I think it’s a tie between the first encounter and the first kiss. In this one, it was definitely the former. I was giddy when writing it. Here’s the excerpt:
“If one desires a task accomplished correctly, one must do it herself.” Cassandra Burton, Dowager Countess of Rosslyn, repeated the litany as she pulled the rickety little wagon through the moonlit aisle of tombstones.
She shivered under her velvet cloak. Her fingers had long since gone numb with the effort of navigating the dratted conveyance over uneven ground and across slippery, damp grass. Shovels and pry bars clanked across the wagon’s worn pine boards. The winch rattled on its frame.
Something flickered across the corner of her vision.
Cassandra jumped. She stopped and rubbed her gloved hands together for warmth, surveying the graveyard. The area was still and silent as…well, a tomb. Yet the chill in her spine refused to abate. A scornful frown turned her lips at such irrational behavior. Ghosts were an illogical figment of uneducated imaginations, and no one could possibly have business out here at this hour…except herself.
“Worthless curs,” Cassandra whispered in as haughty a tone as she could manage.
If only the men to whom she’d offered a more-than-generous sum to perform this troublesome task had done their duty, rather than disappearing. She shook her head. If not for their unreasonable negligence, she would now be comfortably ensconced in her laboratory unraveling the secrets of the human body…not out in this cold, dreary place, jumping at shadows.
Surveying the newest graves, she read the dates to decide which would be the best specimen. The mysterious disappearance of her hired hands nagged at her. Could a murderer be on the loose? She shook her head and pulled the folds of her cloak tighter. No, by now the authorities would have found their bodies and the news would be sensationalized in The Times.
They were cowards, but she was not. To prove her lack of fear, Cassandra halted her wagon and fetched out a shovel. Her hands trembled nervously as she grasped the wooden handle.
Removing the dead from their graves was illegal. If a constable caught her, she’d be sent directly to Fleet Prison. A fresh surge of trepidation curled in her belly.
Exhuming a corpse was quite a different matter from having one ready on her operating table. As objective as she tried to be, the prospect of removing the body from its carefully arranged resting place by winching it out of the ground and loading it onto her cart was undeniably gruesome. However, gruesome or not, Cassandra needed a specimen to continue her work. And she would acquire it, no matter how much her nerves protested.
Despite being barred from official education as a physician because of her sex, Cassandra was determined to learn the skills required to become a doctor. That included studying human anatomy, and for that, she required cadavers.
Returning to the graves, she made her selection. Alfred Lumley, born September first, 1801; died September twenty-sixth, 1823. Two days ago Alfred had been a living twenty-two-year-old man, three years younger than herself. Whether or not he’d been healthy, she would soon determine. A pang of sorrow struck her heart. His soul is in heaven, she reminded herself. A mere shell remains. A shell that will help me to aid the living.
She raised the shovel, ready to plunge it into the soft soil. “I am not afraid. I am not.”
“You should be.” A sinister, accented voice pierced her consciousness.
The shovel fell from her nerveless fingers, thudding onto the cold ground.
Cassandra knew that voice; it had the rich, dark cadence that had haunted her dreams since the night she’d first met him. She spun around, the hood of her cloak falling to her shoulders.
Rafael Villar stepped out from behind a mausoleum. The shadows embraced his bronze skin, obscuring the scars on the left side of his face while moonlight highlighted his exotic Mediterranean features on the right.
Known as “the Spaniard,” Villar had been an infamous pugilist in Cheapside despite having only one functioning arm. The eccentric and wealthy Duke of Burnrath was his sponsor. Cassandra had often encountered Villar at Burnrath House when attending the duchess’s literary circles. Right away she’d suspected that there was more to the relationship between Rafael and Their Graces. And she’d been utterly and completely fascinated by him.
When the duke and duchess departed for the Continent to travel, Villar had leased Burnrath House. By all accounts he was rich as a nabob. For the remainder of the Season. Don. Villar was all the ton could gossip about. But when months passed without the Spaniard making the slightest attempt to join Society, he was forgotten. Cassandra would have forgotten him as well, if it weren’t for those damned dreams. Now he stood before her in the most unexpected place and at the most inconvenient time.
Good Lord, will he turn me in to the authorities?
She opened her mouth to ask the reason for his presence, but the words caught in her throat when she saw that his amber eyes were glowing like a funeral pyre. His sensuous lips—lips she’d unreasonably dreamed of kissing—drew back to reveal white, even teeth…with two gleaming fangs for incisors.
Before she could scream or flee, Don. Villar’s fiery gaze widened, then narrowed in recognition. “You! You’ve been the one disturbing my people?”
“Y-your people?” Cassandra stammered dumbly, staring raptly at those sharp fangs. She’d certainly never seen those during their previous encounters. Her heart leaped into her throat in dawning horror. This man was not human.
His lips curled back in a sneer, puckering the scars on the left side of his face. “Don’t play coy with me, Countess.” The word was filled with disdain. “Some of my subordinates reported hunters disturbing their lairs.” He gestured at the mausoleum behind him. “It is hard to fathom that you’re behind this, though I should have guessed. Is that why you befriended the Duchess of Burnrath?”
“I haven’t the slightest idea what you are going on about. I came here to… Well, it is no concern of yours.” A wave of indignation bolstered her courage. How dare he speak of her most treasured friendship in such a manner? How dare he accuse her of duplicity when he stood before her sporting unnatural teeth and luminescent eyes? And of what exactly was he accusing her? “What does Her Grace have to do with this?” Cassandra took a shaky step back. “And, in the name of heaven, what are you?”
In a blink of an eye, Rafael stood inches from her. With the same impossible speed, he grasped her shoulder, pulling her close against him. Dizziness swarmed her mind at the feel of his firm heat and his intoxicating scent of forbidden spices. His crippled left arm moved lightly around her waist, his fingers delicately brushing across her lower back. The heady combination of rough and gentle made her tremble.
His eyes locked on hers. “I will show you, Countess.”
About the Brooklyn Ann
A lover of witty Regencies and dark paranormal romance, Brooklyn Ann combines the two in her new vampire series. The former mechanic turned author lives with her family in Coeur d’ Alene, Idaho.
About Bite At First
Her interest is purely scientific
Cassandra Burton wants to study medicine, surgery, healing, and everything related to the human body and its mysteries—and she's willing to rob graves to do it! But a lady can meet dark and dangerous characters lurking around the cemetery. And who could be more fascinating than Rafael Villar, Lord Vampire of London? If she could study his physiology, she could learn so much that would help humans. After all, he’s immortal—and Cassandra is now his prisoner…
Until she gets close enough to touch
As if Rafael didn’t have enough to worry about, with a rebellion brewing and his allies out of reach, now he’s confronted by a beautiful, fearless lady who wants to heal the scars he's borne for centuries. He can’t keep her, and he can’t let her go, and worst of all, he’s every bit as intrigued by her as she is by him.