Hey there! As always, good to have you here. Below is an excerpt from Asylum II: Shadows Rise. Hope you enjoy it!
(Paranormal Historical Romance)
1918, Simple, Colorado
A time of war, disease and supernatural threat tests the fabric of one woman and one man…
Annabelle Dorrenti is ravaged by her experiences in World War I, her body marked by wounds, and her psyche damaged by guilt. To save herself, she becomes a nurse at the asylum and discovers the haunting is just beginning. Perhaps she’s imagining the shadows that flicker nearby, waiting. A creeping dread presses in upon her, and she sees signs everywhere that something just isn’t right at the asylum. She doesn’t want to admit it anymore than she wants to acknowledge her building attraction to a handsome soldier as broken as she is. A man who blames her for his sister’s death.
Army Captain Cade Hale suffers from shell shock and the terrible fear that the dead haunt his every step. He knows that danger terrorizes the earth, but he also feels Tranquil View could cure him of addiction and grief over his sister’s death. He’s determined to lay the blame for her death where it belongs, directly at Annabelle Dorrenti’s feet. Drawn down to his soul to Annabelle, he hates their attraction and struggles against it. Yet he knows the asylum harbors evil, and his fear for Annabelle demands he protect her, no matter what the risk, no matter what she’s done in the past. When evil and illness manifest, Cade and Annabelle step up to challenge a horror far more insidious than insanity.
That night Annabelle dreamed. She stared into blackness. Not the absence of light, not darkness, but the pit of a cold hell. Her breath seized as she took a step forward. She couldn’t tell if the door yawned open; blackness swallowed everything in its jaws. She couldn’t breath knowing if she took one more step forward, the basement would claim her and never let her go.
Bolting upright, Annabelle sucked in labored breaths. She couldn’t see a thing except for a thin strip of light under her door. She listened, waiting. She felt that someone lurked outside. How she knew she could be certain. She threw back the covers and turned on her lamp. She inhaled slowly and deeply. Annabelle slipped her feet into her slippers and left the bed. Unlocking the door came easy, but opening it was harder. She threw it open to confront whomever–whatever–lurked outside.
Cade leaned against the far wall. He peered at her, his eyes haunted by darkness and curiosity. Her breath caught. She stepped out far enough to glance down the hallway. No one but him occupied the area. Two lights at either end of the corridor assured shadows would be revealed as humans and not horrors. Yet the dimness added to their mystery rather than banished them. His dark gaze traveled over her, and missed nothing in between. She felt that searing attention all the way to her toes. Annabelle realized she hadn’t put on a robe. He wore his day clothes.
“You shouldn’t be here.”‘ Another thought battered her. “Why are you here?”
“Because I’m walking off a bad dream.”
“That can’t be the only reason you’re here.”
“No. I’ll admit it isn’t. I wanted to apologize for trying so hard to get you to share your bad dreams when I haven’t shared mine.” He didn’t move, his lopsided smile filled with equal quantities of insolence and amusement.
Skepticism led her to cross her arms and say, “You needed to come here to tell me this? In the middle of the night?”
His low, husky laugh made her breath catch. “This ward is full of bad dreams. It’s thick here.”
“I know you don’t believe in ghosts Annabelle.”
She hadn’t given him permission to use her first name, but it sounded wonderful in his rich tones. Annabelle leaned against the door jam. “No.”
“You’re practical. A woman with her mind on a goal. Her heart set on fixing every broken soldier.”
Disconcerted, she said, “It’s my job.”
He shook his head. “Oh, no. It’s far more than your job. It’s your obsession.”
Floored by his insight, she rallied against his probing accuracy. “Obsessions are for the weak.”
He snorted. “Really.” He took one step forward. Then another. “Do you think a sculptor is obsessed? Or an author? Do you think an artist paints because he’s mad?”
Not understanding exactly where he planned to go with this, but compelled to continue the conversation, she said, “Depends entirely on the artist.”
“Obsession can be the one thing that keeps that artist going when all else fails.”
Drawn to his words and to the resonance it made within her, she watched with a strange fascination of her own as his chest rose and fell. “Are you … are you an artist?”
He smiled, but it wasn’t humor that created the curve of his mouth. “Before the war I painted. Now I can’t paint a damned thing.”
“Oh.” For a second it was all she could think to say as she ruminated on what he’d revealed. “Your inspiration is gone?”
He took a slow and deliberate step toward her. “My inspiration is to paint things no decent human wants to see. No one wants a painting like mine hanging in the dining room in their house.”
She swallowed hard, her breath coming shorter. This conversation reminded her of a dream she’d once had. She hadn’t been able to run in the dream, feet stuck to the ground while a trench had crumbled around her. She’d had no control, and didn’t know which way to go.
“What do you paint?” she asked.
“I used to paint sunsets. Landscapes mostly.” This time his smile was genuine. “And sometimes a beautiful woman.”
“I never would have guessed.”
“That I’d paint beautiful women?”
“That you’d paint at all.”
“Because I don’t fit your idea of an artist?”
She decided to admit her own prejudice. “No.”
“Hmm. Then you’ve got a lot to learn about people, don’t you?”
“Don’t insult my intelligence, Captain Hale.” She made a disgusted sounded. “I know more about people than I want to.”
“Is that why you’re working in a mad house? When you left the war, why did you come to a place as dark as an asylum? Were you trying to work off the guilt in your soul?”
Oh, God. Yes. Yes, she wanted to. And to escape. If only she could escape guilt. If only.
“Do you have nightmares at night?” he asked before she could respond to his question.
“Everyone does once in a while.”
He shook his head. “No. Not everyone has these nightmares. Not the ones you had while you were in France. Not the ones you still have.”
She swallowed hard as a panic rose within. Corralling her fear and the memories, was a full time job. She shoved back the sweaty fear that threatened, and replaced it with defiance. “You are far off the point. None of this explains why I should believe in ghosts, and why you’re here where you shouldn’t be.”
“I was drawn here. Drawn to where you are. I don’t want to be here, but I can’t seem to stay away from you.”
A tingle of apprehension threaded its way into her thoughts. “Give me one reason why I shouldn’t call for help.”
“Because you’re curious. You have a hell of a lot going for you. Except for your refusal to believe in ghosts. You aren’t the type of woman given to wild fancies.”
“Why did you ask me if I believe in ghosts then?”
“Because I think this place is haunted. I hoped you’d be open enough to confirm it for me. I wanted the truth from a relatively sane individual.”
She stood straighter and barked a soft laugh. She glanced down the hallway, still half expecting to see a nurse or patient coming toward them. “Then if you believe that, you belong here.”
“Never said I didn’t.” He uncrossed his arms, but he looked no less powerful. “I checked myself in here, remember?”
“Believing in ghosts is poppycock.” She had to say it once again, in case he didn’t understand how adamant she was. “And you wouldn’t have come to this particular asylum if I hadn’t been here.”
“Who you trying to convince, Dorrenti? Me or you?”
His switch to her last name made her feel like one of his soldiers, and it also angered her into action. She took one step forward. “Perhaps you should continue to address me as Nurse Dorrenti.”
She’d half expected humor–a glint in his eye. Instead she saw guarded respect. This man meant what he said and said what he meant. Cade’s gaze caught hers, and she sucked in a breath. Within the fire of his eyes, she found an inner heat that hadn’t existed within her before in quite this way. Men in the war, those she’d encountered both wounded and well, had rarely stirred her senses, her anger, or her sensual needs. He did all three with disturbing ease. The knowledge frightened her. He burned with a fire she didn’t understand and feared. Yet excitement smoldered low, igniting a yearning.
He took a step forward and then another until he stood far too close–no more than six inches away. She gasped and one hand went to the door jam, clasping the wood. “What are you doing?”
Slowly his fingers tilted her chin upward. Her eyelids fluttered, almost closed. He leaned in and his cheek was close to hers as he drew in a breath. Cade’s scent teased her nose, a soft musk and delicious masculinity she thought of only as his. Heat off his body touched her flimsily clad body as he eased nearer.
“Answer my question,” she barely whispered the words. “What are you doing?”
“Making sure you’re real.”
“Is that laudanum speaking?”