These paranormal romance excerpts are all ones I had permission to post when we were Books That Hook. I am just moving them to our new website. Enjoy!
Warning: Some content on this page may not be suitable for readers under the age of 18.
Excerpt from THE IMMORTAL WHO LOVED ME by Lynsay Sands
Sherry was muttering to herself as she worked. She hated doing taxes. She hated paying them even more.
Snorting with disgust as she calculated the amount of money she’d have to pay this quarter, she saved the program and was about to shut off the computer when her office door burst open. Grumpy after her task, Sherry raised her head, ready to rip into the employee who had barged in without knocking. But, instead, the words caught in her throat and her eyes widened with surprise as she stared at the petite blond teenager who rushed in and slammed the door closed.
The kid didn’t give her more than a passing glance as her gaze slid around the room to find the window overlooking the store. The office was eight steps up from the main floor,so it allowed for an eagle’s view of everything. On spotting the window, the kid immediately dropped into a crouch, and then moved to it to poke her head up and peer anxiously out over the store floor.
Sherry’s eyebrows rose at the action, and she announced, “It’s a one-way mirror. No one in the store can see you.”
The girl glanced around and frowned at her. “Shhh.”
“Excuse me?” Sherry said with a half laugh of disbelief at the sheer gall of the girl. Expression turning serious, she said grimly, “This is my office, kiddo. I suggest you explain your reason for being here, or get out.”
Rather than put the kid in her place, the words merely drew a full-on scowl from her as she turned and then concentrated a pair of the most amazing eyes on Sherry. They were a strange silver-green and seemed almost to glow with intensity.
Caught by those beautiful and unusual eyes, Sherry allowed her to stare briefly, mostly because she was staring back, but then she arched her eyebrows. “Well? Are you just going to crouch there and gawk at me or explain yourself?”
Instead of answering, the girl frowned and asked, “Why can’t I read you?”
A short disbelieving laugh slipped from Sherry, but when the girl simply stared at her with bewilderment, she said reasonably, “Maybe because I’m not a book.”
That got no reaction from the girl. She still continued to stare at her, looking almost vexed.
Tired of thinking of her as “the girl,” Sherry asked abruptly, “What’s your name?”
“Stephanie,” the girl replied almost absently, eyeing her now as if she were a bug under a microscope. That examination ended abruptly when a chime sounded from the speaker in the corner of Sherry’s office. It announced that the front door of the store had been opened. Seeming to realize that, Stephanie whirled to peer out at the store again, and quickly dropped back to her haunches so that only the top of her head poked up over the bottom of the window ledge.
“I told you it’s one-way,” Sherry said with exasperation. “They can’t see—”
“Shhh,” Stephanie hissed without glancing around, simply raising a hand in her direction, palm up, demanding silence.
Despite herself, Sherry obeyed the silent order. There was just something about the girl, a sudden stillness and tension that had been present before, but now intensified. It made Sherry frown and glance past her to the store beyond the one-way mirror as four men walked into the shop.
Using the word “walked” was somewhat misleading. It was too normal, and had they just walked in she would have simply taken note of their entrance and then turned her attention back to the teenager in her office. But there was nothing normal about these men.
All four of the newcomers looked to be in their mid-twenties. They also all had longish, dirty blond hair. One wore it in a ponytail, another actually had it up in a bun, and a third man had gelled it into long pointy spokes that poked out of his head like a hedgehog. But the leader, or at least the man in the lead, had a full, matted mane that made her think of a lion.
Sensing trouble, Sherry watched the men. They each wore jeans that could have used a run through a washing machine. Their T-shirts weren’t much better, and they didn’t walk in so much as stalk in. There was just something predatory about them, an air that made her feel like a gazelle on the planes of the Serengeti and grateful they were on the other side of the mirror.
Unaware that she had stood and was slowly moving to the girl’s side, Sherry watched with trepidation as the lead man raised his head and took a long, deep sniff of the air, scenting it like the predator he made her think of. He then nodded, lowered his head and glanced around to ask, “Where is the girl?”
Not surprisingly, the half a dozen customers in the store continued perusing the kitchenware they’d come in for, probably not even aware that he was addressing them or to what girl he was referring. Sherry doubted anyone but her employees had even noted the girl’s entrance, and busy with customers as they were, even they may not have.
When nobody paid him any attention, the lead man scowled and cast a glance back toward his men. The last man, the one that resembled a hedgehog, still stood in the open store door. Now he entered fully and slammed it, sending the bells ringing madly. When the chimes fell silent, so was the shop. Every eye in the place was now on the foursome, and the air seemed charged with a sudden wariness that Sherry was not only aware of, but was experiencing herself.
“Thank you for your attention,” the leader said pleasantly, moving forward again. After half a dozen steps, he paused again, this time in front of one of her employees who had been helping a young woman who had a little girl clutching at her skirt.
Sherry sucked in a breath when the man’s hand suddenly shot out to the side and snatched the mother by the front of her sweater. He wasn’t even looking at her as he grabbed and jerked her forward. Only then did he turn his head toward her, his nose almost brushing hers as he demanded, “Where is the—”
Sherry found herself tensing further when he paused suddenly mid-question. She bit her lip, the hairs on the back of her neck standing on end as he inhaled again, more deeply this time. Sherry didn’t know why, but the action made her anxious for the woman, especially when he gave a pleasant little shiver as he released his breath at the end.
“You’re pregnant,” he announced, a smile growing on his lips. Dipping his head, he ran his nose along the woman’s throat, inhaling deeply again. He then released a happy sounding little sigh and announced, “I love pregnant women almost as much as untreated diabetics. All those hormones pumping through the blood …” He pulled back to look her in the face as he said, “It’s a powerful cocktail.”
Sherry blinked and tore her gaze from the tableau below to glance to Stephanie, surprised to find she’d briefly forgotten about the girl.
“What?” Sherry asked, instinctively whispering this time. She didn’t know who these people were, or what was going on, but all her inner alarm bells were ringing in warning now.Something very bad was happening and she knew instinctively that it was only going to get worse.
Stephanie bit her lip and then glanced around. “Is there a back exit in this place?”
“That door leads to the alley behind the shops,” Sherry admitted quietly, gesturing to a door down another eight steps at the back of her office.
Sherry didn’t blame the kid for wanting to run. She wanted to herself, but couldn’t, not with her employees and customers out there at the mercy of the men presently filling her small shop. It was like four lions set among a pen full of lambs. Although she supposed that was the wrong analogy. Everyone knew the lioness did the hunting, not the lion.Wolves were probably a better descriptor for these men.
“You don’t happen to have a car parked out in the alley, do you?” Stephanie asked hopefully.
Sherry merely stared for a moment. She had heard the question but hadn’t seen the girl’s lips move. What—?
“Do you?” the teenager hissed, her lips moving this time.
“No. I take the subway,” Sherry admitted quietly. Most people did in the city, rather than pay exorbitant parking fees.
The girl sighed unhappily and then peered back to the drama taking place on the other side of the mirror.
Sherry followed her gaze. The leader now had the young mother pressed up against the checkout counter, her body bent back over it, but all he was doing at the moment was sniffing her neck like a dog. It was weird, and might even have been funny if Sherry hadn’t noted the knife he now retrieved from his pocket and flicked open at his side.
“Oh crap,” she breathed.
“Yeah,” Stephanie muttered. “A car would have made this so much easier.”
“Made what easier?” Sherry asked in a distracted voice as she watched the man run the side of the blade lightly up the apparently pregnant woman’s stomach toward her throat. The woman wasn’t reacting at all. Her expression was blank, as were the expressions on the faces of the others in the store. Even her child simply stood there, blank-faced and unconcerned. The only people in the store with any expression at all were the leader and his men. The leader was smiling a soft almost sweet smile, while the three men who could have been his brothers were all grinning widely with what she would have said was anticipation.
“You better start running,” Stephanie said grimly, moving to lock the door leading into the store.
“I’m not running anywhere,” Sherry said, her words sharp despite her effort to keep her tone soft. “I’m calling the police.”
“The police can’t help them,” the girl said grimly, striding over to pick up the heavy filing cabinet in the corner and carry it down the stairs to set in front of the door that opened to the store floor.
Sherry was so startled by the action that she just stared. The filing cabinet was a tall, four-drawer legal cabinet stuffed full of paperwork and receipts. It weighed a ton. She doubted she could have pushed or dragged it across the floor, let alone lift it like it was an empty laundry basket as the girl had just done. She was trying to work out in her head how Stephanie had done that when movement below drew her attention back to the store floor. The leader had suddenly released the pregnant woman and stepped back.
Maybe he was going to leave. The vague hope had barely formed in her mind when he grabbed one of the mixing bowls off a nearby display and handed that and the knife to thepregnant woman and said pleasantly, “It’s such a messy business and this is my favorite T-shirt. Why don’t you do it? Bend forward over the counter, put the bowl on that stool there so it’s under your throat, and slice your neck open so the blood flows into it.”
“The crazy son of a—” Sherry began and then nearly bit her tongue off when the young mother, still with no expression on her face, did exactly as he’d suggested. She turned to bend over the counter, set the bowl on the clerk’s stool behind it, positioned herself so her neck was over the bowl and slit her own throat.
“Damn,” Sherry breathed with dismay, hardly able to believe the woman had just done that. “I’m calling the police.”
“There’s no time,” Stephanie growled, catching her arm. “He’s controlling those people. Can’t you see that? Do you think that woman really wanted to slit her own throat?”
“But the police—”
“Even if they got here before Leonius is done, they’d just become part of the slaughter. The only way to save these people is to lead Leo and his boys away from here … and todo that I need to get their attention and then run like hell.”
“Then we’ll get their attention and we’ll run like hell,” Sherry said firmly as she hurried down the steps to unlock and open the back door. There was no way in hell she was letting the teenager handle the matter alone. She was just a kid, for heaven’s sake. Sherry had just spotted the door stopper to keep the door open when a loud crash made her turn sharply around. She was just in time to see her desk chair sail through the one-way mirror and out of sight. Stephanie had pitched it through.
Sherry hurried back to the top of the steps to look out onto the store floor. The chair hadn’t hit anyone, but the noise had definitely caught the attention of the men in the other room. No one else even glanced around, but all four men were now staring through the opening toward them.
Stephanie promptly flipped them the bird, then raced toward Sherry, shrieking, “Run!”
The shout had barely hit her ears when Stephanie was streaking past her, catching her arm in passing and nearly jerking her off her feet as she swung her around. In the next moment, she’d been dragged down the stairs and out the door. Stephanie must have kicked the stopper out of the way as they passed, because the door slammed closed behind them.
The girl was fast. Inhumanly fast. Sherry was moving like she’d never moved before in her life. Adrenaline gave her a boost and her feet barely seemed to touch the ground, but the teenager was still nearly dragging her off her feet with her own speed. It was a short alley, yet they’d barely traveled up half of it when a loud crash drew her gaze over hershoulder to see the men charging out after them.
Sherry’s heart leapt at the sight. Like the girl, they were also fast. Too fast. She would never outrun them. And she was just holding Stephanie back.
“Go!” she shouted, shaking her arm in an effort to break the girl’s hold. “I’m just slowing you down. Leave me and run!”
Stephanie glanced toward the men gaining on them, looked forward again, and then did just that. She released her hold on Sherry and charged for the mouth of the alley.
Sherry was glad she had. It was what she’d told her to do, and at the same time being suddenly on her own with those hyenas nipping at her heels was heart-stoppingly terrifying. Despite her fear, or more likely because of it, Sherry managed to put on a little more speed herself, but it was like trying to outrun a sports car. Impossible. Sherry’s only hope was that they’d bypass her to chase after the girl.
The moment she had the thought, Sherry began to worry that they would do just that. She couldn’t leave the girl to their less than tender mercies without at least trying to slow them down or stop them. That thought in mind, she glanced around for something to help with the effort. The only thing ahead of her in the narrow alley was a pair of garbage Dumpsters.
“Work with what you have,” she breathed, and changed direction, angling toward the large blue metal bins. Would she have time to grab one to push toward the men? Would she be strong enough? Did garbage Dumpsters have locks on their wheels, and if they did, were the wheels locked on these Dumpsters?
Sherry never got the answer to those questions because that’s when the gunshot rang out. She was sure she felt the bullet whiz past her ear, it was so close. At first she thought her pursuers were shooting either at her or the girl. It made her squint at the mouth of the alley some twenty feet ahead as she sought out the girl to see if she was all right. Hereyes widened incredulously when she spotted Stephanie in a shooter’s stance, gun pointed her way while a police officer stood beside her seeming oblivious to what was happening.
Even as she saw that, several more gunshots sounded. This time, though, Sherry heard a grunt from close behind her. She glanced over her shoulder, shocked to see the leader only three or four steps away, his arm extended, hand reaching for her. His fingers actually brushed the cloth of her blouse even as he began to tumble toward the ground.
There were three holes in his chest, Sherry saw as he fell, and his followers were skidding to a halt to help him. With the hope that she might get out of this after all, Sherry turned and ran like crazy. All she was thinking was that if she got to Stephanie and the officer before one of the men gave chase again, she would be all right.
When Sherry reached Stephanie, the girl had lowered the weapon and was putting it back in the
officer’s holster, saying, “This never happened. You never saw us and you really should patrol farther up the road and stay away from here until the alley is empty.”
Stephanie snapped the officer’s holster closed on the gun as she finished speaking, and then the officer immediately turned and started up the road.
“What—?” Sherry began with amazement and then snapped her mouth closed as Stephanie grabbed her hand and began to run again, dragging her away from the alley mouth. Since Sherry was more than happy to get away from their pursuers, she went willingly, doing her best to keep up. But as soon as they reached the end of the street and had rounded the corner, she tugged at Stephanie’s hand and gasped, “Wait … Stop … I can’t … run any … more.”
“We can’t stop,” Stephanie said firmly, dragging her up the road, though slowing to a jog at least. “Leo will be after us as soon as he recovers.”
“That guy … you shot?” she gasped with amazement, still tugging on Stephanie’s hand. Even a jog was too much for her labored lungs at the moment, and her words were breathless and choppy as she said, “He isn’t … recovering … anytime soon. He has … three bullets … in his chest. His next stop … is the … hospital.”
“He won’t need a hospital,” Stephanie assured her, not the least winded. She glanced around grimly as they reached the end of the short street, and then suddenly pulled Sherry across the road toward a small pizza place on the opposite corner.
“Kid … he’ll need a … hospital,” Sherry assured her wearily, but allowed Stephanie to usher her into the restaurant. She even followed docilely as the girl dragged her to the tables along the side between the counter and the windowless wall until they reached the last table, one not likely to be seen from the street.
“Can I use your iPhone?” Stephanie asked as Sherry dropped to sit in a booth with her back to the front of the shop.
Sherry grimaced and wheezed, “I don’t have it. Or my purse either,” she added with a frown.
“Just catch your breath. I’ll get you a drink,” Stephanie said, and as quickly as that was gone.
Sherry pushed her hair back from her sweaty face, then closed her eyes on a sigh. The last few moments played through her head like cut scenes from a film; that poor woman slitting her own throat, the chair crashing through the window, the leader of the small gang of hoodlums reaching for her even as he fell from his wounds … his eyes, glowing and alien.
Sherry shook her head and covered her own eyes briefly, pressing on them in an effort to blot out the images. She wondered where her nice boring safe life had gone … and why she was sitting in a pizzeria like a well-behaved child when she should be calling the police, going back to check on her people and customers, and—
Sherry raised her head and sat back abruptly as Stephanie set a soda and a slice of pizza on the table in front of her. Sherry’s gaze slid from the two items to the identical items in front of Stephanie as the girl slid into the booth across from her.
“I didn’t know what you like so I got you a deluxe slice and Coke,” Stephanie explained, picking up her slice of pizza to chomp into the end of it.
Sherry gaped as she watched the girl chew and swallow with relish, and then asked with amazement, “How can you eat?”
“I’m hungry,” the girl said simply. “You should eat too.”
“I don’t eat carbs … or drink them. Coke is nothing but syrupy water,” Sherry said automatically, and then realizing how stupid those words were under the circumstances, she shook her head. “I don’t understand how you can act like this is all just—”
“Sugar is energy,” Stephanie interrupted. “And you need to keep up your energy in case we have to run again. So eat,” she ordered, sounding remarkably like the adult here.
That fact made Sherry scowl. “We should be calling the police.”
“Yeah, ’cause that cop at the mouth of the alley was so useful,” Stephanie said with dry disinterest before taking another bite of her pizza.
Unable to argue with that, Sherry frowned and then asked, “Speaking of that, what happened there?”
Stephanie arched an eyebrow, but was silent for a moment as she finished chewing and swallowing. Then she sighed and said, “You obviously couldn’t outrun them, and I couldn’t leave you behind for them to catch, torture, and kill, so when I spotted the cop at the mouth of the alley, I ran ahead to grab his gun and shoot Leo to buy us some time. Fortunately, it worked.”
Sherry didn’t point out that she had been there and seen all that, instead she simply asked, “And the co—police officer, just let you take his gun?”
Stephanie shrugged. “I controlled him. He won’t remember any of it.”
“Which will really confuse him when he realizes his gun has been fired,” Sherry muttered, but her mind was on the girl’s claim that she’d controlled the cop. She wanted to laugh off the suggestion, but the man had looked as blank-faced as the woman who’d slit her own throat in the store. Stephanie had claimed Leo was controlling that woman too. So Leonius had controlled the woman, Stephanie had controlled the cop … How? That particular skill set was just not something Sherry knew humans to have.
“There they are.”
Sherry glanced around sharply and spotted the four men moving swiftly past the restaurant’s front window. She shrank down in her seat when one of them glanced through the window, but they didn’t slow or stop, so she guessed she hadn’t been seen. That wasn’t a surprise to her, considering they were in the dark back corner. What was surprising was the fact that the leader, Leo, as Stephanie called him, was up and walking around as if nothing had happened.
“Damn,” she breathed, staring at the man until the group moved out of sight.
“I told you being shot wouldn’t stop him,” Stephanie said solemnly.
“I know but … how?” she asked with bewilderment.
Stephanie was silent for a moment as she continued to eat her pizza, but after a couple of bites she set it down with resignation and reached for her
pop. She took a pull on the drink, and then set that down too, to eye Sherry thoughtfully. After a moment she sighed. “I suppose I’m going to have to explain.”
“That would be nice,” Sherry said dryly.
Stephanie nodded. “Vampires exist. Although Leonius and his men are no-fangers, but they still survive on blood so I suppose they’re still vampires. As am I, though I’m an Edentate.”
Sherry blinked as the words raced through her mind. No-fangers? Edentate? She had no idea what either of those were, so focused on the word she did recognize.
“Vampires?” she asked, not bothering to hide her disbelief. “Sweetie, I hate to tell you this, but vampires do not exist. Besides, vampires bite people, they don’t have them slit their own throats open and bleed into a bowl.”
“Uh-huh,” Stephanie didn’t look upset by her words. “So how do you explain his controlling that woman to make her slit her own throat? Or my controlling the cop?”
Sherry considered the question briefly and then suggested, “Hypnosis?”
Stephanie rolled her eyes. “Come on, you don’t seem like a stupid woman. Leo didn’t have time to hypnotize her, and I certainly didn’t have time to hypnotize the cop.” She scowled and then asked, “What’s your name?”
“Sherry Carne,” she answered. “And fine, maybe this Leo didn’t hypnotize the woman in my store, but he did something and it wasn’t because he’s a vampire. Vampires have fangs and bite people.”
“A minute ago you said there were no such things as vampires, now you’re saying there are, but they have to have fangs?” Stephanie asked with amusement.
“Well …” Sherry frowned. “If you’re going with the whole vampire thing to cover the real story, then at least be consistent. Vampires are dead, soulless creatures who crawl out of their coffins and bite people.”
“Yeah, that’s what I thought too,” Stephanie said, sounding weary and much older than her years. Shrugging, she straightened her shoulders and added, “Turns out we’re bothwrong. Vampires aren’t dead and soulless, and while most do have fangs, Leo and his little Leos are an aberrant strain. Like I said, they’re called no-fangers. They don’t age and they do need blood to survive, but they don’t have the fangs to get it, so they cut their victims. They’re also usually crazy. But not normal crazy, nutso crazy.”
Sherry tilted her head slightly and eyed the girl. There was something about the way she’d passed on the information … It had been a lecturing tone, but there was something under the words, some emotion almost like shame, that she didn’t understand.
“You don’t believe me,” Stephanie said with a shrug. “That’s okay, but just let me tell you what’s going on. You can believe it or not as you like, but just remember it. It might save your life before we get out of this.”
Sherry was silent for a minute, considering the girl, but then decided there was no harm in listening. Besides, it gave her a good excuse to just sit there while she tried to find her second wind, so she leaned back in her seat with a nod. “Go ahead.”
Stephanie relaxed a little and even managed a small smile. “Right, just so we’re clear, I am claiming that vampires exist. There are some with fangs, some without, but both can read and control mortals. Leo and his little Leos—Two, Three, and Four—are one of the variety without fangs.”
“Two, Three, and Four?” Sherry asked.
Stephanie shrugged. “They probably aren’t Leo Two, Leo Three, and Leo Four, but he names all his sons after himself so they’re all Leos number something-or-other, so they just go by their number.”
“His sons?” Sherry asked with disbelief.
“There is no way those men are his children. They all looked to be the same age.”
“Vampire, remember?” Stephanie said pointedly. “Vampires stop aging physically at around twenty-five.”
Sherry let her breath out on an exasperated sigh, finding it hard to swallow all of this, but she’d agreed to listen, so waved for her to continue.
“I grew up as normal and ignorant of what’s out there as you did, but Leo and some of his other sons kidnapped my sister and me from a grocery store parking lot when I was fourteen,” Stephanie announced. Her mouth tightened and then she added, “We were eventually rescued, and Leo’s sons were caught and executed by the Rogue Hunters but—”
“Rogue Hunters?” Sherry interrupted.
“Cops for immortals, or vampires, as you would call them. They keep the other immortals in line,” she explained. “Anyway, I don’t know if it’s because of his sons getting killed or what, but for some reason, Leo became sort of obsessed with my sister and me. He wants to add us to his breeding stock.”
Sherry stared at her, silently processing, and then she cleared her throat and asked, “What do you mean he wants to add you to his breeding stock? Not …?”
Stephanie nodded. “It’s how he got all the junior Leos. I doubt many of the mothers were willing.”
Sherry shook her head slightly. “You make it sound like he has a lot of them.”
“One of the sons who helped him kidnap my sister and I was Leo the 21st. According to him, he was one of the older sons,” Stephanie said with a shrug. “He claimed there were fifty or sixty of them, that there have been hundreds over the centuries, but some killed themselves, some were killed, and Leo killed several others when they refused to do what he wanted, or when they otherwise pissed him off.”
Sherry didn’t say anything. It was crazy, like a vampire soap opera or something. It couldn’t be true … could it?
“Anyway,” Stephanie continued, “like I say, Leo senior took a shine to my sister and me and said he’d come after us, so Dani—my sister,” she added, “Dani and I have been hiding out and protected since.”
“Until today,” Sherry said.
Stephanie grimaced. “I was protected. I was with Drina and Katricia. They’re Rogue Hunters.”
“Vampire cops,” Sherry muttered.
“Immortal cops really, or Enforcers,
vampire cop will do. Just don’t use the term vampire in front of the other immortals. They can get testy about that,” Stephanie informed her, and then continued. “Drina and Katricia are both getting married so we went wedding dress shopping. I …” She sighed and grimaced. “I forgot something in the car and just nipped out quickly to get it, but …” Stephanie shook her head. “It was just my luck to pick a moment when Leo and his boys decided to walk down that street.”
She paused briefly and frowned before saying, “There haven’t been any reported sightings of Leo and his boys in Toronto since Dani and I were rescued. They cleared out and have been hanging south of the border for a long time. They were last spotted somewhere in the southern states. I never would’ve gone out to the car if I’d known they were in the area. I just …” She heaved out a deep sigh and then said, “Anyway, I spotted them before they saw me. I nipped into your store hoping they wouldn’t see me, but I guess they did.”
When Stephanie took another bite of pizza and began to chew, Sherry was left to wonder if she believed anything the girl had just said. Oddly enough, while Sherry had started out not believing, she found she now did. She had no idea why. It was crazy. Vampires, mind control, reading thoughts,
breeding stock …
Sherry pushed those thoughts away for now to switch to a subject that had been worrying her since leaving the store. “How long does the control last?”
Stephanie paused to peer at her briefly, and then understanding crossed her face and she assured her, “Not long. I mean, it can continue for a little bit after the vampire leaves their presence if they put a suggestion in their thoughts, but I’m sure Leo and the boys didn’t get a chance to do that before chasing after us. The moment they left the building, your employees and customers probably snapped out of it and helped the woman who cut herself.”
“If they could help her,” Sherry said unhappily, picking up her slice of pizza and shifting it in her hands briefly before taking a bite. It was surprisingly good. Surprising because she wouldn’t have expected anything to taste good at that point. She guessed the scare she’d just had, and surviving it, had awakened her taste buds or something. Whatever. It tasted good. Carbs or not.
“They could help her,” Stephanie assured her. “She didn’t cut deeply enough to hit the jugular. She’s probably fine.”
Sherry raised her eyebrows. “How do you know she didn’t hit the jugular?”
“I gave her a mental nudge to stop her cutting too deep,” Stephanie explained, and then grimaced and added, “Which Leo would have recognized right away. That’s why we had to make our move when we did. He would have used the people in the store against us, tortured them to make me come out. So I had to make sure he saw me leave and knew I wasn’t there. It was the only way to be certain he’d leave them alone.”
Sherry wasn’t surprised at the claim that she’d given the woman a mental nudge not to cut too deep. After all, the girl had said she’d controlled the cop too. What did surprise her was that the girl had thought of the people in the store at all. Stephanie was a nice kid. There was still a possibility that she was crazy as a loon. Sherry was finding herself almost believing her tale, but it was a lot to swallow. So either Stephanie was a brave, thoughtful kid who had risked getting caught to save the pregnant mother, or she was a nutcase. A nutcase who was a damned good shot, Sherry thought. Stephanie had hit a moving target around her. Nice.
“So where did you learn to shoot like that?” Sherry asked quietly.
“Victor and D.J. take me to a shooting range every other day,” she said. The names meant nothing to Sherry, so she was glad when the girl added, “Victor is … well he’s sort of my adopted dad I
guess.” She said it quietly, her voice thickening, and then she rushed on, saying, “And D.J. is like the young, pain in the butt uncle who ruffles your hair and embarrasses you in public.”
Sherry smiled faintly at the description. “And your real dad?”
“Alive, well, and mortal,” Stephanie said casually, too casually, and she was avoiding her gaze. Picking at what was left of her pizza, she added, “He and Mom think I’m dead.” Before Sherry could respond, she added, “But Victor and Elvi took me in and look after me. Elvi lost her daughter so I’m a gift, she says, and they’re great.”
Great, but not her real parents, Sherry translated as the girl turned her head away and dashed quickly at her eyes. Deciding a change of topic might be good, she said, “So, the police can’t help us here … but what about those Rogue Hunters of yours? We should find a phone and call them so they can hunt down this Leo and his men.”
Sherry just couldn’t call the man’s followers his sons. It seemed impossible that they were his children. They all looked around the same age. Brothers would have been morebelievable. Realizing that Stephanie wasn’t responding to the suggestion of calling in her Rogue Hunters, Sherry raised her eyebrows. “Don’t you think?”
“What?” Stephanie asked. Her blank expression as she turned back to face her made it obvious she hadn’t been listening.
Knowing the girl’s thoughts had probably been with her birth parents, Sherry asked patiently, “Don’t you think that we should call your Rogue Hunters?”
Stephanie shook her head and stared down at the pizza crust she’d been unconsciously tearing apart. The slump to her shoulders and defeated air about the girl were a bit alarming. Sherry had no idea what was going on exactly, but she did know this was no time for the girl to fall apart. Sitting back, she deliberately took on an annoyingly knowing air and said, “Oh, I get it.”
Stephanie finally really looked at her, her attention caught. Eyebrows rising, she asked with interest, “What do you get?”
“You,” Sherry said with a shrug. “I was a teenager once too.”
Stephanie snorted. “Please. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard that tired old line. Like you crusty old farts all think just because you were young back in ancient times that you know what life is like for me. You don’t. You were young in … what? The sixties?”
“I wasn’t even born in the sixties, thank you,” Sherry said with amusement. “I’m only thirty-two.”
“Whatever …” Stephanie waved that away. “You haven’t got a clue about me.”
“Hmmm. How about I tell you what I think and then you can tell me I’m wrong? If I am,” Sherry added tauntingly.
Stephanie shrugged. “Whatever.”
Sherry tilted her head and eyed her for a moment, and then said, “So, you were wedding dress shopping with this Drina and her friend?”
“Katricia,” Stephanie supplied. “She’s Drina’s cousin, but also a Rogue Hunter. She’s getting married too, to Teddy, who is the police chief in Port Henry where I live. We came to Toronto for a girls’ weekend and dress shopping.”
“Hmmm.” Sherry considered that and then said, “And you say they let you go out to get something?”
Stephanie nodded, her gaze sliding away toward the front of the store and a frown flickering over her face.
Sherry suspected the girl was wondering where the two women were. She was too. Surely they’d noticed Stephanie was missing by now? And if they were in the area, the gunshots should have drawn them. She let that go for now, though, and simply said, “Well, I’m sure the bit about their letting you go out to get something is a lie.”
Stephanie glanced back to her sharply. “What makes you think that?”
“Kiddo, if these girls are Rogue Hunters, or vampire cops, and this Leo is after you, like you say, I’d guess they keep a short leash on you to keep you safe. They would not have let you wander off on your own. So, Drina was probably in a dressing room trying on a wedding dress, and Katricia was in there helping her with all the convoluted nonsense involved in putting one of those things on, or trying on one herself. You were probably sitting in the waiting area outside the dressing room feeling bored and neglected. No doubt you reached for your iPhone to either listen to music or watch a movie while you waited, and realized you’d left it in the car.” Tilting her head, she added, “It’s probably hooked up to the sound system in the car, which is why you forgot to grab it, so you thought you’d just slip out, get it and be back before they noticed.
“Unfortunately,” she added, “you didn’t get to the car before you spotted Leonius and his buddies and had to duck into my store for cover.”
Stephanie didn’t hide her surprise. “How did you know all of that?”
Sherry shrugged and reminded her, “You asked to use my iPhone earlier.”
“So?” Stephanie asked.
“Maybe I don’t have one and was getting something else,” Stephanie suggested.
Sherry shook her head firmly. “There are few teenagers around who don’t have cell phones nowadays. Besides, you specified iPhone rather than just saying cell phone, which suggests that’s what you have.”
“Okay, so how did you know I left my phone in the car, jacked into the USB?” she asked with interest.
“Because I’m always forgetting mine in the car for that reason,” Sherry admitted wryly. “I plug it into the USB so I can listen to music I like and then forget it when I get out.”
“Hmmm,” Stephanie murmured, but she was looking at her with interest now. “Or maybe you have some psychic abilities and that’s why I can’t read or control you.”
Sherry didn’t comment. Her mind wanted to rebel at the possibility of anyone controlling her actions or thoughts, but she’d watched the pregnant mother slit her own throat. No one would do that under their own impetus. She did believe the customer must have been controlled … and if she could be controlled …
Pushing these disturbing thoughts away, Sherry said, “So, all of this being true, you don’t want to call your Rogue Hunters because you’re going to get hell for slipping away from your protectors and putting yourself at risk in the first place.”
“Nah-ah,” Stephanie said with a slow smile.
Sherry raised her eyebrows doubtfully. “You won’t get in trouble?”
“Oh, yeah,” Stephanie said dryly. “Once Drina, Katricia, Harper, Elvi, and Victor are done raking me over the coals, Lucian himself will probably show up to completely demoralize me,” she admitted with unhappy resignation. “But that’s not why I’m not calling.”
“Okay,” Sherry said slowly. “So why don’t you want to call?”
“It’s not that I don’t want to call … I don’t have to,” she explained. “I already did. They’re sending Bricker even as we speak.” She tilted her head and then grinned and added, “And he’s bringing you a surprise.
Excerpt from BITTEN BY A HELLCAT by Felicity Heaton
An ominous whining sound ran through the building, followed by banging and rattling.
Cait forced herself to stay where she was and ignore it. It was nothing. Probably just the house.
What if it was something?
What if it was him?
Her heart exploded into action and she rushed to the large oak table filled with weapons and armed herself with a crossbow. Her hands shook as she loaded it, drawing the string back into position and settling the dart into its cradle. She raised it and looked around the room, pointing the weapon wherever her gaze fell, breathing hard and fighting her ridiculous fear.
The banging came again, louder this time.
Cait raced from the room, tracking Owen’s scent through the building, following it down the green corridor and up another staircase. A softer noise came from ahead of her together with movement on her senses and she bolted in that direction, throwing a panicked glance over her shoulder at the same time, convinced someone was closing in on her in the dark hallway.
A strip of light shone from beneath a wooden door at the end of the corridor.
She shouldered that door open. “I heard something.”
She swung her gaze towards Owen and stopped dead.
The sudden jerk to a halt made her finger depress the trigger on the crossbow and the bolt zipped across the room, shot just above Owen’s left shoulder and thudded into the cream wall behind him where he stood right in front of her.
Both of his hands moved in unison, racing to cover himself.
Water dripped from the tangled threads of his dark brown hair, rolled down his sculpted cheekbones and the strong line of his square jaw, and dropped from there to cascade in enticing rivulets down the defined muscles of his chest. Those glistening trails lured her eyes downwards, over the ridges of his abdomen and past the sensual dip of his navel to the dusting of dark hair that captured her gaze and had her face heating as desire flared hotter in her veins.
Cait stared at his hands for long seconds, entranced and dumbstruck, unable to gather her wits or acknowledge the voice in her head that was screaming at her to look away and give him some privacy because she was probably making him uncomfortable.
His fingers flexed where he cupped himself, weakening the spell the sight of him had cast on her, enough that she managed to drag her eyes up to his.
A touch of colour darkened his cheeks.
“I heard something,” Cait muttered, falling deeper under his spell again as her eyes betrayed her and dropped back to his body.
Rope after delicious rope of honed powerful muscles delighted her eyes as she focused on his body rather than the tracks of water and she couldn’t stop herself from gawping at him, drinking in the incredible sight of him naked, even when she tried with all of her will to look away again.
Owen cleared his throat but his voice still came out a little squeaky. “It’s the water pipes. I should have warned you. I took a shower.”
Cait nodded dumbly. She could see that, and she couldn’t help imagining it too. She swallowed hard, heating to a thousand degrees as she stared at him, picturing him standing under a spray of water, rivulets of it coursing down over his muscles in a constant stream.
She shook herself and finally managed to gain enough control to turn away, giving him the privacy he deserved.
“Sorry.” She scratched the back of her neck with one hand and lowered the crossbow she held in the other.
The weight of it brought back her awareness of the weapon.
Gods, she had almost shot him too.
She wasn’t sure what she would have done if she had actually hit him. She cringed. It certainly would have made a terrible impression on him. It was bad enough that she had come sprinting into his room like a scared child, frightened by the sounds of water pipes groaning. She shook her head, despairing as she realised that he probably had a dire opinion of her already and it was completely wrong.
Normally, she was confident and able, a skilled fighter and an independent woman who could stand on her own two feet and didn’t need a male to take care of her. She had survived four centuries of life, most of that in Hell, and had been the victor in too many battles to count and outwitted her opponents in the rest.
Today was not a normal day though.
The ambush had thrown her off kilter and then Owen had knocked her even more off balance.
She set the crossbow down on the dark blue covers of the double bed in front of her and stared at it, slowly gathering her strength and pulling herself back together.
Owen moved around the room behind her.
Cait closed her eyes, because she knew that if she didn’t, she would end up trying to catch another glimpse of him as he dried off and dressed.
Not that he gave her a chance to steal a peek.
“Done,” he said and she opened her eyes and turned to face him, surprised at how quickly he had dressed.
Or hadn’t dressed.
He stood before her wearing only a pair of black jeans that rode low on his hips, rubbing a small pale towel across his short hair.
Cait noticed something other than how honed and godly his body was as she looked at him this time.
She noticed all the dark bruises and the cuts that littered his arms, shoulders, sides and even parts of his stomach. He turned away from her, revealing a particularly nasty bruise on his left side, just above his bottom. She drifted towards him, staring at it and reaching out to touch it.
Owen spun to face her.
Cait jumped and snatched her hand back, her eyes leaping up to meet his pale green ones.
“Where did you get all the bruises?” she said, trying to make it clear she’d had a reason for wanting to touch him, one other than the desire pulsing through her again, steadily building back up towards a crescendo.
“The demon a few fae hired me to kill didn’t take kindly to my opinion that he should die for terrorising them. We had a little bit of an argument about it a couple of days ago.” Owen looked himself over and prodded a small mottled bruise on the ridge of muscle that curved over his right hip. “They’ll be gone in a few days. I just have to keep applying my salve to them.”
She was about to ask what he meant by that when he leaned across to his right, picked up a small black glass pot from the wooden dressing table beside him and opened it.
Cait flinched away as the smell hit her.
She pulled a face at it. She never had liked that smell.
“It doesn’t stink as bad once it’s on,” Owen said, his deep voice curling around her, making her forget the offensive smell of his salve for a moment.
She looked up at him to find him staring at the pot, a flicker of something in his green eyes. When they leaped back to her, darkening a degree, revealing his desire again, she realised why he was concerned about the smell, and her reaction to it.
The heat inside her exploded into an inferno again, burning up her blood as she stared into his eyes, filled with a need to take him up on his silent offer.
She wanted her taste of him now.
Gods, she hoped he was right and the salve did smell less disgusting when it was on him.
She wanted to tell him to forget it, at least for a while. She could apply it later, massaging it into his bruises and wounds while he lay on the bed, spent from their lovemaking.
He looked as if he was considering such a thing himself but then sighed wearily and stuck his right index finger into the gunk.
He smoothed a little of it over each of his cuts and his bruises, and she couldn’t help but smile when she noticed he was doing his best not to grimace as he rubbed it in. Trying to look strong and manly in her presence? It reassured her a little. After all, she had been worried about appearing like a weak kitten in need of coddling too.
Owen twisted at the waist and grimaced, sucking in a sharp breath through his teeth.
“I can do your back.” The words were out of her lips before she could consider what she was offering.
It wasn’t the smell of the salve that had her regretting her offer as he nodded, because it smelled oddly sweet now that it was on him, as if the properties of it had changed somehow.
It was the fact that she was about to touch him, running her fingers over his bare flesh while standing in the middle of his bedroom.
Excerpt from WHEN DARKNESS ENDS by Alexandra Ivy
Laigin (Ireland), 1014 AD
The man woke with a blinding headache, stripped of his clothing as well as his memories.
With a groan, he sat up, shoving his tangled hair out of his face. It was immediately obvious he was in a damp cave. A strange place to wake. But not nearly as strange as the abrupt realization that something was terrifyingly wrong with him.
Despite the darkness he was able to see the limestone walls that had been chiseled by the water dripping from the low ceiling as clear as if it were day. And it was not only his sight that was unbearably acute.
He could smell the distant salt of the sea. And hear the faint scramble of a bug crossing the stone floor. He could even detect the warmth of two creatures that were rapidly approaching the cave.
What madness was this?
No man should have the senses of a god. Not unless he was a monster.
The dark thoughts barely had time to form before they were interrupted by a hunger that thundered through him. He groaned. It was as if he hadn’t eaten in weeks. Months. But it wasn’t the thought of food that made his stomach cramp, he realized with a flare of horror.
It was . . . blood.
His mouth watered, the pain of his fangs ripping through his gums startling him as the image of the red, intoxicatingly rich substance filled his mind.
He had to feed.
Aye. That was what he needed.
Disgusted with the knowledge, he slowly rose to his feet, a virile strength running through his massive body even as his head remained thick with confusion.
His instincts urged him to leave the cave, to hunt down his prey and bury his fangs deep in their throats, but the tantalizing scent of fresh strawberries kept him frozen in place.
It appeared that his prey was willingly coming to him.
And they smelled . . . delectable.
Like an animal, he warily shuffled to the deepest shadows. From his vantage point, he silently watched the two slender creatures enter the cave. His eyes widened at the sheer beauty of the strangers. The male had hair the color of rust with bold green eyes set in a lean face, while the female possessed long tawny hair with eyes the shade of spring grass.
They looked like angels.
His fangs ached, his muscles tensing as he prepared to strike.
Angels or not, they were about to become dinner.
But before he could charge, the male held up a slender hand, the scent of strawberries becoming overpowering.
“Hold, berserker,” he commanded, a tingle of magic in the air.
He frowned. “I am a berserker?”
The confusion only deepened. “Were?”
“Two nights ago you were attacked by a clan of vampires.”
He shook his head, his hand instinctively lifting to touch his neck.
The pretty female grimaced. “Not as a human. The local villagers left you in this cave to see if you would rise as a vampire. Even now they are on their way to either witness your corpse or slaughter you.” She held out a slender hand. “Come with us in peace and we will harbor you until you are able to care for yourself.”
Vampire . . .
He went to his knees in shock.
Excerpt from TAKEN BY A DRAGON by Felicity Heaton
Taking the little Amazon from the battlefield might not have been the best decision he had ever made, but Loke couldn’t change it now. He could only regret it, and even then he couldn’t manage to bring himself to truly feel bad about what he had done. He only regretted frightening her. It hadn’t been his intention.
He’d had only a split-second in which to absorb the vision he had seen of her blood-soaked and dying on that grim demonic land and consider what path to take in response.
Leaving her to die hadn’t even crossed his mind.
That troubled him.
As she had stated so vehemently, they were enemies. Enemies fought and died on battlefields all the time in this realm, hundreds of them marching to their deaths each day. He had stormed into the midst of the war between the Third and Fifth Realms knowing that fate might await him, just as she had.
Yet he hadn’t been able to see her die without reacting to it on a visceral level, one that had seized control of him and demanded he do whatever it took to stop her death from happening.
That same primal reaction flooded him whenever he recounted what he had seen, seeing flashes of her covered with blood overlaid onto her where she stood just metres from him, her pretty face set in grim dark lines that warned she was considering kicking him in a most delicate place again. His balls throbbed with the memory and he decided to keep his distance from her, at least until she had calmed down and felt more comfortable with her surroundings and situation.
Another thing he should have considered before snatching her.
Females didn’t like it when males seized hold of them and took them somewhere against their will. They had a tendency to think the vilest things of the male who had taken them, presuming they meant them harm. It was a reasonable assumption, he supposed, but one he wished she hadn’t pinned on him.
He had no intention of harming her.
He only wanted to protect her.
Once he was certain that whatever he had witnessed couldn’t come to pass, something that depended on him receiving word that the war was over between the Third and Fifth Realms of the demons, he would keep his vow and return her to her people.
He still refused to believe that she belonged to that race. She was too strong and brave to be a mortal.
He had never met one, but he had been told through the tales of the elders and his parents that mortals were a weak species without any redeeming qualities. Fodder for the dragons who had been old enough to walk the mortal realm and fly in their blue skies.
Loke looked up at the black ceiling of his cave, seeing beyond it to the dark grey sky of Hell, and then beyond that to imagine how blue and clear those skies would be.
Would they be spotted with white cloud as his mother had told him? She had heard the tales from her parents, dragons who had been to that world. They had flown in those skies. They had spoken to her of wondrous things. Thunderstorms. Rain. Sunsets.
The moonrise over a glittering sea.
A shiver ran down his spine and he reluctantly dragged his focus away from fantasising about a place he could never see with his own eyes. The little Amazon was watching him again, no doubt studying him for an opening she could use to reach his knife. They had struck a bargain, but he wasn’t about to lower his guard around her.
He wanted to believe she would keep her word, but she had yet to trust him and therefore he couldn’t trust her. Until she felt certain he wouldn’t harm her, she would keep attempting to escape.
He couldn’t blame her.
He didn’t see her as a captive, but he knew that was how she viewed herself and her situation. He wasn’t sure how to convince her otherwise either. Would making her more comfortable go some way towards assuaging her fears?
“Hungry?” he said and she lifted her head, causing the rogue strands of her blonde hair to brush her cheeks.
Her dark blue eyes held his, no trace of fear in them now. They assessed him, pierced him, leaving no part of him untouched by her scrutiny. She was sceptical of his offer.
“I will not poison you.” Her tongue was difficult for him, but he had studied it as all good dragons did, although he hadn’t needed to use it in a long time. It had been many centuries since he had bothered to trade with the people of the free realm or the elves. He had kept himself up to date with her language though, in case he needed it to communicate with others who didn’t speak dragon or demon.
“I was more concerned about you drugging me.” She pinned him with a glare he supposed was meant to be threatening.
It just made her look more beautiful.
His fierce little Amazon.
Definitely not a mere mortal.
A flash of her covered in blood and bleeding out overlaid onto her and hit him hard, knocking him back a step.
She scowled at him, but didn’t ask what was wrong, even though he could see that she wanted to voice that question.
He pressed his right hand to his forehead and cursed the aftershocks of the vision. Normally they died down by now, leaving him with only a memory of what he had seen. Almost a day had passed since he had witnessed her death. Something was wrong.
“I do not intend to drug you,” he muttered and grimaced as a swift hot stab pierced his head like a burning needle. It had been a long time since the visions had given him pain. His concern grew. “Sit.”
He waved to the pile of dark furs near the fire and she folded her arms across her chest and tipped her chin up. Perhaps he had been a little blunt and commanding, but the ache in his head and the aftershocks of his vision were wearing his patience down and his temper was getting the better of him. He drew in a slow breath and blew it out, attempting to ease his frustration and clear his mind so he could proceed without upsetting the female further or giving her reason to attack him again.
She eyed him, her blue eyes narrowed and her rosy lips compressed into a thin hard line.
He would have to learn to tread carefully around her. He wasn’t used to company, or females outside of his kind. Female dragons could be stubborn, but often deferred to the males.
He had a feeling that his little Amazon wouldn’t be submitting to him.
“Please, make yourself comfortable.” He gestured to the furs again, hoping she would do as he had asked this time.
She huffed and looked away from him, towards the back of the cave. “Is this your home?”
He looked around the wide cave. “Yes.”
Her blue gaze roamed it, sweeping over everything in it, which didn’t take her long. She looked at the fire in the middle of the widest section of the cave, at the stack of wood he kept against the wall behind him, his meagre stack of books beside it and then at the furs on her side.
“It’s not very comfortable. How can you live in such a basic place?”
He studied his belongings again, a frown etching itself on his brow as he realised that she thought his home was far below her standard of comfortable. Basic. It grated on him. He had never considered his home lacking before, not in all the centuries he had lived here, but in only a handful of seconds she had made him feel it was and had made him question it. He didn’t like that.
He had everything he needed in his home.
Yet she had made him feel it was lacking, and therefore he was lacking too.
She pointed to the furs. “I’m guessing that’s your bed and your seating area?”
He growled now, flashing his teeth at her, but kept them from changing as they wanted to. He wanted her quiet, not frightened.
“Touchy.” She meandered around his scant belongings, curling her lip at the furs, as if the thought of sitting on them disgusted her.
“Sit or do not sit. I do not care.” He folded his arms across his bare chest and glared at her.
She shot him a smile that was victorious and rubbed him the wrong way. She meant to provoke him. An unwise course of action. Provoking a dragon was not a clever thing to do.
“I’ll stand, thanks.” She nudged one of the rocks that surrounded the fire with her black boot.
She wore clothing as the others of her kind had. Black trousers, boots and a top that hugged her curves and her breasts. He kept his gaze away from them, unwilling to give her more reasons to prod and poke at him.
Her sigh filled the silence.
He had never heard one more overwhelmingly and intentionally dissatisfied sounding.
Loke scowled at her. He had no modern comforts to offer her, but she didn’t need to rub it in his face and make him feel he was a lesser male because of it. He had nothing he could give her that would satisfy her. He felt sure of that. No downy bed in a separate room. No bathing facilities other than the thermal pools he kept stocked with water.
Her blue gaze flitted to him and then skipped beyond him, towards the mouth of the cave.
He moved on instinct, blocking her view of the outside world, driven by the deep possessiveness that lived within him. Her eyes lifted to his face, locking with his again, stirring that possessiveness and breathing more life into it, making it grow stronger. It was his nature speaking, that was all. It had nothing to do with her beguiling beauty.
He was a dragon.
Dragons were all possessive creatures.
They were highly territorial too, and that was the reason he didn’t want her to venture near the cave mouth.
She couldn’t get down from the ledge, but another dragon might see her. That dragon might fight him for her or take her from him. He growled under his breath at the thought, his teeth all sharpening in response to the intense wave of emotions that rocked him—rage, fear, possessiveness.
The female looked at him, her blue eyes a little wider than normal as they met his, captivating him. Quelling his anger and fear. Those emotions instantly evaporated, leaving only the raw sense of possessiveness behind. She had looked at him that way on the battlefield. Right into his eyes. She had seen him. He had felt it then. She had really seen him. Not a glance or a fleeting look that only touched the surface.
She had looked right down into his soul, just as she was now.
She was a brave little female. He had never met a braver one.
Not even the female dragons at the village could contend with her.
“What do they call you?” he said, his voice distant to his ears as he stared deep into her eyes, picking out every fleck of black that marred deepest blue.
Would the skies of her world look like that? Would they be so deep and rich, or lighter?
Was she really mortal?
Could she answer his countless questions about her world and sate his desire to know more about the land his people had left behind, never to return?
“Anais.” She offered it with a slight smile that barely curved her rosy lips but added a touch of warmth to her expression, softening the harder edges of her eyes and entrancing him.
Not a trace of fear touched her gaze or her scent now. She flitted from afraid to calm, dancing between the emotions so quickly that he couldn’t keep up. He wasn’t sure how long this calm phase would last, but he meant to do all in his power to make it remain. He wanted her to feel at ease and to begin to trust him.
“They call me Loke.” He offered it with a smile of his own, one that felt foreign to him. He couldn’t remember the last time he had smiled.
“Like the mischievous Norse god?”
His smile stretched a little wider and he shook his head. “My name ends with an E in your tongue.”
She raked her eyes up him, from his bare feet, over his legs to his torso. It slowed from there, drifting at a leisurely pace, one that stirred heat within him. He couldn’t remember the last time he had experienced that either. What was it about this female that had him quick to smile and even quicker to hunger for her touch?
Her gaze finally reached his face and narrowed. “You are definitely mischievous.”
Before he could gather his wits to respond by saying that if he was mischievous then she was mysterious because he couldn’t get a firm grasp on her when she bounced so swiftly between polar emotions, she turned away and headed towards the back of the cave, her boots loud on the black rocky ground.
“Where do you go?” He started to follow her when she made it past the fire and didn’t stop walking.
She looked back over her slender shoulder at him, a wicked twinkle in her eyes. “You only forbade me from going near the mouth of the cave. You didn’t set out any ground rules about the back of it. I’m going to see where the tunnel goes.”
“It goes to chambers. Some where I store meats and things I have gathered, others where I bathe, and some go deep into the mountain to places where dangerous things lurk.” He frowned when she pouted, as if he had spoiled her fun.
Perhaps he had.
Perhaps he had also ruined a chance for her to become more comfortable in his home, and around him.
Would she like to see the rest of the cave?
He could join her in her adventure, although he supposed that would make it more like a tour. He didn’t want her to go alone though. He hadn’t lied about the dangerous things that lurked in the tunnels. They ran deep into the mountain and sometimes fissures opened where creatures could get into them. He had disturbed a nest of Hell beasts down one of the paths before and had barely come away with his life. The tunnels were too small for him to transform in, placing him at a disadvantage against the vicious creatures in close quarters combat.
“So none lead to a big hoard of treasure then?” The wickedness was back in her blue eyes and she flicked her blonde ponytail over her other shoulder as she came to face him.
She toyed with the ends of her hair as he frowned at her, trying to unravel the riddle of her, distracting him with a sudden desire to do that. He wanted to feel the strands wrapping around his fingers before slipping from them. Would they feel silky? He bit back a groan at the jolt of pleasure that ran through him as he imagined they would and brought his focus back to her and what she had said.
She meant to mock him again.
Loke huffed and grudgingly admitted it. “I have a little gold.”
Excerpt from GOING UNDER by Emma Weylin
He got off the creaking chair. He found his pants first, and tugged those on, and then started the search for his shirt. “Kenzie, I lost control with you, goddamn it. You need to go, no, stay here. I’ll send Chad over.” He scrubbed a hand down his face. “Where is my fucking shirt?”
She was standing in front of him in the next moment. Her soft breasts brushing against his chest. “Look at me.”
He growled. “Kenzie, I know when I am losing it, and I am losing it.”
She captured his face between her hands and pulled him down so they were at eye level. “It’s completely normal to fantasize about what you want to do while having sex.” She kissed his nose. “You fantasized about me and you being mated. It’s okay.”
He wasn’t safe for her, but here she was, trying to make it right for him. Hellcats! She was…she was supposed to be safe with him, and in one second of giving in to the fantasy of her, he’d have done the worst, most unforgivable thing a shifter could do. “I’m not safe for you, Kenz. Please, don’t make this harder than it is.”
“Ty, don’t do this. You need to calm down and think about this rationally.” “I need my shirt.” He pulled away from her and got down on his hands and knees to check under the bed.
Kenzie got down on the floor next to him. “It’s in your apartment.”
He darted back. “Put some clothes on. I’ll have Chad come here.”
He retreated to the door. “Tiberius Petrov, you did not just make love to me so you could walk out on me.”
That was exactly what he was going to do. He should be her safe place, he should be the one thing in the whole world that would never hurt her, and he wasn’t sure until after the fact that he hadn’t hurt her. “I’m sorry, Kenz. I love you too much to stay.” Then he did the hardest thing he’d ever done. He walked away from her.
Excerpt from EDEN’S DELIVERANCE by Rhenna Morgan
Warning: adult content. Click the button below if you are over 18 to read the excerpt.
Perfect. The slide of his tongue, his taste, the way he groaned into the kiss and sent perfect trills coursing down her spine. Nothing on earth was better.
He lifted his head. His ice-blue eyes glowed with need and so much passion it resonated in her soul. “This is what you want.”
Odd. It was Ludan’s voice, but her own was superimposed with it. And it wasn’t a question, but a statement.
Candles surrounded them, and a scarlet satin comforter stretched beneath them.
“This is what you want,” Ludan said again, ghosting his knuckles along her collarbone and slipping his fingers beneath the neckline of her nightshirt.
Her heart leapt at the touch, his caress only hinting in the direction of her breast, but drawing her nipples to hard points. “Yes.”
He smiled and lowered his gaze, a long lock of hair falling over his forehead. “So beautiful.”
Cool air assaulted her flesh, sending goose bumps along her torso. Her nightshirt was gone, whisked away by her dreams.
Inch by inch, he trailed his fingertips down her sternum, his expression so reverent and caring she was afraid to move.
He cupped one breast, and she arched into the contact, too overwhelmed with the sensation to do anything but close her eyes and surrender to its magic. She tightened her grip on the back of his head, urging him closer. “Ludan, please.” She didn’t know what it was she needed, only that she did, and badly.
“Shhh.” He dipped his head and smoothed his lips along the path his fingers had taken.
Over and over, the word echoed through her head. Nothing else mattered except the feel of him against her. His weight, the warmth of his skin, and the safety of his arms. She closed her eyes and splayed her hands across his wide shoulders. So much strength. Power as rigidly contained as the man. “Ludan.”
One of his big hands cupped her shoulders, and his lips disappeared.
She squeezed her eyes and willed them back. “Ludan, please.”
He spoke again, but this time it was different. Farther away and muffled. “Brenna.”
She rolled her head back and forth on the pillow. No, no, no. She couldn’t lose him. Not again. She hadn’t done anything wrong this time. Had she?
The hand at her shoulder tightened. “Brenna, wake up.”
Heat registered beside her. Not the kind from her dream, but real. Tangible, deliciously masculine heat and muscle.
Her eyes snapped open.
Ludan lay propped on one elbow beside her, the other hand holding her shoulder as she’d felt in her dream. In the daylight, his form was intimidating, but in the night’s shadows, he was downright scary. “You okay?”
Not really. Sweat misted her skin, and her heart jack-rabbited in an out-of-control rhythm. The covers were too heavy, pressing against her tight breasts. She shifted her legs and nearly moaned at the throbbing pulse between them. “I’m fine.”
The comment earned her a sharp frown. He relinquished his hold and leaned back far enough that the bay’s moonlight brought him out of shadow. At some point after she’d fallen asleep, he’d removed his T-shirt, leaving his perfect body on prime display. “You didn’t sound fine.”
She pushed upright and leaned against the headboard, careful to hide her aching nipples with the sheet. Looking at him only made the ache worse. In that moment, she’d give a lot to let her fingers have free rein. “It was just a dream,” she whispered.
He stared at her, then lowered his gaze to her clenched fists in the sheets. “You’re afraid.”
“No.” It came out too fast, and his eyes snapped to hers. “I mean, it was an intense dream, but not something I’m afraid of.”
An odd look flittered across his face, caution or suspicion. “Tell me.”
This is what you want.
Clearly, her subconscious wasn’t in the mood to mess around. And while she’d happily go there in dreams every night, she wasn’t so sure Ludan would appreciate the concept of them together as much as she did. Especially after what had happened last time.
“I…” What could she say? “I’m not sure it’s something you’d want to hear. It was personal.”
His eyes narrowed. “Personal, as in…”
“Personal.” She pulled her knees up and wrapped her arms around them. “It was about the two of us.”
His head snapped back, and his breathing accelerated. He clenched the sheet at his waist, and his nostrils flared. “What about us?”
A strange yet not unpleasant sensation swirled low in her belly, and the pulse between her legs ramped to blistering demand. She could keep the dream to herself. Never say a thing and let it slide.
Or she could take a chance.
She licked her lower lip. “We were intimate.”
Excerpt from UNDERWORLD QUEEN by Sharon Hamilton
Audray loved being the first-ever woman Director of the Underworld, but she preferred the title “Queen” even better. Jonas had begun calling her that and it became part of her persona almost immediately.
Maybe it is the way Jonas whispers it to me just before he takes me.
That word was something she would never tire of hearing, just like the sounds her paramour made as he pleasured her to distraction and beyond. And the best thing of all was that he did it out of love, not obligation. His need to please her was equal to her need to be ravished over and over again.
And worshiped as only a queen should be.
When they’d gotten back to her home in the human world, he’d barely caught the bike when she jumped off. He saved it, of course, cursing softly, before it could tip and fall into her blood red Maserati. Even hearing him curse gave her chills.
All afternoon she had been touching him as they flew past rows of vineyards and redwood trees on their way home, her breasts pressed against the back of his thick torso. Her cheek rested in the place she smelled his maleness the strongest: at the back of his neck, just under his hairline. She watched the light brown tendrils of his shoulder length hair dusted with gray, catch fire in the late afternoon sun, coaxing her to reach down and squeeze his package, making him swerve the bike. But he was laughing, and she felt they didn’t have a care in the whole world.
She had thought she would enjoy the powerful Directorship more. Jonas had been an unexpected distraction. Ever since their explosive first meeting, Audray felt her whole world had changed.
Excerpt from “WHEN IRISH EYES ARE HAUNTING” by Heather Graham
“You’re right; we’ve just arrived,” Rocky told Devin softly, his words bringing her back from her thoughts. They were both seated cross-legged on the soft, rich green grass of the lawn area that surrounded the pit and the grating. Rocky took her hands, his eyes on Gary across the rising yellow flames of the fire between them. “And,” he added, lowering his voice still further, “this is an excellent way for me to begin, to understand the lay of the land, so to speak.” He hugged her more tightly to him, as if he was aware of the chill she’d felt earlier when looking up at the walls.
He was aware, of course. He was Rocky, intuitive—and much better at this than she, much more experienced.
“So then tonight,” Gary announced, “eh, you’ve learned about the Tuatha Dé Danann, the great race of Irish supernatural kings and queens, gods and goddesses, if you will, those of the distant past, revered ’til the coming of Christianity! Ye’ve learned of Dearg-Due—an Irish female vampire known long before Bram Stoker—an Irishman, I might add—created Dracula. We’ve talked about our Irish headless horseman—the Dullahan. Many more, and of course, those well-known, our leprechauns and our banshees! I’m now Gary the Ghost, signing off, wishing you sweet dreams—and reminding you, of course, that gratuities are not at all necessary, but deeply appreciated.”
“There’s a man worthy of gratuities,” Rocky said, coming to his feet and reaching down a hand to help Devin up to hers. He pulled her into his arms. “Love it here. So far, it’s a great honeymoon,” he told her, green eyes dancing.
“I’ll make it up to you,” Devin promised.
Rocky laughed. “I mean it—I love it. Who gets to stay in the haunted master’s suite of a family-owned castle? Sit beneath a crystal moon and hear old-fashioned storytelling in such atmospheric conditions? Then again, who gets to bathe in a great old claw-foot tub like the one up in our room? Okay, maybe they have those other places, but it’s pretty cool looking, don’t you think?”
Devin grinned. “Definitely. Yes, we’ll put that on the evening’s agenda.”
Excerpt from THE RETURN by Jennifer L. Armentrout
I was a half-blood, but I was also the Apollyon, a child of a pure and a half, a union that had been forbidden for thousands of years because an Apollyon was more powerful than any pure or half could ever hope to be.
And I always got to the traitors’ hideouts before they did, so the Sentinels were usually left with the cleanup, which I was sure absolutely thrilled them.
The first to enter was a female half-blood dressed just as I was. Her black hair was pulled back in a neat little knot at the top of her head. She was older, probably in her mid-thirties. It was pretty rare for a Sentinel to live that long. Her dark skin paled as she stopped just inside the entrance. She clenched titanium daggers in her hands like she expected something vicious to pop out from under the bloody mess.
The female Sentinel tipped her chin up, and the overhead light sliced across her broad cheekbones. She bore a jagged scar under her right eye, the skin lighter in tone. She saw me and froze.
My smile widened.
Behind her, another Sentinel rushed in, almost mowing her over. He saw me and whispered, “Seth.”
He’d said my name like I was the monster under his bed, and I sort of liked that. Then another Sentinel and another rolled in. The fifth took one look at my interior design work and keeled over. Slamming his hands on his knees, he hurled up his dinner.
Our society existed completely unknown to the average mortal and had operated under what was known as the Breed Order for thousands of years. The Order had been dismantled, which meant halfs were no longer forced to choose between becoming Sentinels—hunting down violent creatures, protecting pures, enforcing laws, and otherwise usually dying pretty damn quickly on the job—or servants, which was a job that really wasn’t a job, but more like slavery. Since then, many pampered pures had signed on to be Sentinels, making up for the loss of the halfs who’d pretty much said “screw this shit, I’m out.”
This wasn’t necessarily a good thing.
For example, the dumbass puking all over my blood-covered floor was a pure. When he straightened, his face a greenish hue, he backed away, shaking his head. “I can’t,” he gasped out. “I can’t do this.”
Then he turned and hauled ass out the doors. I sighed. This was why we couldn’t have nice things.
Excerpt from CRAVED BY AN ALPHA by Felicity Heaton
“I’m going for a swim.”
Eloise barely had time to register those words before Cavanaugh was stripping off his charcoal fleece, tugging the dark t-shirt he wore beneath off with it too. He dropped them on top of his pack and she stared at him, unable to drag her eyes away as they slowly glided down over the hard slabs of his pectorals to the ropes of his stomach.
An ache started low in her belly and only got worse as he tugged off his walking boots, pulled off his socks, and unbuttoned his dark grey trousers. He pushed them down, revealing long toned legs, and stepped out of them, his muscles shifting with the action, mesmerising her.
He truly was a majestic male.
For a moment, she feared he would crush her strength to resist him by stripping completely, but he turned away from her, his black trunks still in place. They hugged the twin globes of his backside as he walked and she stared at them, loving the way they dimpled and flexed with each stride he took towards the water.
When he looked back at her, she dropped her gaze to her pack.
She felt his eyes leave her and lifted hers back to him, drinking in the sight of him. He waded into the water and barked out a sharp noise that echoed around the lush green valley and the mountains beyond.
“Fuck, that’s freezing.” He didn’t turn around as she had expected. He shuddered and kept wading out into the river, his shoulders hunched up and fingers flexing at his sides.
And hid it when he looked back at her.
He grinned, his grey eyes bright with it, a light she hadn’t seen in them for a long time. Too long. This was the gorgeous male she had grown up with, always an air of mischief surrounding him, a sense that he was going to live his life to the fullest and take every adventure in his stride.
Seeing him like it again only made her feel worse about making him return to the pride with her and only made it hit home how much he had changed when he had become their alpha. She had never thought he would smile again as he was now, full of energy and happiness. She had never thought she would see the Cavanaugh who had been her best friend, her closest companion, and so much more than that.
For her at least.
She studied him, spotting all the changes that she had failed to notice, ones that were startlingly clear to her now and told her that things had been hard for Cavanaugh at the village after he had become their alpha. She could see now how much it had weighed on him and she cursed herself for being so wrapped up in her own hurt to notice his struggle. Her heart whispered that it wasn’t only his duties as alpha that had made life at the pride hard for him and she tried to ignore it, afraid to listen to it and believe that his struggle had in part been because they had been separated and couldn’t be together.
She refused to get caught up in that fantasy.
She refused to surrender to her pressing need to question him too, because she feared the answers he might give her.
He bravely dipped lower in the water, kicked off and began to swim in the deepest part of the river, entrancing her as he ducked his head under the cold water and surfaced again. He slicked his silver-white hair back and rivulets ran down his sculpted cheeks and rolled along the strong line of his jaw. He still made her heart beat hard and still drew her to him even though her memories of him were tainted by everything that had come afterwards.
The warmth that had been building inside her stuttered and died, leaving her ice cold.
Cavanaugh swam towards her, but his smile no longer affected her. The sight of him no longer made her want to rush into his arms and listen to his deep voice as he told her stories of the outside world. The pain of watching him from a distance for five long years crushed that need and the pain of being separated from him and everything she had endured destroyed her softer feelings.
“Join me, Eloise,” he hollered, his smile widening. “It’s not bad once you get used to it.”
“No.” That word came out far colder than she had intended and he frowned at her, his smile disappearing as he stopped swimming.
She looked away from him, unable to bear seeing the hurt as it crossed his face, tearing at her. She hadn’t meant to reject him so cruelly. It had been wrong of her, and not because he was her alpha and she had been disrespectful. It had been wrong of her to hurt him when deep inside she had wanted to take him up on his offer.
She wanted to swim with him, but she couldn’t shake the memories that were bombarding her, replays of the five years she had watched him from a distance as he had acted as their alpha.
She couldn’t shake the flashes of the women who had been all over him, seeking his attention.
Eloise pressed her hands to her chest as her heart hurt and tears threatened to fill her eyes. She sniffed them back, unwilling to let them fall. She had spilled enough tears in her life over everything that had happened. She was done with them now. She was stronger than the woman she had been, the one shaped by events she’d had no control over.
The one who had been torn apart every night when Cavanaugh had gone to his house, a trail of women following him.
It was the right of pride alphas to take their pick from among the females of status, satisfying as many partners as took their fancy. The females vied for the attention of their alpha because sharing his bed might elevate them into the role of his sole female.
Cavanaugh had never chosen one from the many. His father had been like that too, bedding numerous females, never settling on one.
His father had even slept with the females without status, the ones who could never be selected as his sole female.
Her gaze sought Cavanaugh and tracked him as he swam away from her, the distance between them eating at her. How many females had he bedded in the five years he had served as their alpha?
How many more would he sleep with after he returned to that role?
He would return to it. He had no choice. He would become their true alpha again when he set foot in the village, and she would go back to her quiet life, away from the pride. As much as it hurt her, it was how things had to be. She wasn’t bringing him back for her sake. She was doing it for the pride.
Eloise watched him, a deep need growing inside her again, one that she struggled to deny.
Asking Cavanaugh for the truth about how many women he had slept with and whether he had ever cared about her would only end with her being hurt again. She wasn’t strong enough, wasn’t brave enough to lay her heart on the line like that. Her stomach rebelled at the vision of him looking her right in the eye and telling her that he had bedded the females and that she had meant nothing to him, that what had happened between them had been nothing more than satisfying a biological need for him.
She wasn’t strong enough right now to hear that. Seeing him again, speaking to him for the first time in almost a decade, and being close to him had her muddled and off balance, liable to fall apart and make a fool of herself.
Cavanaugh began swimming back towards her and the resolve she had mustered crumbled again. She trembled on the brink of casting aside all the rules and swimming with him. Part of her demanded she seized this moment with him, before he was taken from her again, but the rest warned that it would only make things worse. Giving herself to him again now would make seeing him with other females unbearable. The knowledge that he could again take something precious and special and treat it as if it was nothing would destroy her.
His gaze swung her way and his expression suddenly went cold.
“Eloise!” He shoved out of the water, spraying it everywhere and startling her.
He rushed across the wet rocks, his footing sure as he sprinted towards her, leaping with agile grace from one boulder to the next, his muscles working hard as he closed the distance between them.
Her eyes widened and she turned slowly, her heart thundering against her breast and cold prickles crawling over the nape of her neck.
She wasn’t alone.
Her eyes met the huge tiger’s ones as it stalked towards her from the edge of the forest, already close enough to pounce.
Excerpt from CHAOS and MOONLIGHT by A.D. Marrow
“It was several minutes before Sarah realized she wasn’t dreaming. The tall guy in her room, the creepy guy on the stairs, all of it had been real. After about five miles of telling herself to wake up, then looking at the tall guy who was driving, then pinching herself, then telling herself to wake up again, then looking at the tall guy some more, reality and the promise of a full-fledged panic attack set in.
“I swear, if you let me go, I won’t tell anyone, okay?” Sarah finally found her voice. She had a moment where she thought that maybe this was a dream again, judging by the way the driver of the car looked. He was dark and mysterious, chiseled from head to toe—she should know, she all but crawled into him when they were running away from that other guy. She couldn’t make out much in the dark of the truck’s cab, but even in the faint light of the street lamps, something about this guy made her feel different. Maybe it was his voice—that deep, gravelly, slightly British voice. Maybe it was the smell that came off him, that man-mixed-with-leather-and-aftershave smell.
“Who are you?” Her damned voice box rebelled against her and her question came out in a whisper.
He was focused on the road, his eyes never leaving it as he maneuvered the giant diesel truck in and out of the one a.m. traffic. “I’ll explain everything when we get to where we are going. In the meantime, just sit back and try to relax, okay?”
“Relax? Okay, yeah. I was taken out of my bed in the middle of the night by some guy I don’t even know, and then I was chased up the stairwell by a Sherman tank of a drag queen, and you tell me to relax? Yeah right, pal! Listen, seriously, whatever ransom you’re asking for, I can pay it. Just bring me to an ATM, and you can have whatever you want, okay? Just let me go.”
“It’s not that simple, Dr. Bridgeman.”
“The hell it’s not. Look, just let me out, and anything you want, it’s yours. Cross my heart, I won’t tell a soul you took me.” She made a little crisscross motion over her heart.
“Like I said, Dr. Bridgeman, it’s not that simple. I don’t need your money. I need you to do a job for me. That Sherman tank drag queen apparently wants you to do the same job. I think, circumstances being what they are, you might want to consider working for me.”
“Work, my ass.” Sarah mumbled to herself. “Who the hell are you, anyway? And what job could I possibly do for you? I’m a medical researcher, you dickhead.”
He didn’t bother looking at her. He took in a deep breath and let out a long sigh.
“My name is Taris. I’m an eight-hundred-year-old vampire, and I need you to use your medical research to help me stop the slow yet brutal extinction of a race of people who really do exist but are made into horror movie villains and romance novel heroes.”
When he was met with silence, he glanced over to see her passed out cold in the seat.
“I knew it wouldn’t work.”
Excerpt from OTHERWORLD CHALLENGER by Jane Godman
“I’ll do it.”
The words had the same effect on the assembled company as a volley of bullets fired into the ornate ceiling of the vast banquet hall. Every head turned in the direction of the man who had uttered them. Lounging back on two legs of his chair, his broad shoulders against the wall and his booted feet on the round meeting table, he returned their stares with his customary nonchalance and continued munching on an apple.
“You can’t seriously be prepared to listen to him. He’d sell his grandmother to the imps if the price was right.” The words burst from Vashti’s lips before she could stop them.
“The Crown Princess Vashti is reminded of the Alliance’s fundamental principle of respect for all species.” The condemnatory voice of the clerk echoed around the room. “Moreover, all speakers must first be approved by Merlin Caledonius, Leader of the Council.”
Vashti felt a blush of embarrassment turn the heat of rage already burning her cheeks a darker shade of red. It didn’t help that he was openly smirking at her humiliation. “I withdraw my remark.” She spoke the words stiffly.
“Thank you.” Merlin Caledonius, or Cal as he preferred to be known, inclined his head in her direction before turning to address Jethro de Loix. “What will you do exactly?”
“Exactly what you want. Find the true King of the Faeries and bring him back here to challenge Moncoya for the crown.”
A murmur of interest rippled around the table and Vashti smothered her derisive exclamation by turning it into a cough. Couldn’t any of them see Jethro de Loix for the maverick he was? Even the way he was dressed flouted convention. Everyone else around the table respected the formality of the occasion. Not Jethro. His white-linen shirt was unbuttoned a little too far, the waistcoat he wore over it hung casually open. Those long, long legs were encased in a pair of well-worn black jeans and the battered boots that rested on the conference table looked like they had walked the length of Otherworld and back. Perhaps they had. With his overlong jet-black hair tied at the nape of his neck with a leather thong and his hawklike profile he was too—her mind searched for a suitable adjective and could only come up with swashbuckling—for this solemn setting.
Jethro bit into the apple again, his teeth startlingly white against the red skin of the fruit.
Several hands were raised around the table and the clerk, a pompous little elf, noted their names in his record book. “Prince Tibor wishes to address the Council meeting.”
The vampire prince rose, bowing his head slightly in Cal’s direction. Vashti could never see Tibor without being struck by two things. His stunning physical beauty and the fact that she had never met anyone who looked less like a vampire. Stella, Cal’s wife, had once remarked that he looked like a fashion model or a Scandinavian soccer player. Vashti, with her limited knowledge of the mortal realm, had no way of knowing what the comment meant, but she didn’t think either option sounded vampire-like.
“Esteemed Council Leader, fellow Council members, our Alliance is a new and fragile one. We have taken the decision to offer our individual dynasties democracy. Our people will soon get to vote for who will lead them and represent them at this table in the future. It was a brave and noble act on our part.” Heads nodded around the table. “We believe our dynasties will vote wisely…”
Do we? Vashti risked a glance around the table. Tibor might be secure in the vampire vote—his loyal followers were not about to overturn centuries of tradition—but there were others whose places at the table were not so secure. Anwyl, the wolf leader, fought a constant battle against Nevan, a ferociously ambitious alpha newcomer who sought to usurp his place as pack leader. And, of course, there was the reason they were all here today. The problem that united them all. Daddy dearest.
“…But there is one dynasty for which we all fear the outcome. If the faeries vote to confirm Moncoya’s place as their leader, Otherworld will descend once more into chaos. My friends, I fear there will be no return to order next time.”
“Garrick wishes to address the meeting.”
The elf leader stood. “You paint a gloomy picture indeed, Prince. Yet did this Council not, at its first meeting, request that Merlin Caledonius issue a warrant for the arrest of Moncoya as a war criminal for acts of barbarity against his own people? There is still time to do that. Then, should he attempt to return and take his place as leader of the faeries, surely his reign would be short lived? Not only would he face imprisonment, if he is found guilty it is likely he would be executed for his crimes. Even Moncoya’s arrogance would not lead him to take such a step.”
Cal cast an apologetic glance in Vashti’s direction. He knew how hard it was for her to listen to accounts of her father’s atrocities and maintain an outwardly impervious manner. “I am reluctant to take such a step at this stage. Although the battle for control of Otherworld drove Moncoya into hiding, it did not topple him from his throne. He is still the King of the Faeries and there are many who wish to see him return openly. If the faeries elect Moncoya as their leader, we will have to tread carefully. The fae population is one of the largest in Otherworld. We cannot risk alienating them by taking an inflammatory action against the leader they choose. If they choose him. Princess Vashti, perhaps you can aid this discussion by telling the Council the mood of your people?”
Cal had warned her in advance that he would ask her this question today. Rising, she was conscious of all eyes upon her. So why did the intense gaze of Jethro de Loix, who wasn’t even part of this Council, bother her more than any other? “I wish I could give my fellow Alliance members a definitive answer to that question. Sadly, I cannot. If the faeries were asked to vote tomorrow, indications are there would be an even split with half voting for Moncoya—” she had schooled herself not to refer to him as ‘my father’ in this setting “—and half evenly split between the other opposition parties.”
Prince Tibor raised his hand. “The princess’s words raise the real possibility of Moncoya taking his seat at this table in the near future.”
The clerk gestured to Anwyl the Wolf. “I will not be part of an Alliance that includes Moncoya.” Several heads around the table nodded in agreement.
So it begins. Moncoya’s return would destroy all the good work they had done. Otherworld would descend once more into the constant battles that had threatened to tear it apart before the Alliance had been formed. Vashti met Cal’s eyes briefly and she knew he was thinking the same thing. “Anwyl, the sentiments you express are the reason why it is so important for us to find the true heir to King Ivo, the faerie leader who was killed by Moncoya in the bloody coup through which he seized power. The current opposition parties, all well-meaning, do not offer the faerie race a viable alternative to Moncoya’s strong rule. King Ivo was deeply loved by his people. If we can produce his heir, I believe that will sway their vote.”
Anwyl, still on his feet, looked skeptical. “What proof do we have that this so-called heir even exists?”
“We have the word of the leader of the Dominion, the fourth choir of angels. We also know that the Goddesses of Fate summoned Princess Vashti’s sister, Tanzi, to them at the palace of Gladsheim recently and spoke to her of the true heir. Our biggest problem lies in the fact that the identity of the heir has been so well hidden he himself is unaware of it. The goddesses told Tanzi that the answer lies on the Isle of Avalon.”
Anwyl’s noble features remained mistrustful. “The Goddesses of Fate delights in interfering.”
The clerk cleared his throat in preparation for another reminder about respect, but Cal spoke before he could intervene. “While that may be true, the goddesses are not able to lie. If we are to find the heir, someone must go to Avalon in search of him. It is a journey that is both perilous and unprecedented. We have only one offer to make the attempt. That offer has come from Jethro.”
Everyone in the room knew Prince Tibor hated Jethro and had sworn to kill him for the perceived crime of stealing the vampire leader’s human servant from him. Even so, the prince’s words, when he turned to speak to the necromancer, were polite. “You would do this? Knowing the dangers, you would be prepared to go to Avalon in search of the faerie heir?”
Jethro’s smile—the piratical one, the one Vashti loathed with every fiber of her being—dawned. “For the right price.”
“And what is that price?” Cal’s voice was razor-sharp. As the Council leader, he was scrupulously fair. He would offer no favors just because Jethro was a fellow necromancer and a close friend.
“One million mortal dollars.”
Excerpt from POSSESSED BY A DARK WARRIOR by Felicity Heaton
Out of the gloom, a rich deep violet head emerged, gigantic compared with her in her mortal form.
Bright violet eyes focused on her and the short spines that followed the ridge of bone above them rippled as he snorted, blowing hot air at her and the scent of ash. He growled, a strange disjointed sound that undulated around her, and bared his fangs. They gleamed in the low light, each as long as her arm, as sharp as a blade.
Taryn didn’t dare move.
He snorted again. Scenting her.
She waited, stilled right down to her breathing, willing him to recognise her. She held his gaze, searching it for that glimmer that would tell her that she had succeeded and he knew her. Those enormous violet eyes remained focused and deadly, narrowed on her, showing no sign that he recognised her as his kin.
He shifted back a step, his broad wings folding against his back, so the white membrane was barely visible, and shook his head as he clawed at the ground, long talons raking at the black earth.
He was conflicted, unsure of her, but that didn’t mean she was safe. He could eat her in one snap of his jaws.
Taryn risked it and raised her right hand, holding it out to him.
His focus darted to it and his elliptical pupils narrowed into nothing more than vertical slits.
But then they widened again and she swore she saw a glimmer of recognition in them.
He lunged at her and she swiftly rolled out of the path of his strike, narrowly avoiding his bite, and launched onto her feet. So she had been wrong and he didn’t recognise her. She was quick to run with plan B, slashing a claw across her palm and spilling her blood as she turned back towards him.
Tenak went to lunge at her again but stopped dead, snorted and then inhaled deeply, his white chest expanding as he took a full breath down into his lungs. He exhaled hard, the hot fierce blast almost knocking her on her backside again, and then growled, the low rumbling sound encompassing her.
Her cut hand shook so badly it jumped around all over the place. She caught her wrist with her free hand to steady it and raised both towards him, so he could smell her clearly.
This had to work.
She had his attention, and this time she was sure he was beginning to recognise her. It was taking him longer than she had expected, but then she had been gone a while and he was lost to the darkness. It had often taken him some time to recognise her during his fits of madness.
He breathed in again, the nostrils in his beak flaring, and then lowered his head.
Relief swept through her and she bit out a sob, her adrenaline leaving her in an energy-draining rush as Tenak began to shift into his mortal form.
The relief was short-lived as the weight of the sword concealed in the blanket on her back reminded her that she wasn’t out of the woods yet. She still had to convince her brother to spare her life and forgive her, and if he sensed the sword she carried, he would do neither of those things. He would kill her.
She felt sure of that now.
The misguided beliefs that had plagued her during her journey, the lies she had told herself to keep her feet moving forwards, had fallen away now and she could see clearly.
Taryn looked at her twin where he stood before her, deep purple leathers encasing his powerful legs and his bare chest ridged with the honed muscles of a formidable warrior, his face as she remembered it but eyes foreign to her. They resembled hers, violet around the outside of his irises and white around his pupils, but while hers were only tinged with madness, his were wild and crazed.
He had truly lost his mind.
He stalked towards her, standing at least seven inches taller, radiating danger and deadliness that made her want to back away. It was a struggle to hold her ground, but she managed it.
She didn’t manage to hold back the flinch and the gasp when he shot a hand out, grasped the back of her neck and hauled her up to him though, forcing her head back and her eyes up to his.
He snarled through teeth that were still all sharp. “Why have you returned to me… after you left me… left me… alone in this dark world… without you?”
Taryn breathed hard, heart hammering and blood pounding as she shook from head to toe. His claws pressed into the sides of her throat, his grip on her nape fierce and unyielding, and she feared he would break her neck.
Her eyes darted between his, so familiar but so foreign, as if there was something else living inside her brother’s body, a sick beast that had driven the good male out and taken residence within him.
The pressure of his grip increased.
Cold steel pressing on the back of her neck. Heavy on her wrists. Her ankles.
Tenak blurred in her vision as she went limp, her strength giving out, and she felt his arms around her, supporting her as she collapsed under the weight of her past.
He came back into focus, sharper than ever as her mind crumbled, and gods she hated acting like him, acting mad with a hunger for revenge against the kingdoms, because it came too easy for her and she feared it would swallow her whole and she would truly become like him.
She clawed at his chest, tried to break free of his hold. She needed to fly. He refused to release her and she curled her hands into fists and beat them against his shoulders. She wriggled and his grip on her tightened, sending her deeper under the tide of her memories. Hands on her. Hands.
Taryn roared and gave one mighty shove, catching him in the face with her bloodied right palm and his chest with her left. His grip gave out and she stumbled free of his arms, twisting and staggering away from him. She couldn’t breathe.
Cold steel. Heavy. She had to fly.
She clawed at her hair and collapsed to her knees as the black mountains closed in around her like the walls of a cage.
“Sister.” Tenak’s deep voice wobbled in her mind, distorting into that of others.
The males who had purchased her.
Who had tried to break her.
She shook her head and curled over, breathing hard against her knees, fighting back as she tried to claw her way towards the light and shed the grip of the darkness.
“I did not leave you,” she snarled as tears streamed down her cheeks and dripped onto her knees to roll down the black leather. “I was taken.”
“Taken?” he snarled and the darkness in that single word frightened her.
She shrieked as hands caught her and pulled her onto her feet, twisted her to face their owner, and lashed out, clawing at the male. The scent of blood hit her and her fight fled her body, her muscles turning liquid again beneath her flesh. Her brother.
Taryn hurled herself at his chest, buried her face against his neck and shuddered as she sobbed.
He was still for a moment and then his arms carefully closed around her, the touch meant to comfort, but all it did was terrify her.
She broke free again and paced away from him, clawing her hair back from her face as she breathed hard and fast, chanted in her head that it was over. She was safe now. Free.
She was free.
She needed to fly.
“Who took you from me?”
She looked back over her shoulder at her brother, recognising him this time. Her precious brother, his face bloodied and chest streaked with crimson that dripped from dark slashes. The darkness in his eyes pleased her now, the hunger to maim and kill—the same darkness and hunger that beat in her heart.
“Slavers,” she whispered, filled with a ridiculous fear they might hear her and come for her again, might find her here.
That fear turned to hope a moment later. She snarled and willed them to try and take her, to come and see what her brother would do to them. He would make them pay. The increasing darkness in his eyes warned that she was speaking her thoughts aloud and they pleased him.
He already wanted to kill those who had hurt her, and she would give him more cause to want their blood on his hands, would weave a lie to draw him to her side.
“They took the sword… I only stole it because I wanted power like you… I was going to use the sword to get it,” she muttered and his face darkened at the mention of the blade she had taken from him. “I wanted to be powerful too. I was going to give it back. I wanted to be like you.”
She fell to her knees again and scratched at the earth, feeling that maybe she was already like him.
“I kept track of it… but I lost it… the second male who bought me hid it.”
“Second?” Tenak snarled and came to tower over her again, a formidable sight as his eyes glowed with violet fire. “How many…?”
She was glad he couldn’t finish that sentence, because she was finding it hard to keep the memories at bay enough to spin her web and catch him in it as it was. It wouldn’t take much to push her back over the edge.
“Six,” she whispered and fought the faces of her owners as they came to her, pushing them back down inside her, refusing to look at them or those of the people who had traded her. “There were six before I escaped.”
When the elf was there.
She looked down at her dirtied bloodied hands. At claws that had marked him. He would be coming for her. She was sure of that. She was sure that he had been hunting for her since their paths had crossed again three lunar cycles ago.
Taryn lifted her eyes to Tenak’s face and he hunkered down in front of her, his steady violet-to-white gaze so warm and soft, so beautifully familiar and comforting now that she wanted to cry.
She tensed when he reached for her, but then she was in his arms, held gently against his bare chest, his warmth seeping into her, and all she could do was rest there and let him be strong for her.
He growled low in her ear. “I swear… together we shall make all of Hell pay for what they have done to you.”
Gods, that sounded dangerously appealing.
Taryn sat with her head against his shoulder, her eyes fixed on the black mountains in the direction she had come, her bones vibrating with awareness that urged her to move faster, to accelerate her plan.
The elf was coming.
He believed her responsible for stealing the blade and attacking the elf kingdom seven long centuries ago, killing thousands of his kind. He could never feel anything for her other than hatred, and she had been fine with that, because it had meant he would never end up at the mercy of her brother.
But now she had delayed too long and her dragon instincts warned that he was closing in on her, and when that happened, the future would grow clouded and uncertain.
Both for her.
And for the elf.
Her fated male.
Excerpt from ARES by Felicity Heaton
The Frenchman ducked to evade a punch and threw his palm at the larger man. Was he trying to push him over? Megan couldn’t see why he would want to do that and it was the only explanation she could find for him pressing his palm against the man’s chest.
The immense brunet flung his head back and threw his arms out at his sides as he roared in agony at the storm. The lights on the wall of the alley died as his garbled scream filled the night, battling the growling thunder. He fell to his knees and arched backwards, the Frenchman’s hand still pressed against his chest. Orange light shone from the point where they connected, illuminating the blond man’s face as he grinned.
“It was too easy.” He drew his hand back and stared at his fingers.
Something glowed in the centre of his palm, strange light illuminating threads that ran around the back of his hand. He turned his cruel gaze on the large man.
The man collapsed forwards, palms pressing into the wet ground, and the lights on the wall blinked back into life again. His big body heaved as he breathed hard and she frowned as she realised something.
He was shaking.
Flames flickered over the Frenchman’s hand and a fireball grew from the centre of his palm. He aimed it down at the other man.
In an instant, Megan knew what he was going to do and she couldn’t allow it to happen. She couldn’t let this man kill the brunet. She wouldn’t stand for it. Her gaze quickly scanned the dimly lit street and darted back again. One of their guns lay on the wet tarmac only a few feet from her. She reacted on instinct, pushing off the ground and running for it.
She scooped it up.
A loud crack like thunder split the silence and she jerked back from the force of the recoil.
The bullet nailed the Frenchman in his right shoulder, knocking him backwards, away from the other man.
An unholy shriek pierced her ears, more like the sound a bird of prey would make rather than a man, and the Frenchman turned his gaze on her. Megan hesitated, fear washing through her stronger than ever and her heart smashing like a jackhammer against her ribs. Eyes that glowed ethereally locked on to her.
What was he?
He raised his hand, the light from the fireball casting dark shadows across his face. She didn’t hesitate. She lifted the heavy silver gun and took aim again.
The fireball exploded from his palm.
The brunet launched to his feet and sprinted straight towards her, racing the twisting golden orb as it grew in size.
Megan stared death in the face, and it was fiery and painful and terrifying, and then there was darkness and heat. The man’s thickly muscled arms wrapped around her and he crushed her against his solid chest, shielding her, his heart pounding against her ear. He jerked forwards and she smelled the heat of the fire, felt the force of it rush past her, and curled into his embrace, waiting for the pain.
Waiting for the end.
Cold rain soaked into her scalp and slid down her face, and she opened her eyes as reality penetrated the haze of her fear and shock that she was alive and unharmed rushed through her.
The man loosened his grip on her and took an unsteady step backwards. He swayed on his feet, his face in shadow, head hung forwards. Smoke curled from his slumped shoulders.
“Need to get my powers back… going to kill the bastard…” he muttered and then his hands settled on her arms, heavy and trembling. His gaze lifted and met hers, red illuminating his irises. “You okay?”
A flicker of a smile curved his lips and then it dropped from his face as his expression went slack. He collapsed to his knees, his head landing on her chest and his grip on her taking her down with him. She hit the tarmac hard, pain shooting up her legs and spine. The man breathed heavily and rolled off her, landing on his front with his cheek pressed into the wet ground.
Megan shook so hard the gun still locked in her fingers rattled.
She stared down the alley to the Frenchman.
Steadily raised the gun and aimed again.
Slowly squeezed the trigger just as her grandfather had taught her.
The man disappeared.
The sound of rain filled the silence.
Megan let the gun fall from her grasp to clatter onto the ground near her thigh. She breathed slowly, her shoulders slumping as her tension melted away, leaving her chilled to her marrow as the adrenaline that had been fuelling her disappeared with it. Her gaze drifted down to the man lying on the cracked tarmac in front of her.
The scorched and smouldering back of his black coat revealed blistered skin beneath.
He had shielded her from the blast, taking the damage for her. She crawled over to him, removed her sodden coat and laid it down on the ground, and carefully eased him onto his back on it. He groaned. She welcomed the small sign of life and looked him over.
The front of his black t-shirt was missing and there was a dark burn mark in the middle of his defined chest, right over his heart. She didn’t know what had happened to him or what the fight had been about, but she knew one thing.
He wasn’t an ordinary person.
He was like her.
Megan gently laid her left palm on his pectorals, over the dark patch, and focused. The man flinched and his eyes slowly opened, coming to meet hers. He stared up at her, his dark gaze relaying his shock. She had always rejected her ability because it made her feel like a freak and an outsider, but she was quick to call it now. The burnt skin on his chest began to heal beneath her hand.
The man opened his mouth and then grimaced, his handsome face contorting viciously as he unleashed an unholy snarl that was more beast than man.
She focused harder, wishing she could do this painlessly. Healing a major wound always caused the injured party pain and it hurt her too. She was doing it as quickly as she could but for some reason, he was slow to heal and she was already beginning to feel the effects of using her gift.
Megan drew her hand away, revealing smooth unmarked skin. She stroked it and looked down at his face, checking on him. Rain poured down on them. It chilled her but he still felt warm beneath her fingers. She shifted her hand to his cheek and cupped it.
“Can you hear me?” She frowned when he failed to respond and she patted his cheek, hoping to rouse him. She didn’t want him to pass out and she could feel that he was barely holding on to consciousness. Fat drops saturated her clothing. They rolled down his face and soaked into his overlong dark hair. She picked the strands from his face and willed him to respond to her. “Please hear me. Move if you can. Do something to let me know.”
His eyelids fluttered and he moaned.
“I’ll try to heal your other wounds, but it might hurt. Just hold on, okay?” She waited long seconds before his mouth twisted into a grimace and he frowned. Her stomach rolled in time with the distant thunder. She had to heal his back for him, no matter how much it drained her or how much it hurt him, but she didn’t want to risk making him lose consciousness.
The voice of reason said that what she had to do was call an ambulance and then the police. She couldn’t. They wouldn’t understand if she told them the truth. The other man had powers, and he wanted to kill this one.
This man had protected her but the police wouldn’t care. They would throw him in jail for being a part of the fight and the other man would get away with everything.
She looked down at his face, absorbing how beautiful he was, strong and masculine, like a warrior. A fine layer of stubble coated his straight jaw and the slight crook in his nose told her he had broken it more than once. He was a fighter, and he had risked his life to protect her and now she would repay him by healing his wounds and taking care of him.
His lips parted.
Strange words fell from them, a language she didn’t understand, and pain speared her skull in time with each one. She snatched her hands away from him and covered her ears.
Her eyes widened as he stopped speaking and silence fell.
Darkness swirled in front of her, obliterating her view of the other end of the alley. She moved closer to the man, afraid it was the other one come to finish them off, and grabbed the gun.
Ribbons of black smoke separated to reveal two tall handsome men, both clad head-to-toe in dark colours and sporting black long coats like the one her protector wore.
Megan stared up at them, her fingers clasping the gun. She raised it and aimed, darting between the two newcomers, and breathed slowly to steady her nerves and her hands. Neither of them acknowledged her. They approached and she switched aim between them, and her fear began to get the better of her again.
She glanced at the man resting against her and resolve flowed through her. He had protected her and now it was her turn to protect him.
“Keep back,” she warned but they kept advancing.
She aimed at the white-haired one and squeezed the trigger.
Her finger stiffened and palm froze, and her eyes widened when she saw the ice covering the gun. It burned and she dropped it. The ice shattered, scattering across the wet ground and instantly melting.
“What the heck?” She stared at her palm, desperately trying to move her stiff fingers as they burned, numb from cold. Where had that ice come from?
Her eyes snapped to the white-haired man.
Had it come from him?
He towered over her now, his build slimmer than her protector’s was but not as lean as the other man beside him. His pale eyes held hers, glacial and dark.
“Did you do this?” the other, black-haired man snarled in a voice laced with darkness and she made the mistake of looking at him.
He was incredibly handsome but there was endless cold in his dark eyes. A ring of vivid blue encircled his irises and she shrank back, afraid of the sensation of danger that washed over her and told her to run. He might be slimmer than the other two, but he wore an air of lethal darkness, a threat that beat in her blood as though every sense and instinct she had was warning her that he was dangerous and would kill her without hesitation.
The man with softly spiked white hair stepped in front of him, placing himself between them, and turned his head and looked over his shoulder at his comrade.
“A gun did not do this.” He turned his pale eyes on her. “Why did you turn his gun on us?”
The black-haired man moved past his friend, swept both sides of his open long black coat behind his hips to reveal a worn grey-blue shirt and lighter grey scarf, and crouched beside her protector. His black jeans stretched tight over his thighs and she noticed he wore the same leather army boots as her protector, but the ends of his jeans had been loosely tucked into them.
He tunnelled his slender fingers through the long lengths of the top of his hair, pushing it back from the shorn sides and back, and ran dark eyes over him. Fine black eyebrows met hard above blue eyes that seemed strangely bright in the low light, swirling like a stormy sea.
“What happened?” It was the white-haired one who spoke but the question was there in the black-haired man’s eyes too.
“Another man attacked him,” she said, and then added, “and he protected me, so I protected him.”
She was still intent on protecting him. They didn’t seem like a danger to him, showed no sign of attacking, but if they made a wrong move, she was going to grab the gun again and use it this time.
They both stared at her and then exchanged a glance that told her the man wasn’t in the habit of risking his life to protect people.
The white-haired one moved forwards and frowned down at her protector too. “We must get him to safety. Take his arm but be careful. We should be safe while he is unconscious, but it is hard to tell.”
“You can’t move him!” Megan snapped.
Neither man looked at her.
She was getting tired of this.
She grabbed the gun and turned it on them again. She wouldn’t drop it this time, no matter what happened. The white-haired man pinned cold blue eyes on her and reached towards her, his black leather gloves glistening with what looked like frost in the dim alley lights.
Her protector jolted to his feet so quickly that the black-haired one fell on his backside.
“Don’t touch her,” the brunet growled and grabbed the white-haired man’s wrist, yanking his arm away from her.
He instantly turned to the other man. “Something is wrong.”
The black-haired man looked at the hand her protector had locked around his friend’s wrist, shock rippling across his face. “No heat?”
Megan got to her feet and steadied her gun with her other hand, aiming it back at the white-haired man. “Let him go.”
He gave her a pointed look. Yes, she was aware that her protector was the one manhandling him, but she didn’t care. She had to protect him.
The brunet growled something foul at him and swayed on his feet. He shoved the white-haired one away and stumbled towards her. “Must go… got to go.”
Megan dropped the gun again and caught him as he collapsed, taking her back down to the ground. She kneeled with him leaning in to her, his head on her shoulder and arms limp beside her hips. Her fingers touched the wrecked back of his black coat and the blistered skin there. It began to heal and she focused, trying to soothe his pain for him as he breathed heavily in her arms.
The two men stared at her.
The white-haired one spoke first.
“Change of plans. We take her with us. We need to know what she saw and she might prove useful.” He turned to the man standing a few feet behind him. “Esher, bring the female.”
The man called Esher cast him a dark unforgiving look and the strange glow around his pupils brightened but turned a deeper shade of blue, veering towards stormy grey. “You better not be serious.”
The white-haired man nodded.
Esher’s expression blackened into a scowl. “You are one cold bastard at times.”
The other one smiled and shrugged.
Was the man cold because he wanted to bring her, like a captive, or because he had told Esher to handle her?
She could sense his reluctance, a palpable disgust that he didn’t bother to hide as he rounded her and grabbed her upper arm. He towered over her, far slimmer than the man slumped against her but just as lethal in appearance.
The white-haired one pulled her protector to his feet and settled his arm around his shoulders, supporting him. Esher dragged her onto her feet too, the force behind his actions almost tearing her arm from the socket.
He tossed her a grim look.
Megan opened her mouth to unleash the scream burning up her throat.
Everything spun around her.
Excerpt from THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE VAMPIRE by Sara Humphreys
Trixie couldn’t remember the last time she went to a little girl’s birthday party but it certainly wasn’t since becoming a vampire.
Olivia and Doug might have been two of the world’s most powerful vampires, but they had also become the first vampire parents in recorded history. Today was their daughter Emily’s second birthday and they were throwing her a big old party, complete with birthday cake and balloons.
Trixie had gone back and forth all day long about whether or not to attend.
Being around little Emily was bittersweet on a regular day and the birthday celebration would only heighten Trixie’s struggle. But choosing not to go would have been selfish. Trixie’s personal drama wasn’t Emily’s fault, and she didn’t want to disappoint the adorable little redheaded cherub. Not only that, Emily was Olivia’s daughter and since Olivia was Trixie’s maker, that made her family.
Not showing up would have been rotten.
Olivia would have understood if Trixie bailed out; she knew her better than anyone else. But Olivia’s Bloodmate, Doug, wouldn’t understand her absence from such a celebrated event. Neither would the other members of the coven.
Nope. Trixie decided to do what she always did. She’d put on a smile, make a wise-ass comment or two, and act like nothing and nobody bothered her.
A familiar voice pulled her from her thoughts as she strode down the stone hallways of the Presidium’s underground facility, buried deep beneath Fort Tryon Park and The Cloisters in New York City, “Well, smack my ass and call me Sally.”
The deep southern drawl echoed around her, stopping Trixie dead in her tracks. A shiver of lust whispered beneath her skin as it usually did whenever he was nearby, but she swiftly shoved it aside.
“Okay, Sally.” Trixie rolled her shoulder and fought the buzz of attraction. “But you can smack your own ass.”
“What’s the matter, darlin’?” The rumbling baritone of his voice soaked with that southern twang, drifted over her shoulder but she didn’t spare him a glance. Trixie continued toward Olivia and Doug’s apartment door, forcing herself to put one foot in front of the other. “Don’t I even get a hello?”
“Hello, Dakota,” she said, with a roll of her eyes.
Coming to this little gathering for Emily was difficult enough and his arrival only ratcheted her anxiety up a notch. Damn it. Why wasn’t he out on patrol? Over the past few months, the cocky and admittedly gorgeous sentry, had become more and more present in her little corner of the universe.
Trixie fiddled with the box in her hands, the one she’d wrapped carefully with the pink and white skull and crossbones paper. She didn’t even bother to put a card with it. Everyone would know who’d brought it. She was the only coven member with bright pink hair and a penchant for skulls and crossbones, after all.
“That your present for little Emily?” He asked. “You wrapped it real nice.”
He got closer by the second.
“No,” Trixie snorted. “I just like carrying around a gift wrapped box for the hell of it. You know, for shits and giggles.”
She was being a snot but she couldn’t help herself.
Trixie kept her gaze pinned to the mammoth mahogany door at the end of the hallway and tried not to notice that he’d sidled up next to her, his stride matching hers.
Dakota Shelton, the newest sentry for the Presidium, the vampire government, was not an easy man to ignore.
His six foot two inch broad shouldered frame towered over her easily but there was something else about him that set her on edge. It was the way he carried himself. He moved effortlessly and casually, as if he was just the good-old boy from Texas he claimed to be.
But Trixie knew better.
Excerpt from DEAL WITH THE DEVIL by Cynthia Eden
“Have you looked long enough?” he asked. His voice was a deep, dark rumble. Sexy.
She didn’t want to find anything about her jailer to be sexy. This attraction she had to him—it was odd. Unwanted.
But…there. Instinctive. Primal. Even her heart was already beating faster, and not just because she thought escape was at hand. Because he was close, and he stirred her.
Ella lowered her hand away from the glass. She was going to try logic with him first. She’d plead her case. Perhaps that tactic would work.
And perhaps not.
“You’ve had plenty of time to look at me,” Ella murmured. “I suppose I thought it was only fair for me to have the same opportunity.”
His jaw hardened. Just a small movement, but she saw it and Ella liked that she’d gotten to him.
“Did you think I didn’t know? I could feel it when you were close.” She motioned toward the mirror, then toward the video camera mounted near the ceiling. “I think this was all a bit…much, don’t you? I mean, I’m locked in. It’s not as if I can plot some terrible wickedness here.”
“You can plot it,” he allowed, “you just can’t carry it out.”
Ella took a step closer to him.
He offered her his hand. “It’s time we were officially introduced. My name is Eric Pate, and I’m in charge of the FBI’s Para Unit.”
She stared at his hand.
The Para Unit. There had been whispers about that group for years. Government agents who policed the creatures that went bump in the night. According to the gossip she’d heard, if a supernatural got on the wrong side of the Para Unit, well, that supernatural found his—or her—butt tossed into Purgatory.
Is Purgatory real?
Ella was very much afraid that it was.
“I don’t bite,” Eric murmured. His hand was still offered toward her.
“No.” Ella cleared her throat. “I think that’s my deal.” Because she didn’t want to show him her fear, she put her hand in his.
Her breath caught in her throat. And, yes, she still breathed. Her heart still beat, she could still feel pain and pleasure. Despite the tales heard by so many, paranormals were still alive. They could hurt, they could feel…just like humans.
Ella had thought that the man before her was cold. Emotionless. After all, a darkness seemed to cling to him like a shroud, but when they touched—fire seemed to ignite in her hand. Her heart beat even faster, nearly racing out of control. Her breasts ached, as if wanting, needing a lover’s touch. And—
She tried to pull away.
But his hand tightened around hers. She could feel the strength in that hand.
“Is something wrong?”
Yes, you’re what’s wrong! The man before her was far from human, no matter what he wanted to pretend. And she should not be reacting to him that way. His scent wasn’t human. It was just slightly…off. Everything about him was, yet she was still feeling that pull between them.
Excerpt from WHEN A DRAGON ROARS by Eve Langlais
He was all male, all the time, and dammit, a man used a barber, not a hairdresser. Even if she was cute.
“Suit yourself. I’ve got more than enough men to take care of—”
Was that his cat growling?
“—without adding a pompous one to the list.”
“Pompous?” Even if she’d pegged him right, it didn’t stop his indignant glare.
A glare she chose to ignore. She crossed her arms over her chest, plumping her cleavage—ooh, pretty, shadowy cleft. His curious nature drew his eyes to the mysterious and beckoningvee until she cleared her throat.
“My eyes are up here, big guy.”
Caught. Good thing he was a cat. His kind had no shame, nor did they apologize. He shot her his most engaging, boyish grin. “My name is Arik. Arik Castiglione.”
She didn’t react to his smile or titles, so he elaborated, “The CEO for Castiglione Enterprises.” He stretched his lips wide enough to engage his deadly dimple.
And still failed to impress.
She raised a brow. “Is that supposed to mean something?”
Surely she jested. Within his mind, his poor lion lay down in a traumatized heap and crossed its paws over its eyes.
“We are the largest importer of meat in the world.”
Her shoulders lifted in a shrug. “I don’t check the label to see who brings me my steak. I just eat it.”
“What about our chain of restaurants? A Lion’s Pride Steakhouses.”
“Those I’ve heard of. Decent, I hear, but overpriced. I can get a bigger plate of food at LongHorn. And according to my girlfriends, the male waiters are cuter too.”
For once, Arik found himself at a loss for words. His lion on the other hand? His mane was definitely ruffled—and itching.
Arik had already gone two weeks longer than usual for this haircut because of an overseas business trip. Time to get back to his highest priority. “How long until Dominic is back?”
“A week, maybe two. I told him to take his time. Granddad doesn’t often take time off, and he’s getting up there in years.”
A few weeks? He’d look like a wildebeest if he waited that long. “That’s no good. I need a cut. Are there any male barbers available?”
“Afraid to let a girl touch your precious hair?” She smirked. “I can peek at the schedule and see if we can squeeze you in this afternoon.”
“I don’t have time to come back. I need it done now.”
Usually when he used the word now, people jumped to do his bidding. She, on the other hand, shook her head.
“Not happening, unless you’ve changed your mind and are willing to let me cut it.”
“You’re a hairdresser.”
“I want a barber.”
Said the girl without a Y chromosome. “I think I’ll wait.”
Arik turned away from her, only to freeze as she muttered, “Pussy.”
If she only knew how right she was. But, of course, she didn’t mean the feline version.
Pride made him pivot back.“You know what. On second thought, you may cut my hair.”
“How gracious of you, Your Majesty.” She sketched him a mock bow.
Not funny, even if accurate. He glared in reply.
“I see someone’s too uptight for a sense of humor.”
“I greatly enjoy comedy, when I hear it.”
“Sorry if my brand of sarcasm is too simple for you to understand, big guy. Now, if you’re done, sit down so we can get this over with and send you and your precious hair back to your office.”
A woman giving him orders? Not uncommon when a male lived surrounded by them. But actually obeying, that was new – and in this case, unavoidable.
Head held regally high, Arik took the proffered seat, putting his back to the female, but he could still watch her in the mirror and track her by scent. Coconut lotion, fabric softener, and musky woman. All woman.
My woman. Want to taste.
Excerpt from ONE WITH THE DARKNESS by Susan Squires
“Let me get your property, my lady,” the trader said. They turned to the back of the stall. Three men clustered round the straining barbarian, laughing as he tried to twist away. Blood dripped from his wrists where he had pulled against his shackles. He spat at them. It was his only means of defiance.
Graccus wiped his face and laughed. “Oh, he’ll be a joy to break.”
“I agree,” she said. The three yanked their gazes up, as did the barbarian. He flushed in shame. “Now unhand my new slave, sirs, so I may begin.”
“What? But I am buying him for my brothel!”
She waved the receipt scroll. “Too late.” Her She turned to the trader. “For the price I just paid, you can throw in a pair of shackles.” The trader nodded and clapped his hands. Slaves appeared with the required bindings. They unlocked the barbarian’s wrists from the poles and chained them behind his back before they released his feet. His ankles, too, were bloodied. Those green eyes stared at her, burning with intensity, as though he was still not sure what had just happened to him. Excitement churned inside her. This was the start of something—she didn’t know quite what. “Come quietly, slave,” she ordered, putting all the force of her personality behind her words, just shy of raising her Companion for compulsion. “You two—see that he does.” Two of Titus’s bodyguards nodded. Each took one of the slave’s arms and dragged him forward.
“You knew I wanted him,” Graccus was saying. The trader only shrugged. He couldn’t have gotten two thousand dinars for a slave bound for a brothel.
They pushed into the market throng. “There you are,” Titus called, hurrying over. Livia saw him frown as he registered the barbarian. “Livia Quintus, what is this? You’ve never purchased this creature!”
“I have, Titus. He was a soldier, therefore skilled in martial arts. He even speaks Latin. He’ll be a perfect bodyguard.”
“Livia, return him at once. This is no slave for a woman.”
Livia turned to her new purchase, seeing him through Titus’s eyes. Bloody and sweating, he looked fierce, with those intense green eyes and all that hair. But he was the one she wanted. She knew that as certainly as she knew her own name. “Once we clean him up you won’t recognize him.”
“He needs more than a bath to make him suitable.”
“You were the one who suggested a bodyguard slave, and now that I’ve meekly done as you ask, you rail at me.”
Titus rolled his eyes. “Meek? I would welcome meek.” Livia gestured her entourage forward. Titus sighed and fell in step. “I just hope you haven’t bitten off more than you can chew.”
Excerpt from ONE WITH THE NIGHT by Susan Squires
He came to stand behind her and cleared his throat. “I ha’ been meaning ta thank ye for what ye did for me that first night, and fer sharing th’ blood ye collect. Ye’re verra kind.”
“It was nothing. You would have done the same.” He was too close.
“Ye dinnae know that.” He shifted awkwardly. His eyes were light in the darkness of the tower room. Did he feel his mistake in standing too close? Would he move away?
“Yes I do.” Her body was reacting as if it had been struck by the lightning that illuminated the loch. The thunder was rolling farther away now. Or maybe that was just the thumping of her heart in her chest. Her thighs were slick. She had been running from the feelings he raised in her ever since he got here. But in truth, she wanted very much to know what it would be like to make love to Callan Kilkenny.
“Ye must ha’ thought me churlish no’ ta thank ye and yer father.” He, too, looked out over the loch so he wouldn’t have to look at her.
“No. I didn’t think you churlish…” She took a step toward him in the darkness. She could feel his ragged breathing. And what of her own? She took a breath. It is an experiment. She only wanted to see how the physical act of making love with a vampire, in her new vampire state, compared with her experience, human to human, with Tom Blandings. That was all it was. She felt his reluctance, and yet she was sure he wanted it, too. Was it his honor that kept him from taking her in his arms?
She knew he was honorable, for all his pretense of callousness. “I thought you didn’t think yourself worth helping. That’s different.”
“I might ha’ been right.”
Jane had to get some distance here, or she was going to just throw herself at him.
Excerpt from BLAZING MOON by Julie Wetzel
“But you didn’t even try,” Phelan screamed. His fist clenched at his side in rage as he threw out his accusations. “You would rather coddle your damn vampire than stand behind the needs of your own people.”
Confusion and concern creased Rupert’s brow. This was unlike his friend. Phelan liked Darien. He had also understood Rupert’s position in the past. It was bizarre he would take such a stance now. “Phelan?” Rupert asked as he reached out to touch his friend’s shoulder.
As the hand made contact, Phelan shrieked in rage and slung his fist into Rupert’s face, staggering the man back. Red colored Phelan’s vision as he tore out of his coat and leaped at his alpha. His mind spun with hate and rage, driving all thought out of his head. The smell of blood on Rupert’s split lip made Phelan’s blood boil. His wolf ripped through his skin, shredding his shirt.
Staggering away from his attacking friend, Rupert threw his arm up just in time to stop the sharp teeth from reaching the delicate skin of his throat. Shocked by the sudden attack, he yelled out as he fell backwards under the weight of the wolf. He lay on the ground, stunned by the sudden violence, as Phelan mauled the sleeve of his jacket. The outburst was unlike anything Rupert had ever seen from his second. The unprovoked attack reminded him of the problems they were having with the pack, and sorrow filled his heart as he gathered his thoughts enough to start fighting back. It wasn’t fear of death or injury that pained Rupert, it was the dread of having to hurt or kill one of his closest friends.
Excerpt from THE BURNING by Susan Squires
TRANSYLVANIA, PROVINCE OF THE HAPSBURG EMPIRE, SEPTEMBER 1820
They ran their hands over his body. There were three of them. Their palms rubbed his chest, his hips and thighs, and the bulge of his biceps where his wrists were bound above his head. The nails scraped lightly, threatening. He knew what was to come. The stone bench on which he lay was hard against the bare flesh of his buttocks and shoulders, but the room was warm. They loved heat. It was a true luxury in the winter of the Carpathian Mountains. The only illumination came from the fire licking at the logs in the great stone arches. Above him, their faces hung, unreal in the flickering light. Their eyes glowed red. Now they would compel him. Their low moans filled the little room cut into the rocky heart of the monastery. He knew every crevice in its stone by now. This room held his torment and possibly his salvation.
“Is he worthy of our father’s trust?” another breathed into his ear.
He felt his loins throb, tight with a need he dared not indulge. He had no idea whether they compelled that need, or whether it belonged to him. A tongue found his nipple. He could not help but arch up into it. The chains clanked. A hand cupped his balls. He felt the scrape of canines at his throat. They wanted blood tonight. He waited for the pain. How would he bear their ministrations in the long hours ahead?
You deserve this, he told himself. A thousand years of torment would not atone for your crimes. You have one chance at redemption and they will help you to it.
He breathed as they had taught him. He focused inward, searching for an island of control. His shoulders relaxed. All emotion drained slowly away. The piercing of his carotid was a fact of pain, no more. One of them sucked at his throat while the others kept him roused.
But now he was ready for whatever they might do to him. He would become what was required. No matter the cost, he would atone.
Excerpt from RAGE/KILLIAN by Alexandra Ivy and Laura Wright
“Why did you steal my diary?”
Lucie blinked. Wow. That was not at all what she’d been expecting.
She didn’t want to talk about the childish stunt. Not because it’d been embarrassing for him. He’d only become more popular with the females after they’d decided his private musings about his lovers somehow enhanced their reputations as desirable mates. Idiots. But because it revealed how desperately obsessed she’d been.
And still was, for that matter.
Acutely aware of his deepening curiosity, she forced herself to shrug. “I was a brat,” she said in light tones.
“No.” His fingers brushed through her hair, his touch achingly tender. “You were hurt and striking out. I’m just not sure why I was singled out for public humiliation.”
“Because…” The words stuck in her throat.
She heaved a resigned sigh. He wasn’t going to let it go. Not until he coerced her into revealing the painful truth.
“Because I had a crush on you,” she grudgingly muttered.
The violet eyes shimmered with flecks of gold as the dawning sun splashed through the windows.
She grimaced. She might as well confess the rest. If she were being honest, she probably owed him.
“Don’t act surprised. You had to sense that I watched you from the trees.”
“I thought you were plotting my death.”
“I was young and impressionable, and I was fascinated.” Her gaze ran over his lean, perfect features. “You were so gorgeous.”
“True.” He grunted as she elbowed him in the gut. “Ow.”
“But it was more than that,” she finished her confession. “You had a…kindness that I desperately wanted for myself.”
His teasing expression melted to one of regret, his fingers sliding over the curve of her shoulder.
“I would happily have been kind to you if you hadn’t bolted whenever I got near you,” he murmured.
She believed him. Rage might have been spoiled, but he’d never been deliberately cruel. His nature was to protect the weak and vulnerable.
“I didn’t know how to tell you,” she admitted with a wry smile. “So instead I struck out.”
His fingers drifted down her collarbone, his enticing musk scenting the air. “From now on, I have a better way for you to express your feelings for me.”
She instantly stiffened. It was one thing to confess her feelings when she’d been an idiotic youth. There was no way she was going to share the fact he’d never left her dreams.
“Who said I still have feelings for you?” she belligerently demanded, ignoring the fact that she was lying naked in his arms. “That was a long time ago.”
He chuckled, not fooled for a second. Damn him.
Excerpt from WHEN AN OMEGA SNAPS by Eve Langlais
Leo was just minding his own business when he heard someone shout, “Heads up! Or is that heads down?”
Either way it didn’t matter. Leo caught the Frisbee with his noggin, which, given he was in the lobby of the condo complex he lived in, didn’t impress him one bit.
Some might have acted on that irritation—gone after the Frisbee tosser and scalped her. Others would have engaged in an unladylike tussle. But as the Pride’s omega, he had a certain standard to adhere to. Leo let the irritation roll off his really wide—so wide the college football coach almost cried when he wouldn’t play—shoulders.
With a nonchalance and calm that Leo strove to teach others, he kept walking toward the elevator, which happened to be where the purple disc landed. He refrained from crushing it. No need to blame the disc just because its thrower had poor aim.
Everything about her was big, bold, and luscious.
Yummy. And it wasn’t just his inner beast that thought so.
Who is this delicious handful? He didn’t recall meeting her, and he certainly wouldn’t have forgotten her.
The unknown woman straightened and faced him, and by face him, he meant almost eye to eye, which was unheard of given he boasted a height of almost seven feet. Yet this woman with the wicked curves must have stood at least six foot one or a touch more.
She wasn’t dainty, not by any stretch, not with the way her impressive breasts strained at her T-shirt, distorting the cartoon on it that said, Delicate Freakn’ Flower. Her indented waist was accented by the flare of her hips, the quirk of her lips matched by the mirth in her eyes.
While not a man to allow himself to indulge in strong emotion, Leo was suddenly possessed of a powerful urge to drag this woman into his arms and…do decadent things that would get even his steady heart racing.
“Well, hello there, big fellow. I don’t think we’ve met.”
Indeed they hadn’t, or he would have remembered her—and remembered to avoid her because anyone could see by the saucy tilt to her hips and the appraising look in her eye that she spelled trouble.
Leo didn’t do trouble. He preferred calm moments. Serene outings. Quiet evenings. Very quiet. A quiet she disrupted with her Frisbee antics, so he took her to task. “You’re not supposed to play Frisbee inside. It’s one of the association rules.” He’d know since he helped draft them.
Leo liked rules, and he expected people to follow them. When any group of predators lived in close proximity, keeping hot tempers under control was important, hence his job to enforce the edicts and keep the peace.
“Aw, come on. Are you telling me there’s no playing inside either?” Her plump lower lip jutted. “Do you know I got in trouble by a nice policeman for playing on the street? Which was totally unfair. As if it was my fault that guy wasn’t pay attention and rear ended someone at the red light.”
“You were playing in the road?”
“Road, sidewalk, does it really matter? What’s more important is, if I can’t play inside, and I can’t play outside, where is a girl supposed to play?”
Upstairs, eleventh floor, condo unit 1101. His bedroom had plenty of room. Of course the sport he pictured didn’t involve any props. Nor did it include any clothes. But telling her she could play with him naked probably wasn’t the answer she looked for. “We don’t play in the city. Not enough room. That’s what the ranch is for.”
“Ah, the farm. That place is still around? Awesome.”
“You know of it?” He frowned. While not a closely guarded secret, only those with permission were allowed on the property. Since Leo tended to curate that list, he tended to know anyone who visited. But he couldn’t place her. “Who are you? I don’t think I’ve seen you around before.”
“Yeah, it’s been a while since I visited. That’s what happens when a girl gets banned for a few years because of a few silly misunderstandings. Explode one carved pumpkin and people lose their minds. I see the lobby got repainted, no permanent harm done.”
Banned? Wait a second. He did know who this lady was. He’d heard Arik mention something about a cousin on his father’s side visiting for a bit. His words were actually, “Damned uncle asked me to let the brat come and hide out for a bit while some kind of calamity blows over in her hometown.”
To which Leo replied, “You know you can use the word ‘no’. I find it quite effective if I don’t want to get embroiled in unsavory situations.” The word no helped prevent a lot of unnecessary chaos.
Arik had laughed. “Say no to my uncle? Not happening. You haven’t met him yet. He’s the one guy I know who would make you look normal sized and when he’s not threatening to twist you into a pretzel, he’s the nicest guy you ever met. He’s also besieged by a set of troublemaking daughters.”
Both of whom had been banned by the previous pride alpha for causing too much damage and being a general nuisance.
While she had only recently arrived, Leo could already understand why the old king banished her. “You’re that troublemaker from out West, aren’t you?”
“Me, a troublemaker?” She fluttered her lashes. The problem was, with a mouth like hers, twisted into a smirk, she failed at the whole innocent look. “No, that’s my sister, Teena. I’m Meena, her twin, more commonly known as catastrophe. But you can call me your mate.”
With that, she flung herself on him and planted a big, juicy smooch on his lips.
And he liked it.
Excerpt from HIS WITCH TO KEEP by Zoe Forward
“You can’t keep your gun. I don’t want you shooting someone tonight. I will be the only one killing.” His arm wrapped around her waist and pulled her flush to his body again. He backed her against the edge of the conference table and slid the hem of her dress upward, his fingers trailing along the inside of her thigh. She bit back a groan at the erotic sensations. His eyes smoldered with answering heat. She rolled her pelvis against his arousal. He sucked in a sudden breath. With one swift move he unlatched her holster. His fingers disappeared. He stepped away.
“Fine.” Disappointment flared. She detested his control when her heart was racing and her body begged for his continued touch. The fact she couldn’t handle him like she could everyone else in her life pissed her off. Only this man could shake her.
Excerpt from PRACTICAL USES FOR PRINCES WITH POINTED EARS by Isabelle Saint-Michael
My dreams were more vivid than usual. It was like I was standing there with my favorite imaginary hunk. He and several others were packing up horses. There was a great deal of laughter and teasing among the men. They poked at each other until finally he had to step in and tell them to calm down. Even as he reprimanded them his smile shone brightly. I had never seen him smile with such a youthful presence.
Moments later another man appeared, just as handsome as my dream guy. “Tallyn!” he called, and my heart skipped a beat as I watched the man of my dreams turn to wave.
“Tallyn,” I could feel myself whispering. He turned and looked in my direction, as if he had heard me. His face fell a little when he couldn’t see me standing there.
“What’s wrong?” the taller man asked him.
I watched as Tallyn shrugged. “I was just thinking about how I was going to have to see your face every morning for the next few days and it quashed all the fun out of our camping trip.”
The taller man laughed, only to turn when someone called, “Maerryn!” which I guessed was his name.
I could feel the cool breeze on my skin, causing the hair on my arms to stand up. I watched with interest as the men finished packing up and began to ride away. I followed them through the forest I had seen a hundred times in my dreams. After a few hours they crossed the river in a shallow area then headed up a steep cliff, guiding their horses one at a time along the narrow ledge.
By midday the group reached the top of the cliff and stopped for lunch. The food smelled amazing cooked over the open fire. I felt my stomach rumble. When it did, Tallyn placed a hand on his stomach and looked around with confusion.
He was beautiful to look at, even with uncertainty creasing his brow. His green eyes deepened in color and his breath stilled. It was like he was looking right at me but couldn’t see me. With a shake of his head, he rejoined the conversation around him.
They packed up and left, heading across a path at the top of the cliff that led into another forest. The group seemed more hesitant when they entered the new area. They rode close together for hours, and when darkness finally threatened, they found flat ground and made camp. The horses were tied up, dinner was caught and prepared, and then the wine came out.
Boys will be boys, I thought to myself as they laughed, sang and passed around the bottles.
Behind me I heard the crack of twigs underfoot. Suddenly, I sensed someone else was there. I turned, looking in the direction of the sound, and I saw shadows moving through the woods towards the encampment. Panic filled me and I tried to scream, but I was just a watcher without a voice.
Excerpt from UNTAMED by Brenda K. Davies
“Run Emma! Now!” he shouted. A scream swirled up and choked in her throat as she swore his eyes flashed red when he looked at her over his shoulder. That was impossible though, completely impossible, no one’s eyes could do that. He was pushing her forward before she could even pause to consider what it was that she might have seen in his eyes. “Go!”
The urgency of his voice, and the look on his face, caused her to turn and flee toward where Jill and Mandy had moved further down the beach. Her feet slipped in the sand, her lungs burned from the exertion, but she continued to race onward.
Ethan spun to face the threat he had sensed in the air. The shimmering on his left caused him to move in that direction. He used the strength that had flowed so freely through him since he was a child, and that had intensified tenfold upon his reaching maturity, to hone in on his prey and seize him by the throat. He lifted the man above his head as if he weighed no more than twenty pounds and slammed his two hundred pound frame into the sand. The man landed on his back with an explosive exhale that blew the hair back from Ethan’s face.
Lips skimmed back to reveal the man’s fangs as he released a low hiss and his eyes turned a volatile shade of red. Ethan had never seen the vamp before, but the aroma of a landfill radiated from him and caused Ethan’s nose to instinctively wrinkle. “Who are you?” Ethan growled.
He didn’t get an answer though as another flash on his right caught his attention. This one wasn’t coming at him though; it was heading for Jill, Mandy, and Emma. Ethan twisted the head of the man beneath him sharply to the side. The crack of his neck breaking resonated loudly through the air, it wouldn’t kill the vampire but he wouldn’t be able to follow them for a little while.
Launching to his feet, Ethan poured on the speed as he raced across the beach to where the girls were heading toward the road. Mandy’s gate was the most awkward he’d ever seen it as she struggled to run through the shifting sand. She stumbled and nearly fell but Emma and Jill grabbed hold of her arms and kept hold of her as they helped her forward. The other blur was almost to them when Ethan lowered his shoulder and smashed into it. Years of playing football with his family and The Stooges had trained him on how to take down another vampire, and he did so now with ease. Satisfaction filled him as he heard a couple of ribs give way from the impact and he felt the unhinging of the other vampire’s shoulder.
The vampire sprawled across the sand, kicking it up around him and causing Emma and the others to turn at the sound of the commotion. “Keep going!” Ethan yelled at her but none of them was looking at him, their eyes were on the other vampire that had rolled over and climbed to his feet.
Excerpt from “HOLIDAY SPIRIT FOR HIRE” by Isabelle Saint-Michael
I settled into bed with my favorite boyfriend, my laptop. Before long I had updated my resume, applied for a half dozen jobs, checked flights home, and Facebooked with all of my friends to see if anyone had any leads. I was about to shut down when the pop from my email caught my attention.
I closed the other tabs and stared at my inbox. It was from the OAC. The Otherworld Alignment Council was a group of magical beings, things that go bump in the night, and people that made sure that there were universal laws and regulations used across all the realms. They made sure there was a common language, rules about magic, and laws that kept peace between the different races. Why they were emailing me I didn’t know.
To: Grace MacGregor
Subject: The North Pole Needs You
Dear Ms. MacGregor,
It has been brought to the attention of the OAC that you are no longer employed during this busy time of the year. Every Holiday season we rely on the help we get from the Otherworld community to make the season bright. Your talents could be used now through the end of the year helping deliver joyful winter holidays across all the realms.
Please see the attached application. Applicants will be considered for a paid position. Please send a resume, two letters of recommendation and magical aptitude test scores to the email listed below. If chosen we will need you to report immediately for work.
Thank you and Happy Holidays,
Otherworld Alignment Council
I looked at the email again and shrugged. “Why not?” I asked myself. I attached my resume, two recommendation letters and a quick note explaining my father was a Scottish Werewolf Clansman and that I was half human. I figured my lack of magical abilities would keep me out of the fray. My father told me to always answer the OAC right when they contacted you because they made the IRS look patient.
With a giggle to myself I closed the windows on my laptop and shut it down. Snuggling deep into my pillows I closed my eyes, giggling about what use I could possibly be to the Great Holiday Front up North. Strangely enough I fell asleep with thoughts of sugar plums dancing in my head
I awoke the next morning to the sounds of clinking, clicking and power tools. I opened my eyes involuntarily when a particularly loud noise sounded right over my head. It was then I noticed my bedroom was swarming with Gnomes and they seemed too busy to care I was sleeping.
“Excuse me!” I yelled. “Why are you in my bedroom?”
A few of them stopped, exchanged looks with shrugs, and returned to work. I wasn’t answered until a man with a heavy red braid down his back appeared.
“You are in their workshop, and it’s about time you got up.” I climbed out of bed angrily, prepared to demand that they leave. “Nice pajamas,” he said with a grin as he looked me over. “If you follow me we will get you assigned duties, uniforms and the rest of your paperwork filled out.”
I looked around what should have been my room. I was on a toy factory floor. Only it looked like FAO Schwarz met Ikea. Bright colors with industrial-grade shelves mixed with the old world charm of hand-carved wooden trim. All around me Gnomes were hustling to complete toys. I looked in the direction the redheaded man had gone and chased after him, abandoning my bed to the factory.
These are books we did some sort of feature for, such as a cover reveal or spotlight, but we are not moving to this new blog. I wanted to at least mention these books, so you can see what other titles we have featured in the past.
Feel the Burn by G.A. Aiken
Rise of the Fae by Rebekah R. Ganiere
Taming Beastie by Sedona Venez
Chalvaren Rising by Paula Millhouse
Wicked Edge by Rebecca Zanetti
Smoldering Hunger by Donna Grant
Seduced by the Moon by Linda Thomas-Sundstrom
The Dark Ones by Rachel Van Dyken
Bearliest Catch by Bianca D’Arc
Turn of the Moon by L.P. Dover
Ice Moon by Lisa Kessler
Kiss the Flame by Christopher Rice
Mortal Musings by Aria Glazky
Romancing the Paranormal box set
Be Witched boxed set
Secret Worlds box set
The Forever Girl by Rebecca Hamilton
We hope you enjoyed these paranormal romance excerpts. To see more about paranormal romance on BTH Reviews you can visit the paranormal romance page. Or, if you’re in the mood to read more excerpts, you can see our other pages: suspense excerpts, fantasy excerpts, and science fiction excerpts.