Mid May, 1910
The wind blew with an angry strength, forcing the rolling waves to crash against the cliff below, jolting Liv out of her daydream. She gazed down at the inky water slithering away from the jagged rocks until it rolled back and collided against the cliff.
Nearly fifty feet above the water, the ledge spanned most of the waterfront property, gradually sloping down to the dock where Far kept his sailboat.
She looked up at the sky. A slate grayish color blanketed the estate with the eerie feel people often spoke of. They said Valhalla Estate was a place of death, and anybody fool enough to wander there deserved what befell them. Liv simply ignored the gossip. She loved her home. There was a dark and dramatic mystery to it that had always appealed to her since childhood, and of course, the house and the landscape were beautiful. What other folk thought didn’t matter.
Liv closed her eyes, breathing in the mixture of water and wilderness, but she couldn’t shake the coil of trepidation in her belly. She knew she should avoid this ledge, especially after the deaths, yet she was lured here--always had been.
Dreadful memories assaulted her. She vividly recalled Roderick’s desolate blue eyes gazing up at the cliff when she’d discovered his body. It took hours before they’d managed to retrieve him from the treacherous rocks while she’d stood there, dazed and numb, until Far literally dragged her back to the house and tucked her into bed.
Nobody in the house said a word. It was as if nothing happened.
After that dreadful day the town’s people labeled her The Black Bride, for not only had Roderick fallen to his death from the cliff, Jerry had died the same way the year before. Liv became a recluse after Roderick’s death, refusing to come into contact with anyone but her family, close friends and the staff.
“Good day, Miss Erichsen!” a familiar voice shouted in the distance.
Startled, Liv scanned the shoreline. Out of the blue depths appeared their neighbor, Tomas Gundursen, rowing his boat, which bobbed up and down like a marionette.
When the next wave crashed against the cliff and retreated, she cupped her hands on each side of her mouth and yelled, “Tomas, have you lost your mind? The wind will surely crash you upon the rocks in that flimsy vessel!” She watched in horror as his tiny rowboat skimmed over the rolling water, only forty yards away from the treacherous cliff.
Mr. Gundursen grinned, dipping the oars rhythmically in and out of the water. “Rain or shine I must get my exercise.”
She knew Tomas rowed his boat every morning, but for Pete’s sake, did he have to risk his life for a bit of sport as a storm brewed?
A tiny raindrop splattered on the tip of her nose. She gazed up at the angry sky. Thick clouds formed so low Liv imagined being able to skim her fingers through them. When she turned her attention back to the water, Tomas had already passed Far’s sailboat and was nearing his dock.
Try as she might to impel her negative thoughts, the weather and her memories intensified her misery. She felt so alone and undeserving of love.
She hung her head in shame. Spinsterhood was the only option for her now. No man would be fool enough to offer marriage when any who dared would be thrown at death’s door. Something very sinister had happened to Jerry and Roderick. She knew it like she knew her own flesh and blood, as she also knew the people in her life that would protect her at all costs.
An unruly curl whipped across her face. She swiped it away as the prickle of on-coming tears overwhelmed her. What had she done to deserve this emptiness in her heart? All she ever wanted was to live a happy, healthy life with a man who adored her. Was it too much to ask?
Could she find new love as her father had?
Not so long ago, Far had married a woman much younger than he. With his health dwindling, Liv thought his new bride picked the perfect time to sink her claws into him. After Far had spent ten years mourning his dearly departed wife, when Amelia came upon him on a trip to New York, he’d fallen instantly, madly in love. If Far died, Amelia would inherit a great sum of money, as well as half of the estate, as stipulated in his will. Liv did not want to share her home with a woman undeserving of his loving nature. He’d trusted her much too quickly.
The new Mrs. Erichsen was beautiful, refined and soft-spoken. The woman had managed to capture Far’s heart and his name three weeks after meeting him. Something about her wasn’t right--it was blatantly obvious to Liv. What could a younger, beautiful woman find appealing about an old man, but his money?
Liv vowed to learn as much as she could about the woman to save Far from more heartache. She was determined to dig up the truth.
A vision of Mrs. Erichsen’s angelic face came to the forefront of her mind. Liv understood Far’s attraction to the stunning woman. Long wheat-colored hair and big hazel eyes would lure any virile man. Flawless pale skin and a heart-shaped face made her look like an angel. Her new mother often wore her hair half swept upon her head in a neat coif with the rest dangling in beautiful waves over her slender shoulders. It looked easy to manage and soft as silk--the complete opposite of Liv’s wild mass of auburn curls. Hair she absolutely detested.
Liv had curves. Amelia was thin and perfect.
Shamed by her lack of beauty and the curse weighing on her soul, Liv instinctively stepped closer to the edge. What would it feel like to end it all?
Liv whirled around, her heart lodged in her throat as Jeffrey--the man of all work--briskly headed her way.
“Get away from there. Your Father is sick with worry and looking for you.”
Her mind refocused, and she cast an uneasy glance to the jagged rocks below. With a brisk nod, she moved away from the edge, nervously clasping her throat.
A well-worn apron was tied loosely around Jeffrey’s hips over his black uniform; obviously Maggie, the cook, had ordered him to the kitchen for help. A dusting of flour softened the lines on his forehead, and his usually slicked-back white hair stood on end, making him look fresh out of a tumble.
Try as she might to stop it, a laugh burst from her lips. “It appears the kitchen got the best of you.”
Jeffrey scowled. “Where’s that scoundrel Nicky who usually escorts you?” He stared at the edge of the cliff, close to Liv’s booted feet. “Please have a care where you walk, miss.”
“I’m twenty-five years old, Jeffrey. I think I know how to maneuver around this cliff by now.” His concern warmed her heart. What would he say if he knew what she’d been thinking?
Jeffrey grunted his disapproval. He gazed over her appearance and shook his head. “Your Father has ordered you many times to dress like a lady.”
Liv raised a brow. “Are you saying I’m not a lady? Don’t you have something better to do than pester me, Jeffrey? Maybe Mag has a ball of dough for you to beat.”
Jeffrey opened his mouth to say something, but thought otherwise. Instead, he offered his elbow which Liv gladly accepted. With a victorious grin she slipped her arm through his, determined to forget her troubled thoughts. They headed back to the house at a leisurely pace.
“If I may speak freely, I’d guess you were thinking about Jerry and Roderick,” Jeffrey murmured, glancing her way.
Liv smiled. Jeffrey seemed to know everything. “You speak freely anyway, my dear Jeffrey. However, you are right. Tomorrow will mark the first anniversary since I found Roderick’s body.”
“I know, my girl. You should have never found him.” He patted her arm.
Liv paused. “What do you mean?”
“Only that you are an innocent woman, who should never have seen such a horrible sight, my dear. It should’ve been me or your father, or some other man. Not you.”
Liv felt the prickle of tears, but she tried in earnest to keep them at bay. Jeffrey frowned, pulling her close for a comforting embrace. “I know it’s hard to imagine, Miss Liv, but there was something wrong with those men for the Lord to take them away from you. The Lord works in mysterious ways...”
Liv rolled her eyes, knowing Jeffrey was about to go off on one of his religious rants. She tugged Jeffrey’s arm to continue along the path. “I’m doomed to be alone. From now on I’ll avoid all men like the plague.” Jeffrey opened his mouth to comment, but Liv cut him off. “Except for you, Nicky, and Far of course, and maybe another, if I choose to seek out a lover.”
Jeffrey pursed his lips, but was unable to control his chuckle. “You are a beautiful, strong young lady. It will take a special man to handle you, my dear. God help him when he comes.”
Liv and Jeffrey erupted in laughter as a drizzle of rain fell before it quickly turned into a downpour.
* * * *
Mason Davidson cupped his fist over his pocket watch, swearing aloud when he realized the time. Rain poured down in fat droplets, soaking his new grey suit and making his hair cling to his face. Now Mason wished he’d worn a hat, but he’d never followed the laws of fashion. Perhaps this was a sign from above.
It was close to dinner time, and he must resemble something like a wet tramp. What a perfect way to greet his new family, he thought acerbically. Not only was he horribly late, his foul mood would be hard to mask. Meeting Olen Erichsen would be a trial beyond any he’d endured before. First impressions never served him well, and he’d heard through his connections that the Norseman wasn’t easy to impress.
He briskly crossed the cobblestone path as the angry sky pissed down on him.
Huge white pines and mountain ash rose from the beautifully manicured lawn with a variety of smaller trees and shrubs bordering the lush green landscape. As the stunning four story mansion loomed before him, he smirked. Amelia had done well for herself.
He took the steps two at a time, thankful to be at the front door and underneath the balcony above. After several impatient knocks, an elderly man with bright blue eyes and wild white hair answered. “Yes?”
Mason forced himself not to laugh at the butler’s disheveled appearance. “Please inform Mr. Erichsen I have arrived.”
The butler gazed at him quizzically. “And who might you be?”
“Mrs. Erichsen’s son.”
His gaze swept boldly over Mason before he nodded briskly. “You may wait for him in the sitting room which is directly to your right.”
The butler left the door open and disappeared down the hallway, leaving Mason to close the door and enter the sitting room on his own. What an odd old man, he thought. Clearly the servants were unsupervised around here, if the butler was any indication. The man could’ve at least given him a towel.
Mason stepped into the sitting room and was nearly blinded by the gold-leafed ceiling and walls. The room shone with richness. Even the wood trim on the window and door frames was intricate in its design and probably handcrafted. He brushed the back of his trousers, finding them reasonably dry and took a seat on one of the two winged-back chairs.
He looked around the room for a moment, and a painting on the opposite wall caught his attention. The image was of the carriage house he’d passed earlier. Intrigued, Mason wandered over, clasping his hands behind his back. The attention to detail was superb. He bent to take a closer look, finding no signature of the artist.
“Jeffrey, you bugger, where are y--Oh!”
Startled, Mason straightened his back and turned to face the intruder. A young woman stood on the threshold. Instantly, his gaze settled on her flaming red hair, then over her beautiful face. His heart pounded like a drum, and he was rendered speechless.
Her eyes shone and beckoned to him like stolen emeralds to a thief. Sensuous lips, slightly parted in surprise, made him wish to lay caution to the wind and kiss her. Then his gaze wandered daringly over her body, taking in her odd ensemble with amusement.
She wore a plain white blouse with several of the top buttons undone, revealing milky-white flesh beneath. Tan trousers, tight enough to be a second skin, hugged her curvy hips and legs. Maybe Olen liked to dress his servant girls in tight trousers. What a smart man. But it was her eyes he kept returning to. Soul-stirring, erection-inducing eyes.
“I’m afraid I’m speechless. What is your name, love?”
Her delicate forehead furrowed. “Who are you?”
Mason chuckled. “I’m Mason Davidson. It’s a pleasure to meet you.”
The woman’s gaze widened, but she made no attempt to reveal her identity. She stood frozen in the doorway, leaving Mason to make the first move and approach her. She backed away with a lovely blush when he offered his hand.
“I apologize for startling you, but you must know that a woman of your beauty makes a man fumble for words. Perhaps, if you’re free from your chores this evening, we can get to know one another.” He thought of all the ways they could get to know each other.
She gave an unladylike snort, eyeing him with obvious disgust. “I hardly think that’s appropriate.”
The woman turned to leave. Instinct made him gently grasp her arm to stop her, and something hot jolted through him from the contact. Magic and mayhem. Temptation and tragedy.
She spun around, surprise and anger flashing in her stunning eyes. Lost in her gorgeous green depths and the effects of their contact, Mason didn’t catch the movement of her fist until it was too late.
“Fuck.” Mason stumbled back, grasping his nose. “Where did you learn to hit like that?”
The girl laughed. A victorious, annoying laugh meant to mock him. “Didn’t your mother ever warn you not to tease a Norsewoman?”
He groaned in pain. “If she did I regret my loss of memory.”
“Well, then let me introduce myself. I’m Liv Erichsen, Olen’s daughter.”
Mason stared at her in shock, still cupping his nose. Of all the stupid things to do, making a pass at Miss Erichsen topped them all. Carefully, Mason sat back down. He didn’t want to be hit again. “I’m sorry. I didn’t know—”
“Of course you didn’t know. Scoundrels who prey upon young women never bother to take the time to know, do they?”
What answer could he possibly give to that?
Miss Erichsen walked over to a hutch in the corner of the room. He gazed at her suspiciously, imagining the vixen withdrawing some barbaric weapon to beat him with. But when she removed a decanter and tumbler from the cupboard beneath, he sighed deeply, sinking comfortably in the chair.
“I will not apologize for hitting you, since you deserved it. A gentleman never forces a woman to do his bidding. However, I will pour you a drink. You look like you need it.”
Miss Erichsen filled the glass with an amber liquid. It looked like a sip of heaven to a man burning in hell. She sauntered over with a sultry grin and passed the tumbler. Mason had to force himself not to instigate her ire further, for somehow she brought out the rake in him. He took the drink gladly and sniffed. The familiar rich scent of brandy wafted up. Mason downed the contents, keeping a keen eye on the dangerous beauty.
Nothing in the world turned him on more than a powerful woman who spoke her mind and stood her ground. With one last lingering perusal, she then left the room, leaving Mason with an empty glass and an eyeful of delicious backside.
Next time, he’d think twice about assuming a woman’s place.
© BL Bonita
The End Of Night
Author: BL Bonita
Publisher: Liquid Silver Publishing
Genre: Historical Suspense
Can a woman cursed find true love?
Liv Erichsen is destined to become a spinster. After the body of her second fiancé is discovered on the jagged rocks below her cliff-dwelling estate, she's labeled The Black Bride. No man would dare fall in love with her again and risk being her next victim until a mysterious and arousing gentleman arrives at her door.
A liar and a womanizer, Mason Davidson's reasons for being at Valhalla Estate are not to redeem himself. Then again, he's never met a woman quite like Liv before. She's strong, passionate, and fit to drive him crazy with lust. But how can he make her accept him for more than a casual fling when he arrived for the wrong reasons and a crazed killer is watching?