Anne Dalton drove into the small hotel’s parking lot from the dirt road. The ride from Bucharest to Bran had been one pothole after another. It was a wonder the small Toyota she rented didn’t have a flat.
She slammed the door and drew in a deep breath. At least the air was crisp. It sure beat the London smog. A sunbeam broke through the overcast sky. Anne spun around, her blonde hair teasing her cheek. There, on the cliff overlooking the small dusty town was the object of her quest - Bran Castle.
It captured all the intimidating gloom of a gothic castle, yet without the gargoyles and buttresses she was used to seeing in England. No, Bran Castle was steep, with four high watch towers on each corner. Jagged windows cut out of the stone walls were few and far between. The spires on the turrets were sharply slanted – imposing. Scaffolding supported the south side of the castle where reconstruction was being done. Sadly, a fine layer of soot covered the stone walls, a pathetic reminder of Romania’s communist years. A man in black walked onto the watch tower’s high timbered balcony. Was her mind playing tricks? He was tall, with fine, almost alabaster skin, and his eyes cast a fiery glance in her direction. She blinked and he was gone. Anne rubbed her hands against her upper arms. Maybe he was a construction worker. He had to be.
A little unnerved, she knew this is where she wanted to be. Her fame as a gothic vampire author was legendary back in England. She had so much money she didn’t know how to spend it. HBO had even made a series out of her Sinistri novels. When she saw that Bran Castle, notoriously known as Dracula’s castle, had gone up for sale, she had to come. The compulsion was more than just vampire author goes to vampire castle. Something – some gut intuition told her it was time. Time for what, she didn’t know. Anne chuckled to herself. While her vampires may share an erotic life with their prey, Anne had been divorced – twice.
Her eyes cut to the man who had snuck up on her.
“Hello. I’m Mr. George Buchet with Baytree Capital. Mr. Gardner sent me to represent the firm as we conduct the final purchase.”
Anne sized him up. He was the same height she was, balding on the top, his eyes as wide and vulnerable as a stack of pancakes ready to be devoured. He probably spooked easy. He didn’t impress her much. Finally, she politely held out her hand. “Nice to meet you, Mr. Buchet.”
“Sure, Ms. Dalton.”
Anne pointed to her car, but watched as Buchet walked inside the hotel. Within a minute a porter came to fetch her bag. Lazy American. He couldn’t carry it himself? No, he had to fetch a porter.
Anne marched into the hotel behind Buchet. It felt more like a bed and breakfast than a three star hotel. A cool chill descended over her. Her eyes darted over the small reception lobby. Something was watching her, she was sure of it. Then, as suddenly as the feeling appeared, it was gone. She took the keys to her room and followed the porter up the stairs, leaving Buchet to wait for her in the lobby.
Two hours later, Anne was riding in a carriage up to the castle. She couldn’t believe how the Romania lacked the modern amenities she found in England. The horses seemed to struggle, panting for breath as they pulled the carriage up the steep hill into the castle’s courtyard. A little chuckle eased past her lips. Bran castle would be the perfect spot to work on her next vampire novel. It captured the dark ambience she wanted to draw on when she eventually would sit down to write it.
The carriage stopped. Their tour guide, a rugged Romanian named Alex Pavel, helped her down from the coach. Buchet slithered out of the carriage behind her.
The turrets seemed to touch the clouds. The structure stood proud, almost defiant, despite its haggard appearance. She was home. Home? Home was in England. She tried to drive that sudden feeling that she was home away from her.
“Here it is – Bran castle,” announced Alex.
“I only read Stoker’s book about Dracula a couple of weeks ago,” Alex said. “I had no idea it was his recollection of this castle in his novel that helped to make it famous.”
“Stoker’s book is legendary,” Anne remarked.
Alex chuckled. “Most of us here in Bran had no idea of the castle’s notoriety until 1992, after the Communists left us.”
Anne smiled. “That’s so hard to believe. You’ve been famous in England for years.”
“Ah, Ms. Dalton, let me just clarify something. The real Count Dracula only stayed here for two weeks. The Turks held him as a prisoner in the north watch tower,” interjected Buchet.
Anne turned around to look at the short little weasel of a man. “How do you know that?”
Buchet held up a pocket travel book, “Romania in thirty days.”
Alex clasped his hands lightly, drawing Anne’s attention back to him. “The keep has a rich history, Ms. Dalton. It is ironic in a way that the castle has been so memorialized in Stoker’s book as Dracula’s residence when the real Count only spent two weeks here as a prisoner.”
Anne smiled at the guide. “What else can you tell me about the castle?”
“Well, it was built in 1212 by the Knights Templar. There are rumors that a chest of Templar gold is hidden in the castle, but no one has found it – except Dracula.”
Anne raised a curious eyebrow. “Really?”
“Yes, but the gold had an enchanted spell on it, and it wouldn’t let Dracula escape from the castle unless he left it behind,” Alex continued.
“That’s interesting. There’s a lot of interest in the Knights since the DaVinci Code was written,” replied Anne.
“Ah, that sounds like another book for me to read. Now there are fifty-seven rooms in the castle. You might like the east wing. It warms up considerably in the morning. The west wing is colder, more shaded,” Alex continued. “The workers renovating the castle think it’s haunted.”
“Mr. Pavel, buildings are only haunted in one’s mind,” Anne replied.
Buchet impatiently fidgeted. Anne’s eyes then cut to the castle surrounding the courtyard. Several slanted windows looked down onto the cool pathway and gardens. She had that feeling she was being watched again as a cool breeze wiped past her.
“Come to me…”
Anne bit her tongue. The words hadn’t been spoken, but she heard the voice on the wings of the wind. “So, ah, who’s the current owner?” she said to Buchet, trying to distract herself.
“Archduke Dominic von Habsburg. He’s a descendent of Romania’s last queen. He lives in New York.”
“Has he ever been here?”
“Pity,” said Anne. “Well, Mr. Pavel, show me the east wing.”
He smiled, leading Anne toward nearby rickety door; barely on it’s hinges. Anne shivered. Those obsidian eyes were sizing her up, evaluating her, she was sure of it. She rubbed her arms to try and ward off her uneasiness, unable to forget the wind’s command.
It was late. Buchet was sleeping in his room with a sprig of garlic over his door. Guess he believed Stoker’s fiction over hers. Anne couldn’t sleep though – not after the invigorating tour of the castle she had earlier. She walked into the hotel lobby, dressed in a simple pair of blue jeans and a white cotton shirt and ordered herself a highball.
The castle was beautiful, gothic, but not in the traditional sense. The halls were covered in shadows; the air inside was cool and damp. It had plumbing that desperately needed a retrofit and it had been wired for electricity, but the wires were old and frayed. That would have to be updated as well. In fact, everything was powered by a generator in a shed not far from the north side of the castle. The power lines that ran into Bran Castle couldn’t sustain enough electricity to feed the castle itself. She bit her lip. It would cost as much to update the castle as it would to buy it. She had the money, but still, did she want to spend that much?
Anne’s eyes cut to the sound of the voice.
“May I join you?”
“And you are?”
She motioned to the chair across from hers as he smiled a cool, little smile that intrigued her. He was tall, with striking cerulean eyes and a thick head of black hair. His aquiline nose complimented his high cheekbones. A scar ran down the side of his temple. The lounge grew cool. Anton leaned forward.
“Everyone in town is talking about you. They say the fair-headed Englishwoman is going to buy our beloved castle. Is it true?”
“I might, Mr. Getzi.”
“Call me Anton.”
Anne sunk into the cushions of her chair. His voice was smooth, soothing, almost hypnotic. She finished her drink, her attention firmly riveted on the man in front of her.
“It’s rather soon to be a on a first name basis with you – Anton.”
He chuckled. “Not for me.”
“We’ve known each other throughout the ages, Anne.”
She shivered at what the words behind the velvet voice implied. “We have?”
“Come to me.”
The words startled her. Not him! It couldn’t be. She made the sign of the cross and bolted out of her seat, running out of the lobby.
The next day, Anne found Alex shortly after sunrise and asked him to take her back to the castle. She hadn’t slept well, and her dreams were haunted by Anton’s face. He wanted her. He’d waited years for her; but that was insane! She’d never seen him before. Still, that compelling need to come here, that feeling that she was home, came into direct conflict with her common sense that was telling her to get the hell out of Romania as soon as she could.
Alex was a sporting chap about his morning wake up call. This time he took her to places he hadn’t yesterday, showing her an underground passageway to the castle from a nearby cave. They explored the dungeons under the kitchens, and he took her to the apartments that Queen Marie used. If she bought the castle, Anton would still be here. She came to the conclusion that if she wanted the life she knew, she would have to leave.
Anne sat across from Buchet at a local restaurant, eating dinner. The sun was beginning to set, casting bright orange and red shadows into the window. An earthy smell of recently tilled land hung in the air.
“Well, Ms. Dalton? Shall I draw up papers for the sale of the castle?” asked Buchet.
“I’m sorry, Mr. Buchet, but I’m going to pass. The castle has a lot of intriguing possibilities, but I don’t think it’s the right fit for me,” she explained.
He frowned. “I see. Well, I’m sorry. I’ll make arrangements to go back to Bucharest tomorrow.”
Anne nodded her head. They ate the rest of their meal in silence. As soon as the sun dipped below the horizon, Anne recognized that familiar chill had penetrated the restaurant. It was time to go. “Are you ready to leave, Mr. Buchet?”
He nodded his head and paid the bill. They stepped out of the restaurant and made their way down the street. The hotel was only two blocks away. A hand grabbed Anne’s arm, yanking her away from Buchet.
“We need to talk, Anne.”
“Let me go, Mr. Getzi.”
“You heard her - let her go…” Buchet stammered.
“Troll. Why don’t you slink back to the hotel? Everything is fine,” Anton said, smoothly. He passed the palm of his hand over Buchet’s face and Buchet complied with request without any struggle.
“What did you do to him?” Anne questioned. She didn’t know whether to be scared or intrigued by Anton’s smooth powers of persuasion.
“You left so abruptly last night. I take it you’ve had some time to think about our conversation.”
“It would be a mistake on your part.”
“I doubt that,” Anne replied. She tried to yank her hand away from him, only to discover he held her firm.
“Let me show you.”
Anne’s heart thumped wildly. His voice was calm and mysterious, his eyes full of unspoken thrills.
Anton wrapped his arms around her. The temperature plummeted. Good bumps raked over her exposed flesh. Her world turned black.
Clouds now littered the night sky. The air was warm, a little stale, yet on its tendrils, the haunting scent of jasmine pressed against her nose. She knew this scent. It grew on the trellis in the castle’s courtyard.
She opened her eyes, first focusing on the clouds. A half moon came into view between patches of gray sky. She stood on a balcony in the castle’s north watch tower, overlooking the village.
“How did we get here?” asked.
Anton clamped his hands down on her upper arms and stepped directly in back of her. He was firm – rigid. His masculinity hard and stiff, pressed against her backside through the fabric of their clothes. Fear came into conflict with an overwhelming desire to be here with him. Was she entranced by Anton’s spell casting as Buchet had been? She felt like she was.
“I brought you here while you slept, my sweet. Te iu besc.”
“I love you,” Anne whispered. She knew the phrase, but hadn’t heard it before. How could that be?
“Yes, I love you, Eleni.”
Anne relaxed, not flinching at the use of the name Eleni. His lips pounced onto her neck. She welcomed his carress as his teeth punctured her flesh and his strong arms wrapped around her body, his hands pushed her shirt aside, grabbing at her breasts.
She had no desire to fight the erotic feelings he brought out in her. A deep seated memory told her she had known him before. They’d been passionate lovers ever since their first meeting.
Her world grew dark as he drank her life giving essence. Cold tore though her. She shivered in his embrace, but his hands only squeezed her breasts more. He wanted her with a passion he wouldn’t abandon, and reveling in those feelings, she willingly gave herself to him. The only thing she heard was the steady beating of his heart in time with hers.
“Kiss me, my love. Let me give your memories back.”
She opened her mouth at his command, and his firm, bloodied lips overtook hers. The warm coppery taste of him slid down her throat and she was assaulted with images she’d seen before.
They had been lovers in another time. He was wild, untamed, fercious. She couldn’t stand being apart from her exciting lover after their first encounter. She watched herself sneak into Bran castle from an underground tunnel, built by the Templars so long ago, bypassing his Ottoman guards.
The scent of rotting flesh was in the air that night so long ago. The Ottomans hated her lover, yet they couldn’t kill him. If they did, they risked the wrath of the entire Wallachian and Moldavian armies who vastly outnumbered them. And he hated the Ottomans. He had chopped off the heads of the Ottomans he’d killed in battle and impaled their bodies, letting them rot underneath the tower where now they kept him prisoner, payback for previous transgressions.
That night she entered his prison room. They made love – Vlad Dracul and Eleni Getzi. She’d known him since childhood and waited years for him. Upon his return to Wallachia, they were reunited. She would risk Hell for him now.
She clung to him that night, on a blanket in the middle of the dungeon’s cell, naked from their wild sex. He’d filled her with his seed, quite pleased with himself.
He crushed his body against hers. “Promise me your soul forever, Eleni.”
He stood up, went to his wooden bed and chipped off a splinter, scratching his wrist until he drew blood. Then he put it to her lips and made her drink it. She lapped at the coppery substance eagerly, until sated. Then she cut her own wrist and he drank her blood.
“We are mated for eternity.”
Jasmine pulled her into the present. Anne stumbled out of Anton’s arms, stunned by the revelation. Throughout the years they’d been reincarnated as lovers, and now she had finally been reunited with her nocturnal soulmate who had always been tied to the land he’d given his soul to – Wallachia. He was what she’d been craving since the day she was born and no other man could have ever hoped to satisfy her demands.
He picked her up, cradling her in his arms, blood dripping from his chin. “Let me make you mine in this life.”
She nodded her head and he took her inside the watch tower.