The Horseman is unending,
his presence shan't lessen.
If you break the curse,
you become the legend.
Washington Irving and Rip Van Winkle had no choice but to cover up the deadly truth behind Ichabod Crane's disappearance. Centuries later, a Crane returns to Sleepy Hollow awakening macabre secrets once believed to be buried deep.
What if the monster that spawned the legend lived within you?
Now, Ireland Crane, reeling from a break-up and seeking a fresh start, must rely on the newly awakened Rip Van Winkle to discover the key to channeling the darkness swirling within her. Bodies are piling high and Ireland is the only one that can save Sleepy Hollow by embracing her own damning curse.
But is anyone truly safe when the Horseman rides?
The plush terry cloth robe slipped from Ireland's shoulders with a whispering caress before pooling in a heap around her ankles. Marble tiles chilled her bare feet as she stepped into the walk-in shower. The tips of her fingers slid across stainless steel. With a flick of her wrist, the trio of showerheads flowed to life. Welcoming heat came at her from all angles, pulsating over her curves with a rhythmic seduction. Ireland turned, a groan escaping her as the streams massaged all the right places. Steam rose, fogging the handle and creating a cloud of humidity that hugged her frame. Tipping her head back, she let the droplets rain down on her face and across her closed lids. Her lips parted, welcoming the rush of warmth that flooded between them. Until it assaulted her tongue with a rush of coppery warmth that clamped her throat shut with a wretched heave. Her hands cupped to catch the droplets, her eyes widening as thick crimson pooled in her palms, seeping between her ivory fingers. Formerly white tiles were now smattered and smeared with blackish-red gore that sprayed from the nozzles. Ireland threw herself from the shower, her feet slipping beneath her. She reached out to steady herself, but found nothing to hold on to. Nothing there to pull her back from the brink, except her own need for self-preservation ﾅ and a shadowed silhouette in the corner. Instinctively, she covered herself with her arms. Squinting, she craned her neck to see the figure that was slowly turning to face her.
"Mason?" Her voice echoed around her before she could even speak it.
He stared straight ahead with fixed, unseeing eyes. Blood trailed down his face from various points of origin, soaking the front of his shirt. "Cloak of night, brings Horseman's plight. His pricy toll, will be a soul."
"Mason? Are you okay?"
A hard blink and his eyes found focus on her. A desperate panic flared his nostrils, forcing his breath to come fast and ragged. "Help me, you have to help me," he pleaded, his teeth pink with the blood that streamed past his lips.
Her trembling hand reached for him, then recoiled at her own inept state of confusion. "H-how? What do I do?"
"You have to save us," Mason's words became more garbled by the fresh rush of gore that bubbled up the back of his throat. His once handsome face contorted in rage. Leaning forward he balled his fists and screamed with a force that bulged the tendons of his neck, "Save us!"
"Tonight was meant to be the Harvest Ball," Katrina said as she slid between the folds of her crimson and taupe gown. "Now the town is meeting, trying to concoct a plan to stop a being that death itself couldn't tame."
Ichabod sat on the edge of the bed with his back, respectfully, to Katrina while she changed. His loaded musket lay across his lap. In the reflection of the window in front of him he could see the soft curve of her hips as they tapered into her narrow waist. He cleared his throat and shifted his gaze to the floor. His chin tipped to the side, ever so slightly, to ask, "Are you secure in our plan?"
"I am to attend the summit on the arm of Brom Van Brunt," she reaffirmed as she pulled her long, blonde locks out from the back of her gown and began tightening the laces of her bodice. "Then speak with as many people as I can, searching for anyone that may have motives leading to the Horseman."
Ichabod nodded. Mostly to himself, he muttered the remaining details they were depending upon, "Rip will be inside as well. That man can finesse a crowd with a skill that truly baffles. If there are secrets to be found, he will uncover them. Irv will be outside with me, primarily because the Horseman isn't the only one in this town that would like to see his head on a spike. We will be on horseback, patrolling the grounds with a few other men that have volunteered. You will have nothing to fear."
Her elegant gown in place, Katrina turned to Ichabod wearing an expression equal parts timidity and fear. "What of Brom?"
The bed squeaked as Ichabod shifted his weight to face her. "Boorish as his ways may be, he cares for you. If you adopt the guise that you have interest in him, he will do all he can to protect you inside the gathering, while I provide you the same service outside."
"And," her long lashes brushed the tops of her cheeks as she cast her gaze to the floor, "you aren't bothered by me being on his arm?"
In the midst of the plotting and planning, Ichabod had slipped into the role he knew well of military strategist. He had detached himself from the emotional aspects-until that very moment. The reality of his request sank in like a heavy stone. He had asked her to take another man's arm, asserting her place beside him. The implications of that dug into his gut like a dull blade, churning and twisting deep.
"The mere idea of that makes me ache," he stated, forcing the words through his suddenly parched throat. "Yet I would endure this hardship, and countless others, to keep you safe."
She moistened her lips with a flick of her tongue, seemingly wrestling with words that gave her pause. "Ichabod, when this is over ﾅ w-would you call yourself mine?"
Ichabod closed his eyes. The euphoria of that question washed over him, cleansing him of all his sins with the promise of tomorrow. Rising to his feet, he took her velvet soft hand in his. A love he hadn't known possible illuminated her striking face. "From the moment I saw you, my heart belonged to you alone. If by some miracle you were to give me your love in return, I would need nothing else to sustain me the rest of my days."
Katrina's palm tenderly brushed his cheek. "You have already claimed that."
Allowing no further hesitation, Ichabod gathered her in his arms. Katrina tipped her head back, the soft curves of her body molding to his. Full lips parted in an alluring invitation it would take a stronger man than him to resist.
RONE Award Winner for Best YA Paranormal Work of 2012 for Embrace, a Gryphon Series Novel
Young Adult and Teen Reader voted Author of the Year 2012
Turning Pages Magazine Winner for Best YA book of 2013 & Best Teen Book of 2013
Stacey Rourke lives in Michigan with her husband, two beautiful daughters, and two giant, dogs. She loves to travel, has an unhealthy shoe addiction and considers herself blessed to make a career out of talking to the imaginary people that live in her head.