© 2017 by Eve Silver. 

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Dark Gothic Series

Dark Embrace

Left penniless and alone by the untimely death of her father, Sarah Lowell works as a day nurse at King’s College Hospital. Her daily walk to and from work crosses the Rookery of St. Giles, a dangerous place made all the more frightening by the fact that someone lurks in the shadows, watching Sarah, stalking her like a beast of prey. 

Enigmatic surgeon Killian Thayne offers Sarah his protection, but his sensual, commanding presence presents another kind of danger. Killian wears his professionalism like a mask, concealing the darkness buried in his soul. He is drawn to Sarah, lured by her intellect, her dry wit, and yes, her loneliness, for it calls to his own.

Then a patient is found dead, drained of blood. Another soon follows, and another, and rumors paint Killian as the monster who killed them. As evidence mounts and the threatening presence that stalks her draws ever nearer, Sarah must decide if Killian is a man deserving of her love or a sinister creature determined to make her his next victim.

Dark Embrace is based on the novella, Kiss of the Vampire, originally published in the anthology Nature of the Beast.

…fast paced; once you start, you won't want to stop reading!

—Romantic Times Book Reviews

Silver expertly matches a brooding sense of atmosphere with a generous measure of suspense…

—The Chicago Tribune ​

London, November 3, 1839

           

Dying moments of darkness and shadow fought to stave off the first creeping fingers of the dawn as Sarah Lowell walked the familiar route through the edge of St. Giles, north of Seven Dials. Her boots rang on the wet cobbles as she ducked through the dim alleys and twisting lanes, past wretched houses and tenements, and rows of windows, patched and broken. Wariness was her sole companion.

A part of her was attuned to the street before her, the gloomy, faintly sinister doorways, the courtyards that broke from the thoroughfare. And a part of her was ever aware of the road behind, dim and draped in shadows and menace.

She was alone…or was she? The scrape of a boot sounded from somewhere behind her.

Would that it was the cold that made her shiver. But, no, it was unease that did the deed.

Her twice-daily trek along these streets and laneways was something other than routine. More times than not she felt as though unseen eyes watched her from the gloom, footsteps dogging her every move. In the months since her father’s death, she had become increasingly aware that someone followed her.

Beneath her cloak, she closed her fist about her cudgel. She never left her room in the lodging house in Coptic Street without the short, sturdy stick. With good reason.

St. Giles was not a place for a woman alone. But, unfortunately, poverty did not allow for over-particular standards. She had little choice in where she lived but she could—and did—choose to protect herself. She had neither the means, nor the inclination, to own a pistol, and she had considered—and discarded—the possibility of defending herself with a knife.

So the cudgel it was, and she prayed she never found herself in a circumstance where she would be required to use it on another human being.

Should those prayers go unheeded, she suspected that surprise would be one thing in her favor. With her small frame, wide hazel eyes, and straight dark hair, she appeared young and delicate.

She wasyoung, but she was far from delicate. Any attacker would likely not expect the defense she would mount. Her father had always said she was sturdy in both body and spirit. She wished it had not taken his death and the desperate turn of her life to prove his assertions true.

She had spent years by her father’s side, honing her muscles lifting and turning patients who could not do so for themselves, honing her mind under his tutelage, learning anatomy and surgery and the details of all manner of diseases. More recently, she had spent months under her landlady’s watchful eye, pummeling a sac stuffed with old rags in order to learn how to wield the cudgel.

A muffled sound to her left made her spin and peer down the alley next to the darkened chandler’s shop. Her heart gave a lurch in her breast, and she dragged her weapon free of her cloak.

With a loud belch, a man stumbled toward her then veered away to lean, panting, against the wall. Muttering and cursing with a drunken slur, he fumbled at the flap of his breeches. Then came the sound of a stream of liquid hitting the wall.

Turning away, Sarah walked on, skirting the refuse and detritus that littered the street. She slipped her weapon beneath her cloak once more and willed her racing pulse to settle.

The feeling of being watched, being stalked, oozed across her skin like a slug. She glanced back over her shoulder, but there was only the empty street and hollowed doorways behind her.

And the sounds of footsteps.

Swirling fog and mizzling rain settled on her like a shroud, clinging to her hair and skin and clothes, a cold, damp sheen. She quickened her pace and hurried on.

Her destination was Portugal Street and the old St. Clement Danes workhouse that now housed King’s College Hospital where she worked as a day nurse. There was talk of a new building but a new building required funding and there was none to be had. So, for now, there were some hundred and twenty beds in the old workhouse, split into several overcrowded wards that offered care to the sick poor.

No one of wealth and means would step foot in King’s College. By choice, the rich were cared for in their own homes, and because of it, they were more likely to survive. Her father had often been called on such visits, and Sarah had accompanied him to assist. But the poor could not afford such luxury—a doctor to attend their bedside, medicines to cure disease or ease their pain—and so they came to King’s College, and often enough they died.

“They would die regardless,” her father had pointed out many times when Sarah had bemoaned the plight of those without ample funds. “At least the hospital offers some hope, however small.” He had been implacable in that belief.  

Sarah had agreed with him then and still felt that way now. She worked every day among the sick poor and she could not bear to think that all her efforts were for naught, that there was no hope for them, or her.

“Hope matters,” her father used to say, the words lifted by his smile. “There is power in belief.” If she closed her eyes and concentrated very hard, she imagined she could hear his voice. She missed him. She missed their talks. She missed the way he saw her not only as a daughter, but as a person, one with valid thoughts and opinions. She missed their lively debates, the smell of his tobacco, and even the way he slurped his soup. She missed his laugh. She missed their life.

Again, came the sound of footsteps behind her, the pace matched to her own. She stopped. They stopped. She walked on and they followed, neither speeding up nor slowing down, and when she glanced back, there was only fog and darkness.

Almost there now. She strode past the crumbling graveyard, shoulder back, head high. It was a horrific irony that King’s College Hospital was situated squarely between that graveyard and the slaughterhouses of Butcher’s Row. She had her own well-guarded opinion that while some doctors and surgeons at King’s College were dedicated souls bent on easing suffering, others might be better suited to work in the abattoirs.

At least there, death was an outcome both expected and sought after.

As the hospital loomed before her, she paused and glanced back once more. There, near the graveyard, she saw a black-cloaked figure clinging to the shadows, painted in shades of pewter and coal and ash. Watching. A shiver chased along her spine.

She walked to work in the predawn gloom, and returned home after the sun had set. Many times she had harbored unnerving suspicion that she was being followed, but proof of her supposition had, for the most part, been absent. This was only the second time that a form had actually materialized from the mist. Or had it? She stared hard at the spot, but could not be certain she saw anything more than a man-shaped shadow that could be cast by any one of the statues in the graveyard.

She had her cudgel in hand. She should walk to the gate and discover if it was statue or man that cast that shadow. And if it was man? Her fingers tightened on her weapon.

She was torn between confronting the miscreant and avoiding such confrontation at all costs.

After a moment, she decided on the latter and headed for the doors of King’s College. She hurried into the building and made her way first to the nurse’s cloakroom, where she divested herself of her damp over-garment, then through the dim hallways to the women’s sick ward. There was a patient here she wished to check on, a woman who was so ill she had not been able to eat or drink or even void for two days. It was as though her body refused to carry out the normal functions of life. Sarah hoped she had taken a turn for the better, though it was more likely that the woman had taken a turn for the worse.

She paused in the hallway near the ward. The first rays of dawn filtered through grimy windows to steal across the floor in pale slashes. The sounds of suffering carried through the place, eerie moans and louder cries, a sob, the creak of a bed as someone shifted, then shifted again.

Sarah stepped through the doorway and took a second to acclimate to the smell. No matter how much limewash was slapped on the plaster, no matter how many scrubbings with yellow soap the floors took, the smell—the metallic bite of blood, the raw-onion stink of old sweat, the harsh ammonia of urine—never quite melted away. These small battles might beat back the wretched stench for a time but, in truth, the war was long lost. The sick ward was forever infused with the vestiges of human misery.

Her gaze slid over the beds. Each one was full. Some even had two patients crowded into a space meant to hold only one.

In the corner was the bed she sought. Little light penetrated that far into the gloom. She took a step forward, then froze with a gasp.

There was someone sitting on a stool at the far side of the bed, a man, garbed all in black, the pale shape of the patient’s partially upraised arm a stark contrast against the dark background offered by his coat.

He held the woman’s wrist. Sarah could see that now. And she could see the breadth of his shoulders and the pale gold of his hair. She knew him then.

Killian Thayne.

Her pulse jolted at the realization. No matter how many times she saw him, how many times they interacted, she could not seem to put aside the schoolgirl infatuation that had struck her the first time they met. She rolled her eyes at her own foolishness.

She must have made a sound that alerted him to her presence, for he raised his head.

“Miss Lowell.” His voice reached across the space that separated them, low, pleasant.

“Mr. Thayne,” she acknowledged.

University-trained physicians were addressed as doctor, apprentice trained surgeons as mister, and there was a distinct barrier between them, not only at King’s College, but at any hospital throughout the city. Mr. Thayne belonged to the latter group.

“You are here early,” he said, though he did not turn his head to look her way.

“As are you,” she replied, unsurprised that he chose to engage her in conversation. On several previous occasions, there had been moments in the ward where Mr. Thayne walked his rounds and Sarah came to be in his path. To her befuddlement, and secret pleasure, he had deigned to speak with her, to ask her opinion of the patient’s progress, to note her responses with interest and grave attention.

Once, he had even followed her suggestion, refusing to allow a patient with an open wound to be placed in a bed until the linens from the previous patient were removed and exchanged.

Matron had been aghast. “The linens already there will do,” she had said. “The bed was made up fresh only a week ago, and the previous patient didn’t soil them.”

But Mr. Thayne was not to be swayed and thereafter he had insisted on clean linens each time a new patient entered the ward. The other surgeons scoffed, but Mr. Thayne remained resolute.

It was rare for a surgeon to consider the opinion of one of the nurses, even less so a day-nurse who was little more than a char. The fact that Mr. Thayne valued hers was a gift, one Sarah treasured. She had spent her life being treated as an intelligent being by her father. But at King’s College, she was only a girl who served meals, cleaned bedpans, and changed soiled sheets, a fact that made an ugly slurry of resentment and anger and sadness mix in her gut. She had so much more to offer.

“It is not early for me,” Mr. Thayne said, his tone holding a hint of dry amusement. He turned his head to look at her over his shoulder. The thin light glinted off the spectacles Sarah had never seen him without, metal rimmed, the lenses a dark bottle-green. She wondered how he could see through them in the dimness.

“Late for you, then,” she said, drifting closer. “You’ve been here all night?” He often was. Mr. Thayne seemed to prefer night to day.

“I have.” He paused. “What brought you here a full half hour before the start of your shift?”

“My feet,” Sarah said.

Mr. Thayne offered a soft huff of laughter. “Your skirt is wet.”

Her cloak had not shielded her completely from the weather and the hem of her skirt was wet and dappled with mud. “The weather is inclement,” she said.

Even in the dim light, she could see that he frowned. “I have not left the hospital in two nights and a day.” He sounded as though that fact startled him, as though he had not, until this moment, marked the passage of time.   

“It is not the first time,” Sarah said, then pressed her lips together, realizing her words made clear that she was aware of his comings and goings, and wishing she could call them back.

 “No, it is not,” he said.

“It was kind of you,” she blurted. “To give Mrs. Carmichael the coats.” Mrs. Carmichael was the night watch nurse in the surgical ward. Mr. Thayne had given her warm coats for her two growing sons.

“I am not kind,” Mr. Thayne replied. “I was merely disposing of items which no longer appealed to me.”

“Of course,” Sarah replied. “The fact that they had clearly never been worn and were both far too small to have ever…” She broke off, unwilling to state aloud that the coats were sized for adolescents and would never have fit Mr. Thayne’s broad-shouldered form, for that would be a clear admission that she noticed his broad-shouldered form. “Those coats will be put to good use.”

“That is my hope,” he said before turning his attention back to the patient.

She meant to walk away then, but something held her in place and she stood frozen, staring at the patient’s white forearm where it contrasted with the cloth of Mr. Thayne’s black-clad form.

A moan sounded from behind her, drawing her attention. “Water,” came a woman’s plea. “I am so thirsty. Please, water.”

The night watch nurse was curled in the far corner of the sick ward by the fire, sleeping. Sarah could not help but feel pity for her, a widow with three small children who, after working the day as a charwoman came to sit the night through for a shilling and her supper, leaving her little ones with a neighbor, and paying her in turn.

She had not the heart to deny the woman a few stolen moments of rest, so she turned away to tend to the patient herself.

When she was done, she looked back to where she had seen Mr. Thayne.

He was gone, the patient asleep, her head lolled to one side, her arm hanging across the far edge of the bed.

Another patient called out. Sarah hesitated, wariness prickling through her. Stepping forward, she almost went to the patient Mr. Thayne had been tending. Then she wondered what she was thinking. What could she do for her that he had not? The woman was sleeping now. Best to leave her undisturbed.

Again, a voice behind her called out, becoming more insistent. Sarah helped the woman sit up and take a drink of water. When she was done, she noted the time and then made her way to the surgical ward. 

Only hours later did she learn that the patient Killian Thayne had tended had died in the silvered moments when night turned to day, discovered by the night nurse when she roused from her slumber.

Only then did Sarah hear the whispers that the woman’s wrist had been torn open, with nary a drop of blood spilled to mark the sheets.

Mr. Simon, the head surgeon, determined that the patient had injured herself on a sharp edge of the bedstead, and in truth, they found a smear of blood there that offered some proof of the supposition. But there were no bloodstains on the sheets or the floor. No blood congealed in the wound. And the woman herself looked like a dry husk, like something had drained her of both blood and life.

Death was no stranger to King’s College. But this manner of death would be strange anywhere, all the more so because it had happened before. Two months ago, a man had died in the surgical ward with his wrist torn open and no blood to be found. Three weeks after that, it had been a woman, dead in her bed, a dried-out husk.

And now, a third person, dead in a manner both strange and frightening.

Throughout that day and well into the night, Sarah could not dispel the memory of Killian Thayne, swathed in darkness, his head bowed, and the woman’s arm white against the black of his coat.

Chapter One
Historical
The Gothic Series

Riveting! A dark, steamy and twisted tale!

—New York Times bestselling author Lisa Jackson

A dark and delicious gothic. I gobbled it up in a single sitting. Oh, how I have missed books like this!

—New York Times bestselling author Linda Lael Miller

...beguiling gothic tale...

—Bookpage 

...captivatingly stunning...darkly torrid...

—aromancereview.com 

With her ability to create the perfect chilling atmosphere, a dark, tormented hero and an intrepid heroine, Silver rises to the ranks of Victoria Holt and Daphne du Maurier…

—Romantic Times Book Reviews