The Highwayman’s Bite

Off
Brooklyn Ann

Scandals With Bite Book 6

ISBN: 978-1981299164

One stolen kiss

When Vivian Stratford ruins her reputation by challenging a suitor to a duel, she is packed off to her great uncle’s estate until the scandal blows over. On the way, her carriage is stopped by a rakish highwayman. Vivian unsheathes her rapier and duels with the thief. He steals a kiss before disappearing into the night.

Rogue vampire, Rhys Berwyn, robs carriages to help his mortal descendants pay the mortgage on their farm. Sadly, he cannot steal enough to pay off the massive debt owed to the Lord Vampire of Blackpool, and time is running out before his family will be evicted.

Will change her life forever…

When Rhys discovers that the beautiful swordswoman he encountered is none other than Blackpool’s niece, he abducts her and holds her for ransom for the money to save the family farm.

While he keeps Vivian tucked away in a seaside cave, Rhys has trouble keeping his promise to leave his delectable hostage untouched.

Excerpt:

Chapter One

Lancashire, England, 1825

 

Vivian Stratford looked out the carriage window and yawned, even though sleep was impossible on this long journey. The full silver moon in the sky was so bright that the carriage lanterns were almost unnecessary. The rutted road to Blackpool was fully illuminated, a bright path to her impending isolation.

To her reclusive uncle, who would keep her locked away until the scandal died down.

Madame Renard, Vivian’s companion, made an indelicate snorting sound as she woke from her doze. “Have we arrived yet?”

Vivian shook her head. “No, but the moon is bright. Perhaps we can stop and have another lesson?”

Madame Renarde sighed and stroked her square jaw. “My joints are aching too badly for such rigorous exercise. Besides, it is not safe for women out in the dark.”

READ MORE

“We are in the middle of nowhere,” Vivian retorted a little sharper than intended. Immediately, she was contrite. “I am so sorry, Madame. It is just that I’m weary of being trapped in this carriage. I want to stretch my legs and practice…”

Madame Renarde straightened her cap with a frown. “Your father told me to never allow you to touch a rapier again.”

Vivian had expected as much, but hearing the confirmation still felt like a thrust to the heart. “Did he find out about you teaching me?” Or worse, Madame’s bigger secret?

“No,” Madame said quickly. “And I will not stop teaching you. I know that fencing is your passion. But we must be careful and I think it would be a good idea to keep our steel sheathed for a time. At least until we learn your uncle’s habits so we can discern a safe time and place to fence.”

Yes, that sounded like the wisest course of action. Especially since it was her blade that landed her into this scandalbroth, which resulted in Father packing her off to her great-uncle’s estate. But Vivian was veritably rabid with the need to have her sword in her hand. Those blissful moments of thrusts and parries, dancing light on her feet with the ring of steel in her ears were the only time she felt she had any control in her life.

The rest of the time, it was always what someone else wanted of her. From her governess to her tutors, her dancing instructor, her father, and her suitors, she was always expected to comply, to play a part like a scripted actress that would end with her… what?

The unanswered question made her age-old panic slither over her like funeral crape. Yes, Vivian was aware that she was supposed to marry a suitable man with a good title and preferably a substantial income and bear him heirs. But what else would there be? In all of the stories of fair ladies and princesses, they ended when the heroine married her dashing hero. Why couldn’t Vivian be more like a hero? Have adventures and defeat monsters like Beowulf and Odysseus. Her governess had told her such thoughts were unnatural. Her father only squinted and frowned. Most other ladies her age either shunned or mocked her for wanting more than landing a good match. So she’d learned to be silent about her unconventional thoughts and wordless sense of want for something more.

Only Madame Renarde understood Vivian’s inner turmoil. “I know precisely what it is like to feel that the life Society expects of you is somehow wrong in a way that you cannot quite identify. Yet the notion haunts you like a shade.”

The paid companion had only been at Father’s estate for two months before she’d come upon Vivian late at night out in the garden, where she’d broken down in helpless tears without even knowing why. The aging French matron had pulled Vivian into her arms and coaxed the story out of her as Vivian rested her head on the companion’s surprisingly broad shoulder.

“That is it, exactly,” Vivian had said, wiping her eyes. “I only wish I knew what it was that I want.”

“It will come to you.” Madame Renarde stroked her hair. “Until you do, I advise that you find a hobby that gives you pleasure. Such can clear your mind and allow your deeper needs to come forth.”

“I do have hobbies,” she’d lifted her head from her companion’s shoulder, slightly embarrassed that she’d been caught in such an emotional state. “I read, dance, and study various languages.”

“Yes, and your dance steps are quite deft.” The companion’s gaze had turned speculative. “Wait here.”

Vivian sat on the marble bench, listening to the wind whispering through the leaves of the trees and rosebushes, her curiosity stretching minutes into hours. When Madame Renarde returned, Vivian blinked in astonishment to see thin sword blades gleaming in the moonlight.

“You’ve brought rapiers?” she asked, wondering if she was dreaming.

“Would you like to learn how to fence?” Madame Renarde tossed one of the blades toward her. The rapier flew through the air in an arc and stabbed the grass beside Vivian like a javelin. She stared the quivering metal, fascinated by its delicate, deadly beauty. Slowly, she reached down and gripped the pommel, a primal desire flowed through her being. The sword seemed to represent power. She wanted it.

“Yes,” she’d whispered.

Madame Renarde executed a salute that was both elegant and theatric. “First you will learn the stances.”

They’d trained almost every day. And sometimes, Madame Renarde would disguise Vivian and take her to witness fencing matches. Vivian longed to compete, but as a female, she’d never be permitted.

Madame Renarde was a master fencer, astonishingly quick and nimble for an old woman. Vivian asked her how and where she learned, but it was months before the woman trusted her enough with that story. And months more before she learned of her companion’s ultimate secret.

A secret that her father must never uncover, or Vivian would lose her closest friend forever.

The carriage jerked to a halt, throwing Vivian against the sqaubs, and making poor Madame Renarde fall to the floor. The horses shrieked and made the conveyance lurch again before a man’s voice boomed, “Stand and deliver!”

“A highwayman,” Vivian whispered, her pulse in her throat. She’d heard tales from her father of the days when the thieves ran rampant through England’s country roads. But these days, they had grown rare.

Madame Renarde recovered herself first. She reached under the seat and withdrew her rapier quick as the fox that was her namesake. Then she leapt up from her seat, positioning herself in front of Vivian.

When the carriage door was flung open, Renarde thrust her blade forward. Vivian heard a hiss of pain before a man came into view. The large slouch hat that he wore cast most of his face in shadow, but she could see an exquisite sculpted chin, mischievously arched lips—and the barrel of the pistol he pointed at them.

Madame Renarde sent the pistol flying out of the highwayman’s grasp. Vivian expected him to flee right then and there, but instead, he brought his own blade to meet Madame Renarde’s with a speed that made Vivian gasp.

The ring of steel was piercing in the closed space of the carriage.

The highwayman laughed. “I had not expected such a diverting encounter. You are quite good for an old man. I don’t know why you hamper yourself with skirts.”

Both Madame Renarde and Vivian sucked in sharp breaths. How did he know? Madame Renarde had fooled everyone they’d encountered, including Vivian herself for several months. The shocking observation took the companion off guard, and her sword went clattering to the carriage floor.

“Don’t you hurt her!” Vivian shouted and dove forward to meet the highwayman’s blade with her own.

He moved back, visibly startled by her attack. Vivian continued to lunge, attacking him with a fury of a magnitude that she’d never experienced. The highwayman deflected her blade with lazy parries, yet he did continue to retreat.

Triumph swelled in Vivian’s breast… until her feet touched the packed dirt road outside the carriage. He’d lured her out here so he had more room to regain his offense. Sure enough, the highwayman danced at her and brought his arm across in a Coup d'arrêt attack. But it was a feint, she should have seen that. She barely got her blade back up in time.

“I see that you are a student of that molly,” the highwayman said with a grin. His white teeth flashed in the moonlight. Something seemed off about them, but she didn’t have time to ponder it.

He moved into reposte, a counter attack that rivalled hers in speed and precision.

She matched his attack with the requisite parries, naming them in her head. Tierce… quinte… septime.

As they danced and their rapiers clashed, Vivian realized two things. The first was that she could tell that he was holding himself back. He’d disarmed Madame Renarde with little effort and yet Vivian was still holding strong. Yes, she was faster on her feet than the older woman, but Madame Renarde was quicker and more well-versed with her blade. Madame Renard was a master who’d trained under someone even more impressive, yet this highwayman before her was equal, if not superior. He moved beautifully, and Vivian could see that he was capable of more. She should be insulted that he was letting her continue the match. If not for her second realization.

She was enjoying herself.

As ludicrous as it was, her being outside in the middle of the English countryside at night, crossing swords with a highwayman bent on robbing her, yet her blood sang in her veins, her face flushed with pleasant heat, her heart pounded in exhilaration as they moved together, more exciting than any waltz.

“Flawless Passa-sotto,” he murmured as she dropped her hand to the soft grass and lowered her body to avoid his blade.

His praise warmed her all over. At last, a man appreciated her swordplay rather than scorning it. Vivian shook her head. Had she gone daffy? Why should she care what this thief thought of her? Furious that he was able to wreak such havoc on her emotions, Vivian redoubled her attack.

The highwayman grinned as if he read her thoughts. “I’m afraid I must cut this diversion short.” In an executed move, he knocked the sword from her hand. “Out of respect for your defense of the molly and the skill that he taught you, I will not rob your odd companion.” Before she could breathe a sigh of relief, he stepped forward and seized her arms. “But I cannot depart empty-handed.”

He snatched the jeweled comb that held her hair neatly atop her head.

“How dare you!” she said as her brown tresses tumbled about her shoulders. “Give that back!”

“I have to take something.” The highwayman chuckled. “I wager that fancy locket between those lovely breasts would fetch an even better price.”

Vivian reared back, clutching the locket that had been her mother’s and her grandmother’s before her. The locket that held her mother’s miniature. Desperation flooded her heart. “Please don’t take it.”

“I’ll let you keep the trinket,” the highwayman said, his gloved fingers lightly caressing the bare flesh of her upper arms. Gooseflesh rose up on her limbs, but surely it was only the chill night air. “In exchange for a kiss.”

“I beg your pardon?” she whispered as her heart hammered against her ribs. She’d been kissed twice in her two Seasons and only one had been welcome. But she’d never had a man ask her for a kiss. Much less a highwayman who’d already taken her comb.

“A kiss from a beauty such as yourself to warm me in this cold, lonely night.” The highwayman tilted his hat and favored her with a rakish grin. “That is the price I demand. That, or your locket.”

Heat flooded Vivian’s cheeks as she studied him. His eyes glittered in the moonlight, but the shadow of his hat made it impossible to discern their color. From what she could see of his nose, it was straight and pleasing. Her eyes traveled back down to his firm, masculine jaw and the sharp curves of his lips. Her mouth went dry as she whispered, “Very well.”

She rose up on her toes and lifted her chin to meet him. In time with her move, he lowered his head. Their lips pressed together like the light meeting of their swords. His hands slide down to clasp her waist and she reached up to loop her arms about his neck. He deepened the kiss like a Coulé, sliding his lips over hers in a testing exploration as he’d done with his blade.

Vivian moaned and opened further, submitting to him even as she reveled in the taste of him and the forbidden sensations he’d wrought. This was no chaste peck on the lips like she’d received from an awkward suitor. This was passion made flesh.

Suddenly, he released her with a ragged gasp. “With kisses like that, I’d soon beggar myself. I will depart before I am tempted to ask for more.” He saluted her with his sword. “Thank you for the diverting match and your sweet kiss. I will dream of you.”

With a rakish tip of his hat, he disappeared into the shadows.

COLLAPSE

Wynter’s Bite

Scandals With Bite, Book 5

ISBN: 978-1542715249

She was thrown into an insane asylum for believing in vampires...

Now one has come to rescue her.

Eight years ago, vampire Justus de Wynter fell in love with bluestocking, Bethany Mead, and suffered the consequences. He was sentenced to exile as a rogue vampire, and she was imprisoned in an insane asylum.

After years of searching, and dodging patrolling vampires, Justus has finally found his love. But even after he breaks Bethany out of the asylum, the dangers that face them have only begun. For Justus is still a rogue, with no territory to grant them safety, and Bethany is a fugitive.

As they flee across the English countryside in search of refuge, Bethany and Justus must overcome the challenges of their past and find out if love is possible on the run.

Excerpt:

Chapter One

Morningside Asylum for Lunatics

Manchester, England, May 1825

 

Bethany Mead cringed against the stone wall of her cell. Greeves was guarding the female ward this night. She hated Greeves. The way he looked at her, like he could see through her shift, and the way he held her too long when guiding her back to her cell, both filled her entire being with sick dread. She’d been in this hell long enough to know what unscrupulous guards did to female— and sometimes male— patients.

“I’ve got most delightful news, love,” Greeves spat through the bars. The man was incapable of speaking without emitting a shower of spittle. “The good doctor will be taking a holiday at week’s end. That means we’ll have more time in private to get to know each other better, you and I.”

READ MORE

Bethany made a small, choking sound, but knew better than to scream. That would only get her thrown in the quiet room for at least two days. Doctor Keene wouldn’t believe her. Greeves acted like a kindly Samaritan in the physician’s presence. At least the doctor may have thus far kept her safe from being violated from his frequent unexpected checking in on her, but his prescribed treatments for her hysteria were agonizing. She was rarely allowed outside, never allowed to look at a newspaper, and could only read novels that the doctor had perused and decided they would not “overstimulate” her. She wasn’t even allowed to read the bible, for Keene thought that the demons and bloody violence were too extreme for a lady of her condition. That resulted in very insipid reading material. The most passion she’d read was a kiss on a gloved hand. The most intimate touch, the hero lifting the heroine from her horse.

Never could she read of heated embraces that lingered in her memory. Never could she read of kisses that inflamed her dreams.

So Bethany often pushed the dull romantic novels to the side and accepted the equally dismal literary novels offered to her, full of bland musings, but no story. Though every once in a while, Eleanor, another patient, would smuggle gothic novels and stories to her. Bethany’s favorites had been written by Alan Winthrop, who was reputed to really be the Duchess of Burnrath. The tales of ghosts and witches tickled her fancy. John Polidori’s short story, The Vampyre, had also captivated her and she had been distraught when Dr. Keene caught her poring over its pages and tossed her back in the quiet room.

For Bethany was absolutely forbidden from speaking, hearing, or reading anything about the supernatural, especially vampires.

Never vampires.

That was what had landed her in this prison in the first place.

Greeves’s sibilant voice pierced her musings. “That’s what I like about you. Yer so quiet. I wager you’ll be quiet when I have ye as well. But I’ll try to get some noise out of ye.”

Nausea roiled through her belly at the thought of Greeves’s filthy hands on her body. She’d once planned on giving her maidenhood to a dashing, crimson-haired viscount whom she’d believed had loved her, a man of secrets and dark magic beyond her most fervent imaginings. Now, after eight years of hell, her virtue would go to this wretched lout.

Eight years. The words scratched her mind like a fork on slate. Had she really been here that long? The first four years hadn’t been so bad, as her parents sent money to ensure she had a decent room and meals, and her mother came to visit from time to time. But as she increased her pleas for her parents to take her home, her mother’s visits dwindled. And once Lord and Lady Wickshire had the son they always wanted, both the money and visits stopped completely. She hadn’t even received a letter in over three years. And without funding, Bethany had been moved to the pauper’s wing, subject to rougher patients and lecherous guards. Doctor Keene also refused her requests to free her and threw her in the quiet room when she’d vowed to find a lawyer. The one time she’d tried to escape, running off when the patients were herded to the chapel, the guards had run her down and she’d spent a week in the quiet room, so intoxicated from Keene’s tonic that she couldn’t tell up from down. After that, she’d not been allowed outdoors for two months.

Bethany cringed as Greeves leered at her. More than ever she longed to leave this place. Every day in captivity increased her fear of going mad in truth.

Tears burned hot on her cheeks and a strangled sob tore from her throat.

“Oh yes.” Greeves clasped his hands together. “I like it when you—”

He halted abruptly when Doctor Keene came round the hall. “How is Miss Mead this evening?”

Greeves cast her a smirk before turning to face the doctor. “Overwrought, it seems. I tried to comfort her, but she won’t have it.”

“Oh?” Keene lowered his spectacles and peered at Bethany. “I’ll see to her then. You run along and make sure the doors are locked before you return to your station.”

“Very good, Sir,” Greeves replied before tipping Bethany a wink on his way out.

Dr. Keene opened her cell door and approached her, brows drawn together with concern. “What ails you, Miss Mead?”

Bethany bit her lip. Keene had already dismissed her complaints about Greeves, and if he thought she was having hysterics, he’d lock her up in the quiet room for a day or two. She hated the quiet room, a small, coffin-like chamber that isolated her from all light and sound.

“Very little, Doctor.” She forced herself to smile. “I am only missing my mother.” She wiped the tears from her eyes. “I feel better already.”

Dr. Keene regarded her with a skeptical frown as he patted her on the shoulder. “Are you certain? Your hands are shaking. Perhaps you should spend some time in the quiet room.”

Bethany shook her head vigorously. She’d experienced inexplicable tremors and aches for the past year. This time, her shakes were justified, but Keene refused to believe her. “I only need some rest. I will go to bed now.”

Keene smiled and reached into his pocket. “Yes, rest is the cure for many things. A dram of my soothing tonic will help you sleep.”

She bit back a grimace. Keene’s tonic was anything but soothing, making her feel off kilter and sometimes bringing her hallucinations and vivid nightmares if he felt a higher dose was necessary. But the doctor had neatly manipulated her into making a choice: the tonic, or the quiet room.

“Whatever you think is best, Doctor,” she said as demurely as possible.

Thankfully, he only gave her one teaspoon of the bitter potion instead of two. One time he’d given her three, and Bethany had spent countless hours trapped in a barrage of bad dreams, unable to wake.

“I will look in on you tomorrow morning, Miss Mead,” Keene said as he strode out of her chamber. “If you are calm, perhaps you may take a turn through the gardens with the other ladies. Won’t that be nice? Until then, sleep well.”

The door shut with a clang that reverberated through her ears with undulating waves. Already, the tonic was taking over her senses. At least Keene had the mercy to slide the privacy panel closed on the door so Greeves couldn’t peek in at her. Bethany stumbled to the small straw-stuffed cot and sat down hard on the prickly mattress, rubbing her arms as a draft swept in through the small barred window. She’d forgotten to shutter it. But the sight of the full moon in the sky gave her comfort, reminding her that there was a world outside, a world she had faint hopes of rejoining.

Wrapping her thin wool blanket around her shoulders, Bethany twisted her fingers in her lap to distract herself from the dizzy sensations the tonic wrought. Counting back from when the patients had last went to chapel, it was Tuesday. Four days until Doctor Keene went on his holiday. That left her little time to come up with a plan to save her from Greeves.

She wished she knew how long Keene would be gone. If it were only for a few days, she could muster the courage to get herself thrown in the quiet room for that time. Only Nurse Bronson was trusted with those keys, so Greeves wouldn’t be able to get to her there.

But a sennight, a fortnight? She shuddered, unable to fathom torment of that duration. Such a long time in the dark might break her. Yet what Greeves had in store may also drive her truly mad.

But her family had abandoned her, she had no funds for herself, and he never came for her like she thought he would. Justus, Lord de Wynter. Although she’d finally come to understand that he wasn’t a vampire. Somehow she had imagined that part, but now it seemed she had invented Justus’s ardent love for her too. From the moment she’d been committed to the asylum, she’d believed he’d come to rescue her, to marry her as they had planned beneath the boughs of the apple tree in her family’s orchard. Even when Dr. Keene convinced her that Justus couldn’t have been a vampire, Bethany still thought Justus cared for her.

But as days turned into weeks, then months, then years, Bethany’s hope for Justus to rescue her gradually dried up like the last pool of water in an arid desert. He wasn’t coming. He never cared for her. He’d just been a rake like her parents had insisted.

And Bethany had paid the ultimate price for falling in love with him. Her family had thrown her in the asylum and abandoned her. If only she’d obeyed them and kept her distance from the man who’d fascinated her from their first fateful encounter.

Swallowing a lump in her throat, Bethany pulled the scratchy blanket tighter around her body. She needed to bring her tormented thoughts under control before the tonic turned them into nightmares.

But the moment she closed her eyes, they came anyway.

Greeves grasping at her, the guards locking her in a tiny box, screaming, struggling to get out. The lid opening only to see Justus standing over her, laughing with blood-drenched fangs before closing the box, shutting her in darkness.

Bethany jerked awake and took several deep breaths, trying to think of Chaucer, of Camelot, of a book she’d read long ago about a Fairy Queen.

Just as her eyes began to close, a voice echoed in her cell.

“Bethany…”

At first she thought Greeves had returned, but then she heard the voice again, rich as marzipan, and achingly familiar.

“Bethany!”

The hairs on the back of her neck stood on end. It couldn’t be!

She then heard a soft rapping on the bars of her window. Bethany turned and gasped as she saw a face peering in at her. Her heart clenched like a fist at the sight of crimson hair, pearl-white skin, and glittering green eyes.

A strangled cry trickled from her throat. She was dreaming of him again. “You’re not real.”

More than ever did she loathe Keene’s horrid tonic. What kind of evil substance was it to inspire such heartbreaking hallucinations?

The vision made a noise that sounded like a cross between a laugh and a sob. “Of course I’m real.” Arched lips curved in a small smile. “Look at me. Touch me.”

Long pale fingers reached through the bars toward her. Bethany cringed back against the wall. How long would this drug delirium last? “Not real,” she whispered again.

“Then take my hand and feel for yourself.” The vision crooked his finger, beckoning her, daring her. “Come on now, I never before knew you for a coward.”

That old, not quite mocking, slightly daring tone held the same compulsion as it had in real life. Without thinking, Bethany swung her legs over her cot and slowly shuffled towards the window. The bare stone floor felt cold beneath her feet. Moonlight reflected on his skin, turning it luminescent and casting an angel’s nimbus over his fiery locks. If he was a hallucination, it was the most vivid one she’d ever experienced. Had Keene changed the recipe of his tonic?

With trembling hands, she reached out to touch his fingers outstretched towards her. Warm and firm, they slid across her skin with solid tangibility. Frissons of heat sparked at his touch, just as when they’d first met that fateful night long ago.

Once more, she dared to meet his eyes and study the face that had haunted her dreams. As if transported back in time, she saw the same love, longing, and touch of melancholy in his gaze that had lingered in those green depths the night he asked for her hand.

“Justus?” she whispered.

“Yes, Bethany.” His lips curved in a broad grin. White fangs gleamed in the moonlight. “I’ve come to take you out of here.”

Blood roared through her ears before the world went black as pitch.

COLLAPSE

Media Kit

[pdf-embedder url="http://www.brooklynannauthor.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/Wynters-Bite-Media-Kit1-1.pdf" title="Wynter's Bite Media Kit1"]

To download the PDF with clickable links, go HERE.

His Ruthless Bite

Off
Brooklyn Ann

Scandals With Bite: Book 4

ISBN: 978-0692638118

The Lord Vampire of Rochester doesn’t do a favor without a price. And now it’s time to collect.

Gavin Drake, Baron of Darkwood is being pestered by nosy neighbors and matchmaking mothers of the mortal nobility. To escape their scrutiny, he concludes that it’s time to take a wife. After witnessing the young vampire Lenore’s loyalty to the Lord of London, he decides she is sufficient for the role.

After surviving abuse from rogue vampires, Lenore Graves wants to help other women recover from their inner wounds. She befriends mesmerist John Elliotson and uses her vampire powers to aid him with his patients. When the Lord of London declares that Lenore is the price the Lord of Rochester demands for aiding him in battle, she is terrified. Will all of her hard work be destroyed by Ruthless Rochester? Yet she can’t suppress stirrings of desire at the memory of their potent encounter.

After Gavin assures her that the marriage will be in name only, Lenore reluctantly accepts Gavin’s proposal. Determined to continue her work, she invites John Elliotson to Rochester. As they help women recover from traumas, Lenore explores her own inner turmoil and examines her attraction to her husband.

Gavin realizes his marriage is a mistake. His new baroness’s involvement with the mesmerist is dangerous. He knows he should put a stop to Lenore’s antics— yet her tender heart is warming his own and tempting him to make her his bride in truth.

As Lenore and Gavin’s relationship blossoms, the leader of a gang of rogue vampires embarks on a quest for vengeance against Gavin… using Lenore as his key.

 

Excerpt:

London, 1824

The vellum note shook in Lenore’s trembling fingers, blurring the letters.

Not that it mattered, as she’d read the missive twice. Rafael Villar, the interim Lord Vampire of London, requested her presence.

When his carriage arrived to fetch her, it took every vestige of her will to leave the comfortable townhouse Lord Villar had leased for her, and accept his driver’s aid into the ornate conveyance.

Her shivering increased as the carriage rolled down the cobblestone street, despite the warmth of her fur-lined cloak. She tried to remind herself that Lord Villar had always been kind to her, even more so since she’d saved his reign— and likely his life— by reporting his former second in command’s treachery to the Elders.

Yet the prospect of facing the stern, surly Spaniard whose authority held supreme power over her fate turned her blood to ice.

READ MORE

The shivers turned to full-fledged tremors when the carriage drew to a stop in front of the gargantuan Elizabethan manor.

“It will be all right,” the driver said as he opened the door and beheld her pallor. “You’ve done His Lordship a great service. His summons can only mean he wishes to reward you further.”

She ran a nervous tongue across her fangs and nodded as he helped her alight.

The last time she’d been to Burnrath House was when Lord Villar had held a party in her honor for aiding him. He’d presented her with a deed to a cozy townhouse so she no longer had to spend her days sleeping in the crypts.

She suspected this visit would be less festive. Villar was not a man given to social niceties or casual meetings. Since he’d already expressed his gratitude, he’d only call her to him to issue a command or a reprimand.

Her breath constricted in her lungs as her heart began to pound. The tremble in her hands spread throughout her limbs. Another attack threatened. Lenore closed her eyes and focused on breathing slow and deep while she focused on things that made her happy. Hot tea… a warm fireplace… a kitten’s purr. By the time the butler took her cloak, Lenore had a tenuous grasp of control.

The interim Lord Vampire of London awaited her in his study, his scarred face grave. His newly Changed wife leaned against the desk beside him, offering Lenore a reassuring smile.

“Thank you for answering my summons so promptly, Lenore.” Lord Villar’s voice was rife with forced gentleness. “How are you this evening?”

“Uneasy,” she answered honestly.

His scars pulled taut as he smiled, though his amber eyes remained dark with… pity? “I understand.” Reaching into his pocket, he withdrew his cigar case.

Lenore watched with rapt awe as he lit the cigar with a hand that had once been so crippled from burns that his entire left arm had been paralyzed. But then Cassandra, formerly his mortal prisoner and now his bride, had performed a miracle and repaired it. She was now the first vampire physician in London.

“I’ve received a letter from the Lord of Rochester.” Rafael gave her an expectant look, as if she should know what this had to do with her.

Lenore’s attention snapped from Rafael’s hand, her eyes darting up to meet his face, though her mind conjured the image of another, more potent, visage.

Only last autumn, Rochester had found her stumbling within the boundaries of his territory, broken from multiple assaults, starved, and so weak she had collapsed before him. He’d revived her with his own blood and aided her in making the most important journey of her life.

She’d thanked Rochester profusely for his kindness.

He’d laughed coldly.

“Oh, I would not say I am helping you out of kindness. You will owe me a favor for this, Lenore, as will Lord Villar. And I always collect my debts.”

Lenore’s breath left her body as those past words slammed her back into the present.

“He has called in the debt I owe him,” she whispered.

Rafael blinked in surprise. “Actually, he is asking for what I owe him for his aid in my battle against Clayton. I hadn’t known that you owed him a price as well.” Blowing out a cloud of blue smoke, he shrugged. “Though now the price he is asking of me makes more sense.”

“What does he want?” Lenore asked through numb lips.

Villar’s low answer was like a thunderclap. “You.”

COLLAPSE

Woman in victorian dress imprisoned in a dungeon ** Note: Soft Focus at 100%, best at smaller sizes

Bite At First Sight

Off
Brooklyn Ann

Scandals With Bite: Book 3

ISBN: 076-0789239502

When Rafael Villar, Lord Vampire of London, stumbles upon a woman in the cemetery, he believes he’s found a vampire hunter—not the beautiful, intelligent stranger she proves to be.

Cassandra Burton is enthralled by the scarred, disfigured vampire who took her prisoner. The aspiring physician was robbing graves to pursue her studies—and he might turn out to be her greatest subject yet. So they form a bargain: one kiss for every experiment. As their passion grows and Rafe begins to heal, only one question remains: can Cassandra see the man beyond the monster?

Excerpt:

28 September 1823

St. Pancras Cemetery, London

“If one desires a task accomplished correctly, one must do it herself.” Cassandra Burton, Dowager Countess of Rosslyn, repeated the litany as she pulled the rickety little wagon through the moonlit aisle of tombstones.

She shivered under her velvet cloak. Her fingers had long since gone numb with the effort of navigating the dratted conveyance over uneven ground and across slippery, damp grass. Shovels and pry bars clanked across the wagon’s worn pine boards. The winch rattled on its frame.

Something flickered across the corner of her vision.

READ MORE

Cassandra jumped. She stopped and rubbed her gloved hands together for warmth, surveying the graveyard. The area was still and silent as…well, a tomb. Yet the chill in her spine refused to abate. A scornful frown turned her lips at such irrational behavior. Ghosts were an illogical figment of uneducated imaginations, and no one could possibly have business out here at this hour…except herself.

“Worthless curs,” Cassandra whispered in as haughty a tone as she could manage.

If only the men to whom she’d offered a more-than-generous sum to perform this troublesome task had done their duty, rather than disappearing. She shook her head. If not for their unreasonable negligence, she would now be comfortably ensconced in her laboratory unraveling the secrets of the human body…not out in this cold, dreary place, jumping at shadows.

Surveying the newest graves, she read the dates to decide which would be the best specimen. The mysterious disappearance of her hired hands nagged at her. Could a murderer be on the loose? She shook her head and pulled the folds of her cloak tighter. No, by now the authorities would have found their bodies and the news would be sensationalized in The Times.

They were cowards, but she was not. To prove her lack of fear, Cassandra halted her wagon and fetched out a shovel. Her hands trembled nervously as she grasped the wooden handle.

Removing the dead from their graves was illegal. If a constable caught her, she’d be sent directly to Fleet Prison. A fresh surge of trepidation curled in her belly.

Exhuming a corpse was quite a different matter from having one ready on her operating table. As objective as she tried to be, the prospect of removing the body from its carefully arranged resting place by winching it out of the ground and loading it onto her cart was undeniably gruesome. However, gruesome or not, Cassandra needed a specimen to continue her work. And she would acquire it, no matter how much her nerves protested.

Despite being barred from official education as a physician because of her sex, Cassandra was determined to learn the skills required to become a doctor. That included studying human anatomy, and for that, she required cadavers.

Returning to the graves, she made her selection. Alfred Lumley, born September first, 1801; died September twenty-sixth, 1823. Two days ago Alfred had been a living twenty-two-year-old man, three years younger than herself. Whether or not he’d been healthy, she would soon determine. A pang of sorrow struck her heart. His soul is in heaven, she reminded herself. A mere shell remains. A shell that will help me to aid the living.

She raised the shovel, ready to plunge it into the soft soil. “I am not afraid. I am not.”

“You should be.” A sinister, accented voice pierced her consciousness.

COLLAPSE
Brooklyn Ann