Seize the Night Read online



Prologue

 

  "Happy birthday, Agrippina," Valerius said as he laid a single red rose at the feet of the marble statue that held a sacred place in his home.

  It was nothing compared to the sacred place that the woman herself had held within his heart while she had lived. A place she still occupied-even after two thousand years.

  Closing his eyes, he felt crippled by the pain of her loss. Crippled by the guilt that the last sounds he had heard as a mortal man had been her wrenching sobs as she called out for his help.

  Unable to breathe, he reached up and touched her marble hand. The stone was hard. Cold. Unyielding. Things Agrippina had never been. In a life that was measured by brutal formality and harshness, she had been his only refuge.

  And he loved her still for the quiet kindness she had given him.

  He clasped her delicate hand in both of his, then laid his cheek against the cold stone palm.

  If he could have one wish, it would be to remember the exact sound of her voice.

  To feel the warmth of her fingers on his lips.

  But time had robbed him of everything except the agony he had caused her. He would die ten thousand more deaths if only he could have saved her the pain of that one night.

  Unfortunately, there was no way to turn back time. No way to force the Fates to undo their actions and give her the happiness she should have known.

  Just as there was nothing that could fill the aching void inside him left by Agrippina's death.

  Grinding his teeth, Valerius pulled away and noted the eternal flame that burned by her side was sputtering.

  "Don't worry," he said to her image. "I won't leave you in the dark. I promise. "

  It was a promise he had made to her during her lifetime, and even in death, he had never broken it. For more than two thousand years he had kept her in the light even while he was forced to live in the darkness that had terrified her.

  Valerius crossed the sunroom to reach the large Roman-style buffet table that held the oil for her flame. He removed the oil from the center of the buffet and took it to her statue; then he stepped up onto the stone pedestal to pour the last of it into the lamp.

  In this position, his head was even with hers. The sculptor he had commissioned centuries ago had captured every delicate curve and dimple of her precious face. Only Valerius's memory supplied the honey color of her hair. The vivid green of her eyes. Agrippina had been flawless in her beauty.

  Sighing, Valerius touched her cheek before he stepped down. There was no use in dwelling on the past. What was done was done.

  He was sworn now to protect the innocent. To keep watch over humanity and make sure that no other man had to lose so valuable a light in his soul as Valerius had lost.

  Assured the flame would last until tomorrow night, Valerius inclined his head respectfully to her statue. "Amo," he said to her, whispering Latin for "I love you. "

  It was something he wished to the gods that he'd had the courage to say aloud to her while she had lived.