Dark Symphony (Dark #10)


by Christine Feehan

Chapter 1

Antonietta Scarletti stared blankly toward the elaborate stained glass window of the palazzo. Outside the walls of the villa, the wind shrieked and moaned. She touched the glass with her sensitive fingertips, tracing the lead and the familiar patterns. If she tried, she could remember them, the vivid colors and frightening images. She laughed aloud at the thought. As a child she had certainly been frightened by the gargoyles and demons decorating the fifteenth-century palazzo, now she simply appreciated their beauty, although she could only see them through her fingertips.

Her home had been modernized many times over the centuries, but the Gothic architecture had been preserved as closely as possible to the original. She loved every secret passageway with the Machiavellian traps and every carefully cut stone that made up her home. Strangely, she was sleepy. Most nights she wandered, wide awake, through the large hallways or played her piano, the music moving through her and onto the keys, to pour out the torrent of emotion that sometimes threatened to overwhelm her. Tonight, as the wind howled and the sea pounded on the cliffs, she plaited her hair into a thick rope and thought of a dark poet.

Tasha, her cousin, had commented at dinner that threads of gray were already beginning to appear in her mass of long hair. Antonietta knew she was vain about her hair, but it was her only call to glory, and now with the gray beginning to appear, it was only a matter of time before that small vanity would vanish. Her self-mocking laughter was soft as she moved without hesitation across the room, unerringly to the piano. Her fingers slid across the keys, immediately responding to the laughter in her heart.

She loved her life, blind or no. She lived it the way she wanted to live. Music flowed into the night. A summons. She knew the music called to him. Byron. Antonietta thought of him day and night. A secret obsession she could not get over. The sound of his voice touched her like she imagined his fingers on her skin would. A caress of sound. He was her only regret Her money and fame allowed her to lead the life she wanted in spite of her loss of sight, but it also provided a barrier between her and every man. Even Byron. Especially Byron. His quiet acceptance, his continuing interest so completely focused on her threatened to involve her emotions as well as her body, and that, she couldn't afford.

Antonietta seated herself at the bench, her body leaden with unexpected fatigue. Her fingers raced over the ivory keys. The music flowed into space, unrequited love, bound-less passion unanswered. Heat. Fire. A hunger that would never be sated. Byron, the dark poet. Brooding. Mysterious. A man for fantasies. She had no idea of his age. He often answered the summons of her music. Ever since the day four months earlier when he saved her beloved grandfather from a car accident, he would suddenly appear in the room with her, somehow getting past the security to sit quietly while she played. It was a degree of her obsession that she never questioned him, never asked him how he managed to get into her home, into her music room.

Antonietta always knew the moment Byron entered the room, although he never made a sound. Her family had no idea how often he came, appearing in the great music room late at night and staying up till all hours with her. He rarely talked, just listened to the music, but sometimes they played chess or discussed books and world affairs. Those were the times she loved best, sitting and listening to the sound of his voice.

He had courtly, Old World mannerisms and spoke with an accent she couldn't quite place. She imagined him a chivalrous prince coming to call whenever she allowed her girlish imagination to get the better of her. He rarely touched her, but he never objected when she touched him, reading his expressions. He took her bream away each time he came into the same room with her.

The music swelled beneath her fingers, rose to a crescendo of rioting emotions. Byron. Her grandfather's friend. The rest of her family were wary and on edge around him. Most left the room soon after he entered. They thought him dangerous. Antonietta thought he might be, despite the fact that he was unfailingly gentle with her. She sensed behind Byron's calm exterior a predator hunting. Watching. Waiting. Biding his time. It only added to his allure. The unattainable fantasy. The dangerous, dark prince lurking in the shadows... watching... her.

Antonietta laughed again at her own fanciful nonsense. She presented a certain image to the world: a confident, renowned concert pianist and respected composer. She dreamed her passionate dreams and turned each of them into soaring notes of music to express the fires burning deep inside where no one could see.

Her fingers raced across the keys, fluttered and coaxed, so that the music took on life. There was no warning whatsoever. One moment she was lost in her music, and the next, a rough hand clapped over her mouth and dragged her backward off the piano bench.

Antonietta bit down hard, reaching back to pound at the face of her assailant. It was then she really noticed how leaden her body felt, sluggish, almost unwilling to follow her orders. Rather than striking hard, she barely tapped the man. She had the impression of strength. He smelled of alcohol and mints. He thrust a cloth over her nose and mouth.

Antonietta coughed, thrashed in an effort to be rid of the foul-smelling material. She felt dizzy and lost the ability to move, sliding down, down toward semiconsciousness. At once she stopped fighting, slumping like a rag doll, pretending she was already unconscious. The cloth disappeared, and her assailant lifted her.

She was aware of being carried, of someone breathing hard. Of her heart pounding. Then they were outside in the biting cold and piercing wind. The sea raged and thundered loudly, and sea spray reached her face.

It took a few moments to realize that they were not alone. She heard a man's voice, slurred, incoherent, asking something. A chill went down her spine. Her grandfather, frail at eighty-two, was being dragged up the path to the cliffs right along with her. Determined not to allow anything to happen to him, Antonietta fought her way back, breathing deeply to draw oxygen into her laboring lungs, gathering her strength, biding her time. In her mind she began to chant his name, using it as a prayer, a litany of strength:

Byron. Byron. I need you now. Hurry, hurry. Byron. Where are you?

Chapter 2

Byron Justicano circled above the small city before winging his way toward the palazzo. As he moved across the sky, hunger crawled through his body, demanding he feed, but he ignored it, answering the sudden uneasy feeling churning in his gut. Something was wrong. Some intangible vibration in the air made him aware of the drama unfolding on the rocks below. A snarl exposed his fangs. Eyes glowed a frightening red in the dark of the night. A savage, bestial growl escaped his throat as he increased his speed, hurtling through the sky over the towering palazzo with its many stories and turrets and battlements.

Above the many terraces and lofty stories loomed a high, rounded tower where it was rumored more than one woman had been murdered in the murky past, earning the palace the dubious name of Palazzo della Morte. Winged gargoyles stared blankly at him out of the heavy, white fog, looking almost real as the creatures seemed to swarm up the side of the villa. Sitting on the craggy cliffs above the raging sea, the sprawling castle was dark and foreboding with the blank eyes of the statuary always watching.

The heavy forests that had once grown wild, a refuge to a multitude of animals, were long gone, replaced by groves and grapes. Byron preferred the freedom of the forests and mountains of his homeland, where he could run with the wolves if he desired, but the need to protect the occupant at the palazzo had become all consuming.

Alarm spread, a premonition of danger he couldn't shake.

Byron increased his speed, streaking through the sky, flying low over the sprawling estate. The palazzo rose up out of the fog, architecture belonging to an era long gone, made of stone and stained glass, almost alive in the swirling mists. Byron ignored the ancient statues and the gleaming windows piercing the fog like so many eyes.

He first heard the voice whisper in his mind.

Byron. Byron. I need you now. Hurry. Hurry. Byron. Where are you?

She had never used a telepathic connection to him before. He had never taken her blood, yet he heard the words clearly and knew her need must be great to reach out to him.

Wicked forks of lightning whipped from cloud to cloud, anger he couldn't contain. She was in danger! Someone dared to threaten her. The sky roared, thunder splitting open the heavens to reveal a fury of flame. He took a breath, fought to control the elemental fear for her. The ground was reacting, rolling and buckling in answer to his mounting anger.

Byron hurried out toward the cove and the jagged rocks with his pulse pounding to the beat of the sea. The wind shifted and brought the haunting echo of a scream. His heart nearly stopped beating in his chest It was the sound of despair, of death itself.

He swooped even lower over the sea, uncaring that he might be seen and discovered for the predator he was. Waves leapt toward the heavens, foamed, and collapsed with an angry boom, greedy for a living sacrifice.

"Byron!" This time she called his name aloud, her only chance while the clouds spun dark threads and the fog thickened in an attempt to cut off all escape. "Help us." The wind whipped the cry out over the roiling waves, straight to him.

There was a plea in her voice, soft and musical and alive with awareness. She knew he was close, as she always seemed to know. Antonietta Scarletti. Heiress to the Scarletti fortune. Composer of the most beautiful music the world had known in a long time and owner of the priceless Scarletti palazzo. The Palazzo della Morte, palace of death. Byron feared the curse of the palazzo would bring death to Antonietta, and he was determined to stop it.

Her voice brought alive the colors of the night, sharp and vivid and focused, where for so long there had been nothing but bleak gray. His heart stuttered, stammered, as it always did at the unexpected gift. It was that way each time he heard her voice, when she spoke his name in velvet tones. When she lit his world with colors and vivid details he had long ago lost

Byron flew so low the churning waves splattered him with water as he raced over the choppy surface straight toward the sound of her voice. Through the swirling mists Byron saw Don Giovanni Scarletti in the greedy sea, clawing desperately for a purchase on the slick boulders. The waves slammed the old man hard, tossed him as if he were a small string of kelp, nothing more. The foaming water closed over the gray head and took him under.

"Byron!" The call came again. Haunting. Unforgettable. He knew he would hear that voice echo forever in his dreams.

She was up in the jagged rocks, near the edge of the crumbling cliffs, struggling with a large man. Below her, the water slammed against the rocks, reaching higher and higher as if to drag her down. It was only the increasing fury of the storm, the earthquake sending shocks through the cliff that prevented Antonietta's attacker from flinging her into the sea. The man staggered, nearly fell, even as he wrestled with her. Lightning exploded around them, whips of energy rained hot, glowing sparks. Thunder crashed so loud the man yelled in fear.

Fangs exploded in Byron's mouth, black venom swirled in his gut. He was on them in an instant, uncaring of his enormous strength, catching Antonietta's assailant by the nape of his neck and wrenching him backward, away from her. With the ferocity of his animal nature, with the rage of his human side, he shook Antonietta's attacker, his hands crushing the throat An ominous crack was loud, even with the sea roaring in accompaniment to his rage.

Byron dropped the body carelessly, allowing the empty carcass to crumple to the ground. He turned quickly toward Antonietta. She was moving to get away from them, her arms stretched out full length to try to feel her way. There was nothing but empty space in front of her and the sea below, swelling and booming with relentless fury.

"Stop! Don't move, not a single step!" The command thundered through the night air, reached her atop the cliffs. Trusting she would obey that merciless compulsion, Byron plunged straight into the sea. Diving deep, down into the cold, dark abyss until his fingers found the material of the old man's collar, and he grasped it hard in his fist, kicking strongly to bring them both to the surface.