Reclaiming The Magic

Off
Brooklyn Ann

Brides of Prophecy, Book 7

Vampire society knows him as the Thirteenth Elder first vampire in creation, the mages know him as an immortal high sorcerer and the Keeper of the Prophecy.

Delgarias Dullahan only cares about the woman who knew him simply as "Del." Two thousand years ago, he gambled his soul for the power to marry Nikkita Leonine...and lost. Now he is finally on her trail.

But Del is not the only one searching for the missing luminite princess, and whoever finds her first will have the upper hand in the battle against the greatest evil ever known.

Excerpt:

Chapter One

 

Delgarias Dullahan, faelin high sorcerer, and the first vampire in creation, entered the heart of the motherhouse in Amsterdam, where the Elders convened. As the Thirteenth Elder, he had final say over the rulings of the Council of the Twelve.

Ten of the dozen vampires tasked with governing all the vampires on Earth were seated at the circular table in the meeting chamber. Ian, the Lord Vampire of London, sat perfectly composed, his hands folded on the table, only the furrowing of his brow and an agitated glimmer in his silver eyes revealing his concern with the situation at hand.

Marcus, the Lord of Rome, didn’t bother hiding his agitation, he tapped his pen across the polished marble table in an irritating staccato, garnering glares from the Lords of Tokyo and New York.

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After taking his seat at ornately carved chair at the head of the table, Delgarias surveyed the other six Elders. Lord Vampires from Lima, Munich, Perth, and Ulsan regarded him with expectant expressions. The Lords of Bejing and Calgary had already sent their apologies, unable to make it as such notice.

Mixed impatience and worry roiled through Delgarias’s being as he waited to learn why they’d requested his presence this night. The Elders feared him, so they rarely called upon him to participate in their affairs. Del prayed the matter didn’t involve their creator, Mephistopheles, who had once more surfaced and attacked Wurrakia only three months ago. And on Earth, the would-be god was now reaching out to his once-banished creations, luring them to join his infernal army.

Yes, news of Mephistopheles would be very bad. They weren’t ready for him. Pieces of the Prophecy had yet to fall in place.

Delgarias cleared his throat and addressed the Elders. “What need have you of me, my brothers and sisters?”

Jodie, the Lord of Perth scrunched up her nose. “More prisoners were delivered to us from the vigilante rogue.”

Delgarias allowed a sigh of vexation to escape. “Please tell me they didn’t take more cult members.”

The Order of Eternal Night worshipped Mephistopheles and were experiencing a resurgence of the likes none had ever seen, with the Evil One’s recruiting. Delgarias had tasked some of his most trusted vampires to infiltrate the cult and gain knowledge of their enemy’s movements.

If this rogue persisted in arresting cultists, all of Delgarias’s plans could be upended.

“I’m afraid so,” Jodie said.

Ian cut in, “At least they were dangerous criminals, and better off being eliminated from our world.”

Marcus waved a dismissive hand. “They’re always criminals, Ian. But that does not give this rogue the right to take the law into her own hands. The Lord Vampire of El Paso should be the one to handle these things.”

“But he didn’t,” Neko, the Lord of Tokyo said softly.

Carlos, the Lord of Lima curled his knuckles beneath his chin and leaned forward. “Interesting that though the rogue now seems to be targeting the Order of Eternal Night, she still holds to her pattern of apprehending cultists who have violated our most sacred laws. These ones were kidnapping children and selling them to human sex traffickers.”

Delgarias shuddered with revulsion before a realization struck him. “Wait, did you say these cultists were taken from El Paso?”

“Yes.”

“How in the hell did the rogue manage to haul three vampires all the way here?”

Ian ran a hand through his long black hair. “I have no idea, but one has to admit that it is an impressive feat.”

“The portals.” Delgarias blurted, feeling foolish that the answer hadn’t come to him immediately. It was the only way the feat could be accomplished. “We need to interview every Lord Vampire about the portals, find out who is not being discreet.”

Earth held many stationary portals that would take one to the world of Aisthanesthai. The world where Delgarias had been born. The world that he’d also been working hard to keep safe. Vampires were slowly being integrated into some of Aisthanesthai’s countries, allies who’d fight Mephistopheles and his dark horde at the sides of sorcerers, Kanuri priestesses, Wurrak knights, and Tolonquan warriors.

The adjustment was precarious, to say the least. And this Annarkie was endangering that fragile integration by bringing evil vampires through Aisthanesthai, using the magical world as a shortcut. If one of them escaped? Alliances that so many had worked so carefully to forge would be undone by a reckless vigilante.

He had to find the rogue vampire who called herself Annarkie before a sorcerer or knight learned there were uninvited intruders.

Damn her.

She’d been plaguing him on and off for centuries. In the early days, he admired her boldness and even appreciated her capturing dangerous vampires, but after countless failed searches to identify her and recruit her in a formal position, her meddling had grown irksome. Back then, Delgarias and his fellow Elders didn’t know anything about the vigilante, not a name, not a sex, only that they must be a vampire to have such knowledge about their kind and their numerous laws.

Eventually, the deliveries of maimed, wicked vampires would stop, and they would assume that the rogue had gotten his or herself killed by their dangerous pursuits. But a few decades later, a bound vampire would be dropped on the Elders’ doorstep, often missing a limb or two. How the rogue kept the prisoners alive long enough to be delivered to their inevitable execution, Delgarias had no idea.

Also fascinating was the question as to why the prisoners were always delivered alive. The vampires had always been guilty of crimes meriting a death sentence, and yet, the rogue never executed them herself. To do so would have kept her under the radar for longer.

He’d long concluded that she wanted the Elders to be aware of her. Perhaps wanted Delgarias in particular to know of her.

Indeed, this desire for attention was how Delgarias had learned that she was a she, and later on, her name. She always sent notes with her catches, albeit tied up with a messenger. Two hundred years ago, she’d slipped and touched one of the missives, allowing him to cast a divination spell to get a name and the shadowy scent and figure of a woman. It was only a matter of time before—

Ian broke through his ponderings. “Do you wish to see these prisoners, Your Eminence?”

“Yes,” Delgarias rose from the table. “And if they are guilty of the crimes they’ve been charged with, I will execute them myself.”

“They are always guilty,” Hans, the Lord of Munich echoed Marcus’s words.

They went down to the dungeons and approached the cell where the three wicked vampires were held. As usual, all three were missing their tongues, the stubs expertly cauterized. One was missing both feet, bandages soaking crimson. One missed an arm, another his eyes. All three had been castrated, as was Annarkie’s usual tradition for any crimes of a sexual nature.

Jodie made a disgusted sound under her breath. “Every time a batch of these arrives, I think I’m prepared for the sight, but no. It never does get easier, even knowing what they’ve done.”

“How does she keep them alive?” Neko wondered aloud.

“A mystery to be solved another time.” Delgarias tried to conceal his impatience to probe the prisoners. “I’m just thankful they do indeed live so I may try to ferret her out.”

Marcus snorted. “Good luck. She is very thorough at wiping their memories of her voice and visage.”

“She’s made mistakes before,” Delgarias said before lunging toward the eyeless prisoner and sinking his fangs into the other vampire’s throat.

Maybe the fates wished to prove Marcus wrong, or perhaps it was the truth-seeking spell Delgarias had recently cast, but at last he got something from the prisoner’s memories.

Though all he saw was darkness, he heard voices.

“Mistress,” a male voice quavered faintly, as if blocked by a wall or door, “the cell in La Grande is larger than any we’ve come across. I think it will be too dangerous.”

A reply came, but it was distorted, as if coming through electric interference.

The male voice replied, muddied, but discernable. “Still, Pendleton is a mere hour away…. ten of them? You cannot be serious.”

All went black as the blood ceased flowing into Delgarias’s mouth. Triumph surging in his chest, he seized the next prisoner and drained them even quicker, then he moved to the next. No information was to be gleaned from those two, aside from flashes of terrified children and whimpers of pain, but he had what he needed.

“I, Delgarias, Thirteenth Elder, sentence you three worms to death,” he growled, disgusted with what they’d done to over thirty innocents.

Even though the vampires were unconscious from losing what little blood they had left, Delgarias didn’t have the patience to drag them to the execution chamber. Instead, he gathered his power and reached towards the prisoners with both hands.

Arcs of lightning shot out from his fingertips, striking the child traffickers. They jolted like puppets on a string, then flopped on the stone floor like fish hauled from the water. Smoke curled out from their mouths, nostrils, and melting eye-sockets. The reek of burning hair permeated the area before Delgarias stopped frying them.

When he turned around, he saw that the other Elders had stepped backward about twelve feet, staring at him in naked horror.

He watched their eyes scan his almost luminescent hair, with its bi-layered strands, his overly long fingers with their extra knuckles, his pointed ears, and lightning-shot eyes, wondering always what he was before he’d become the first blood drinker. Sure, they’d recently learned that he was faelin, but only Ian had visited Aisthanesthai and had just the slightest comprehension as to what the faelin were.

Tonight, the Elders’ fear didn’t bother him. Not when he was flush with victory. Soon, he would close in on the rogue who’d evaded him for the past three hundred years. It took all of his centuries of self-discipline and sense of duty not to immediately begin pursuit.

Because first, he needed to look in on his other people. And perhaps gain news of someone who’d evaded him for far much longer.

He weighed the pros and cons of telling the Elders that he knew where Annarkie was going to be and decided to hold his silence for now. Between desire to maintain his credibility and the matter of her knowledge of the portals, it was best to wait until he had the rogue in his custody before acting. Besides, there were so many questions he had for her that were best asked in private.

Delgarias cleared his throat. “I must leave for Aisthanesthai now and see if Mephistopheles has made any new moves there.”

Marcus sneered. “I wonder at your devotion to a world that views our kind so poorly. And at the wisdom of looking to you when you play for both sides.”

“There is only one side, Marcus. We all stand against the evil one. I was his first creation, the first of many that he’d enslaved. I will not have you or any of my people enslaved again.”

Before Delgarias teleported outside, he saw that rather than his words reassuring Marcus, the hostility on the ancient Roman’s face seemed to increase.

That one would have to be watched.

When he was certain that no witnesses or drones were near, Delgarias took to the air. The closest portal was outside of Haarlem, thankfully in a shielded copse of trees at the edge of a meadow. He hadn’t told the Elders about this portal. Not until he was certain all could be trusted.

Once through the portal, Delgarias approached the castle in Niji, where the King and Queen of Aisthanesthai had moved their seat for as long as the war lasted.

After he was admitted entry into the receiving room, the queen ran to him and exclaimed with delight before throwing her arms around his waist. “Uncle Del!”

Uncle Del. His throat tightened at the name as he returned the embrace. Xochitl had called him that ever since she could form words, never knowing how the double blow those two words impacted his heart.

Before Kerainne Leonine’s daughter came into the world, only one person had called him Del. And he would have given anything for the chance to wed her, which would have made him Xochitl’s uncle in truth.

Nikkita, his mind whispered. He touched the pendant that remained against his chest, concealed beneath his robes.

The rest of the universe knew him by other names. To the mages of Aisthanesthai, he was the Keeper of the Prophecy and addressed as “revered one.” To his faelin kin in Shellandria, he was “the outcast” or “the abomination.” To the vampires of Earth, he was The Thirteenth Elder. In both worlds he was feared and obeyed.

For over two millennia, Delgarias had trekked back and forth between Earth and Aisthanesthai, never fully belonging to either, never living for himself, but for his seemingly endless quest at redemption. His pride had cost him his love and brought undeserved power to his enemy and thus cost his world.

He may have been Mephistopheles’s first vampire, but Delgarias had quickly learned the error of his ways and had since made it his life’s mission to destroy the would-be god.

And to stop anyone who would interfere.

The King cleared his throat, making Xochitl step back. “We are honored with your visit, Revered One.” Delgarias blinked in surprise that Zareth had reverted back to the old title. After discovering that Delgarias was a vampire, the King had begun addressing him by his name only. “What news do you bring us?”

“Very little, I’m afraid. Cells of the Order of Eternal Night are sprouting up like mushrooms after a rain, but the ones we’ve infiltrated thus far haven’t seen any sign of Mephistopheles. Instead, I’ve come to inform you that I will be occupied on Earth with a rogue who is taking the law into her own hands. She’s been plaguing me on and off for centuries, but I’m closing in on her trail at last.”

“She must be very clever to elude you for so long.”

Delgarias shrugged. “Not really. Her mischief has honestly aided the Elders more than hindered, and her meddling has been sporadic enough to make her a low priority. Until now.”

“Oh?” Zareth prodded lightly.

“The rogue is planning another attack on a very large cell of the Order of Eternal Night. A cell who we believe is in direct contact with Mephistopheles. I need that cult alive and infiltrated, but if this Annarkie and her band of rogues has their way, a bevy of mutilated cultists would be dropped on the doorstop of the Motherhouse instead.”

“Badass!” Xochitl grinned up at him. “An assassin named Annarkie?”

“A misguided vigilante.” Delgarias corrected, not admitting that up until recently, he’d assumed said vigilante to be male and the spelling of his alias to be “Anarchy.” To discover that it had been a female tweaking his nose this whole time had been humbling. “And though the vampires she’s killed were all guilty of their crimes, she is still violating our laws by denying those she kills their rights to a fair trial.”

Zareth nodded. “And if you do not stop her, you could risk the stability of law and order amongst your people.”

“It’s a shame.” Delgarias didn’t mention the risk Annarkie also presented to the vampire integration efforts in Aisthanesthai. “Had she presented herself the first time she’d killed a wrongdoer, she could have become one of our most valued assets, earning a high position as a spy or enforcer for the Elders. Hell, maybe even the third time. But it is too late for her. She’s flouted the law long enough.” To his surprise, regret tugged his chest at the thought of the rogue’s impending capture and execution. “Enough about my vigilante, what news have you of Aisthanesthai?”

“Things are too quiet. I don’t like it.”

“Mephistopheles’s attacks have always been sporadic and far apart,” Delgarias reminded him.

“Yes, but now he knows about Xochitl.” Worry shone in Zareth’s eyes. “I’d think that he’ll want to move faster now that the one foretold to defeat him is here.”

“The Prophecy doesn’t say if she defeats him.” Delgarias reminded the king. “Only that she will battle him.”

Zareth’s clenched fists took on a fine tremble.

Xochitl took her husband’s hand and gazed up at him. “But I will destroy him. I vow it. That fucker raped my mom and destroyed millions of lives.”

Delgarias winced at the blunt reminder of the desecration of a woman who he’d regarded as a sister. But since he could not change the past, he returned the topic to the present. “Zareth is right in that Mephistopheles will likely move faster now that he has seen his daughter.”

“But we’re not ready.” Xochitl echoed Delgarias’s earlier worries. “We haven’t even found all seven nightwalkers with their brides. As far as I’ve counted, there’s Silas and Akasha, Jayden and Razvan, Radu and Lillian, and Aurora and Tony. That’s only four. Three more need to join us. Have you determined any special names for the next Bride?”

Delgarias shook his head. “They come to me when I see them, or soon after.”

Akasha was the general, Jayden, the seeress, Lillian the engineer, Aurora the directrix, who would lead the war march to the beat of her war drum, both literally and metaphorically. What special talent would the next Bride contribute?

“Well, maybe it’s good that you’re going back to Earth and dealing with vampire business,” Xochitl gave him an encouraging smile. Never had she looked upon him with fear, and not only because she was half luminite. “Then you can find the next Bride.”

Although that was the most important person he had to locate, Delgarias was more concerned with finding the rogue and finding Nikkita.

Speaking of…

“If you’ll excuse me, my queen, I’d like to talk to your mother before I take my leave.”

Xochitl’s amber eyes glittered with smug knowledge. “She’s out back.”

He found Kerainne in the rear garden, her waist-length blonde hair covering her in a cloak that gleamed gold in the light of the two moons. Instead of tending to the flowers or reading a book, the luminite princess—no, queen, as she’d recently claimed the title—stared out past the gates at a large vacant lot behind the castle.

The site where Zareth’s half-brother, Stefan, had built a tower wrought of human sacrifice and dark blood magic during his attempt to take the throne and Xochitl. If Stefan had won the throne, Mephistopheles would have triumphed by now. In fact, Stefan would have probably delivered the entire world of Aisthanesthai to the evil one on a silver platter.

“Have you found any clues as to where my sister is?” Kerainne asked without turning around.

“No.” He’d been about to ask her the same question. “But that seeking spell you helped me with led me to the vigilante rogue vampire I’ve been pursuing for centuries.”

“I am happy I was able to help with something.” Kerainne said. “And I do hope that your capture of the vigilante is quick and your dealings with her are and humane.”

“They’ll be as humane as she’ll allow them to be.” Delgarias told her plainly. “But she has knowledge of the portals and has knowledge of the portals and has been using them to deliver the vampires she arrests. And who knows for what else. This is dangerous and—”

Kerainne turned around, making him fall silent as the sight of her beauty and resemblance to her sister made his heart constrict with agony. “You don’t have to justify your decisions to me, Del. Although it is in my nature to guide others to the path of mercy, I’m selfishly concerned with the expediency of this mission. I want my sister found. You’re not the only one hurting from her absence.”

Only last year had he learned that Nikkita had been missing from Medicia for over a thousand years. And a few months ago, Kerainne had told him part of the reason why. She was hiding from an arranged betrothal.

A small, petty part of him rejoiced at the fact that Nik didn’t want to marry another man, but the possessive glee was subdued since she clearly didn’t want to marry him either.

But… a voice whispered.

No, he silenced that usual reminder before it could resurface. That didn’t count.

As it was, Delgarias was still reeling from the revelation that Nikkita had been closer to his reach than he’d believed all this time.

And still she hadn’t sought him out.

Maybe it would be better to give her up again, as he had before. His chest tightened at the thought.

No. He needed answers. At first, he’d thought she avoided him because she was repulsed at what he’d become. But Kerainne had forgiven him and understood what had driven him down his dark path.

Surely Nik could forgive him too? And even if she couldn’t, surely, he could convince her to at least allow him to explain himself.

But now that Kerainne had confessed to giving Nik a blood vow to keep some secret, Delgarias knew the betrothal wasn’t Nik’s only reason for spending centuries in hiding. The secret had to be catastrophic as well, for Nik wouldn’t be the type to subject her own sister to risk of becoming cursed if the truth were forced from her lips.

Curiosity burned almost as deeply as his worry. Whatever it was that kept Nik in hiding, even from her own family, for over a millennium, Delgarias would do what he could to help her.

He just needed to persuade her to let him.

If only he didn’t have to waste valuable time chasing down Annarkie. Then he could focus more of his taxed time to finding the woman who still held his heart in her palm.

COLLAPSE

Melding Souls

Off
Brooklyn Ann

Brides of Prophecy, Book 6

ISBN: 978-1090140944

They’re from two different worlds….

 

For months, Beau Thompson, bass player of Rage of Angels and novice mage, has been fighting a secret crush on Artavian Calla, healer sorcerer, and apprentice to the King of Aisthanesthai.

But with a big war coming and a tenuous alliance between sorcerers and vampires to be negotiated, there’s little time to pursue love. Or maybe Beau’s just scared, since he’s only had brief flings.

Yet each completes the other.

As magic returns to Earth and Rage of Angels are recruiting vampires to fight an evil would-be god, the sorcerer and the rock star spend more time exploring their attraction. And together, Beau and Artavian might have the power to save their friends, and maybe both of their worlds, from a returning enemy.

 

Excerpt:

Chapter One

 

Beau Thompson, bassist of Rage of Angels and novice mage, hissed in pain as the bullet was removed from his shoulder. He tried to remain still, but he couldn’t stop shaking. In the last forty-eight hours, he’d endured a road chase involving men trying to murder him and his friends, breaking into the old courthouse to cross a portal to another world, recruiting a mixed army of mages and vampires to join him and his friends in a shootout with a vampire mafia, where he’d acquired said bullet.

Despite all that, Beau couldn’t be happier. Here he was, sitting bare-chested in front of the man he’d been crushing on for months. And his crush was touching him! Okay, only because he was a healer and it was his duty, but still.

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A thousand flirtatious remarks bubbled on Beau’s tongue, but he couldn’t bring himself to voice them. Because even after all these months of covertly drooling over the guy, Beau still hadn’t built up the nerve to ask which way he swung.

Why was he still torturing himself with the question? Every time before, if a man caught Beau’s eye, he’d find a discreet way to determine whether the hottie was possible to pursue as quickly as possible.

But when it came to Artavian Calla, all of Beau’s usual seduction strategies had been thrown out the window. At first, because the day Beau had met him was right after Xochitl had killed Artavian’s former master and collapsed in a coma.

Nightmares of that cataclysmic day continued to haunt Beau. With him, Aurora, and Sylvis joining Xochitl in playing one of their favorite songs, Xoch’ had banished a cloud of despair from the magical world of Aisthanesthai and brought back a sun that had been obscured for four years. At first, the cost seemed too high, with the prospect of losing one of his best friends and being stranded in an alien world.

When Artavian had joined Beau and his bandmates, along with Zareth, Xochitl’s husband, Beau hadn’t paid much attention to the blue-robed mage because he was more focused on whether or not Xochitl was going to live or die. But once they’d returned to Zareth’s tower and Xochitl’s condition had stabilized, Beau’s breath halted when he noticed Artavian’s otherworldly beauty. With waist-length hair the color of mahogany, elfin, delicate features, and glittering blue eyes, Artavian was so pretty that it hurt to look at him for too long. But Beau didn’t even consider feeling the guy out to see if the attraction was mutual. Not when his best friend was in a coma and Artavian was split between efforts to heal Xochitl and establish his role as Zareth’s new apprentice and seneschal. It wasn’t anywhere near the ideal one-night stand situation. And as for something long term? Even less ideal if Beau was looking for that sort of thing—and he most certainly was not. The only long-term commitments he needed was that of his friends, the only ones who’d been there for him when his own family had not.

At first Beau had wondered if it was a wise idea to take in someone who’d served the enemy, but after talking with Artavian, Beau learned that the mage had been traded off to Stefan against his will. Chattel for an alliance.

As far as Beau could tell, Artavian was human, not one of the myriad other magical creatures that inhabited Aisthanesthai. On Aisthanesthai, everyone was magical to some degree. Beau had only recently learned that not only did he possess a spark of magic, he also shared some ancestry with the most powerful creatures known to exist. The luminites. Winged beings that were like a cross between angels and Greek muses, the luminites had reigned in all of the known worlds for thousands of years. They were incapable of fear and truly immortal. Their only weakness? Luminites could only create. They could not destroy. Xochitl was half luminite and yet she’d killed Stefan.

Artavian had been the one to explain these important details to Beau and his bandmates while Zareth was beside himself with grief and worry for his new wife. Art had done enough hand-wringing himself during Xochitl’s coma. “I’ve studied luminites since I learned to read. I’ve studied healing nearly as long, at the risk of my father’s wrath. But I can’t figure out how to awaken the Queen.”

The guy had been so distraught that Beau had pulled him aside, for once not to try to get laid, but to offer comfort.

“Look, man. You’re doing the best you can. And Xoch’ is gonna make it. I feel it deep down.” To his surprise, he did. “Don’t be too hard on yourself.” Beau had led Artavian to one of the comfortable couches in the solar, a sort of living room area in Zareth’s tower. “Tell me more about yourself. Why didn’t your father want you to study healing?”

“Because in Wurrakia, only the women are supposed to use magic and only to heal.” A bitter sneer had curled Artavian’s lips.

Beau had sat frozen in fascination as the mage described a patriarchal culture of knights and maidens and conquest that could have been inspired by tales of King Arthur. But despite the fantastical story, he found common threads of his own childhood with Artavian’s. Expectations thrust upon him that went against his heart and soul.

Zareth had interrupted that first conversation to assign various duties to Artavian, but Beau sought the guy out whenever he had the chance. At first it was simply the pleasure of spending time in the company of a beautiful man that motivated Beau, as well as to determine whether or not it would be safe to flirt with him. But before Beau realized what was happening, he found himself growing close to him, becoming his friend.

And that was the next impediment from pursuing Artavian sexually. Beau hadn’t had a close male friend since middle school. He’d forgotten how wonderful such camaraderie could be. No way in hell did he want Art to turn away from him with revulsion like his last friend. So instead he tried to control his attraction to the gorgeous mage and appreciate the long conversations and exciting exchanges of knowledge between their two different worlds.

Then, Xochitl’s mother, Kerainne Leonine, had walked into Zareth’s tower, back from the dead, because it turned out that luminites didn’t really die. After a terse explanation as to where she’d been for the last four years, Kerainne revived Xochitl from her coma.

Things got crazy after that. Delgarias, a faeling high sorcerer who was Keeper of the Prophecy, alternated between enigmatic smiles as he checked in on them and furtive, frantic whispers with Xochitls’s mom. Zareth decided that it was time to start training Beau, Aurora, and Sylvis in using their magic. Sometimes Artavian and Xochitl got to join the lessons, since they were both Zareth’s apprentices, but not often since they were light years ahead of Beau and the others in training and talent.

With Xochitl recovering, Aurora had noticed Beau’s interest in Artavian and teased him mercilessly.

“I can’t believe you haven’t made a move on him yet!” Aurora had elbowed him before rolling a joint with weed from Zareth’s kingdom. “You’ve never hesitated before.”

“Things are different.” Beau had pointed at the two moons in the sky and then down at Xochitl, who was learning to fly with her newly sprouted wings. “Really different.”

Aurora had shrugged before lighting the joint and taking a hit. “Point. But still, maybe you could at least try a little flirting, see if he responds.”

But Beau didn’t get the chance because Xochitl had figured out how to open portals and had abruptly driven through one with Aurora jumping in after. Zareth had taken Beau and Sylvis back to Coeur d’Alene in pursuit, where they’d discovered that all of their closest friends in their hometown had been vampires all along. While adjusting to that mind-fuck, Rage of Angels also had to deal with a lawsuit for breach of contract for their disappearance which had led to the mafia war.

The fact that there was going to be an even bigger war—with an even more powerful enemy—was not something Beau wanted to dwell on.

Especially when he was finally back in Artavian’s presence. They’d reunited the night before the battle, but Beau hadn’t had a moment alone with his friend until now. Art had been a legend during the fight, running fearlessly into the stream of endless bullets, throwing up shields and carrying the wounded out of the line of fire. Beau had been a mess, dizzy at the onslaught of chaos and bloodshed, trying to focus on shooting the enemy and trying not to rush to Art when the bullets came too close. Ultimately, a bullet had found Beau.

To his surprise, it didn’t hurt right away. His shoulder seemed to collapse, numb in some places, burning in others. Then Artavian had swooped in like Batman, his blue robes flowing in the wind like a cape. He’d lifted Beau carefully, with an effortless strength that Beau hadn’t expected from such a lean guy. Beau’s dizziness increased, but whether it was from the shock of being shot or from the sensation of being carried in Art’s arms, he didn’t know. He could only rest his cheek against the warm velvet and inhale Art’s scent of sweat and herbs. Despite the growing pain in his shoulder, Beau had to fight off a fresh surge of arousal.

Art had muttered some words in the language of magic, and everything had gone black. When Beau had awakened, the battle was won, the surviving mafia vampires had knelt before Xochitl and acknowledged her as their queen, and they were on a bus back to Central Park to go through the portal back to Aisthanesthai.

Now Beau was seated on a cot in the room Zareth had given Artavian to study and practice his magic. The room was cozy, with a warm fire crackling in the hearth, the scent of dried herbs and candle wax permeating the room. Birds chirped outside the window and Beau caught frequent glimpses of them, robins and finches, hopping on the sill as if interested in the proceedings inside.

Another spike of pain drilled into his bone as Art worked the bullet.

“It’s almost out,” Art’s accented voice soothed Beau. “You’re doing very well.”

Instead of surgical pliers, Art was extracting the bullet with some sort of magnetic wand. The energy of the thing hummed in Beau’s teeth and raised the hair on his forearms. But that wasn’t nearly as unnerving as the sensation of the bullet squirming against his muscles and tendons. Beau didn’t risk looking down at the procedure. Instead he focused on the face that haunted his dreams and thoughts for months. The potion Art had given him helped too, giving him a haze of euphoria and a floaty distance from the gory operation.

At last the bullet popped out, accompanied by a gush of wet heat from the wound. The metallic clang into the tray that Art held below Beau’s arm echoed in his ears like Aurora’s cymbals.

Beau almost tipped over on his side, but Art grasped him by his good shoulder, steadying him before he went to work on the wound, cleaning it with a bubbling, stinging solution that reminded Beau of hydrogen peroxide, only this stuff was blue and hurt a little less.

“I’m going to seal the wound now,” Art’s voice went low and hypnotic. “I need you to remain still and quiet. It may feel strange.” His eyes met Beau’s, crystalline in their intensity before darting away. “Ah, you may hold my hand if it gives you comfort.”

“Fuck, I hate stitches,” Beau tried to keep his voice light. But hell yes, he’d hold Art’s hand. It could be the only chance he got.

“I’m not going to be stitching you,” Art said, his voice suddenly husky. “I’m going to do something else.”

COLLAPSE

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.”

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“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

Pleading Rapture

Off
Brooklyn Ann

Brides of Prophecy, Book 5

ISBN: 978-1548284794

Infamous metal band, Rage of Angels have returned at last, and it’s not just their fans who have been waiting for them.

Aurora Lee is in triple trouble as she has to face a lawsuit against her band, cope with excruciating attraction to their hot vampire lawyer, Tony Salazar, and recruit an army to fight an impending war.

She’s off-limits to him. But she makes him an offer he can’t refuse

Tony Salazar’s peaceful life as Silas McNaught’s lawyer is upended when he’s asked to represent Rage of Angels. Aurora, the drummer, tempts him beyond reason, even as he is thrusted into a world of magic and an ominous prophecy. To make matters worse, Tony’s old enemies lurk in the shadows, threatening everyone he holds dear.

 

Excerpt:

(Not quite the beginning of the book, but I thought I'd start where Aurora's action does.)

Soft grass cushioned Aurora’s fall. She struggled to sit up, but her head spun from passing through the portal. Closing her eyes, she counted to ten. When the dizziness passed, she sat up and looked around. Xochitl’s car was nowhere to be seen, but the light from the moon and lamp posts made her realize that she knew where she was, the Fort Sherman Park. The wooden fencing and little playground brought back memories climbing the fort and going down the slide at night with her friends, when there were no kids around to point out that they were too big for that. No one was too old for a slide.

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She peered around and saw no sign of Xochitl or her Datsun. Had it gone off toward the lake or to the parking lot? She didn’t see any tire marks on the grass. Maybe she’d dropped from the portal in a different part of town since she and Xochitl weren’t connected when she jumped in after her. Hell, she didn’t even know if Xochitl had seen her running behind the Datsun.

Aurora scrambled to her feet and stretched, groaning as her back popped. At least she knew where Xoch’ would go. With no family here, Silas and Akasha were all she had. Well, she could possibly go to Sylvis’s parents’ place, or even to Aurora’s family, but that was doubtful. No one tolerated Xochitl’s weirdness more than Silas and ’Kash. That’s why they all had practically lived with Silas and Akasha until the band moved to Seattle.

Music and laughter from a distance reached her ears. Aurora turned around and saw a glimpse of light from the beach ahead. Was there some sort of party going on over there? She perked up. Maybe someone had a phone she could use. Hopefully Akasha hadn’t changed her number in the last six months.

As Aurora crossed the park and came to the sidewalk and short concrete wall that separated the park from the beach, she had to do a double take. Instead of bikinis, shorts, and tank tops, the people on the sand were decked out in tuxedos and fancy gowns. Tables were set out on the edges with fancy glasses and plates with slices of a big white cake. Now it made sense. This was a wedding party. She wondered if they’d needed a permit, or if you could just head out to the beach and do it. Maybe that was why it was going on at night, so they didn’t have sunbathers and kids and swimmers in their way.

Oh well. Someone would have a phone. And maybe they’d let her have a piece of cake and a glass of champagne. The munchies and cotton mouth were kicking in from that doobie she’d smoked with Beau. She hefted her leg over the short concrete barrier and hopped onto the sand. As she neared the party, a man split off from the group and approached her.

Aurora sucked in a breath as he passed under the lights strung up around the area. He wore a tailored suit that clearly did not come off the rack and hugged a fit frame that she knew would be a work of art beneath the cloth. His hair was almost shoulder length, black and wavy, framing a face that could have been stamped on a Roman coin. Eyes the color of coffee bored into hers.

When he spoke, her knees went weak at the rich timbre of his voice. “What brings you out to the beach at this hour?”

“I… um…” Aurora swallowed, trying to find sensible words. Not only was it impossible to say that she’d been dumped in the park by a portal, it was hard to speak at all to a man as luscious as this. And then came the old wariness as she remembered where she was. A town that was ninety-eight percent white… a town where at least ten percent of those people hated her race. She peered back up at him, looking for that telltale gleam of scorn or disgust at seeing a Black person. All she saw was mild curiosity and something else that made heat flood to her belly. He wasn’t exactly checking her out, but there was some sort of interest there. She recovered her voice. “Um, you didn’t happen to see a blue Datsun station wagon come by here, have you?”

His inky black brows drew together at the odd question. “No. I haven’t seen a Datsun wagon in years. A few Zs and pickups, though, but not tonight.” He had a trace of an accent that she couldn’t quite place. Somewhere back East, definitely. The hot guy stepped a bit closer, his features growing even more gorgeous as he came more into view. “Are you all right? You look a little disoriented.”

She nodded in agreement. “I suppose I am. Would you happen to have a phone? I need to call a friend and see if they can pick me up.”

“Not on me, I’m afraid. It ruins the lines.” He smoothed his hands down his suit.

“And what fine lines they are,” she blurted. Heat rushed to her cheeks. “I’m so sorry. I couldn’t help myself.”

He chuckled, a low, velvety sound that should be rated for mature audiences only. “Forget about it. I am flattered.”

Another wave of dizziness made her knees buckle for a second. Clearly interdimensional travel and being high didn’t mix.

The man grasped her shoulder with a firm, but gentle hand. “Hey, are you okay?”

She nodded. “Yeah, just had a dizzy spell. I forgot to have dinner.” No way was she revealing to this classy, hunk of sexy that she was kinda baked. Not to mention the whole dropping through a portal into the park.

“Well, why don’t you sit down for a moment and I’ll bring you some cake. Would you like some champagne as well?”

“That would be wonderful.” Her mouth felt like Death Valley. “And could you…” she trailed off as he jogged back to the party before she could ask him to see if someone had a phone she could use. Everyone here probably had seven-hundred-dollar iPhones. Gone were the days of the cheap but sturdy Nokias.

Mr. Hottie McHotstuff returned with a large slice of cake and a delicate flute of champagne. Aurora thanked him and had to use every bit of her will not to gorge the cake like a heathen. But damn, that was good cake, white and fluffy, with custard filling and cream cheese frosting. Even then, she was subconscious of every crumb that stuck to her lips.

“Are you feeling better?” The man took the plate and handed her the champagne, which she tried to sip as ladylike as possible when she was more accustomed to chugging beers and downing shots.

“Much better, thanks.” Aurora looked back at the party that was about thirty feet off. The people were laughing and talking and only casting her occasional curious glances. “So, is this a private party?”

He nodded. “A double wedding. I do not want to offend, but I’d rather not interrupt it.”

“Don’t worry, I understand,” she quickly assured him. “My mom is a dragon when it comes to outsiders at family gatherings. My brother wasn’t even allowed to bring girlfriends over until Mom was absolutely certain things were serious.” A lump in her throat formed as she realized just how much she missed her family. She took a sip of champagne and closed her eyes, savoring the taste. This was definitely a top shelf brand. “I should probably head over to the resort and find a phone. My friends are wondering where I am.”

“I have one in my car,” the man said with a tempting half smile. “We could head there and you could use it.”

She shook her head. “I know better than to get in a car with a stranger.”

“My name’s Tony.” His smile radiated warmth as he extended his hand. “Now we’re not strangers.” His eyes narrowed as he peered at her with an intensity that made her shiver despite the warm summer night air. “In fact, I’m not sure we are strangers. I swear I’ve seen you before.”

He probably had seen her on TV or in the papers. The news would have ran stories on her band’s disappearance. But he clearly wasn’t a metalhead, or he would have recognized her immediately. And she wasn’t about to tell him she was a missing person. Not before she was reunited with her friends and they announced their return together.

“I’m Aurora,” she replied and shook his hand. His grasp was warm and vibrated with barely suppressed strength. “And I know we’ve never met. You don’t seem like the kind of man I’d easily forget.” She instilled a flirtatious tone that sounded unfamiliar to her. Damn, why did this man have to affect her so intently? He seemed to be everything a girl could dream of: handsome, kind, wealthy. But now was not the time for her to try dating again. Not with all that crazy prophecy stuff going on and her career on the line.

That rich and sinful laugh once more emerged from Tony’s lips. “Again, such charming words. Are you a writer?”

She smirked. “Sometimes.” She wrote the lyrics to at least half the songs on every Rage of Angels album.

He looked back at the wedding party and then back at her. “I hate to insult this lovely gathering, but you are far more interesting company. I don’t suppose you’d want to go for a walk with me during your quest for a phone? And again, my offer still stands to use mine.” He pointed at a sleek black sports car in the parking lot under the streetlight. “As you can see, it’s near the street and in the light, so you’re perfectly safe. Or, we can go to the resort and have a drink, and maybe some dinner, since you mentioned that you missed it. I would very much enjoy getting to know you better.” The heat in his eyes promised that if he had things his way, they’d do more than talk.

Damn, a drink sounded nice. A drink and a few minutes not worrying about the chaos of her life. Not to mention the prospect of fun naked times with what was possibly the hottest man she’d ever seen. But she needed to find Xochitl and… You know what? Xochitl had her car. She was probably at Akasha and Silas’s place by now. Who said Aurora couldn’t relax and have a drink with a hot guy for a few minutes? A few minutes of blissful normality after months of weirdness. Then she could just call Akasha and they’d pick her up. Or, if she decided to take Tony up on his unspoken offer, he could just give her a ride.

“Well,” she began.

“Aurora!” Beau shouted from beneath one of the huge pines in the park. Sylvis stood beside him, eyeing the wedding party quizzically.

Her eyes widened. Zareth must have brought them over. She glanced back at Tony. “I have to go. My friends found me.”

Tony inclined his head in an old-fashioned way. “While I’m glad that your situation has been resolved, I do regret that our talk has been cut short.”

“Me too.” She grinned and lifted herself up on her toes and kissed him on the cheek. He smelled like an entrancing combination of vanilla beans and expensive, old-fashioned tobacco. For a moment, she was tempted to wrap herself around him and explore him further.

She turned and hefted herself over the concrete barrier and jogged back to the park before she could gauge his reaction to her stolen kiss. Though it didn’t really matter one way or another. She’d never see him again.

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.”

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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.

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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.

Unleashing Desire

Off
Brooklyn Ann

Brides of Prophecy, Book 4

ISBN: 978-1535551083

A setup so perfect… it might just be fate.

Radu Nicolae has spent centuries in a guilt-induced hibernation beneath the ruins of his family castle. The only time he awakens is to feast on the occasional vampire hunter. When Lillian Holmes invades his lair, trying to kill him for a crime he did not commit, he decides it is time to rejoin the world. As he feeds on the inept, but delectable hunter and sees her memories, he realizes that he is being used as a weapon to murder her. Radu does not like being used.

Agent Lillian Holmes, of the Abnormal Investigation Unit, is sent on a mission to kill the vampire who murdered her father. But when she tries to stake Radu, he awakens. When his fangs sink into her throat, she thinks she’s a goner. To her surprise, she wakes up a prisoner. Furthermore, Radu did not kill her father. The AIU killed Joe Holmes and sent Lillian to Radu to die.

Together, they strike a bargain: Lillian will help Radu travel to the United States to reunite with his long lost twin brother. In return, he will help her take down the men who killed her father. As their relationship deepens on their journey, so does the danger. Not only must they keep government agents from finding out that Lillian is alive, but she also has a secret that will rock the foundations of the vampire world.

 

Excerpt:

 

It was a lovely morning for vengeance.

The rising sun shed its light upon the Romanian countryside, gleaming on emerald grass and dew covered wildflowers. However, the picturesque view only merited a cursory glance.

Lillian cursed as she stumbled up the hill. She dug the heels of her boots into the damp earth in an effort to keep her footing. With a firm grip on a finely carved oak stake, she approached the ruins of Castle Nicolae.

Even amidst the pinkish glow of the early dawn and the cheery melody of birdsong, the pile of gray rubble looked ominous. Lillian gulped a deep breath of morning air and suppressed a shiver as she pulled the castle schematic out of the pocket of her light summer jacket. According to the diagram, the chasm leading inside was right in front of her.

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Her target lay below, in the bowels of the ancient fortress.

Shoving the schematic back in her pocket, she pulled out her phone and texted the AIU headquarters. I’m going in.

Her phone vibrated a reply: Invalid number.

Huh? Double checking to make certain she texted the correct number, she tried again and received the same error message.

Mouth dry, Lillian eyed the castle. Was he somehow doing it? She shook her head. That would be ridiculous. It was probably the rural location. He shouldn’t be able to mess with her if he was asleep.

By all reports, the vampire had been comatose for centuries, only waking once a year to feed. Last month, he’d killed the wrong person.

Thumb stroking the stake, Lillian hissed through clenched teeth, “Your murderer will not go unpunished, Dad. Radu Nicolae will die today.” Fierce gratitude flowed through her when the AIU director permitted her to take this assignment, despite her lack of experience. He must have understood that this was personal.

With grim determination, she groped along the cracked stone until she found the entrance, a narrow fissure in the rock.

Shadows closed over her as if encasing her body in ice. She pulled out her Mag Light, illuminating the treacherous tunnel with a bluish LED glow.

Though she tried to walk as quietly as possible, rocks and debris underfoot marked her progress with skitters and crunches. Darkness chased away the meager rays of sunlight as she descended further into the heart of the ruins.

After contorting her way down through the twisting passage, crumbled rock gave way to smooth stone steps coated in a fine layer of charcoal. There had been a fire here long ago.

Heart pounding in her throat, Lillian made her way down the stairs and found a clean chamber.

No ashy residue or cobwebs remained. A row of backpacks, ranging from new to old, lined one wall. An ancient prison cell dominated the other. She swallowed at the sight of the rusted iron bars. This must have been the castle dungeon. There was even a fireplace with a stack of wood beside it. A closer look revealed that most of the firewood was made up of sharp stakes.

Lillian shuddered, palm sweating around her own stake. How many people had tried to kill him, only to die in this place? Choking vines of doubt wrapped around her lungs. If all of them had failed, what chances did she have of surviving? Rage singed the edges of the vines. So many deaths. She had to stop him.

At last, Radu Nicolae’s slumbering form came into view. Lillian’s lip curled with scorn. This was the big scary monster? The creature seemed already dead. It lay still, pale, and emaciated. Its cheekbones gleamed in sharp relief above a dark scraggly beard.

Her fingers trembled as she shone the light on the vampire’s face. A gasp caught in her throat as she saw his hair. A shade of darkest chocolate, it lay like a silken waterfall in rich waves on the stone slab, incongruously beautiful compared to the rest of him. Without thinking, she reached out to touch those tresses, to see if they were soft as they appeared.

The sight of the stake in her fist made her snatch her hand back. Her stomach churned in revulsion at her insane impulse. What was she thinking? This monster killed her father. She was here to destroy it, not pet it.

Maybe it was another mind trick of his. Some sort of preternatural defense mechanism.

Gritting her teeth, Lillian set the flashlight on the slab so the beam pointed over the vampire’s supine form. She removed the mallet from her pack and positioned the stake above his heart.

Shoulders vibrating with tension, she raised the mallet and paused to savor her vengeance.

She brought the mallet down.

Instead of crunching bone, her scream rent the air as those lashes lifted to reveal glowing black eyes. The vampire bolted upright.

Fangs gleamed in the darkness and Lillian was yanked into the monster’s embrace. The stake and mallet fell from her numb fingers.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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One Bite Per Night

Off
Brooklyn Ann

Scandals With Bite: Book 2

ISBN: 076-0789239496

He wanted her off his hands... Now he'll do anything to hold on to her ...Forever.

Vincent Tremayne, the reclusive "Devil Earl," has been manipulated into taking rambunctious Lydia Price as his ward. As Lord Vampire of Cornwall, Vincent has better things to do than bring out an unruly debutante.
American-born Lydia Price doesn't care for the stuffy strictures of the ton, and is unimpressed with her foppish suitors. She dreams of studying with the talented but scandalous British portrait painter, Sir Thomas Lawrence. But just when it seems her dreams will come true, Lydia is plunged into Vincent's dark world and finds herself caught between the life she's known and a future she never could have imagined.
Excerpt:

“Good evening, Lydia,” Deveril called as he crested the hill. “How is the painting?”

A shiver ran down her body. He only said her name when they were alone… as if they shared an intimate secret. Lydia set down her palette and brush and pulled the folds of her cloak tighter. “It is going as well as it could be, with so few hours to capture the dusk. What is your Christian name?” she blurted as she removed the canvas from the easel. “I’ve known you for a week and I feel I am at a disadvantage.”

“It is Vincent,” he replied in an odd tone. “I didn’t realize you were unaware.”

“Vincent.” She tasted the word. Now she knew what name to invoke in her dreams. “That is quite a name for a devil. Do you truly steal milk from cows at night and change into a sea monster during the full moon, devouring hapless fishermen along the way?”

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Deveril stiffened and his eyes turned glacial. “Emma has been carrying tales, I see.” Rage deepened his voice to a feral growl. “How dare she try to frighten you after I gave her shelter and employment when your grandmother sacked her? By God, I shall—”

“It was not Emma, my lord. It was her sister who said these things.” Her face burned with guilt as she confessed her indiscretion. “I was in the passage, eavesdropping… Emma then assured her sister that you are not a monster.” Although she believes you aresomewhat cracked.

Then, his words struck her. He’d employed Emma after Lady Morley dismissed her. Lydia’s heart warmed at his kind gesture.

Vincent continued to glower. “Perhaps I shall have to find a new scullery maid.”

Lydia shook her head. “I do not think so, for you would only encounter the same problem with the next one. I understand the rumors are wide-spread.” She attempted to make light of it as she packed away her painting supplies. “You should be flattered to be such a part of local lore. Perhaps one day ‘The Devil Earl’ will be as popular as ‘Jack and the Beanstalk.’”

“I do not believe I’ve heard that one before.” The hostility left his countenance and he leaned against the great oak tree. “Would you tell it to me?”

“Of course.” Relief washed over her. She had not caused Emma or Beth to lose their employment.

Taking a deep breath, she recited the tale. Lydia took extra care to insert appropriate drama when the giant arrived. “Fee, Fie, Foe, Fum, I smell the blood of an Englishman.” She stomped toward Vincent. “Be he live or be he dead, I’ll grind his bones to make my bread!”

When she finished, Vincent applauded. “Now I must add storytelling to your list of accomplishments. We should return to the castle and meet the dressmakers.”

“Not yet, my lord.” Lydia stopped him, unwilling to relinquish the evening’s beauty and his company. “Now you must tell me a story.”

He sighed and nodded. “Very well.” Vincent stepped away from the tree and began. “A young girl was told to bring a basket of food and herbs to her grandmother, who was ill.”

Lydia had heard this tale, yet the way Vincent told it with his melodious voice and sinister narrative had her listening with anticipation. She watched entranced as he adopted the persona of the wolf, stalking around the tree like a sleek predator.

As Vincent neared the end of the story, he stepped closer to her. “‘What big eyes you have,’ said the girl. ‘The better to see you with,’ the wolf replied.”

Lydia sucked in a breath as he circled her, eyes glittering with savage hunger. She could almost believe he was the wolf. Her knees trembled as he continued.

“‘What big teeth you have,’ the girl said next. To which the wolf answered, ‘the better to eat you with.’” Vincent snarled and seized her shoulders.

Heat flared low in her body at his touch. Lydia shivered as she looked up at him. A trick of the moonlight made his teeth appear sharp and deadly. A gasp tore from her throat as he lunged forward. For a moment it seemed he was going to bite her.

She wanted him to.

Instead his lips caressed her neck as he whispered, “Then the wolf swallowed her whole.”

Liquid tremors wracked her form. She reached up to cling to his shoulders, to beg for more. Vincent stepped back, leaving her to grasp at the air.

Shielding her embarrassment at her reaction, she managed a small giggle. He’d only been telling a story, after all. “In the version my mother told me, the girl got away.”

“Yes, that would be best.” His voice sounded rough. “She should get away.”

COLLAPSE
Reviews:Donna C on Lit Bites wrote:

While my taste for sexy times in books is growing, the more traditional bodice rippers have really never done it for me. I like historical fiction and I like sex but that particular time period just isn’t my forte. Worlds of the ancients, yes. Regency era propriety? No. I’m not big on the traditional romance coming out of that time either, like Austen or the Bronte sisters so really, no surprise. It’s all a yawnfest for me, despite the sex.
Until Laura found a hidden gem on NetGalley that I was in no position to deny. Regency-era bodice ripper. WITH VAMPIRES. Yes. Immediately, yes. Because vampires make ANYTHING better. The sexytimes escalate, the bodices get even more ripped. NOTHING BAD COULD COME OF THIS. I knew it in my heart of hearts.
Now this is my first Regency-era bodice ripper. I have nothing to compare it to. But I know my writings and I know my plots and I know what works for me and what doesn’t so lets go from there, shall we?
The second the book started I was reading it with an accent in my head that kind of sounded like Shelby Foote, well to-do person from the upper echelons of the south that have a more cultured drawl about them. That was the tone of the book for me. And it fit oh so well. The over the top level of propriety and gasp and SCANDAL was just ungodly amusing to me as I sat there reading it, squealing in delight at the moments of SHAME and FLUTTER and QUIVERING THIGHS. Clutch the pearls, ladies. It’s wonderful.
It was very much over the top in terms of writing style but it fit. The story was over the top, the situation was over the top, the gasping and lack of propriety was over the top but you know what? I couldn’t get over the top enough. The sexual tension between Lydia and Vincent was extravagant and I just wanted to scream DO IT ALREADY. I’m imagining this is indicative of writing within the confines of this era because that tension was drawn OUT until no one involved, including this reader, could take it anymore. FINALLY it happened and oh steamy thigh quivering it was phenomenal.
Although I have to say when I think of things springing out I think of maybe a Jack in the Box or snakes in a can. Not an erection. When those start springing out I start thinking boi-oi-oi-oi-oi-oi-ing and then the mood is momentarily ruined. There were a couple of other instances were body parts were getting a little too technically described and it kind of ebbed the hotness of the situation but certainly not enough for me to stop reading. Never that.
I was engrossed in the scandal of the familially spurned Lydia, rejected pariah of the Morley family getting shunted on this Devil Earl and becoming a pawn in a competitive game of marriage. I was hooked by Vincent’s rather emo-Louis plight of being a vampire and the night world he lived in with Angelica and Ian, two rather incredibly awesome vampires that I need to read more about in book one of this series immediately. I wanted more sneakiness from some of the characters that would otherwise prove to be as straight-laced as they come. Oh the surprises!
I do wish there was a bit more focus on the vampire actions, though. That seems to be very much skirted over and left to the imagination. I don’t necessarily mind in this instance because I was so incredibly entertained otherwise but I usually like to see more vampireness where vampires are concerned. Although Vincent’s vampire powers were used quite often when he needed them.
I have found a new love in ONE BITE PER NIGHT and Brooklyn Ann’s work. I can’t wait to get my greedy little hands on more of it.
4 1/2

Publisher's Weekly on Publisher's Weekly wrote:

Lydia Price, the American-born daughter of the disowned Earl of Morely, is shipped off to her English relatives when her father dies in 1822. Unfortunately, the dowager countess has never forgiven Lydia’s father for marrying a commoner, and wants nothing to do with her. Vincent Tremayne, the Earl of Deveril, is none too happy when an old marker gets called in and he becomes Lydia’s guardian.

Originally intending to quickly find her a good match to get her off his hands and spite her mean-spirited grandmother, Vincent soon finds he would rather keep Lydia for himself. She’s clearly attracted to him, too, but how would she feel if she knew he was actually the Lord Vampire of Cornwall?

Following her promising debut (Bite Me, Your Grace), Ann hits her stride with solid writing, a tasty dash of originality, and realistic relationships that zing with sexual energy. A strong sense of fun mixed with a little feminism keeps things lively and light, while the well-developed story keeps eyes on the page.


Brooklyn Ann