Something Wicked This Way Comes is a Regency romance novella and my contribution to the Spellbound anthology, which is part of The Haunting of Castle Keyvnor Collection. It’s also the first story in my Brides of North Barrows series.
Seven years ago, Sophia Brisbane lost everything—her father, her brother, her family fortune—but worse, was rejected by the man she loved. She’s determined not to yearn for the past and its pleasures—until she encounters Lucien de Roye again. Although he knew Sophia could never be his own, Lucien vowed to retrieve her squandered inheritance—even wagering his very soul to a demon. When Sophia learns what he has done, no force on heaven or earth will convince her to let him pay the demon’s due, no matter what the cost to herself.
Something Wicked This Way Comes is now available in a digital edition by itself. Spellbound and the other Haunting of Castle Keyvnor anthologies remain available, too.
A solitary park in London—October 1811
It was the kind of wager Lucien had come to like best.
A dangerous one.
With very long odds against him.
Which was precisely why he had proposed it.
On this misty morning, he stood not a dozen paces away from Eugene Tremblay, Marquess of Lyndenhurst, the man he despised most in all the world. It was just dawn, and the first touch of the red sun could be seen on the horizon. Lyndenhurst lifted his dueling pistol, one of a fine pair brought by Lucien, and took his aim. Lucien let his weapon hang at his side and waited. Lyndenhurst squinted down the barrel. Lucien took a breath, and his opponent fired.
A flock of ducks quacked with indignation at the sound and noisily took flight from the river.
The blow struck Lucien so hard that he thought his luck had turned, in the worst possible moment.
He was thrown back onto the turf from the force of impact, and the breath was hammered out of him. His chest burned long enough for him to fear terror, then he felt the ball shift and slide through his body. It emerged from his back like a bubble piercing the surface of a pond, and as a warm glow replaced the pain.
His luck hadn’t turned. Lucien fought his smile of satisfaction.
Lyndenhurst swore and his footsteps could be heard trudging closer.
Lucien couldn’t resist the temptation. He waited, lying utterly still, until he felt Lyndenhurst leaning over him. The older man was breathing heavily, though whether it was fear that he had killed a man or the exertion of haste was unclear. Lucien enjoyed the notion that his enemy might be having second thoughts—or fears of retribution. Lucien felt a shadow as Lyndenhurst reached over him to touch the front of his dark tailcoat. He smelled the brandy on Lyndenhurst’s breath. He held his breath and waited.
“Fool!” the older man declared with disgust. “His life sacrificed in exchange for a piece of property so worthless that no one in London will purchase.” Lucien felt the cloth of his tailcoat reweaving itself to close the hole, a soft whisper of threads pulling against each other. Lyndenhurst’s tone turned scornful. “I pray I do not die as foolish as you did, Lucien de Roye. The dogs will find you here.”
Lucien chose that moment to open his eyes. “I think that unlikely,” he said. “Although I am glad to learn that you would not have summoned any to my aid.”
Lyndenhurst turned as white as a ghost and stepped back in astonishment. Lucien had never seen his opponent reveal his emotions so clearly, and he was sufficiently wicked to savor the view.
“Upon my word!” Lyndenhurst declared. He was quick to recover from his surprise, though, and his eyes narrowed in speculation. He looked left and right, but there were no witnesses of their endeavor, by Lucien’s design.
Then Lyndenhurst bent closer, peering through his quizzing glass, seeking a flaw or a trick. “The hole is gone,” he whispered. His pale eyes glinted as he watched the blood disappear from Lucien’s tailcoat, vanishing as if it had never been. That familiar cool smile, the one that made Lucien think of hungry wolves, curved Lyndenhurst’s lips, his usual assurance restored. “By all rights, you should be dead.”
“Yet I am not, exactly as I foretold.” Lucien sat up and brushed off his sleeves before rising to his feet.
“How did you do it?” The interest in Lyndenhurst’s tone could not be mistaken. “How did you cheat death?” He walked around Lucien, shaking his head. “It must be a trick, an illusion…”
Lucien bent leisurely and plucked the ball from the ground where he had fallen. It had passed directly through him and now rested in the turf. He held it between gloved finger and thumb to display it to Lyndenhurst. “Yours, I believe?”
Lyndenhurst blinked, surprised again for the barest of moments. “And yours,” he said, offering the pistol. He then seized the ball and pinched it tightly. “Is this genuine? Or is it a substitution?”
“You loaded the pistol with your own shot.”
“But still, it defies belief.” Lyndenhurst lifted his glass to examine the ball, shaking his head as he marveled. “I must have this ability. What price?”
“My winnings first, if you please.”
Lyndenhurst reached into his pocket and removed a document, then impatiently thrust it at Lucien. Lucien unfolded the deed and read it with care, ensuring that all of the properties were included that they had wagered upon.
“Well?” Lyndenhurst demanded. “What price?”
Lucien smiled. “Another game, of course, with stakes we agree upon.”
“You have only thing I desire enough to wager such a secret.”
“St. Maurice!” Lyndenhurst exhaled and surveyed the river. It was clear that he was calculating. He nodded quickly when his decision was made. “Done. When and where?”
Lucien disguised his delight. The bait was taken. Seven years of vengeance would come to its culmination very soon, and Sophia—and Charles, and Mr. Brisbane—would be avenged.
“It will have to be in Bocka Morrow in Cornwall, on the night of the 31st.”
“So far away?”
“I have business in the region.”
Lyndenhurst’s eyes darkened with suspicion. “How many players?”
“You and I. No others.”
Lyndenhurst’s expression turned shrewd. “I shall be there.”
“At the Mermaid’s Arms. I will secure a private room.”
Lyndenhurst folded his arms across his chest. “Vingt-et-un, winner take all?”
“A long journey for a short game,” Lucien replied easily. “Why not best of three games?”
“Why not?” Lyndenhurst shrugged, but his anticipation was palpable. “Why not sooner? Why not here in town?”
“I find appeal in the notion of playing for immortality on the night of Samhain in a village believed to be haunted.” That wasn’t half of the truth. Lucien met the man’s pale gaze. “Let alone one where there can be no witnesses of what passes between us.”
Lyndenhurst nodded agreement. “It does seem fitting. Ten?”
“Ten for dinner, and then the game,” Lucien agreed and offered his hand. “We shall be done by midnight.”
He would win easily.
Lyndenhurst shook Lucien’s hand and gripped it hard. His gaze lingered on the spot on Lucien’s tailcoat where the bullet hole had been. “How can it be so?” he mused, but Lucien didn’t want him to follow the course of his thoughts.
“Does it matter, if you can cheat death forever?”
Lyndenhurst’s lips set in a hard line. “No. It doesn’t matter.” There was satisfaction in his stride as he marched back to his horse, and Lucien surveyed the park once more to confirm that it was still empty. Victory was finally within reach.
He’d gambled and won, and this time, it would be worth it.
Taking vengeance from Lyndenhurst would be his last living deed.
The only disappointment was that Sophia would never know that he’d kept his word to her. Lucien would die on November 1, his soul forfeit in exchange for seven years of service from the demon who had ensured he could never lose.
He wouldn’t even see his beloved in the afterlife, for he was surely bound for Hell and Sophia had to be in Heaven.
Lucien knew theirs had always been a star-crossed match, but he didn’t have to take pleasure in yet one more reminder of that.
Justice done and a promise kept would have to suffice.
Excerpt from Something Wicked This Way Comes ©2016 Deborah A. Cooke