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“Legend states that this church became a holy place when back in the thirteenth century the Abbot of the Sedlec Monastery came back from a pilgrimage to Jerusalem with a handful of dirt,” Aleš relayed as he pointed out another oddly shaped sculpture. This one of a skull carrying a femur in its mouth just like a dog would. “He tossed this holy soil—said to be from the grave of Jesus—around the cemetery. And suddenly everyone in Bohemia—which was what this country was called back then—wanted to be buried in this holy place. So much so that they quickly ran out of room, and the bones in the cemetery were removed to make way for new graves.”

“I can’t imagine moving one grave to make way for another,” Haley said with a frown. “That just seems…wrong.”

Aleš shrugged. “It is the way of it. More than thirty thousand people were laid to their last rest here in just the following years alone.”

Looking around her, Haley shook her head. “I don’t see how they fit. That’s a lot of bodies. And more came after? Up to seventy thousand?”

“No one really knows how many, but they weren’t all put in these rooms. A lot were put down below in the catacombs.”

Haley swung around. “They have catacombs here? Like in Paris?”

“No. Not like Paris.” Aleš shook his head. “I guess to call them catacombs is exaggerating. They are more like storage rooms. Several of them are built below these chambers.”

“So that’s where the bones went?”

“Quite a few of them, yes. Would you like to see?”

“See?” Excitement trickled through her. “Can we? I don’t see anyone else heading downstairs anywhere.”

“That’s because they don’t have a Rynt as a tour guide,” he said smugly. He tucked her hand into his elbow again and led her to a small door beside one of the caged pile of bones. “They know me here. Know I respect this place. I’m allowed full access.”

He opened the door but all Haley saw was blackness. Suddenly she wasn’t sure she wanted to go down into that shadowy hole. Even though something inside her was pushing her to do so. “Ummm, if it’s that dark, maybe we shouldn’t go down.”

“Don’t worry,” he assured her. “There are lamps along the way. And I always carry a light with me since I visit so often.”

She glanced at him curiously as he took a small flashlight from his pocket. “I thought you said you didn’t paint here much.”

“I don’t.” Flicking on the light, he took her hand again. “But I find myself fascinated by the work my dědeček did so long ago.”

Haley allowed him to help her down the first set of stairs. “Dědeček?”

Aleš laughed. “Forgive me. It means grandfather. Much easier to say without all the greats in front of it.”

As she reached the bottom of the stairs, she smiled up at him. “I totally under—” And stopped with a gasp as Vincenc once more appeared in front of her, somehow using Aleš’ form to reach out to her.

See me, beloved. Hear me. Come to me.

“Haley? What is it?” Aleš pried her fingers from his arm. “What is wrong? What did you see?”

“See?” she squeaked as she watched Vincenc fade away. His eyes. Oh, God, his eyes. She’d never seen so much pain and torment in a man’s eyes.

“It was as if you were looking at something…someone.” Aleš words were colored with an urgency she didn’t understand.

“No. No.” Pulling away, she took a deep breath. “No. I didn’t see anything…anyone. “Let’s just go on, okay?”

For a moment it looked as if he would argue, but then with a deep breath of his own, he took her hand again and led her deeper into the bowls of the ossuary.

Aleš knew something was going on. He just knew it. He wanted to growl in frustration at Haley’s reticence. But he knew he couldn’t push her. He’d learned that much watching her deal with that Reed guy.

But she’d seen something. Earlier when she’d fainted and now again. Something that had scared—no, not scared—surprised her. Enough to make her go pale. Enough to make her lie to him in that trembling voice.

What was it? Or better yet, who was it? He remembered her whispering a man’s name when she’d come out of her faint. Could it be she was seeing a man? This…Vincenc? And if so, who was he?

Aleš shook his head. Could she actually be seeing something similar to what he was seeing? Something he couldn’t explain, but had seen over and over again since he’d picked Haley up off the floor?

A beautiful young girl with tear-filled eyes who whispered in his ear that she needed his help. Whose beseeching gaze had him already tied up in knots.

He’d assumed at first she was just a delusion. He’d had a bottle of wine the night before while working, so thought she may be the leftover part of a hangover.

But she was unlike any woman he’d dreamed up before. She was too young for one thing, and if he were going to dress a dream girl, she wouldn’t be in a burgundy-colored flowing gown that covered her from head to toe. She looked as if she were from some Renaissance Fair come to haunt his every thought.

He’d been thinking he needed to check himself into hospital for tests. That is until he saw Haley see something, too. So now he wanted to know…

What were they both seeing, and why was it happening in the first place?

“Wow!” Haley’s voice brought him back to the present. “This is bigger than I expected.”

He glanced around the big echoing room. The only things in it were a battered trunk, and a dusty tapestry hanging on the far wall. “This is one of four chambers. They say most of the bones upstairs were all stored down here. They stayed that way for centuries until Rint was hired to do something with them. They aren’t even sure they got them all. There could be more buried deep within the ground.”

Haley crowded closer. “Right under our feet? That’s creepier than knowing what’s upstairs.”

No fool, Aleš pulled her against him. “As the old woman says, bones can’t hurt you.”

She chuckled and laid a hand on his chest. “You heard that, did you?”

He grinned, enjoying her touch. “She says it to all the tourists who ask. It is, how do you say it? Her thing.”

“And what’s your thing, Aleš?” she asked him curiously. “Why do you come down here to this empty chamber?”

How could he tell her that he’d been drawn down here? That for the last few months he’d visited the church and catacombs nearly every day. She’d think him a fool.

“I guess I am curious,” he said finally. “My dědeček spent time down here, so I do the same.” He chuckled. “Maybe I’m the one who is crazy.”

She laughed, too. “No, sentimental maybe.”

“I am glad you are here with me,” he ventured, seeing the softness in her eyes. “I like you very much, Haley Addams.”

Her smile was slow and just a little bit seductive, as if she were testing the waters. “I like you too, Aleš Rynt.”

Kiss her.

The whisper almost made him jerk back, but he fought the instinctive urge. No, he wasn’t going to back off now. He wanted to kiss Haley. And whisper or not, that was exactly what he was going to do.

His lips brushed over hers, once, twice, and then he waited to see if she wanted him to continue. The throaty hum she made as she licked her lips as if tasting him, had his cock hardening in an instant.

“Oh yes,” she murmured. “Kiss me again. I have been waiting for so long.”

“By my lady’s command,” he muttered back, then wondered where the words had come from.

Their lips met again and the heat building between them flared out of control. Their mouths clung together as the kiss became more demanding. Tongues teased and hands explored until lost in passion, Aleš picked Haley up and backed her against one of the stone walls.

And that was when everything changed.

One moment, Aleš was holding Haley in his arms, the next they were lying in a tangled pile of bedclothes, his heart racing and his body shaking with a need he’d never before felt in his life.

He looked down at Haley, but it wasn’t Haley. Yet it was. Her face kept changing, rippling, like it was beneath the water. He opened his mouth to speak, and without warning, all control, all power was ripped away from him.

Suddenly it was like watching a movie. One where he was the main character, but someone else was reading his lines. And that’s when Aleš realized what he’d seen hadn’t been a delusion. The girl was real, and it was her lying in his arms. And he had the sneaking suspicion that he’d finally met Haley’s mysterious Vincenc.

He was the one who’d taken over Aleš’ body.



***end of excerpt***



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