Beneath a Blood Red Moon Page 1


New Orleans 1840

“There is nothing wrong with Comte DeVereaux,” Magdalena said. She sat upon the settee in the grand parlor of her father’s great-columned plantation house in the city of New Orleans. Her feet were firmly on the floor, her back determinedly straight.

Watching his only child, Jason Montgomery sighed and shook his head sadly. He hated to hurt her, but the hurt was necessary. In fact, seeing her there, her rich dark hair with its glistening hint of red piled atop her head, only a few delicate tendrils escaping, he felt a sudden shudder of fear. He must be firm. She was his only child, and he saw her through a father’s prejudiced eyes, but she was beautiful. She had the classic perfection of face and figure that belonged to legends. Her soft skin was as smooth and perfect as alabaster; her eyes were a flashing hazel-gold. She had incredible dignity, a will of steel, and a startling intelligence, yet she had the grace of a gazelle, her every movement was naturally elegant, and at unguarded moments, she could appear as soft and tender and sweetly seductive as the most naive of innocent lasses. She was young, impressionable, passionate. He had taught her to be strong; she was his daughter, his heiress, and she must be so. He, Jason Montgomery, was ruler of all that surrounded him here in their plantation world, and he was respected by all men in Louisiana, men who were now Americans—be their ancestry French or British. He was a wise man, a learned man, indeed a powerful man, and he had tried very hard to give his daughter all of the things that made up what he was.

Now, she used them all against him.

“You do not like the comte because he is French,” Magdalena accused her father with quiet reproach.

“I do not like the comte, not because he is French, but because he is—” Jason broke off just in time. He would not have her thinking him a madman, he would have her respect his opinion and his dictates because he was her father.

“I have chosen to live in this place where my associates are most likely to be French!” he sputtered.

Yes, he had chosen this place for just such a reason. There were men and women here of Colonial American descent; there were the French, the British. There were the islanders, the Creoles. There were people of mixed blood, coffee-colored ancients, younger, powerful dusky beauties who knew ... about the darkness.

This would not do. He raised a fist before him, shaking it toward his daughter. “I am your father. You will not see Alec DeVereaux again. I have decided that you will marry Robert Canady and that you will do so in the next few months, as soon as a ceremony can be arranged.”

“No!” Magdalena cried, leaping to her feet. Passion and fury filled her eyes. The beauty and grace of her motion were never more visible than when she was angry like this. “I’ll not do it, Father.” Suddenly she was choking, sobbing. “You have never treated me like this! You have taught me to think and feel—”

“But you are not thinking!” Jason cried. “If you were thinking, you would wonder about this man, Comte Alec DeVereaux. You would want to know his parents, you would want proof of who he is, of where he has come from—”

“Papa, you are sounding like such an arrogant fool!” Magdalena exclaimed. “Listen to yourself! You have told me that this is now the United States of America. We do not bow down to kings and queens, a man forges his own destiny—”

“And silly girls still swoon over mysterious men with high-sounding titles!”

“Papa, I am not a silly girl, I have never swooned, and I am not impressed with titles. Why, my own father is called Baron of the Bayou, and that is enough for me!” she tried to tease. But then she grew serious. “You don’t know him, Father. Alec is so well read, Father! He opens the world to me. He makes me see faraway places, he makes me understand history and men and women, and things that have been, and things that will come. I am in love with him because—”

“No!” Jason gasped.

“I am in love with him because he is brave, because he is sometimes so serious. Because he can be fierce and so tender. Because—”

“He seeks to seduce you!”

“Papa, he is an honest man, he wishes to marry me.”

“Never!” Jason vowed staunchly. “Never, do you hear me? Never!” Jason roared. “Tyrone! Come escort my daughter to her room. She is not to leave it!” he commanded, raising his voice to call the servant who hovered unhappily in the hallway, listening to the argument. Tyrone was an extraordinary black man, born in the bayou country, a free man. His parents had hailed from the islands, and before that, his ancestors had come from the far south section of Africa. He stood well over six feet tall and was pure sleek muscle from head to toe. He strode to Magdalena sadly. “I am sorry, Miss Magdalena,” Tyrone told her.

Magdalena stared into the handsome, sorrowful face of her father’s right-hand man. Tyrone’s one fault was his absolute loyalty to her father. He would carry her bodily upstairs if need be.

She turned back to her father, still unable to believe his unwavering hatred for the young man she had come to love. “No kings, no queens, Father! No all-powerful men or women to command us, this is America. I will not bend down to another’s will!”

She spun fiercely about, heading for the stairway with Tyrone close behind her.

“Magdalena!” her father called.

He was her father. Before this, her darling, her best friend. She turned back.

“What about love, child? Would you bow to my will because it comes with a father’s love?”

“I will love you all of my life, Papa. All of my life. But there must be other love, and it is for that I must defy you.”

“You will marry Robert Canady within the next two months.”

“Father, I will not.”

“Child, you will.”

She arched an elegant brow. “Will you keep me in my room until then?”

“Indeed, Daughter, by the darkness of each night to come, I do so swear it!” She watched him, still standing with incredible dignity. “Don’t call me daughter,” she said softly, and started up the stairs again.

This time Magdalena did not look back. Her heart was breaking. She loved him so dearly—his trimmed, graying beard, his tall lean form. He had always been there for her. Bellowing at times, gentle most often.

Loving his land, but loving his books more, spending time in his study, poring over his ancient texts, always looking and learning and sharing. He had his cronies, some of them funny, peculiar men who came upon occasion to closet themselves with Jason and his books. They were all gentle and kind and quick to greet her—to study her sometimes, as they did their ancient texts. All of her life they had offered her warmth, a reflection perhaps of her father’s adoration. Her father and his friends had always encouraged her to learn, to think, to make her own decisions.

And now ...

Tears seemed to well deep within her very being. Other fathers dictated their daughters’ marriages. Not Jason. He had been parent and friend all her life. He had been everything to her.

How could it be that he did not understand now? He had known love once himself. He told her so often enough. He described her mother to her at times with such vivid detail that she could almost see the past.

Jason had adored Marie d’Arbanville, had swept her off her feet, and brought her home. He had settled in New Orleans, Magdalena believed, to make Marie feel as if she were back at home with her people near Paris.

Well, it didn’t seem to matter now. If he had known love, he had forgotten it. Her heart began to thunder in her chest. Robert Canady was a fine man, a good man, a handsome young widower with a blond mustache, tawny curls, and sensual blue eyes. He was thoughtful, charming, sometimes a bit too serious and wise, but she did care about him, very much so. She had almost loved him. She might have married him once; she could not do so now. Alec had touched her. She had felt his whisper, felt his eyes. She had even felt the love with which he could somehow envelop her. Since he had first come to New Orleans, since they had danced at the governor’s ball, since they had laughed, chatted, ridden together, there could be no one else. No one else with eyes of fire, with a whisper to awaken such hunger within her.

She shivered, even as she stepped into her room and slammed the door, leaning against it. She had told him that she would come. That she would ride across the bayou, fly with the night, if need be, to reach him. She stared across the room to her balcony doors. She had to move quickly.

She tore apart her bed, making a body form out of the pillows, covering it with sheets and the bedspread. She tiptoed back to the hallway door and listened. She could hear Tyrone settling himself against the wall where he would stay to guard her, all through the night. She slipped her velvet cape from the hook by her bed and raced on a near-silent tread to the balcony doors.


She paused, startled, for it was almost as if she had heard his— Alec’s! —pained whisper in her ear. As if he were near, calling to her. Beckoning her.

The night breeze brushed by her, lifting her hair and the soft blue silk of her gown.

“I am coming, my love!” she thought in return.

From the wrought-iron balcony she caught hold of an old oak branch. It had served her as a child when she slipped into the night. It would serve her now.

She climbed easily down the tree, leaping the last few feet to the ground. She could see her father in the great parlor still, head bent, shoulders hunched as he stood before the fire. Her heart cried out. He was so dear to her.

“My love, my love ...”

She could hear the whisper again. Feel it caress her. She turned from the house, and hurried with soft footsteps away from the house and to the stables. Inside she slipped a bridle upon Demon, her favorite stallion, and led him out into the night.

A cloud shifted. The moon was full tonight. It rode the heavens, touched with a kiss of eerie red in the velvet night sky. Perhaps a storm was coming. It was beautiful; it was a bit frightening. It looked almost as if the moon had been bathed in blood.

Away from the house, she told herself that her love could know no fear. Once he was forced to realize that she loved Alec and had compromised herself with him, her father would relent. He would accept their marriage.

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