After finding his family brutally murdered, Blair tries to end his life, but is instead Changed by a vampire. Burdened by guilt and driven by rage, he dedicates his new life to fighting evil. When he fails to save a family from the fate his own had suffered, he retreats to endure self-imposed starvation while he immerses himself in his art.
Alone and penniless, May is hired by a mysterious gentleman who sends her to work at his friend's country manor. Mr. Black is even stranger than the man who hired her, but she is soon infatuated with the handsome, tormented artist who has deeper secrets than she could ever imagine.
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Starving Artist (Scarlet Nights)
All rights reserved.
Copyright ©2015 Kate Hill
The English Countryside, 1885
Maybe it was because she arrived at ten minutes to midnight that Wildberry Hill looked ominous. Tangles of bushes lined both sides of the walk leading up to the cobbled mansion silhouetted against the enormous autumn moon.
May shivered in her worn cloak and made her way toward the house. Several times she glanced over her shoulder, her heart pounding. She thought she'd heard someone behind her, but it was merely the echo of her own shoes against the cobblestones.
As instructed, she walked to the front door, but hesitated before using the brass knocker. It was terribly inappropriate for a servant to approach the front door, but Mr. Fiske had said her new employer insisted that everyone enter through the front. He'd said Mr. Black was an artist and a bit of a recluse.
A strong wind cut through her and she considered knocking again.
Then the door opened and she found herself facing a blue-eyed man with wild ginger hair and a short beard. Tall and lean, he wore a linen shirt, unbuttoned, and well-fitting black trousers that accentuated the length of his legs. Paint in various colors stained his clothes and marked the pale skin of his lean chest. A streak of blue ran down the length of his long, straight nose.
"Hello," he said, staring at her, his brow furrowed in question.
"Pardon me, but I'm here to see Mr. Black."
His slender lips pressed into an annoyed line. He stared at her so long that she started to feel quite uncomfortable, yet that was a sensation she'd grown accustomed to of late.
Finally he said, "What business do you have with Mr. Black?"
"I'm the new maid."
"The new what?" He curled his lip and her stomach clenched. She nearly took a step back, but held her ground. She desperately needed this job.
"Mr. Fiske said I was expected."
"Then Mr. Fiske lied. I have no need of a maid here."
He closed the door in her face and May winced. She stood for a moment, stunned and terrified.
Mr. Fiske had paid for her train ticket here and given her money to hire a ride to the manor, but the wagon was already gone. The driver had rushed off as soon as she'd placed both feet on the ground.
It was miles to the village -- not that it mattered even if she walked there. She had no money, no job and absolutely nowhere to go but the street.
May turned and made her way down the walk, slowly at first then finally breaking into a run, as if she could somehow escape her problems. Where would she spend the night? It was already quite cold.
Mr. Black's was the only house around for miles. In the distance, she saw what looked like a shed, or possibly a groundskeeper's cottage. She recalled Mr. Fiske saying that no servants were employed here. That's why Mr. Black had agreed to hiring a maid -- though that had apparently been a lie, May guessed that the part about no servants was true. Why else had Mr. Black answered his own door?
She made her way across the field to the structure. Nearing it, she saw it was indeed a shed, but at least it would offer some protection from the wind, not to mention the fact that she didn't relish the idea of walking alone at midnight. She hoped it was unlocked.
May sighed with relief when the door opened. Moonlight shone through a small window, offering little light. Other than a rake, shovel and wheelbarrow, the shed was empty.
She placed her travel bag on the ground and curled up beside it. Swallowing back tears, she tried to relax, but it was impossible. A week ago, through no fault of her own, she had been turned out of the house where she had worked for the past ten years. The little money she had saved hadn't lasted long and if it hadn't been for Mr. Fiske offering her this job, she would have been on the street.
Now she was back in the same hopeless situation. Maybe after a night's sleep, she could think more clearly, but how could she rest with so much on her mind?
* * *
After closing the door on his unwanted visitor, Blair gnashed his teeth in annoyance. He strode through the foyer and into the spacious parlor. The room was empty except for a ladder and the tools of his trade. Paints, brushes and rags. He had completed work on three walls and was about to start the fourth when he had been interrupted.
He'd intended to ignore the knock on the door, but curiosity had gotten the better of him -- that and the fact that he hadn't realized someone had approached his house. Either the paint had killed his senses or his blood fast had already affected him more than he realized. Either way, his negligence endangered him, but that was the reason for the blood fast. The risk. The discomfort.
The tremendous waste of time.
He scowled and scrubbed a hand through his hair. His concentration was shot. Maybe some fresh air would do him good -- perhaps invigorate him enough to finish the night's work.
He knew what Hamilton would say to that.
Hamilton. He didn't doubt for a second what the woman had said was true. It would be just like Hamilton to invade his privacy and tempt him with a delicious young woman to lure him out of hiding, as his old companion called it...