale and out of breath.
“Your Grace, p-please forgive me but we cannot calm the horse nor the dogs, they are frightening the guests. I am unsure of what to do, and the weather isn’t helping.” He looked from face to face, not realizing what he barged into.
The Duke cursed. He turned towards the footman and pointed, shouting, “Shoot the blasted horse and the dogs! God take them all!”
The footman faltered, his surprised gaze shifting to Victoria obviously knowing it was her beloved mare. “Y-yes, your Grace, it shall be done.” He paused for a second longer then turned to yell the orders to the occupants that were waiting in the hallway. “Shoot them all, now! Before they harm anyone!”
No, she couldn’t let this happen! Her horse would never do such a thing. Yes, the nature of the mare was stubborn but she was also a gentle soul and would never harm anything! It was something else, something she felt earlier by the window. It had to be affecting the animals in a negative way.
Without thinking she pushed pasted the Duke barely clearing his grasping hand and ran after the footman. The footman obviously sensed her and took off into a mad dash yelling at the man with the gun to hurry. Victoria saw a stout man holding a riffle; his round body took off into the direction of the stairs leading out of the west wing to the main entrance.
The footman grabbed her arm jerking her backwards. “Stop my Lady, it—has—to be done!” The tall footman struggled, trying to hold her tightly in an attempt to stop her from intervening. “The Duke—will have your head, please!”
“Let go!” Victoria screamed back then kicked him hard in the groin making him release her instantly, hissing in pain. “Sorry!” Seeing her opening she took off after the man with the gun, running into people on her way out.
Her mind was a blur, she wasn’t thinking clearly.
Victoria ran pasted guests in their evening finery, not realizing she was still undressed. It was unseemly! Her hair was down in disarray and she was still in her dressing gown with her undergarments visible! A man stood in her way, Lord something or other, and looked her over with wide assessing eyes. Desire flashed in his dark gaze as he barely moved out of her way. She has seen that look before. Blast it. She’d worry about this dilemma later, right now she had to find her horse before she was shot. Making it outside and dodging prying eyes she could hear shouts mixed with the now heavy storm. The wind and rain hit her from the side, relentlessly blowing under her skirts. Victoria gasped and wrapped her arms around herself. It was freezing for the wind made it almost unbearable.
Victoria gazed up at the sky looking at the wide landscape before her. The long line of carriages were waiting for their turn to pull up to the entrance in the pouring rain, a couple of gentlemen appeared to be on horseback. Her eyes scanned father down the line and she sucked in her breath. A carriage had run off the road and several men were attending to it. Then she saw what appeared to be her horse.
From this distance she could tell the horse seemed to be a danger to itself and others. Bucking and kicking like a wild stallion! The white mare was charging like a bull, snorting big puffs of air and stomping about. There were more men around her trying their best to calm the irate horse but to no avail. These weren’t the actions of her horse…something must have gotten inside her.
Movement caught her eye and saw the chubby man with the gun running over the dark hills towards the horse. Panic hit her like a slap in the face. It was about four hundred yards away and he was already half way there! Victoria took off into a dead sprint, plunging into the storm without a second thought to consequence. She could run very fast in her bare feet, being swift of foot since she was little. Reaching down she pulled up her underskirts and ran like hell through the storm. Her long hair blew left and right whipping her in the face as she ran, the downpour making it difficult to see.
A streak of lightening flashed across the turbulent sky making her loose her footing. Her body hit the grass as she rolled down the small hill, knocking her elbow on a jagged rock embedded in the dirt. Pain erupted inside her but she ignored it. Get up! She got up and peered around, wiping wet hair from out of her eyes completely out of breath. The corset she was wearing didn’t allow her to breathe properly for it was too tight. Blasted thing! Trying to get air into her lungs she looked around and it appeared that the man with the gun also fell. Thankfully he was not as quick in getting up as she was. Victoria ran towards him, squinting as the rain continued to beat down on her. The man finally stood, stumbled a bit, and then looked back.
His eyes widened when he saw that she was right next to him. “My Lady!” he yelled through the storm, “W-what the devil are ye’ doing out ‘ere?! Tis’ not safe!”
“You will not shoot my horse!” She hollered back then wiped the rain from her face. The man looked exhausted and very cold, his nose was bright red while the rest of his face was alarmingly pale. His gray overcoat looked black from being soaked and his hat had water pouring off the brim.
He started to say something but was yanked backwards.
Victoria eyes widened. A vicious looking canine was pulling at his clothes, growling, teeth-bared as its head shook back and forth while it tore the wool fabric. She ran to help him but instantly stopped in her tracks; three more dogs were circling around her looking as though they have never eaten before.
The growling grew louder as they watched her. The rain seemed not to affect them and even the other dog left the gunman to join the inspection of her. “Bloody hell,” Victoria cursed. She slowly backed up while the dogs grew nearer, just waiting for her to bolt. Victoria had no idea what to do so she raised her trembling hands, as if that would ward them off. “O-old blue, it’s me. R-remember?”
The old canine jumped forward snapping its razor teeth then retreated a step. Victoria sharply inhaled, trying to wipe the rain from her face to see them clearly, not wanting to miss anything.
“Miss, dona move!”
“What the pissing hell do you think I’m doing?!” Victoria hissed back to the man who was still struggling to get up, slipping on the wet ground with his lumbering movements. Fear was taking over for her body refused to move another inch and her joints trembled without pause. “Use the b-bloody gun you f-fool!” she screamed, still standing perfectly motionless, arms up to ward off any attack.
A dog lunged clasping its jaws on her gown. Taken by surprise Victoria fell backwards, shrieking as the others joined in. She was being pulled in three different directions, her gown ripping with each violent shake. Victoria reached up frantically trying to rip her dress free from their jaws screaming for them to stop! She yanked again and kicked a snapping jaw. “Get a—way!”
A gunshot was fired.
The four dogs instantly fled from the deafening sound. Relieved, Victoria looked over to the man who still held the gun up high. A look of fright was etched into his pudgy face.
“Come over ‘ere!”
She crawled her way to him wanting desperately to be by the gun in case the dogs came back.
“You alright?!” He inquired not bothering to look her way but was peering around looking extremely paranoid. “Where is your bloody mare at?” he asked, frowning into the night.
Victoria got up on her bruised knees, looking around in the darkness. “Maybe they got her to calm down?” she offered back feeling very uneasy.
The man rubbed his baldhead, his hat lost somewhere in the darkness. Suddenly he grabbed her arm squeezing it in obvious fear for he had gone three shades paler. “Devil take it! Run!”
Run?! Victoria looked to where he pointed to see her white mare racing straight for them. Charging was more like it! Her horse looked malevolent, its eyes appeared to be glowing crimson with evil intent. She was paralyzed for one frightening moment then let out a shriek. They both got up and took off into different directions and sure enough the horse was zoned in on her, as if the horse was intelligently seeking her out. Her tattered dressing gown snagged on a thorny bush temporarily pulling her to a sudden halt. “Ah!” she cried, peering back at the nearing mare, hooves pounding the ground in a mad gallop. Adrenalin pounding, she yanked off her shredded gown leaving her corset and ripped underskirts then sprinted like her life depended on it. The cold of the night was forgotten as she raced towards the manor determined not to let her horse trample her to death. Victoria risked another glance behind her and could not believe what she saw.
Victoria ‘s mare was closing in on her fast, yes, but someone was also closing in on her mare.
A man on a leviathan black stallion chased after her horse gaining on her almost instantly. Dear God her mare didn’t have a chance for no other horse seemed to possess such speed as this stallion. The dark rider’s mount almost dwarfed hers and Brat was a good-sized mare with long muscular legs. Victoria stopped completely stunned as she watched, breathing hard from her exertion. Time seemed to slow down for she was so enthralled by the grace of the rider and magnificence of his stallion. Her eyes squinted, trying to focus through the rain. She could tell the man was big and muscular excluding his obvious grace of his long legs that clamped to either side of the stallion. The dark rider seemed to match his mount to perfection for he seemed commanding, mysteriously gallant, and without explanation he eluded an unexplainable power.
Yes, she picked up on all of those traits almost instantly, baffling her.
He wore no hat; his hair completely soaked as he hers. The man possessed midnight hair and his pale skin almost glowed from within, so radiant in the darkness. The rider’s black overcoat flapped in the wind as his horse pounded the ground in a mighty gallop. He stood up in his stirrups while he reached over and grabbed Brat’s reins, yanking the mare’s neck aggressively to the right.
Victoria’s eyes widened.
Her horse almost did a full turn for its force plummeted her to the ground. Brat rolled on her back, struggling to get up. Victoria placed her hand over her mouth in fright then frowned; the rider held his hand above her struggling horse and she instantly felt a deep vibration. The sensation went up her legs to the flush of her cheeks. Brat finally got up, shaking its head looking not like the killer she had been minutes ago.
Her heart started to pound. Brat looked normal from what she could make out in the pouring rain. What the bloody hell did that man do? Her horse took off in a mad gallop towards the stables, to find shelter Victoria presumed. Before Victoria could wrap her mind around what just happened she heard ferocious barks and growls.
Victoria shot a glance to her right and saw the dogs sprinting towards her. Gasping she took off into a run, cursing her bad luck to hell! Another dog appeared before making her change directions, running away from the manor. She screamed as she felt the dog snatching at her heels probably loving the chase she provided. As she was sprinting Victoria suddenly felt the impression of thunder, the ground rumbling behind her. The powerful sound neared quickly as the tremors intensified.
She felt the dog snatch her shredded skirt with its jaws yanking her violently. It didn’t seem like a normal dog could have so much force but all the same she found herself slipping in the wet grass. But, shockingly, before she fell something grabbed her arm yanking her upwards, her limbs flinging like a rag doll.
It happen so fast that everything blurred together until she found herself sitting face to face with him. Victoria was draped across his lap on his giant black stallion mere inches from his large body. She looked up, bewildered, her eyes trying to focus.
Their gazes clashed and she lost her breath. The thumping of her heart grew louder—her breath came quicker as she took the sight of him in. The man looked like the Prince of Darkness, sin incarnate. There was no other way to describe him with his pale skin and hair as black as a raven’s wing. But the rider’s shocking feature was his eyes—a shining silver, molten mercury, the purest of grays. His lips were full, soft looking against the rest of his harsh features. Dear heaven above. The man was handsome beyond rational reasoning. Victoria was certain she had never seen the likes of him before for surly she would have swooned! Odd designs were encrypted into his skin on the left side of his face giving him a daunting appearance, dangerous. Who was he?! She wildly wondered.
Victoria frowned, the man’s mouth was moving. His eerie eyes were franticly searching her face. Was he talking to her?
She didn’t know for she heard nothing, her vision coming in and out. Her body felt disconnected, light as a feather. That’s when she felt his hands on her, moving over her skin. Ah, they were so warm that she leaned into him desperately wanting more. But most of all she wanted to sleep…just to close her eyes…
Victoria felt a release of pressure that sounded her chest then realized the back of her corset was being ripped down the middle.
Air seemed to rush into her body filling up her lungs as she heaved against him, coughing through the pain in her chest. Her vision blurred for a second then righted itself. Muffled sounds seeped back into her ears and then instantly they came back with alarming force. Breathing hard she jerked her head up with newfound energy.
“Can you hear me?!” His gloved hands were on her shoulders, rubbing up and down seeming to warm her.
Victoria looked up and lost her voice. As she stared at his mesmerizing eyes she felt fabric sliding over her skin when she moved her arms, jerking her head down she gasped. Her corset fell off, fluttering to the ground leaving her bare to the night’s chill and to the stranger before her. Victoria heard him cursed then his is arms instantly circled around her pressing her too him. Panic swelled inside her and she shrieked, “Let mee-h go! M-my c-corset!” She shivered uncontrollably, suddenly feeling the chill of the night. The rain had stopped but the wind was biting, her breath was visible in small rapid puffs.
Suddenly warmth engulfed her, his black overcoat being draped over her, wrapped tightly like a cocoon.
“You need to breathe,” he whispered in her ear, his voice sounding as good as melted chocolate. “Sit still and warm yourself or you will be no good to me ill.”
Victoria pushed her embarrassment down and nodded then frowned. You will be no good to me ill? “T-take me b-back. Now!” She still shivered; her body trembled even with his big overcoat that was warm with his body heat.
His mount jumped around bouncing her closer to him. “Yes, you don’t want to be late for the ball.” Victoria barely heard, not sure if she detected a hint of sarcasm.
She looked up and met his gaze and flushed not knowing it was possible to blush in this cold weather. How intently her was starring at her could make a nun blush. The length of his midnight hair was soaked, curling slightly around his ears making him look dangerously appealing. She must not be thinking clearly for she was picturing someone who wasn’t really there, a dark angel perhaps, a fragment in her mind. Maybe she was dreaming…
“Are you feeling better?” he lightly inquired, his stallion jumping to the side jolting her. He quickly reached around her to pull harder on the reins coming within inches of her face. His hot breath fanned her wet hair and she closed her eyes, not being able to help the delicious shiver that slid down her spine like melted honey. He smelt of male perfection, something wild, dangerous…
He turned his head towards her like he felt her shiver and knew what she was thinking. Victoria felt her cheeks heat, scared to move a muscle for it would give her away even more. What has gotten into her?
Her heart skipped when she felt his lips slightly graze her cheek making her exhale in nervous anticipation. She was still cared to move, only feeling his mouth and the rapid beat of her pulse. How could she be so terrified and excited at the same time, it was mystifying. He whispered something seductive against her cheek then felt his free hand disappear inside the overcoat. His gloved hand was cold at first then it morphed instantly into the delusion of fire, heating her body as his hand smoothed up her back. Victoria sighed and arched into him, her head falling to the side unable to think rationally. She felt his breath against her neck as his mouth moved down the line of her throat leaving a trail of flames. His movements became more aggressive while his mouth disappeared lower into the darkness of the overcoat to the valley between her breasts. Her body ignited in a bonfire that consumed any rational thought.
The horse reared up.
Victoria’s eyes shot open.
What the devil was she doing!?
As if sensing her tense he lifted his head to grin up at her, his eyes luminous. The slow smile had the power to seduce anything that breathed, anything with eyes for that matter. Her heart thundered in confusion, realizing what liberties she just allowed the man to have. This complete stranger! Victoria tried to say something reprimanding but his hand still moved against her back, jumbling her thoughts. She pulled the cloak closed, mortified.
His gaze held laughter, almost in mockery making her instantly flush with guilt. “Warmer love?” he inquired lightly; clearly knowing the answer for it sparked in his eyes.
Blast him, she was warmer. In fact, her heart was still racing and she trembled not because of the cold but from something completely foreign to her. Something that rendered her simple minded, unable to think intelligently.
“I suppose I should return you, unless...” he tailed off, giving her a knowing look and a suggestive smile.
“Unless nothing, p-please return me,” she got out surprisingly calm but a little meek. Shaking her head she spoke, “I suppose I should thank you, so—thank you for saving my life.”
He laughed then kicked his stallion into a gallop. Within minutes they were at the back entrance of the manor, one of the stable men came running up. The dark rider whispered into her ear before he handed her off to the servant.
“Save me a dance princess.”
Victoria didn’t have time to respond and before she knew it she was standing alone with the one of the manservants just watching him ride off. Her heart was still pounding with uncertainty, bewilderment.
“My lady, who was that?”
Victoria looked at him and said nothing then ran inside completely shaken to the core.