Blood Curse

Blood - 7


 Sharon Page


Some stories are fun to write from beginning to end, and Blood Curse was one of those stories. Thank you so much to the wonderful team at Kensington who make the process of creating a book so thrilling. I’d like to extend a special thanks to my wonderful editor, Audrey LaFehr, for her terrific support and encouragement, and for being so savvy, so talented, and so much fun to work with. I’d like to give a shout-out to Martin Biro, assistant extraordinaire, for taking care of so many things.

As always, a big thank you goes to my agent, Jessica Faust of BookEnds, LLC, who is always there to talk, help, share laughter, and give great advice. And I am forever grateful to my writing friends—writing a book involves a lot of solitary time with a computer, so it is wonderful to have people to talk to who understand.

Of course, this story wouldn’t exist without the help and support of my family. I can’t say thank you enough.

And to the readers—it is so wonderful to share stories with you all. An extra special thank you to you.



“Dear heaven,” Lady Ophelia Black murmured, as her fingers stroked the firm curve of the naked male bottom in front of her.

Even through her gloves she felt the smooth coolness of the Italian marble. The stone was spectacular. Flawless. Her fingers trembled a little more as they dipped into the shadowed indents of the statue’s haunches, then followed the upper swell of the buttocks to the tight valley between.

Ophelia had never seen an actual man without clothes. But whoever had modeled for this statue was male perfection. Before she’d seen this incredible work of art, she’d had no idea how beautiful a naked man’s bottom could be when it was made of firm muscle.

It was truly one of the most magnificent sculptures she’d ever seen.

She’d thought her own work was quite good—the dabbling she’d done with clay and more recently with stone. Faced with this homage to a ridiculously handsome man, she was humbled.

And nervous.

Ophelia flicked her tongue over her lower lip and looked around. Except for her and two dozen statues of naked men, the gallery was empty.

Fires burned in twin fireplaces, one at each end of the room, and several candles cast a golden glow around her. Warm, bright, and inviting, the room should have filled her with a sense of welcome.

But where was her hostess, Lady Cresthaven?

Why did she have the creepy sensation she was being watched?

This room in Lady Cresthaven’s home on Mount Street overlooked the rear of the house and a walled-in garden. The footman had referred to it as the gallery. He had told her Lady Cresthaven would be down momentarily.

But that had been at least a half hour ago.

Ophelia stopped stroking the beautiful marble piece in front of her. She paced between the pale, silent males. Resentment bubbled up. She was too nervous to really savor the remarkable . . . artwork surrounding her.

It had been a Herculean endeavor to sneak out of Mrs. Darkwell’s house tonight. She had locked her bedroom door from the inside, but Mrs. Darkwell had a key, and if Darky decided to check if Ophelia was in her bed, the woman would learn the truth. Over the last few weeks, Ophelia had crafted a key to unlock the bars on her window—one of the advantages of having sculpting tools. Scooting out onto the window ledge, she had climbed down the side of the house, using ivy and window ledges. Since she’d been kept locked up for years, she’d barely had the strength to hold on. Twice she’d almost fallen.

But she’d made it safely down the ivy. She had taken a huge risk to come. Heaven only knew how she would be punished for her escape if she were caught. How dare Lady Cresthaven keep her waiting?

Ophelia walked around the statue whose bottom she had touched.

It was only to marvel at the stunning quality of the marble and the remarkably fine depiction of muscle.

Merely artistic appreciation of a sculptor’s fine work.

That was all. Truly.

She was an innocent and she always would be. Touching statues of men was as close as she would ever be able to get to intimacy—

“Good evening.”

It was a smooth, deep, seductive drawl—a voice dipped in chocolate—and it almost made her jump out of her half-boots. It was a man’s voice.

One of the statues had come to life—

No, that was insane. They were marble. The voice had come from a real man. She was not alone after all . . . and her mysterious man had seen her grope a statue’s bottom.

Her cheeks heated like bread put in a roaring oven. She was so embarrassed. She didn’t want to face this man.

From somewhere in the middle of the sea of white marble people, the voice asked, “Do you like my friend’s collection, Lady Ophelia?”

“I—I thought I was alone.”

“You aren’t. Though I have to admit, you do have a gentle touch.”

Floor. Open. Now.

But the floor did not swallow her. A shadow moved between two white statues. No, not shadow. It was a gentleman with raven hair, large black eyes ringed with long, thick black lashes. As if he’d planned to disappear into the dark, the man wore a tailcoat of indigo, black trousers, and startlingly a shirt and waistcoat of black. From beneath a black beaver hat, a rugged face lit up with pleasure as he gazed at her, his lips quirking up in a hint of a smile.

Ophelia recognized him with shock, “Mr. Ravenhunt?”

“I hope you will forgive my ruse, my dear,” he said softly.

“Ruse? The invitation from Lady Cresthaven, you mean?”

“Yes, my dear. I sent it.”

She stared at his full, firm lips, mesmerized by the way his dimple winked and the lines at his mouth moved as he spoke. She felt strange inside—too hot, achy, as if she might be coming down with something. This happened every time she thought of Mr. Ravenhunt.

She’d met him on the very first afternoon she had escaped from Mrs. Darkwell’s School for Young Ladies—the house that was Ophelia’s prison, not a school. Swathed in a cloak with her hood pulled low to hide her face, she had crept into the museum just before it had closed.

It had been her dream to see the Elgin Marbles and the other Grecian statuary on display. She wasn’t allowed to go out at all.

And she had to go when it was quiet—she couldn’t risk accidentally touching an innocent museum-goer.

Then, just as the guard had informed her she only had a few minutes left, Mr. Ravenhunt had appeared. He’d struck up a conversation with her as they both studied a statue of an Olympian athlete crouched with a discus.

They had carefully avoided mentioning the athlete was naked.

Then Mr. Ravenhunt had walked her home—well, close to her home, so she could sneak through the mews, get in through the backyard, and climb up the back wall. It had been dark early, since it was still early spring.

It had been her first daring afternoon of freedom. She’d escaped more times, returning to the museum, and Mr. Ravenhunt had met her there almost each time.

Now, as she had to do each time she saw him, Ophelia took a step back. She could not let him get too close. She could hurt him—even kill him—if he touched her. She would do it even though she didn’t want to hurt him.

That was what her awful power did.

His black eyebrows lifted as she retreated. Then she bumped something hard. Mr. Ravenhunt looked as if he was fighting to smother a laugh.

Ophelia jerked around.

Oh, it figured, didn’t it? She had backed into a statue—into the front parts of a male statue, which had been depicted as aroused and erect. And very, very large.

Mr. Ravenhunt managed to quell his smile. “You are afraid of me?” he asked.

“No.” She wasn’t, actually. She was not afraid of what he would do to her. She was thoroughly terrified of what she might do to him.

A soft, kind look came to his eyes. They were absolutely black, so there was no difference between iris and pupil, which made them look striking and unusual. They glittered in the light. Framed by thick, long lashes, they were stunning.

She couldn’t tell him the truth about her wretched, cursed power. She couldn’t bear to watch him run away from her, too.

He bowed to her, an elegant bow that made her catch her breath.

“I shouldn’t have used a lie to bring you here,” he said. “I am sorry about that, but I had no choice. It was not as if I could send you a note inviting you to my home.”

“No,” she said again. He could not have sent a letter to her to ask to meet. It wasn’t done—not letters from unmarried gentlemen to unmarried ladies. Especially not to ladies who weren’t . . . normal and who were locked up to protect the world.

Ophelia wished she could think of more to say, other than parroting “no.” But in her head, a voice warned: Run, before you hurt him.

“Lady Cresthaven was willing to play along with my game,” he continued. “She met you at the museum per my instructions. Fortunately you came back as you had done every day.” He smiled once more. His lower lip was full and pouty. His mouth was more beautiful than those on any of the statues.

“I thought you would not be able to resist this collection, Lady Ophelia.” He stepped toward her.

She tore her longing gaze away from his mouth. She couldn’t kiss him. Or touch him. Or let him touch her.