LEGACY

Dragonlots aka Dana Bell

Part One

Damp wind blasted through her woolen coat. She tried to pull it tighter yet the icy fingers pierced her clothing chilling her skin. Waves crashed against stark cliffs. The sound echoed in the night touching her ears. She hurried along the edge seeking the fleeing figures she'd seen earlier.

Brine touched her full lips. She tasted salt and fear. Her eyes sought the chase, the tall man in a sweeping cloak and the frightened woman now on the cliff's edge. His deep baritone beseeched and she answered with a French accent. He reached his hand toward her and she slipped, falling to the jagged rocks below.

Her scream bounced up the cliff and she saw the glint of silver on the wolf head cane from dim moon. He turned and saw her, his eyes a deep penetrating red invading her very soul…

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She bolted up in her bed, the comforter pulled against her chest. Taking a deep breath she still trembled from the realness of the dream. Her violet eyes scanned the still unfamiliar room as her shaking hand reached for the light.

Brightness invaded. She blinked allowing her eyes to adjust to the abrupt change. Still she tasted the salt and could hear the faint ocean's whisper. "You're being silly Aria, " she told herself. She tried to close her eyes, but two pinpoints of red danced against her retinas.

With a sigh Aria opened them again. A glance at her clock told her it was nearly six and about time for her to get up anyway. Her agent was visiting from the Big Apple today and expected to see her newly finished manuscript. Lori had called yesterday informing Aria she'd already sold the book.

"Now where is this god forsaken town you've ensconced yourself at?"

Aria had laughed, "Collinsport, Maine. Just past Ellsworth. You can't miss it."

Or at least she hoped Lori wouldn't. Her agent had the worst sense of direction of anyone she'd met. Aria giggled and forced herself out of bed. The contractor she'd hired to install central heat in the house would arrive in a couple of days. He'd promised to have it completed before winter set in.

Still, her bedroom was chilly as she made her way across the carpeted floor to the new connecting bathroom. Aria had sunk a great deal of money into remodeling the 'Old House'. A name it had held for well over two hundred years.

She turned on the water in the sunken tub and added some scented salts. Vanilla wafted in the stream. Aria stripped off her flannel gown and settled into the bath. The heat warmed her and she spent a blissful half-hour relaxing. She washed her blonde hair and face and then toweled off and drained the tub.

Grabbing her thick robe she kept on the hook on the door. She brushed her hair out, dried it with the blow dryer and went back into the bedroom. She opened her closet.

"What to wear?" she mused.

She decided a pair of jeans and a white sweatshirt with "Harvard" emblazoned in red. She tucked her feet into fuzzy slippers and went downstairs, stopping in the drawing room to light a fire in the fireplace. Aria had updated the room, taking down all the old wallpaper and painting the room an antique white. The fireplace had been redone in gray marble, with a dragon painting over the oak mantle.

She'd even put dark gray tile in front of the fireplace. The dark blue loveseat she'd angled to take advantage of the flickering flames. Another seat piled with lacey pillows stood under the window. She'd place a bookcase beside the door filled with many of her favorite research references. She'd even put a long couch along the far wall.

Aria stretched and followed the long hallway, past the basement door, to the kitchen in the back of her house. She pushed open the door and admired her yellow kitchen. Her appliances were a darker yellow. She'd had to special order them. A gas stove adorned one wall, surrounded by cupboards; the sink sat under the window, a large fridge and a wonderful island she could use to make her cooking masterpieces.

She smiled remembering the horrified look on the workman's faces when she'd told them to tear out the useless relics of the past and replace them with her new modern conveniences. Aria trotted to the microwave. Placing a cup in to warm water for tea, she pulled out the makings for muffins and cooked breakfast.

Placing her meal on a tray along with her mug and a jar of strawberry preserves she'd purchased at the local farmer's market. Aria went back upstairs. She'd taken one of the old bedrooms and converted it into her office.

Putting the tray on the small table beside her computer, she stoked up the fire, something she really should have done earlier, and curled up on the big recliner her father had purchased for her before his death. She pulled the quilt her mother had made over her legs and enjoyed hot muffins smothered in butter and strawberries.

She sipped her tea as the fireplace warmed the room. Content she allowed her mind to drift back…

"Hurry up and you'll be late!" her roommate, Christie called.

Putting the finishing touches on her makeup, Aria hurried out the door, pulling on her coat as she ran down the stairs to catch the T. She lived in a brick triple-decker in Dorchester with two other women. They roomed together to share the costs. Living anywhere near Boston was expensive.

She streaked into the law office where she worked. She'd been a temp working through an agency. Busily typing a document due for a court hearing that day and running slightly behind, she jumped when the phone rang.

"Hi ya, kid. How's it going?"

Lori Heather called everyone 'kid'. Aria had gotten used to it. "Busy. Got a doc due for a hearing. What's up?"

"Got some great news."

Typical. Her agent never told her everything at once. "And?"

"Two houses got into a bidding war."

Aria hit a wrong key. She hadn't heard anything for about six months. She figured no one wanted her book.

"Looks like a nice advance. I'll call you back in a couple days with the details."

"I'll be waiting." Not that she'd be able to quit her day job. She'd sold a few stories and a couple of books. She hadn't made a lot of money as a writer.

"Right. Bye." Lori hung up.

She'd been kept updated all through the long process of negotiations. It hadn't been a lot, but more than the usual sum. Not enough to escape the city like she wanted. Ah, well, at least she was publishing.

A few weeks later she'd been called into the office. Mr. Smyth, the senior partner, glowered down at her over his thick glasses. "Seems," he said with no preamble, "you've come into some inheritance. A trust fund your father passed down to you."

Trust fund? Her father? She came from honest working folks. No way did her…

"Don't have the details, but our firm has been contracted to make certain you inherit."

Okay. Whatever. She wandered through the legal mumbo jumbo and found herself suddenly with more money than she knew what to do with. She invested some, banked the rest and went house hunting.

She'd spent a month exploring many small communities in New Hampshire, Vermont and Maine, finally finding the Old House and had purchased it. The local realtor had told her the current family patriarch, David Collins, was selling the house and adjoining property to pay some old back IRS taxes.

Aria drained her mug. She'd gotten the house for a real steal, considering the current housing prices. Good thing too, she'd spent a lot fixing up the house. It had been in very bad shape.

She didn't really mind she'd managed to turn many of the rooms into comfortable living spaces and would slowly renovate the rest of the house over the next several years. When winter blew in, she'd explore some of the other rooms and the attic. She might keep some of the antiques she found, but family portraits she promised to return to Collins family.

Aria rose and sat at her computer. She had some editing to do before Lori arrived, she booted up and plunged into 19th century London. After a couple of hours she stopped and made herself a snack. Back in her study and favorite chair, she mused over what little she knew of David Collins. The master of Collinwood, currently in his mid-thirties, recently divorced from Kalinda Meyers, a real bitch from the rumors she'd heard, two children, Sandy and Kent, over which he was currently in a custody battle over, struggling from a hostile takeover and slumping financial profit.

In some ways, she felt sorry for him. Small traditional businesses couldn't seem to make it in the corporate driven market. But, the troubles of the Collins family were not her concern. She went back to work on her editing, wondering why she ever chose to write about a roguish vampire taking on Jack the Ripper. With a small laugh she continued her editing.

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Dusk had fallen when her doorbell, another new addition to the Old House, roused her from the brief nap she'd taken. She stretched and answered the double oak door.

"About time," Lori grumbled. She pushed her way in and glanced around.

Aria noticed Lori's red miniskirt and big billowy crème sweater. Not to mention her spiked heels, totally impractical for the walk from the road up to the house.

Lori dumped her fur coat on the rack and strode into the living room. Aria followed her.

"Not bad, " Lori commented, making herself at home on the love seat. "Better than I expected from your descriptions."

"The house is getting there." Aria stood before the fireplace.

"Finished?"

Aria nodded. "The change seems to be good for me. I can't think of when I felt so creative."

Lori smiled. Her raven hair was stylishly swept up into a French bun. Her blue eyes danced as she extended her long legs to show off her new designer stockings. "Like them?"

"Might be okay for New York," Aria replied.

"Of course they are." She sniffed. "Better be for what I paid for them."

"Right." Better just to agree with her.

"All right, kid. I want the manuscript to take back with me."

"I have the disk ready for you."

"Good. Once I have it I'll leave you in peace."

Aria ran upstairs and returned, handing it over.

Lori pushed it into her oversized purse, which doubled, she swore as a suitcase. "Everything is about to finalized. Editor wanted to see it for any needed changes."

Normal. Editors rarely accepted anything just the way it was. "Just let me know."

"Of course." Lori retrieved her coat. "Sure you're okay here?"

"I'm fine, Lori."

"Hmmm." She wondered if Lori believed her. "Well, I'm just a phone call away. You've got my cell number. If you need anything,"

"I'm fine, Lori," she repeated. "If I need you, I will call."

"See that you do." Lori stepped over the threshold and was gone.

Aria closed the door with a shake of her head a sigh of relief. Lori was pretty intense and hard to take sometimes. But thank God for her!

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Running a comb through her blonde hair, Aria decided to

add a sapphire flower to it. She pinned it in, and stood back to scrutinize her appearance. The pale blue dress she'd chosen clung to her soft curves and fell in silken drapes to her ankles. She'd accented it with a pearl necklace and matching earrings.

"Just hope it's appropriate attire for a dinner party at Collinwood."

David Collins had extended a surprise invitation. Seemed a couple of his cousins had returned from Europe and he was anxious for her to meet them. She'd also garnered, from talking to various merchants, the two cousins weren't staying at Collinwood. They'd chosen, instead, to rent one of the smaller cottages on the estate.

Many of the dreamy eyed young women had also told her, the two were attractive, wealthy, and single.

"Like I care about that," she mumbled. Rechecking her makeup one last time, she hurried downstairs and put on her coat. Winter had arrived, dumping several inches. She'd been warned if more arrived, she ran a chance of being cut off from town.

She grabbed her pocket book, bagged her shoes, she'd put on her boots for the trek through the woods to the main house. Mercifully, the full moon lit the path to Collinwood and it only took a few minutes in the bitter cold.

When she arrived, she knocked and was admitted by an old woman who took her coat and pointed her to the drawing room. She changed into her heels and entered the room, noting the old woman had vanished.

David rose from the Victorian couch and greeted her. He wore a stylish dark blue suit, which brought out the color of his eyes. His light brown hair was short, with a few streaks of gray. "Miss Marshall. So glad you could join us."

She returned his welcoming smile. "I'm glad you invited me, Mr. Collins."

"Please," he pointed to a chair beside the ornate fireplace.

She noticed the other two men in the room. Both seemed to be in their early or maybe mid-thirties, dark haired and eyed, and very well dressed.

David noticed her glance. "My cousins, Quentin,"

The tall man with muttonchops approached her and kissed her hand. He winked playfully at her.

Aria blushed. "Hello."

"And my cousin Barnabas."

He took her hand as well, his cold lips caressing it. His piercing eyes met hers briefly. "Welcome to Collinwood, Miss Marshall." His deep baritone held a touch of British accent.

"Thank you." His voice seemed familiar.

She saw a brief troubled look cross his thin features. "Have we met?" he asked.

Shaking her head she replied, "I haven't been outside the U.S."

"She probably just reminds you of someone," Quentin chided with a knowing look.

'Perhaps," he replied with a slight frown.

The silent housekeeper deposited a sliver tray of small crackers topped with various cheeses and meats. "Dinner in thirty minutes, Mr. Collins."

"Thank you, Mrs. Dodson."

"We were about to help ourselves to a drink," David said, "care for something."

"Just some mineral water."

He poured her a drink. She took it and sat in one of the chairs. Barnabas sat in the other and Quentin poured himself a brandy. David sat back on the couch.

"David has told us you're a writer, Miss Marshall," Barnabas ventured. His eyes met hers again.

"Aria." She looked away taking in the dark paneled room, large bay window and dark worn looking furniture. "And yes, I am."

"Oh?" Quentin broke in, "What kind of books do you write?"

"Well," she sipped her water. Something about Barnabas Collins presence made her uneasy. "I've sold some literary type stories, and a couple of children's fantasies. My current book is a horror novel."

"Just starting?" he wanted to know.

"It takes awhile to break in." She smiled at him.

"May we ask what it is about?" Barnabas inquired, offering her an encouraging smile.

She wondered why he wasn't drinking anything. "It's about a vampire investigating the Jack the Ripper murders."

Quentin choked. Barnabas's face froze and paled.

Aria found their reactions strange. She turned to David and noticed he'd blanched. "Is something wrong?"

David shook his head. "No." He took a few swallows. "Sorry. You couldn't possibly know about some of our past…family…disgraces."

"Excuse me?"

He laughed harshly. "Two hundred years ago, stories circulated, that the first Barnabas Collins was turned into a vampire by a jealous witch and driven from Collinwood."

Interesting. Seemed to correlate with some of the local history she'd investigated on one of her research trips to the library. "I see." Both the cousins seemed to have recovered.

An uncomfortable silence fell. When David finally spoke he talked about his children. "Kalinda agreed to allow the children to visit for Christmas. I'm planning on getting a tree next week."

"They'll enjoy the snow," Quentin put in, "Probably fill the yard with snowmen."

"I remember doing that as a child." Aria smiled at the warm memories.

"So did I," David said.

"No doubt," Barnabas added, "Mrs. Dodson will spoil them with candy and popcorn."

"At least we'll be together as a family." David included his cousins in a meaningful glance.

"It has been a long time," Barnabas agreed.

"Too long." Quentin drained his glass.

Mrs. Dodson entered. "Dinner."

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While walking home Aria decided dinner had been very interesting. Quentin and David had chatted constantly and devoured their dinners with gusto. Barnabas on the other hand, had hardly eaten anything.

The food had been good. A pot roast with baked potatoes and carrots. Nice crisp fresh salad before the main course and a delightful chocolate cake, which Aria had liked so well she'd asked Mrs. Dodson for the recipe. The old girl had lit up and most graciously shared her secret.

A bit of snow drifted off a leave and fell in her hair. She brushed it off. Out of the corner of her eyes she thought she saw something move. "Hello?" she called.

Winter quiet answered. She shrugged and continued to the Old House opening the door to welcome heat. The handyman she'd hired had finally completed the central heating system a few days earlier.

She replaced her boots with fuzzy slippers and dropped her fancy heels on the floor. Her coat she put on the rack. She slipped into the living room and decided a nice fire was in order. Settling back on the love seat she watched the flames flicker and dance in the old grate.

Still, she felt chilled. Aria grabbed the lap quilt she kept on the back of the seat and wrapped herself up in it. Languorous heat enveloped her. Her eyes drifted closed and she slept.

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She stumbled over a tuff of weeds. Reaching out to steady herself she felt the damp chill of stone. Her fingers touched groves in the surface but the darkness prevented her from reading it.

Tentatively stepping out she used the wall as a guide as she slowly moved forward. Dank mildew touched her nose and she shivered. The thin shawl she felt draped over her shoulders offered little protection from the nippy night air.

Faint shapes began taking shape as her eyes adjusted. Rounded edges, crosses, angels, she realized was in the graveyard. Her heart began to pound. What was she doing here?

"Don't be afraid, " a voice whispered.

"Who?" Aria stopped trying to track the direction of the sound.

"Come," it beckoned.

Compelled she walked further.

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Sharp raps on the door roused her. She shook off the vivid dream and tossed aside the lap quilt. Rising to answer the insistent noise, Aria sensed she missed something important. As if the dream hadn't yet played itself out and told her what she needed to know.

She shook her head. This was the type of stuff she put in her books. It didn't happen in real life. She hurried to the door.

"Good evening," Barnabas Collins greeted her.

"Mr. Collins." She wasn't sure she should let him in.

"Forgive the lateness of the hour." He pushed his way in, removing his coat and putting an odd wolf handled cane beside it.

She frowned at the cane. Where had she seen it before?

"I wanted to see what improvements you'd made on the Old House." He gave her a warm smile.

"As you said, it's late. Tomorrow morning would be much better."

"I'll be away on business."

"Mr. Collins," she tapped her foot impatiently.

"I was born in this house before my father moved to London. I've grown up with the stories. Again, I apologize for the hour, but I really would like to see it."

Understandable she supposed. "You could have called and we would have arranged a better time. One convenient for ME."

She caught the glare he tossed at her. He took a step toward her. Aria stood her ground resisting the temptation to back away. "Mr. Collins. You are trespassing and if you don't leave Now, I'm going to call the police."

"You would not dare," his voice held the intent of an order.

"No?" She crossed her arms over her chest not worrying about whether or not it creased her dress. "It's late. I'd like to get some sleep tonight. You came here uninvited. Pushed your way in."

"You're really quite beautiful."

"Say what?!" She couldn't believe the man. "Now look here,"

He reached out a cool hand and caressed her cheek. "You would like to show me the house."

She pulled away. "Get out."

He frowned. "No." He grabbed her shoulders and drawing her close to him. "Look into my eyes."

His words reminded her of a badly written vampire novel. "Let go of me!"

"Look!" he ordered.

"Let go of her, Barnabas!" a soft alto demanded.

He released her wildly searching the room. "No! You're dead!"

Aria stumbled away and ran into the living room grabbing the phone and dialing the police. His hand closed over hers and forced her to hang up. He pushed her down covering her with his body.

She struggled against his hard body. Aria had no wish to be raped by him.

"Let her go!" the woman's voice commanded again.

With an unearthly roar he rolled off her and fled the house. Aria got up and slammed the door shut, making very sure the door was locked. Her sides heaved, both feeling like she wanted to faint and throw up.

She slid down the door and sat on the floor until her body stopped shaking. Hugging herself, tears flowed, releasing the pent up emotion. She cried, sobbed and tried not to give in to hysterics. Barnabas Collins had scared her, very badly, but hadn't actually harmed her.

Aria got up and went to the phone. Should she call the police? Would they believe her? She knew how influential the Collins family was in their hometown.

"Don't call," the mysterious voice begged.

"Who are you? Where are you?"

Silence answered. Dare she believe a ghost inhabited these very old walls? "Get a grip," she told herself. She went upstairs, took a long bath and fell between the sheets of her familiar bed in uneasy slumber.

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Aria opened her eyes to daylight. She recognized her room, yet her bed didn't have a canopy. A Persian rug adorned the floor and a candle sat on the stand.

She got to her feet pulling on the silk gown she found on the chair. Opening the door she descended the stairs. She knew she was in the Old House, but not the one she currently lived in. Yet, everything looked new, not the dilapidated house she'd bought.

The front door opened. "Come!" the wind ordered.

Somehow, she knew the path she had to take. Trees whipped overhead and thunder echoed in the distance. Again, she found herself in the cemetery.

A cloaked form pointed to the mausoleum. "Watch."

Someone moved in their direction. She hide in the bushes watching an old man, in old-fashioned garb, enter the burial place. His steps were heavy. The door creaked open and he entered. He came out much later, tears on his face.

What in the world? She wondered.

"For you!"

Something flew in the air and landed in her hands. Leather bound with twine tied into a neat bow. "Where am I?"

The cloaked figure no longer was there. Mist swirled up and the scene vanished.

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She opened her eyes to the faint first rays of dawn. Aria started to stretch when an object fell out her hand and onto the floor.

"Huh?" Aria got up quickly, grabbing her housecoat and retrieving the leather book. It was the same one in her dream. "What in the world is going on?"

A little frightened, she went downstairs, baked some biscuits and made a strong, hot pot of tea. Settling in at the small table she had built into a small alcove in the kitchen, she buttered her biscuit and spread some blueberry jam on it. She sipped her tea and ate her breakfast, before daring to open the mysterious book.

"My name is Angelique," she read. Angelique? Wasn't that the name of the maidservant who had served Josette Duprey, the first Barnabas Collins' wife to be?

Curious, she read further.

My name is Angelique. Only in these pages do I dare write the secrets I carry. I have failed to truly become Barnabas Collins wife and after he tried to kill me, I cursed him. Mon Cher, if only I had known. I am so sorry. I loved you so and yet you rejected me.

Yet too, you will never know about her. Your precious daughter which I have hidden. I had intended to tell you. But now, after your wretched betrayal, you will never know.

I have secreted her away. There are those who will keep her safe, until I can return for her and raise her as my child.

There were a number of other entries. Aria scanned these until she reached another section talking of the child.

I returned for my daughter today, only to find the one I had entrusted her to had betrayed me. She sold my daughter to a rich couple from England. "I did not think you would return," she dared say to me.

Like I would not return for my only child. The only link I have to my beloved Barnabas.

I forced her to tell me all she knew of the couple. I will travel to England and reclaim what is mine.

More entries, about the journey, wild rants about Barnabas, professed love for a man she so obviously hated.

I found them. As I gazed over the fence and saw my child, I wanted to run to her, to tell her I was her mother and take her away. Yet, I did not. The expression on the face of the mother my daughter called, "Momma," stopped me. She truly loves my daughter. How can I break her heart as mine has been? How can I take the joy away from her? The light of her life.

Truthfully, I can not. I walked away and did not look back. Perhaps, sometime in the future, I will come again, and tell her the truth, but not now. Not with so much in my life unsettled.

"Interesting," Aria said. So Angelique was not what the Collins' family history painted her. She did have a heart, not the wanton hussy who had stolen Barnabas from his rightful bride.

She glanced at the clock and decided it was time to do some writing. Taking the diary into the living room she found a place in the bookcase for it. There would probably be time to read more later.

Aria dashed upstairs and began work on her newest book. She had an idea using the information she'd gathered from Angelique's diary, coupled with her own incomplete family history. Madly typing, so not to loose the idea the morning passed quickly.

The phone ringing jarred her out of own world. "Hello?"

"Hi, Aria, it's David Collins."

"Hi, Mr. Collins," she hit save and sat back in her chair.

"David, please. Hope you enjoyed dinner last night."

"I did." But not your cousin's nocturnal visit, she added silently.

"I wondered," she could hear him take a deep breath, "if you'd like to have lunch with me."

"Lunch?"

"Yeah." He laughed nervously. "I have to go in town and look for a tree and really wanted some company."

She had noticed him looking her over last night. Hmmm. "Well, I did just finish my days writing and I really could use a break."

"Then you'll come with me?"

She laughed. "Sure. Give me a few minutes to clean up and get dressed."

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David picked her up about an hour later in his sporty little car. He was more relaxed around her then the evening before. "Hope you like meeting my cousins."

"Pretty much." She'd decided not to tell him about Barnabas.

"Quentin is quite taken with you. I'd watch him if I were you. He's quite a womanizer."

"Funny, I've heard the same about you."

His face flamed. "In my younger years maybe."

They drove the rest of the way in companionable silence. He parked the car on the main street and they went straight to the tree stand, set up in the church parking lot.

David took about a half-hour picking out just the right tree and paid extra to have it delivered to Collinwood later that evening. With a warm smile he took her to a small local diner.

The place had character. Mostly it looked like the hotel, whose lobby she could see from the table, had added the place as an after thought. The walls were a plain white, the table retro 1950's, and some rock-n-roll played on the jukebox.

David caught her eyeing the place. "The food's good. There's a fancier place owned by a New Yorker just outside of town. He uses it to lure folks from Bar Harbor."

She offered David a smile. "What do you suggest?"

He glanced at the menu. "Personally, I always order a burger, fries and Coke." He gave her a cockeyed smile. "Mrs. Dodson would be appalled."

She stifled a giggle. David really was quite charming. Pity it had taken them awhile to go out together. "I think I'll have a salad and a shake."

He motioned for the waitress and after placing their orders, she took a moment to really study him. He was good looking in an almost boy next door sort of way. His brown eyes smiled at her and she found herself blushing. Course, his body wasn't bad either when decked out in jeans and a tan sweater.

"What are you thinking?" he asked.

"You really don't want to know," she answered, averting her eyes.

"I loved the dress you had on last night," his voice had a huskiness to it.

"Thank you." She was very glad she'd chosen jeans and a sweater for today.

"So, here you are!"

Aria looked up in surprise. Lori Heather stood with her hands on her hips glaring down at her.

"I went to your house. You weren't there. I had a devil of a time tracking you down."

"You usually call first."

"I tried. Your damn phone was busy."

Aria wondered if it was off the hook. She hadn't rechecked it. "So what's up?"

Lori spared David a glance, then took a better look. "Hmmm,"

"Lori?"

"You'll be home later?"

"Yes." Aria didn't know what to make of the sudden change in Lori's demeanor.

"Fine. I'll drop by later. Ta, ta." She waved a well-manicured hand at them and left.

"And just who was that?" David wanted to know.

"My agent."

Their food arrived sparing her from further explanations. They ate quickly and together they wandered in and out of the small shops along main street. Some contained antiques, others figurines, some just were junk shops.

"Their best season is summer."

"Would be," she agreed.

Returning to the car David drove her back to the Old House. "I hope we can do this again," he said hopefully.

"I'd like that."

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Lori arrived on her doorstep promptly at seven. "So," she breathed dropping her fur coat and plopping down on the love seat, "Nice to see you get out now and then." She put on a pouty face. "And here I thought you were all cooped out in this drafty mansion."

"I'm hardly cooped up," Aria retorted.

"Obviously," her blue eyes sparkled. "Okay, who was the dreamboat you were out with?"

"You mean David Collins?"

"The master of Collinwood." Lori nodded her approval. "He'd make a good catch, kid."

"I'm not looking." Aria sat in the rocker she'd recently purchased via the Internet.

"Usually when you find someone."

"Lori, I have too much to do to allow a man to mess up my life right now."

"I hear there are cousins."

Leave it Lori to have a one-track mind. She went through men faster then horses ran the Kentucky Derby.

"Two. Attractive. Single."

"Tell me more."

"I think you'd like Quentin. Curly black hair, mutton chops."

"Mutton chops?" That had gotten her interest.

"Sort of a mix between old and new. Barnabas, however,"

"You don't like him."

She wondered if she should tell Lori about his late night visit. She considered it but changed her mind. Ms. Heather would insist on calling the police and filing charges and then dragging Aria back to New York for safe keeping.

"I don't trust him."

"Should always trust your instincts."

"Like you do," Aria teased.

"Can't help it if I like artsy types. They're great in bed."

"There's more to a relationship than sex."

"Bite your tongue, kid." Lori stretched. "So, got a new hot one coming off the computer."

"Got a brain storm today. Still too raw to talk about yet."

"Just keep 'em coming, kid." Lori got up and put on her coat. "Oh, if you can manage it, I'd love to meet this Quentin."

"I'll see what I can do."

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Barnabas put aside the new King novel he'd been reading. The horrific content didn't interest him, even if the author had autographed it himself.

His face broke into a grin. He'd bought the new title at a local bookshop in Portland when he learned the author was a few doors down signing his latest work at another store. Braving the faint daylight, he'd gotten the book signed.

For some reason, he'd intrigued King. The author invited him, and Quentin, out for coffee. The three had spent a long evening talking and Barnabas guessed the writer had figured out or at least suspected what the two of them were.

But, they'd had many years experience dodging such attempts. Despite King's best efforts, he hadn't learned what he wanted and they bid their good bye's around midnight.

Since they had been corresponding with David, they had arranged to live in the Winter's House. Their young cousin had been disappointed they weren't staying at Collinwood, yet, he did understand their need for privacy.

David had waited until their arrival home to tell Barnabas he'd sold the Old House and the adjoining property. Barnabas had been furious. He'd always been guaranteed access to his legacy. The new master of Collinwood explained the financial difficulties; back owed taxes, and told his cousin the woman who bought it was taking very good care of it.

Barnabas still hadn't liked it. In fact, he was still furious. And after his visit to the house, she'd ruined the historic value of it.

He walked over to the marble fireplace of the Winter's House. A peaceful seascape hung above and two stone gull statues sat on the stone mantle. The walls were decorated with pale blue wallpaper with yellow flowers sprinkled haphazardly.

"I like the picture," Quentin commented.

"It lacks a sense of history."

Quentin wandered to the side bar and poured himself a brandy. "It's the twenty first century, cousin."

Barnabas poked at the fire he'd built earlier. He knew he really had no need for it, or the warmth it provided. The true reason is that it gave him a sense of being alive. An illusion maybe, but one he badly needed.

"Shilling for your thoughts."

Amusement danced in Barnabas's dark brown eyes. "Isn't worth much in American dollars. Nor are the Euros."

Quentin settled in the gold easy chair close to the fireplace. "What else is new?"

Barnabas laughed. The two of them had traveled together a lot and understood each other.

"So Barnabas, what are thinking?"

"I was thinking about King."

Quentin chuckled. "We frustrated him. I think he knew what you were, but just couldn't figure out how to prove it."

"At least he didn't follow us here."

"Not his style. But I'll bet we end up in story of his."

"Perhaps." Barnabas gave his cousin a knowing look. "You were out late last night."

"I like female company."

Quentin was quite a womanizer. Barnabas didn't know how many hearts his amorous cousin had broken over the years.

"What did you think of Aria Marshall?" There, he'd said it.

Quentin cast a questioning look at him. "Other than the fact she's very pretty?" He sipped his brandy. "I read both her books. She's pretty good." Pointing to the bookcase across the room he said, "They're on the top shelf if you're interested."

"Perhaps later." Barnabas sat in the other chair across from Quentin. "She's certainly strong willed."

"You didn't try," alarm tinged his voice.

"I did." Barnabas looked away. "I didn't harm her."

"I'd suggest staying away from her. Her uncanny likeness to Angelique," Quentin shook his head. "We had too many run ins with that damned witch. I don't want to encounter her again for a very long time."

Secretly, Barnabas agreed. He directed his gaze to the fireplace and the jumping flames. He'd returned to this time from the 1840s still mourning her death. He'd been freed from the curse, living a normal live for almost five years before the foreigner appeared and plunged him once more into the world of night and blood lust.