Hi there, my friends! I am super excited to post about my first book, The Crimson Dagger. A year and a half of my life was dedicated to this work and couldn't have been better spent. My dream has always been to be an authoress. Last July, that dream was realized and my career was born. I am quite proud of this accomplishment and this book remains especially dear to my heart.
Now, I won't keep you in suspense any longer. The book description is included below and the first chapter is provided for your enjoyment. For more information on how to order your copy, feel free to visit the official Crimson Dagger page. I hope you enjoy my work as much as I enjoyed writing and presenting it.
150 years ago, Angelina Dioli was cursed as a vampiress, thrust into a life she didn't want or deserve. Drifting from Europe to the United States, she followed bloody wars to sustain her thirst. Her quiet presence can be seen upon each battlefield but goes undetected. Her loneliness and misery deepens as she retreats further into herself, disgusted by her dangerous nature.
Living in the 1860s, Captain Dante Rustici carries a dark secret into battle...a haunting sin from his childhood. Upon a Civil War battlefield, death covers him and hope vanishes along with the gunsmoke. Mortally wounded, he prepares to die. Then an angel of the night discovers him. His true adventure begins at last, one which could lead toward either his ultimate death or happy future. His fate lies in the hands of a beautiful, mysterious savior.
Can our Angelina help a wounded soldier face his tragic, guilt-ridden past? Will she destroy him instead? Will he love her in return? Will his love be enough to break her curse? Join them on this journey of love, passion and adventure! Watch as two hearts bleed for lost childhoods and yearn for a day when their pasts can be laid to rest. Peace is an elusive creature but perhaps not unattainable...only time will be the judge.
The First Chapter
your reading pleasure!
On a black night, when the studious were sleeping a slumber of the innocent and those who meant mischief were busy making plans, a scene unfolded in a mountain meadow.
Thick, white fog drifted in hazy clouds across a grassy meadow, filtering into the dark woods beyond. The moon shown full against a canopy of the brightest stars and the air held the crispness only found at such high altitudes. A wolf's howl echoed against the mountainside and the cry of an eagle pierced through the silence, creating a rich yet chilling contrast. Then all grew absolutely quiet and there came on the breeze, a soft clip-clop of shod hooves.
A lone female figure rode into the stillness, her blood-red robes cascading to the ground. She pulled on the reins and rested a hand on her black mount's gleaming rump. Nickering softly, the graceful stallion pawed at the ground and snorted, puffs of frozen breath encircling its head.
The young woman smiled, admiring the paradise. She took pause to ponder the beauty that few had the courage to venture forth to see at this late hour. She counted herself lucky as horse and rider continued along a winding dirt path. For only she had the good fortune to feel this free.
A sense of bliss flitted over her as she raised her face to the moon. Here, she could go in peace, unseen by prying eyes and unruffled by the troubles of mortal beings. By day, she lived a normal life, with responsibilities and problems, but by night, she became the huntress.
To that end, she possessed all the power denied her elsewhere. Only in moments like these could she feel at ease with herself. Up here, among the sentinel mountains, shrouded forests, bubbling streams and grassy meadows, she was the queen of all.
If the world knew her true form, it would call her a monster. She had loved a man once and even he had called her an abomination. In a gesture of love, she had trusted her life into his hands and he had repaid her by plotting to take it. After a narrow escape, she had vowed to never love or trust again.
A scent on the breeze brought her attention back to the gnawing fever in her brain. Desperation burned within her chest and an ache settled in her gums. Her nostrils flared, neck extended, blue eyes searching as she rose in the stirrups to sniff the air. Prey, and close by. With an excited yelp, she kicked her horse into action. Its hoofbeats vibrated through her body, the rhythm soothing the frenzy to a manageable level.
Riding swiftly, she came upon the body of a young buck. The animal's agonized cries filled her ears and she could see that its right front leg was crooked at an odd angle. Pity threatened her hunger. She climbed over rocks, roots and fallen limbs and crouched mere feet away. The deer's cries stopped as they regarded one other. Quietly, she moved closer until her outstretched hand touched its soft, brown fur. The animal thrashed but she held it down, staring into its terrified eyes.
“You will feel no pain, sweet one, nor will you experience fear. Relax into my arms and you will find peace,” she whispered.
Though its breathing was still rapid, the deer had quieted. She knew the time had come to quench her thirst. Putting a hand under its velvet chin, she stretched out the buck's long, graceful neck. Continuing to whisper sweet nothings, she prepared to feed. Her eyes closed and she took a deep breath, filling her lungs with the scent of fresh blood. The frenzy returned and her own blood burned hot within her veins. Her canine teeth grew to jagged points, her vision glowed red and reasonable thought fled under the assault.
Lowering her head, she sank her teeth into the animal's subtle throat and a groan hissed from the deepest part of her being. A grunt hitched in its chest, a slight struggle and then it lay silent. She feasted with relish, draining every drop of the bittersweet liquid from the withered carcass.
Tears sprang to her eyes as she looked upon the poor creature. The buck had been forced to accept its fate, as had she. To complete the feeding ritual, she gave herself over to the sorrow of her plight. Throwing her head back, she released a shrill cry which cut through the forest's stillness.
She rose, gave one last glance to her peaceful prey and picked her way back to her horse. Vaulting onto his broad back, she put her heels to his sleek sides. As one being, horse and rider surged forth into a gallop, disappearing into the gloomy woods.
* * * * *
With a wretched cry, Dante Rustici startled awake and sat bolt upright in bed. His heart was pounding, hard and fast. The dream, chilling and disturbing, had been far too real. Shaken, he took a moment to calm his trembling body. Wiping the sweat from his eyes, he struggled to regain his breath. The nightmare's horror haunted his memory, despite his best attempts to forget. His fingers curled into a fist and slammed into his rumpled quilts, savagely twisting the fabric.
Exhausted, he collapsed onto his back and stared up at the ornate ceiling. There were no answers to be found in the aged, exposed oak beams or the gold-leaf tiles peppered by delicate silver vines. Far from bringing order to his thoughts, the intricate pattern gave him a stabbing headache. He sighed and rubbed at his eyes.
A groan broke the room's silence as he squinted toward the room's single window.
Light filtered through the burgundy drapes, announcing a new day. Afar off, a rooster crowed and horses whinnied in the meadows. The nearby village could be heard bustling at the bottom of the hill. The iron furnace, which roared day and night, drought or flood, wind or rain, could also be heard. Along with the hissing of the twin steam boilers, shouts could be heard as one shift happily went home to their beds and the next trooped in to fill the vacant tasks.
The pleasant, familiar sounds drifted and swirled together, finding their way to his ears.
The chance for rest but a distant hope, he forced himself to get up. Pushing the bedcovers aside, he swung his feet to the floor. A shock wiggled up his spine as his toes met the cold, oak boards. Shivering, he reached for his robe and slipped into blue velvet slippers.
As he shuffled across the room, his fingers ran through disheveled black curls and grazed the stubble upon his chin. Life was rubbed back into his facial muscles and the crust wiped away from his eyes. Leaning heavily upon the vanity, he grimaced at the untidy disgrace framed within the oval mirror. Two hazel eyes stared outward from a scruffy, tanned, Italian face. The bloodshot gaze both transfixed and annoyed him. Though his body was fit, handsome and strong, he saw little worth to be found within the shell. Behind the facade, there was such weakness. He was sure that all who looked upon him could see his worst secret.
Throughout his young life, he had found that common people were usually not of a genuine stock. Kind words were backed by sarcasm, each compliment was shadowed by an insult and affection proceeded haughty opinions. To this end, a real and warm smile was rare and meant to be cherished. Much of these observations, he knew, were colored by his own self-esteem but still they held a deep loneliness.
The only family member he could easily trust was Beau, his little brother and best friend. Beau's wife, Caroline, was an equally kind soul, showing her warm, loving nature every day for all manner of creatures. In Dante's opinion, there had never been a more suited couple, each as much in love with the other.
He longed for such a sweet, loving embrace; a gentle woman to be waiting for his daily return. However, the young lady selected for him, by his father, left much to be desired. The toast of upperclass American nobility, elegant Felicity Cunningham seldom favored him with a smile. More often than not, her pretty mouth would be curled into a frown, directed towards him no less.
Her company was challenging at best and miserable at worst. Uncaring or simply ignorant of her selfish nature, his father applauded the union because she came with vast holdings of land and gold from the West. Though her company was bitter, the marriage would come about soon for the family's sake, not the groom's.
Grumbling, he yanked open a top drawer. A comb, a soft towel and a bottle of pomade were withdrawn and lined up along the vanity's surface. Quick work took care of the unruly black hair but nothing could be done about the dark circles under his eyes. His fingers trailed over them, attempting to smooth away the evidence of his troubled sleep. His hand continued along his right cheek and found the old scar, hidden under last night's stubble. He looked up as his hand lingered there, upon the reminder of that day.
Unwanted memories worked themselves towards the surface once more. Always taunting, always painful, they were never silent. For nineteen years, the nagging guilt had interfered with his work, play and family time. The ache plagued the silence of his thoughts, refusing to give him any rest. In those quiet moments before sleep, the pain would return and the memories would prove too strong. If nightmares didn't interrupt his sleep then they kept him awake.
But the worst was during the day.
A prisoner at the banquet table during one of the endless parties his father threw, he would hear about the lives of other men, their young families and their bright futures. And his insides would grow sore. Each man's existence seemed so fruitful and carefree that he would find himself jealous to the point of madness. But he couldn't complain. So must this be his penance for the sin he had committed or at least that is what the priest would say every Sabbath during mass.
With a deep exhale, he turned away from the vanity mirror to dress. He tried to make his appearance as unruffled as possible, before joining his family at the breakfast table. He resisted the menial task of shaving, his hunger proving of greater importance. The smells of crisp bacon, moist muffins, smooth grits and hot coffee rose from under his door, making his stomach growl hungrily.
There is much work ahead this day, he thought, closing his door behind him, Best I start seeing to it before the hours are wasted.
* * * * *
Standing on the veranda outside his brick manor house, Sutherland Rustici watched as the sun made its graceful ascent into the sky. The cheerful sounds rising from the village did little to help his unhappy mood, nor did the warm sunshine. His thoughts were far away, in another time and place. When the world had made sense. He wondered what to make of his eldest son's recent actions, those being the latest in a long line of embarrassments.
From birth, Dante had been a quiet boy, more inclined toward obedience rather than mischief. His brother, Beauregard, was much more open about his feelings and wore them upon his sleeve at all times. The eldest was harder to figure out. Ever since the boys' mother had passed away, Dante had fallen silent. There had been no tears and no reaction to his mother's tragic death, only silence as he had helped care for his baby brother.
Days and months of grief had dripped into years.
The silver-haired patriarch winced, thinking back to those terrible times. He looked out to witness the white cloud of steam, billowing ever upward from the forest, just as it had done when he had first laid eyes upon the magnificent sight. It still roused his spirit and quieted his troubled thoughts.
He marveled at the fate of a young Italian man, both terrified and excited to see the shining shoreline of The United States of America come into blessed view. Two motherless sons had hung onto his legs, desperate for a secure, loving future. How far that scared, ignorant little family had come!
A terrified young widower, he had traveled to Virginia first to find work as a coal miner. Two years later, he had accepted a job as a wagoneer and taken his boys on the road towards Ohio. Three years of grueling poverty were endured before he would become a blast furnace overseer and finally had secured a privileged future for his two sons. Wealth, in the form of pig iron, had made the name of Rustici great, beyond his wildest dreams.
Tired of his murmurings, the tired father turned and walked back into the stately brick mansion, the plans of which he had drawn up himself. Through the drawing room, into the main hall, past the cherry-wood staircase, he strode until the dining room table came into view.
A young black woman, dressed in a white dress and green apron, smiled and nodded as she placed a bowl of scrambled eggs upon the table.
“Good morning to ya, Mr. R. Have a nice sleep, did ya now?”
“Sì , Emily, I did,” he replied, putting a hand up to rub his forehead. “May I have a cup of your delicious tea with a bit of honey perhaps? I have a terrible headache this morning.”
Her eyes widened and she stepped closer, worry pulling her full, pink lips downward. “Are you well enough? How 'bout one of my sista's famous hoe cakes ta go along with the tea? Mite ease your discomfort a bit, if ya don't mind my sayin' so, Mista R, sir.”
He nodded, trying to stop the smile tugging at his mouth. “That sounds perfect, my dear. I will leave my health in your capable hands.”
Blushing, Emily whisked out of the room and left him alone. His amusement faded as he sat down and took the morning paper in hand. With a grimace, he read the bold headline. The front page news heralded the latest news of the war but he had no interest in a conflict that didn't concern him. When all was said and done, Italy was his country, not the USA.
Snapping the crisp pages wide, he read about the political struggle between Abraham Lincoln and George B. McClellan for the 1864 presidency. The popular opinion of the day was that President Lincoln would lose a second term, due to the war but then again, it was only the end of summer and there were several months to go until the election would take place. As he read further down, Sutherland wasn't sure which political candidate he preferred. He had voted for Lincoln the first time but the war was becoming tiresome and restrictive, hardly a check on the president's record. Perhaps a change of the guard was in order.
Firm footsteps padded up the carpeted hallway and interrupted a quiet morning. Dante appeared, looking decidedly rough and stonefaced. The older man folded his paper and cast an appraising eye over his eldest son. Although his curly, black mop had been tamed, the young man's hazel eyes told another story, as did the dark circles haloed under them. Also, he was unshaven and looked like a tramp.
“Good morning, Son. Did you sleep well?”
Dante paused in his stride upon entering the dining room. “Not particularly,” he mumbled, yanking a chair out and taking a seat across from his father.
“Eaten and gone to the furnace. Is that all you have to say after what you did last night?” Sutherland replied, an edge clear in his tone.
“I didn't realize that a man of my age could not party with my friends or leave said party early if he so wished.”
“It is not the fact of being with your friends that is my issue and you know it,” Sutherland growled, setting his coffee cup down with a loud clink into its saucer. “I held that party to celebrate your engagement to Felicity and you thanked me by getting drunk! Once you were practically carried upstairs, she left in tears. After breakfast, you will go over to her uncle's estate and beg her pardon.”
“But why must I gain her favor? She is your choice for my wife, not mine,” Dante snapped, resentment clear upon his face. “She dislikes the very sight of me most days, no matter what my behavior happens to be. How could last night have been such a tragedy?”
“No 'buts' or excuses, young man. As long as you live under this roof, you will do as you are told and none other,” Sutherland retorted, leveling a hard glare at his son. “Why must you shame the family in this way? Becoming delirious with drink, insulting your fiance, embarrassing me before our friends. What has become of you, my boy?”
Dante made himself busy by unfolding his napkin and smoothing it over his right thigh. The young man sighed, appearing tired already of the conversation. He picked up a fork and stabbed at a piece of sausage on his plate but didn't raise the utensil to his lips. Instead, he stared at his water glass.
“Papà, I wish to eat my breakfast in peace. Will you grant me that small favor?”
“Not until you explain yourself and the appalling behavior you demonstrated last night.” “I have nothing to say.”
“Not even an apology?”
“If I did nothing wrong, why seek forgiveness?”
A pain twinged within the father's tired soul and he sank back against his chair. “Where did I go wrong in your upbringing? I thought I raised you better than this. I wish you would tell me what has been troubling you this past year or two. I am so tired of this wall between us! Beau tells me that you refuse to tell even him of your troubles. If you don't let us in, how are we supposed to help you?”
“Let it go, Papà. What I think or feel is no one's business.”
Sutherland felt his heart harden, hurt by his son's indifference. “Very well. I have given you the benefit of the doubt because you are my son but no more. You will make amends to your betrothed or this house will no longer be your home. It is your choice, Dante.”
“Sì, it is my choice and mine alone.”
Taking his napkin in hand, Dante patted his mouth dry and placed the cloth by his untouched plate. He rose and strode from the room, his back rigid. Sutherland called after him but the clicking boot heels did not falter. The front door slammed and a growl echoed in the dining room.
Caroline, his youngest son's wife, chose that moment to glide into the room. A sweet smile graced her pixie-shaped face as she came around and kissed his cheek. Her gentle presence calmed his anger and he once again blessed God for bringing this angel into his little family. She was a southern beauty, possessing a full head of golden curls, clear skin and the most stunning green eyes. The lovely young woman took her seat and unfurled her napkin, a discontented expression furrowing her brow.
“What is wrong with Dante, Pa? He seemed distressed and hardly greeted me before storming out. May I ask if this was because of the party?” she asked, her southern accent softening her next words, “That was not his fault, you know.”
“He was dead drunk at his own engagement party! He was stumbling around, mumbling profanities and all of this family's closest friends were there to witness his shame. He has disgraced himself and me by his conduct. How is that not entirely and completely upon his foolish head?” he demanded, stabbing at a piece of fried potato and chewing it vigorously.
She shook her elegant head, catching his eye. “I happen to know that he only had a half glass of wine, not enough to make him drunk.”
“How do you know this?”
“I checked with all of the wait staff, including both of the food table attendants. Each person said the same thing. He had been carrying around the same wine glass all night. He never asked for a refill. I am worried about him. He is not well, in mind or body, I fear.”
His anger deflating, he shook his head. “When you married Beau, I never intended for you to be caught in the middle of a family dispute. You mustn't concern yourself with my rebellious eldest son.”
A steeled glint sparking in her eyes, Caroline spooned upon her plate. “Your sons are no rebels. Quite to the contrary. Dante is a good man but something is indeed troubling him. Beau spoke of his own worries to me last night. When taking care of his business papers, he had heard Dante pacing for hours into the night. But that is not what troubled my husband the most.”
“Oh, what troubled him the most?” Sutherland inquired, leaning forward in his seat and lacing his fingers in front of himself.
“The nightmares seem to be back. Beau said he has had to awaken Dante on several occasions during the last year. Only he would have heard his brother's cries at such a late hour, since you and I usually retire early.”
“Why wasn't I told any of this before now?”
“Beau and I talked and felt we needed to respect Dante's privacy. It wasn't our place to tell you.”
“No, you are right. I should have been aware by my own observations.” He collapsed back against his chair and pressed a closed fist to his mouth. “I wonder how I could have missed these incidents before. Dante hasn't had one of those dreams since he was a youth.”
“Beau has never told me the entire story of why Dante's nights are haunted so and I never wanted to intrude. But this I am sure. Their mother must have been a lady of grace and love,” she commented softly, falling silent.
With a sigh, he rose and walked to the bay windows. His thoughts were saddened and remorseful, uncertain how to tell his tale. Memories arose of a little boy on a ship's stormwashed deck, tears streaming down his cheeks as he clung to the railing. Dante had been told not to go out on deck that night but curiosity must have gotten the better of his usual obedience.
From what the widower could piece together, his dear wife had awoken and followed, while he and Baby Beau had slept on. She had been swept overboard and his six-year-old son had never recovered. Despite continuous assurances that the accident had not been his fault, Dante had grown cool and silent, much different from the loving boy he had been before his mother's death. Horrid nightmares, wails screaming into the night, were the only signs of the boy's anguish. Those moments were also the seldom times when young Dante had shed tears.
Casting his gaze out the window, Sutherland beheld the empire he had built for his sons. He realized that he had been grossly unfair. If a rift grew between himself and his sons, he knew that the furnace, the horsebreeding operation and the rich beauty of his Ohio hills would be useless. The six-hundred acres of forests, iron mines, babbling streams and abundant wildlife would not fill the void left by his own flesh and blood.
Life would have no meaning.