Circle Of Fire

Damask Circle Book 1


Keri Arthur

Chapter One

Madeline Smith didn't believe in ghosts. Not until the night Jon Barnett walked into her life, anyway.

Maddie drew her legs up to her chest and held them close. Maybe walked was the wrong word to use—his method of movement seemed more like floating.

Outside her bedroom, the branches of an old elm scraped back and forth across the tin roofing. The wind howled through the night, an eerie cry that matched her mood of anticipation and fear. Snow scurried past the windows, silvery drops that glittered briefly in the light.

It felt oddly fitting to be sitting on her bed, waiting for the arrival of a ghost while an early winter storm raged outside.

Only he insisted he wasn't a ghost at all.

She tugged the blankets over her knees and wondered if she should stoke the fire with a little more wood. Maybe the heat would keep him away. Or maybe he'd gotten tired of his game and simply forgotten about her. Though she believed the desperation in his eyes was real enough, she just didn't believe he was real.

Perhaps he was just a figment of her imagination—a last, desperate escape from the loneliness of her life.

The clock on the mantle began to chime quietly. She turned to look at the time. One-thirty. Maybe he had forgotten about her…


She closed her eyes, uncertain whether fear or the unexpected pleasure of hearing the low velvet tones of his voice one more time caused the sudden leap of her heart.

'Madeline,' he repeated. This time a hint of urgency touched the warmth of his voice.

He stood in the shadows to the left of her window. Despite the storm that raged outside, he wore only a short-sleeved black shirt and dark jeans—the same clothes he'd worn when he had first appeared last night.

Tonight there was something different about him, though.

Tonight he looked afraid.

But he wasn't real, damn it! How could a ghost feel fear?

'Madeline, you must help me.'

She closed her heart to the desperate plea in his voice. What he was asking her to do was impossible.

'I can't.' She avoided his gaze and fiddled with the fraying edge of the blanket. 'I don't know you—I don't even believe you exist. How can you expect me to leave everything I have here on the whim of a ghost?'

'You must!' The sudden sharpness of his voice made her look up. 'All I'm asking is for you to travel across the state, not to another country. Why are you so afraid to move from your retreat?'

Maddie stared at him. He seemed to understand altogether too much about her. No one else had seen her fear—not even her sister, who was as close to her as Maddie ever allowed anyone to get these days.

'There's nothing wrong with being cautious,' she said after a moment.

He studied her, amusement flickering briefly in the diamond-bright depths of his blue eyes. 'I never said there was. But life has to be lived. You cannot hide forever.'

She ignored the sliver of alarm in her heart, ignored the whispers that demanded she ask how he knew so much about her, and raised an eyebrow. 'And what does a ghost know about such things?'

He sighed, running a hand through his overly long hair. In the light of the fire, slivers of gold seemed to flow through his fingers. 'I'm no ghost, Madeline. But I will be, if you don't help me soon.'

Alarm danced through her heart. 'What do you mean?'

He walked across to the fire and held out his hands, as if to capture the warmth of the flames. Hair dusted his arms, golden strands that gleamed in the firelight. His fingers were long and smooth and tanned. Lord, he seemed real—and yet, if she looked closely enough, she could see the glow of the fire through his body.

'I mean that I'm stuck down this damn well, and I can't get out. I will die, Madeline, unless you help me.'

Maddie closed her eyes and tried to stifle the rising spiral of fear. Not for her safety, because she sensed this was one ghost who would cause her no harm. It was just fear of… what? She didn't know, but there was something about this apparition that made her very wary.

Perhaps she should play along with him. Surely he'd eventually tire of his game and leave her alone. Or perhaps she was just going mad—as most of her so-called friends had insisted she would.

Yet those same friends had never understood what she was, or what she was capable of doing. Nor had they ever tried to help her.

'Why can't someone else rescue you? You must have friends—why don't you go haunt them?'

'Believe me, I would if I could.'

His tone was dry and left no doubt he would rather be anywhere else than with her. Bad news when even a damn ghost doesn't want to be with you. 'So why aren't you?'

He frowned. 'I don't know. Some force keeps driving me towards you. I have no choice in the matter, Madeline. You're all I have.'

And you refuse to help me.The unspoken rebuke was in his eyes when he glanced at her. Maddie bit her lip and looked away, watching the snow continue its dance past her window. Maybe she was going mad. She was beginning to feel sorry for a ghost.

'Why would you be able to reach a complete stranger and not anyone of real use to you?'

'I don't know.'

But the look he gave her was keen, as if he did know but didn't believe she'd understand.

'If you want my help, you at least owe it to me to be honest.'

'Fair enough.' He turned his back to the fire, but kept his hands behind him, as if still trying to warm them. 'Whatever this force is, it brings with it a sense of danger. And it's connected with you somehow.'

He seemed to say an awful lot without actually saying anything, Maddie noted. Maybe her ghost had been a politician in a former life.

'That made everything so much clearer,' she said dryly.

He shot her a look that was half amusement, half frustration. 'Someone close to you is in danger, and somehow, they're drawing me to you.'

Besides her sister, the only other person who qualified as being close was Jayne's son, Evan. Neither of them had the sort of power Jon was talking about. No, she thought grimly, there was only one misfit left in their small family unit.

'So how did you end up in the well?'

'Someone shot me when I was out exploring.' He shrugged. 'I must have fallen into it.'

Maddie raised an eyebrow. From what she could see of him, there was remarkably little evidence of a bullet wound. 'Then you are dead.'

He sighed and closed his eyes. 'I was hit in the arm. The fall could have killed me, but I was… lucky.'

The arm closest to her was a suntanned brown, well-muscled and remarkably free of wounds. His hands were still firmly clasped together, which surely wouldn't be possible if the other arm had a hole blown in it. Maybe it was her ghost who was mad, not she.

'Why don't you just shout for help?'

'As I explained before, I can't take the risk. Someone is out to get me. If they think I'm still alive, they'll just find me and finish the job.'

A chill ran through her. 'It could have been an accident.'


Вы читаете Circle Of Fire
Добавить отзыв


Вы можете отметить интересные вам фрагменты текста, которые будут доступны по уникальной ссылке в адресной строке браузера.

Отметить Добавить цитату