When hotshot hotel developer Alexa Chandler finally finds the perfect property for her next luxury resort, she has no idea of the black magic she’s about to unleash. Thanks to vivid tales from the locals, no one has breached the shores of the mysterious island or entered the abandoned castle that is its centerpiece in recent memory. But once inside, Alexa discovers another mystery—the portrait of a dark and brooding nobleman.
With a single touch, Alexa unleashes a phantom who has been trapped within the canvas for over two hundred years.
Contained by a gypsy curse, Damon Forsyth has had centuries to think of nothing but revenge and retribution until intense desire draws the beautiful Alexa to his lair. Though free of the painting, he is still bound to the castle. Only by using the dark magic that enslaves him can he initiate a game of seduction that will end with his freedom—and her undoing.
Unable to resist, Alexa surrenders to Damon’s ghostly touch. But will she thwart the magic that holds Damon in thrall…or sacrifice her own mortality in the name of love?
The chain snapped, abrading the skin on the back of Alexa’s neck. Her hand flew to press against the pain and when she removed her fingers, a light streak of blood slashed across her skin.
“What the hell do you think you’re doing?” she demanded.
“Where did you get this?”
Damon’s naked body gleamed with sweat even as he stood in an attack position. Legs balanced, knees slightly bent, arms at the ready, one hand clutching the delicate charm Jacob had given her as if his decision to murder her or not depended entirely on her reply.
She pressed her lips tightly together and reminded herself to breathe. She wasn’t going to let some ghost on the edge of insanity intimidate her, no matter what they’d just done or how delicious the experience had been.
“You need to calm down,” she insisted.
He lunged forward and with a squeal, Alexa tumbled off the chaise and remained out of his reach. Damon was easily twice her size and clearly in a rage. She couldn’t protect herself from a prone position. If he caught her, she wouldn’t stand a chance, martial arts training or not.
His chest heaved with barely checked emotion, only the chaise between them—a strip of furniture he could make disappear just as easily as he’d conjured it.
“Tell me how you came to possess this charm, witch!”
Infuriated, she slammed to her feet. “You’d better watch your tone, mister. I took you out of that painting. I’m nearly positive I can find a way to put you back in.”
Damon leapt over the chaise, his hand reaching toward her. She effectively deflected his first move, but wasn’t quick enough for the second. His hand tangled tightly in her hair and if she moved, she knew it would hurt.
“Let go of me.”
“Tell me how you possess my sister’s necklace,” he demanded through clenched teeth.
“What? You’re insane!”
“That remains to be seen, but I know this charm. Sarina was wearing it the night she ran away, but I found this very broken piece only moments before Rogan’s curse locked me in the portrait.”
“That’s impossible,” she explained, her heart pounding. “Jacob gave me the necklace just this afternoon. He told me it would protect me.”
His eyes blazing, Damon moved his face closer to his. “He lied.”
With a shove, he released her. Alexa’s knees hit the cold stone with a jolt, but she swallowed a painful gasp and instead concentrated on reaching her backpack. Inside, she had a gun. A flare gun, but a weapon nonetheless. She wasn’t sure the exploding cartridge could do any damage to a cursed phantom, even one with corporeal form, but she’d be damned if she didn’t try.
Damon clutched the necklace as he stalked around the landing like a caged predator. One by one, the accoutrements he’d added to the room faded out of sight. First the plush tapestries and velvet screens, then the table and wine, and finally, the chaise. Still naked and struggling with a shame she refused to feel, Alexa was completely exposed to his cruel gaze. Luckily, he no longer seemed interested in looking at her at all. His eyes remained locked on the charm he held tightly in his palm.
The sconces and candles faded last, dousing them in shadows that deepened and darkened as the sky outside the far windows swirled with grays and blacks. An ominous rumbling rolled across the ocean, announcing the coming storm. Alexa took advantage of the darkness and dashed to the backpack, fished out the gun and turned to point the wide, orange barrel at Damon.
But he was gone.
Down the stairs.
“This is the key,” he said triumphantly, mindless of his nudity and looking every inch as strong and powerful as he charged down the stairs as he had when robed in his Georgian-era clothes.
Alexa kicked into her trousers, sans undergarments, and punched into her blouse, fastening only one button before she flung her backpack over her shoulder and headed toward the stairs. A storm was coming, but she preferred to stare down Mother Nature in all her ugly glory rather than stay with a madman in the castle—her castle, she thought with a quiet growl—one minute longer. Staying close to the railing, she went down the stairs barefoot, grateful for the silence.
“This is where the magic originated,” he bellowed, spinning and stopping her dead when his ocean storm eyes burrowed into hers as lightning flashed around them. “Instrument of my destiny?” he shouted. “Not today. Not ever again.”
Alexa’s legs shook, but she continued downward, the gun clutched tightly in her hand, her eyes darting alternately between Damon and the door. She’d never get past him. Not unless she fired. And she couldn’t justify shooting an unarmed man unless he lunged at her again. She’d have to find another way.
Lightning strobed again, the bolts so intense, they brightened the inside of the castle so that the stones practically glowed with electricity, sparking off the tiny flakes of glass embedded in the walls. Thunder blasted immediately after, shaking Alexa straight through to her bones.
With his left hand clutched around the necklace, Damon grabbed the door handle with his right. With a mighty curse that rivaled the sounds of the squall outside, he pulled hard. The door flew open. Raising his fists triumphantly, he moved to step outside, free to unleash his bitter rage into Alexa’s very real and vulnerable world.
A second later, blue light crackled against the blackness outside. The castle shook from the boom that instantly followed. Instinctively, Alexa looked away, her eyes tightly shut, but the howl of pain that accompanied the thunder forced her to look. Damon flew across the slick floor, landing hard against the stone.
Rain shot into the grand hall like a million needle-tipped arrows, but Damon didn’t seem to care. He crawled on his knees until he was standing again, but before he reached even ten feet near the door, another burst of blue light invaded the hall, striking him directly.
Alexa screamed, but his agony made her reaction sound like a whimper. Electric fire burned into him. His body nearly floated upward as the strike continued, longer and longer than any ordinary force of nature. The whites of his eyes and his teeth glowed with cobalt fire.
She reacted on instinct, bolting down the remaining stairs. Sliding behind the massive door, she pushed with all her might. The heavy wood panel resisted for only a second, then flew into place, cutting off the searing pain that had flung Damon’s body backward until he slid across the wet stone and slammed into the bottom stairs.
Any mortal man would have been knocked out cold. Hell, any mortal man would be dead. But, apparently, neither the force of a hurricane nor the blackest magic could kill a phantom. But it caused him pain. Blinding, excruciating pain, judging by how he writhed on the floor.
Outside, the storm continued to rage. The mournful wind and the slam of tree limbs and stones against the windows grew in volume until the cacophony nearly had Alexa running for cover. Instead, she reached for the door, but didn’t touch the handle. What if she was struck, too? She might have cheated death once in the car accident, but chances were she couldn’t pull off such a miraculous escape from the Grim Reaper a second time. Instead, she headed toward the nearest window to the right of the hall.
Unfortunately, the grimy stained glass wouldn’t open. She swung back with her backpack, but the window repelled her strike, even with the water bottles and portable GPS tucked inside. From the hallway, she could hear Damon groaning. She didn’t care. She had to get out.
Reaching inside her pack, she retrieved the slicker she’d tucked inside and wrapped her fist, even while clutching the gun. With a shout that mixed determination, anticipated pain and fear, she punched at the glass. The pane held. Pain shot up her arm like hot fire, throbbing even as she staggered back.
She unwrapped her hand, stepped back a few feet from the window and fired. The cartridge hit the window with shattering force and exploded in a burst of red fire, but once the smoke cleared, the window remained intact.
Shaking, she reloaded. Aimed. But she had only one flare left. Did she really want to waste it on a window that would not break?
Instead, she bolted across the hall in search of another exit. She tried not to look at Damon, crumpled and naked at the bottom of the stairs, his arm titled at an odd and painful angle. But the minute her mind registered his injury, she stopped.
Glancing back at the door, she approached Damon cautiously, the gun aimed at his chest.
“Why is this happening?”
He struggled to pull in a satisfactory breath. “I. Don’t….”
He didn’t know. Big surprise. For an all-powerful phantom who could conjure an orgasm with a single stroke, he certainly wasn’t much help against the big, black magic encasing this castle. This island. Her island, damn it. She wanted it back. Now.
“Give me Sarina’s necklace,” she demanded.
His narrowed gaze burned with unchained resentment. “Never.”
She aimed the gun at his stomach.
“Give it to me or I’ll blow a hole in you that will last for eternity. Obviously, you can feel pain. I’m betting a flare gun exploding in your gut might be considerably worse than a lightning strike. You really want to try and heal from both? I won’t hurt the damned necklace. I don’t know anything about it except what my brother told me. I want out. I want to get the hell away from you.”
His breath ragged, Damon threw the charm and chain. It slid across the floor at her bare feet. Careful to keep her aim steady, she retrieved the charm.
“The magic. Will. Kill you.”
“I don’t believe you,” she spat. “The castle doesn’t want me. It wants you. This necklace protected me before, allowed me entrance. Now, it’ll let me out.”
“You don’t know. You don’t know for sure.”
Alexa straightened to her full height. “I’ll take my chances.”
She darted toward the door again, her insides roiling with uncertainties she’d never show him. Not in a million years. All evidence pointed toward the charm providing her with the protection Jacob had promised. Her world hadn’t turned from fairytale to nightmare until Damon had ripped the chain from her skin.
Tossing her backpack to the ground, Alexa pressed the charm against her chest and reached for the door. Though lightning and thunder continued their raucous dance outside in the darkness, none came shooting toward the castle. She clutched the latch and tugged hard.
She dropped the gun and tried again.
The latch was frozen in place.
She swirled on Damon, fury and fear fighting for dominance.
“Let me out!” she screamed.
But no one listened. No one but the phantom lying at the bottom of the stairs, filling the castle with his cruel laughter.