But the deer’s eyes gleamed, a sharp sapphire blue in the beam of her headlights, and his head with the great crowning rack turned slightly. Regally, Malory mused, mesmerized. Rain streamed off his coat, and in the next flash of light that coat seemed as white as the moon.
He stared at her, but there was nothing of fear, nothing of surprise in those glinting eyes. There was, if such things were possible, a kind of amused disdain. Then he simply walked away, through the curtain of rain, the rivers of fog, and was gone.
“Wow.” She let out a long breath, shivered in the warmth of her car. “And one more wow,” she murmured as she stared at the house.
She’d seen pictures of it, and paintings. She’d seen its silhouette hulking on the ridge above the valley. But it was an entirely different matter to see it up close with a storm raging.
Something between a castle, a fortress, and a house of horrors, she decided.
Its stone was obsidian black, with juts and towers, peaks and battlements stacked and spread as if some very clever, very wicked child had placed them at his whim. Against that rain-slicked black, long, narrow windows, perhaps hundreds of them, all glowed with gilded light.
Someone wasn’t worried about his electric bill.
Fog drifted around its base, like a moat of mist.
In the next shock of lightning, she caught a glimpse of a white banner with the gold key madly waving from one of the topmost spires.
She inched the car closer. Gargoyles hunched along the walls, crawled over the eaves. Rainwater spewed out of their grinning mouths, spilled from clawed hands as they grinned down at her.
She stopped the car in front of the stone skirt of a wide portico and considered, very seriously, turning back into the storm and driving away.
She called herself a coward, a childish idiot. She asked herself where she’d lost her sense of adventure and fun.
The insults worked well enough that she soon was tapping her fingers on the car’s door handle. At the quick rap on her window, a scream shot out of her throat.
The bony white face surrounded by a black hood that peered in at her turned the scream into a kind of breathless keening.
Gargoyles do not come to life, she assured herself, repeating the words over and over in her head as she rolled the window down a cautious half inch.
“Welcome to Warrior’s Peak.” His voice boomed over the rain, and his welcoming smile showed a great many teeth. “If you’ll just leave your keys in the car, miss, I’ll see to it for you.”
Before she could think to slap down the locks, he’d pulled her door open. He blocked the sweep of wind and rain with his body and the biggest umbrella she’d ever seen.
“I’ll see you safe and dry to the door.”
What was that accent? English? Irish? Scots?
“Thank you.” She started to climb out, felt herself pinned back. Panic dribbled into embarrassment as she realized she had yet to unhook her seat belt.
Freed, she huddled under the umbrella, struggling to regulate her breathing as he walked her to the double entrance doors. They were wide enough to accommodate a semi and boasted dull silver knockers, big as turkey platters, fashioned into dragons’ heads.
Some welcome, Malory thought an instant before one of the doors opened, and light and warmth poured out.
The woman had a straight and gorgeous stream of flame-colored hair—it spilled around a pale face of perfect angles and curves. Her green eyes danced as if at some private joke. She was tall and slim, garbed in a long gown of fluid black. A silver amulet holding a fat, clear stone hung between her breasts.
Her lips, as red as her hair, curved as she held out a hand sparkling with rings.
She looked, Malory thought, like someone out of a very sexy faerie tale.
“Miss Price. Welcome. Such a thrilling storm, but distressing, I’m sure, to be out in it. Come in.”
The hand was warm and strong, and stayed clasped over Malory’s as the woman drew her into the entrance hall.
The light showered down from a chandelier of crystal so fine that it resembled spun sugar sparkling over the twists and curves of silver.
The floor was mosaic, depicting the warriors from the gate and what seemed to be a number of mythological figures. She couldn’t kneel down and study it as she might have liked and was already struggling to hold back an orgasmic moan at the paintings that crowded walls the color of melted butter.
“I’m so glad you could join us tonight,” the woman continued. “I’m Rowena. Please, let me take you into the parlor. There’s a lovely fire. Early in the year for one, but the storm seemed to call for it. Was the drive difficult?”