All The News Fit to Print

Sussex, England
June 1991

Ragged clouds flew before a three-quarter moon.
Saturn was trine Uranus. Mars was in Scorpio.
Damn and blast, the black-clad figure thought, staring down into the darkness. No auspicious alignment here.
Idly he swept a fall of lace from the braided cuffs of his frock coat, watching racing clouds shadow the stark, weathered parapets beneath his feet. Before him Draycott Abbey's one-story gatehouse lay silent, dappled with silver in the moonlight.
A man and yet not quite a man, the tall figure stood in brooding silence, while moonbeams played over his black damask waistcoat and elegant lace cravat.
In this world he was, yet somehow not quite of it.
Around him drifted the scent of roses, rich and fine now in the full flush of summer. 'Petite Lisette,' 'Gloire des Mousseux,' and 'Fantin Latour'--their names were as rich as the heritage that had bred them. Ornate and densely clustered, their velvet petals opened to the night, scenting the warm, still air with beauty.
Far away in the distance, past the rolling downs, past the silver river, past the sleeping village of Highgate, a bell chimed the dead of night.
Twelve times it rang, and then once more.
High atop the granite parapets, Adrian Draycott turned and stared out at the lush park, the glossy waters of the spring-fed moat.
At the shimmering mullioned windows of this ancient house that he had always loved, not wisely but too well.
His lips twisted in the ghost of a smile.
He sensed more than heard the low rustle of fur against granite. He turned, looked down, his smile growing to a boyish grin. "Ah, Gideon, have you come to keep me company again? If so, I'll thank you for it, old friend, for there is something about this night...something troubling." He looked up, his eyes ranging over the dark, wooded fields. "Something that summons up long-forgotten hopes and dreams that are better left buried." Slowly his smile faded and his expression hardened.
A cat glided over the parapet, long and starkly gray, paws tipped in black. Great amber eyes glowed against the darkness, keen and intelligent.
Too intelligent for any cat.
Frowning, the figure in starkest black stared out toward the Channel, watching a finger of lightning arc over the wooded hills. "Yes, there is something else out there tonight. You feel it too, don't you, my friend? A gathering. A heaviness of spirit. And every second I sense that danger moving closer."
Sleek muscles flashing, the cat jumped to the top of the parapet and padded along the abbey’s weathered stone face.
His companion's lips quirked. "Brazen as always, I see. You really must curb this impulse to recklessness, old friend. It will beget you much trouble otherwise, I fear."
The cat's eyes shone as he settled back on gray haunches. His ears twitched and then he looked down, initiating a delicate toilette in brazen disregard for the granite edge only inches away.
Beside him Adrian Draycott sighed. "So you think it's over, do you?" He leaned out across the wall and into the wind, the white ruffles at his neck tossing sharply as he studied the dark patchwork of fields and forest below. His long fingers smoothed his damask waistcoat thoughtfully. "Because my brother is wed and the men who chased him are dead?"
For a moment Adrian Draycott stiffened, tasting the bitter dregs of sadness. He had saved his brother from a pair of cold-blooded adventurers in search of a treasure buried far away in the mud of Thailand, where Nicholas Draycott had spent nearly a year in captivity.
Adrian had saved Nicholas from them, and in the process he had saved one other, a woman with golden hair and sparkling eyes. A woman to whom he'd lost his heart.
Two hundred years before.
Ever since, there had been a great emptiness in his life, which he'd tried hard to fill with his duties as guardian of this beloved abbey. Two centuries had passed since he'd slipped away from his dying body, and over the years Adrian had found himself missing that physical form less and less.
1790. Yes, it had been a fine year--for wine, for women, and for dying. But he still remembered what it felt like to walk in soft spring grass, to breathe the summer air and feel all the things that a physical body entitled one to feel.
And, of course, there had been those seven short years of boyhood, when he had been Nicholas's twin. But an accident had ended that life tragically.
Yes, those years counted hardly at all, Adrian thought.
But Nicholas and Kacey deserved their happiness, and Adrian was determined that they have it. His job now was simply to watch, to guard, to intervene in what small ways he could to protect this ancient place and all who resided within it.
Which meant that he was left alone once more, with no company but Gideon and the cold stone walls. With nothing but dark memories and the sad cry of the wind sweeping up from the sea.
But this duty was by Adrian Draycott's choice. He'd have it no other way.
So he'd always thought, at least.
Until tonight.
Until he began to remember things he shouldn't have remembered.
Things like the haunting scent of lavender on a summer breeze, the velvet texture of a woman's cheek. The slow, slanting smile that spoke of pleasures soon to come....
At the foot of the moat a small night creature shot from the darkness, screeching in pain as it crashed away through the underbrush.
With a sigh, the man on the parapet shook his head, his raven eyes hardening. "Aye, there is danger abroad tonight, Gideon. Great danger. I can almost feel it growing, somewhere out there in the darkness." He closed his eyes. "Dear God, not another test...."
At the edge of the parapet the great cat meowed.
"Indeed, I hope not, my friend. Long have I guarded these beloved walls, these fertile fields, and it has always been my joy as well as my duty. But now I'm tired. Yes, old friend, I'm tired of all of it."
In a dark rush the sadness returned, crushing him with thoughts of all the things he'd never have again.
His fingers, washed with moonlight, tightened abruptly.
Slowly Adrian Draycott turned, lace fluttering at his braided cuffs. He began to pace the abbey's lonely battlements.
Just as he had done every night for the last two hundred years.
And for six hundred before that.
Atop the sheer granite wall the great gray feline sat motionless, his body a slash of shadow against the rising moon. His amber eyes glowed keen and phosphorescent as the moon rose higher, wreathing him in a nimbus of silver. Purring softly, the cat watched his friend and liege lord keep a lonely vigil with dark memories and lost dreams.
Meanwhile the night slept on below them.
And with every passing second the malevolence that had no name crept closer.


by Christina Skye