She stepped off the bottom step and almost tripped over an uneven patch of floor. She aimed the beam of light at where the window should be. What on earth? A bookcase blocked out her expected light source. Miles was the only one who could have done that, but why would he?
The cold penetrated deeper, spurring Hope toward the furnace. Her foot caught on something soft but unyielding. She stumbled and ended up sitting on the something. Her hand recognized the contours of a mattress. A mattress that should have been stuffed in a corner, not lying out in the open.
Once again, she sent the light spiraling over the basement, nothing else seemed out of place. She brought the beam back to shine on the mattress and a body.
Her heart beat triple time before she recognized the body resting on its side, a scant two feet from her hand. Miles! Why was he sleeping in the basement and not upstairs? Her hand reached out toward his arm. Should she wake him or let him sleep? Common sense won—he had to be freezing. He didn’t even have a sheet. This time her palm brushed his sleeve before she gently shook his shoulder.
A hand caught her wrist in a cruel grip.
She bit back a cry of pain.
A second later she was flat on her back—Miles’ face above hers. But not the face she loved. His eyes were so dark they were almost black. His beautiful lips were drawn back in a snarl. A snarl that revealed one-inch incisors. The hand that held her down sported claws.
Miles wasn’t Miles. He was a monster. One of the beings she vaguely recalled from childhood nightmares. Only this time the nightmare was real.
He lowered his head bringing his sharp teeth too close for comfort. “Miles? Miles!”
Shades of color began to recede from his vision. Miles shook his head and tried to focus. The roaring in his ears quieted when he heard a whimper. He shook his head again. His vision sharpened, and he became aware of other things. His hand pressed against cloth-covered breasts. He looked down—into the tear-filled, petrified gaze of Hope. Oh, God above. What had he almost done? What had he done?
“Hope, angel, I’m sorry. I won’t hurt you—I promise.”
Hope’s expression didn’t change. One tear rolled off her bottom lashes and crept down an ashen cheek.
“I swear, love. Please. If you don’t believe anything else, please believe me. I wouldn’t harm a hair on your head.”
The woman beneath him, the woman he’d tear his heart out for, closed her eyes. He watched as she took a deep breath and then another. Finally she opened her eyes. “Then if you don’t mind would you take your hand off my chest and let me up?”
“Oh Lord.” Miles moved so quickly he almost fell. He reached out a hand to help Hope sit up and prayed she’d take it.
Maybe if he moved back a bit more. The space of the room separated them before he found additional courage to speak. “Hope, I know this seems strange but I can explain.”
Hope slid her legs off the mattress and then stood slowly to her feet. She took a step forward and stumbled. The look in her eyes stopped him from going to her. The tears receded, replaced with a gleam of anger. Good. Anger he could handle. Anger meant she would get over her fright. Whether or not she forgave him was another matter.
Once her feet were steady, Hope straightened up. Her shoulders went back.
“Unless you’re going to tell me this is some kind of sick joke, I have nothing to say to you.”
“Let me explain.”
“Explain what? That you thought it would be a hoot to dress up as a vampire. Even as a joke that makes no sense. I mean who sleeps in fangs and claws. And that brings me to another matter.”
Hope advanced toward Miles. “Why were you sleeping in the basement in the first place?”
“I uh, like it.”
“You prefer sleeping in a frigid basement instead of a nice warm room?”
“Yes, I do.”
“You know what, you’re crazy.”
Hope moved closer. “What I don’t get, is why or how you could play such a cruel joke, especially after acting like you cared about me—like I was someone special.”
“Yeah, well, you have a strange way of showing it, Miles Dunbar.”
She now stood directly in front of Miles. Even quicker than his eyes could see, her hand moved. The blow across his face wasn’t hard but it still hurt—all the way to his heart.
“That’s for half-ass making love to me.”
Before he could react, Hope turned on her heel and strode across the basement. She went into a small room at the back.
“Damn it! Where did I put that lighter?”
Miles heard metal straining as Hope continued to curse. Not like his Hope at all but then again, she had every right to be upset. He moved closer to the doorway.
“Sorry, sleazy, son-of-a—”
Blessedly the sound of metal, slamming this time, prevented him hearing the rest of Hope’s words. She’d be amused to know, if he ever got the chance to tell her, his mother had actually been an English lady.
A couple of minutes later, Miles jumped back to avoid Hope running over him. It would hurt her a lot more than it would him physically.
“Hope, can’t we talk?”
“There’s nothing to talk about.”
“Yes, there is.” Miles didn’t try to put his arm around her. He liked having all his limbs attached. “Let’s go upstairs. You’ll be warmer and I’ll try to explain what you just saw.”
The scowl she leveled on him didn’t bode well for this or any future discussions. He didn’t want to think about what could happen to their future relationship.
“Fine. If you think you can dream up a story I’ll believe, then go for it.”
Miles followed Hope up the stairs, his steps a lot slower than hers.
He closed the door to the basement. Hope placed a kettle of water on the stove. The slow rise of steam tempted him. It would be so easy to dissolve into its mist. But, disappearing wouldn’t solve his problem. It also wouldn’t solve Hope’s. The men who had attacked her were still out there, and he couldn’t leave her alone.
Hope went about fixing her tea and ignored Miles. Only after she took her first sip did she look his way. “I’d rather not have this conversation at all but if we have to, let’s do it in the den.”
Miles followed Hope and bit back a groan when she sat in the recliner. She was putting the same distance between them as she had with Guy the previous night. Not good.
Miles wasn’t sure how to start. Should he tell her everything—even about the almost abduction when she was young? No! Just the fact he was truly a vampire would be more than enough to send her running. If he told her everything it would send her over the edge.
“You think I was playing a joke—I wasn’t.” Miles paced the confines of the room. “Some things are hard to believe. My story is one of those. I don’t know how much to tell you. You’re going to think I’m lying through my teeth or ready for an asylum.”
He chanced a look her way. Hope’s face resembled marble. He’d hoped for just a bit of softening if for no other reason than she felt sorry for him. Fat chance of that.
Miles’ pacing took him to the door’s threshold. He leaned back against the sturdy wood. Hopefully it would keep him from fleeing like the coward he was.
“Why don’t you just spit it out, Miles.”
“All right. My full name is Lord Miles Sinclaire Dunbar. I was born in the year 1589 in England. I was a warrior for King James and during a campaign in Scotland, I was turned into a vampire.”