Dear Readers and Fans:
First Chapter Friday is here. Never fear! Autumn Montague is treating us to the opening Chapter of her new book, ‘Salva Me’, Book One of the Blood Sworn Series’. Please enjoy.
Excerpt: Chapter One
Blood. Sweet, sweet blood thickened with terror. The girl in his arms fought with weakening desperation, her life rushing away through the crimson tide pulsing from her with each frantic beat of her heart. Intoxicating copper heat coursed across his lips, suffusing him with its nourishing power.
Her moans grew fainter as his poison saturated her body. The exquisite torture of emptying his venom flooded his muscles with godlike power, and he tightened his hold, crushing her fragile, merely human form against him. Her gasp of pain drove a spike of lusty pleasure through him. He released her neck to watch her blood flood across her shoulders to stain her flimsy gown.
A waste perhaps, but he could find another. The silent, horrified plea in her dulling eyes spurred his lust, and he ripped the sodden dress open to bare her cotton stays. A hand batted feebly, a near-unconscious impulse to protect her vanished modesty.
Little whore. She’d no need for modesty with him. He had no interest in her person, not yet. Not until she was at the brink. Then he’d spread her legs and revel in her death throes.
Yes. Yes, that peak of ecstasy neared, her glazed eyes beginning to fade. She drew a hitching breath, and he dropped her limp body to the mud, reaching for the fastenings to his breeches.
The clatter of hooves and creak of heavy wheels broke his concentration, his anticipated pleasure vanishing.
Damn! With a frantic bound, he hurled himself into the velvet black shadow of the alley behind him. Frustrated desire boiled through him as he watched the carriage lurch to a halt. A murderous rage rose, urging him to attack the interlopers. He attempted to quash it, but the slavering beast of his hunger did not want to be assuaged. The girl was his rightful prey, and he would be damned if he would allow mere humans to drive him off. He readied himself, prepared to lunge when the correct moment presented.
The tiniest of breezes stirred the air as the passengers descended from the barouche. It carried the oh-so-faint scent of the intruders, driving him back into the shadows.
“Imbecile!” The word escaped him in a hiss. He peered around, forcing his eyes to see, his ears to hear. As if a veil had been drawn back, he realized he stood almost in the heart of London. How had he followed the girl so far without recognizing his danger?
At least one of the men in the carriage knew him by sight and scent. Worse, if they were to meet, his enemy was duty-bound to kill him without hesitation. He twitched, annoyed, uncertain—wanting his prize but unwilling to face his opponent at this moment.
His hunger stilled, replaced by an urgent need to flee. Later. The time would come, but that time was not now. With a last look at the shuddering girl behind him, he forced more venom to his muscles and shivered in delight as he fled into the night.
* * * *
Morgan Holland clenched his teeth against an impious curse as the carriage lurched to an unexpected halt, knocking his skull against the lacquered wooden panel behind his head. Inertial momentum pitched his companion face forward against the opposite seat with bruising abruptness. Morgan gave the trap door over his head a savage thump with his fist, even as he reached to help the Baron of Colbourne up off the floor.
“Blast it all, I’m fine, Holland,” Colbourne barked.
Morgan smothered a grin at his master’s temper over his bruised dignity. He gestured at the gaping tear across the knee of Colbourne’s superfine trousers. “Perhaps we should return home for a change of clothes before we continue to White’s.”
Colbourne scowled. “Damn. Weston just delivered these this week. I’ll have to commission a new pair.”
“As you say, my lord.” Amusement warred with Morgan’s ringing head as he fought to keep a smirk off his face. Colbourne’s penchant for fine clothes had been a constant source of humor between them.
“Don’t be smug, Holland. Just because you managed to maintain your seat is no reason for a swelled head.”
The dour tone proved too much, and a highly inappropriate snort evaded Morgan’s control. Jeremy Takeshi Yamakawa Colbourne, Fifth Baron of Colbourne, took great pains to appear neat and elegant for any evening revelry. Since his Japanese ancestry drew the derision of his peers, he always maintained a flawless nobleman’s appearance. Morgan felt privileged to be among those few who could jest about the habit without giving offense. Moreover, the unique circumstances of Morgan’s employment had built a bond between them, a bond closer to friendship than master and servant.
A sharp rap at the window halted Colbourne’s next salvo even as he drew breath for the words, undoubtedly to cast unmeant aspersions on Morgan’s ancestry. The words died at the sound of their driver’s frantic rap on the door.
It seemed the difficulty interrupting them was more than a mere rut in the road.
“This needs your attention, my lord,” Toby quavered, fear plain in his voice.
Morgan felt a chill worm its way down his spine, a chill having nothing to do with the damp air outside the carriage door. Colbourne’s handsome face tightened, his grave expression igniting an answering spark of alarm in Morgan. He followed his master into the dank night, and nearly choked.
“Plague of the ages!” Colbourne’s biting exclamation did not quite carry the weight of a bellow, but it might as well have been a shout.
The night air carried a familiar coppery tang, laced with the faint odor of bile. Morgan knew the smell, of tainted blood and death. When he’d first met Colbourne, the man had been covered in the same bloody aroma. Morgan could not see this poor soul, not yet, but the smell left no doubt.
“Nosferatu.” He’d never encountered one, only read in books what they were, what they did. Read, and seen what had happened to his master, the Baron of Colbourne, one of the preeminent nosferii nobles in England. Or anywhere else. The last nosferatu to hunt here had almost cost the country its most needed protector.
Colbourne cast a keen glance his way but said nothing, just stepped around the corner of the carriage for a look at what had bollixed their plans for the evening. Morgan followed, suppressing the urge to gag at the foulness of the air. He tried to keep his strides casual, as though he were walking into yet another evening entertainment, not around the carriage corner for a look at a shredded human being.
Colbourne quirked an eyebrow at Morgan’s calm facade. “No one would think twelve years ago you were a mere tenant farmer, untutored in such things.”
“Even a farmer faces death, my lord.” A true enough statement. After all, Morgan had tended to enough carrion when he was younger: dead livestock, headless chickens after foxes raided the coops. Yet none of his experience prepared him for the putrid aroma hovering over the slumped form in the road. The rank odor was fouler than the oldest carcass he’d ever cleared from his fields. With reluctance, he turned his full attention on the unfortunate victim.
“God!” The exclamation burst from him at the appalling sight that met his eyes.
The brown dirt of the road had turned to mud, glistening with the darkness of spilled blood. A young woman lay trembling in that crimson sludge, her neck savaged and raw. The gaping wounds reeked from the pungent slime coating them.
“Well, she lives, Morgan.” Colbourne sighed, as though the fact was unworthy of celebration. “At least for the present.”
“For the present? Is there nothing to be done?” Morgan could not tear his eyes from the girl. She couldn’t have seen more than sixteen, eighteen years at best.
“From the smell of things, the abomination emptied his venom into her.” Colbourne knelt in the mud, oblivious now to his appearance. “See?” He pointed to the ragged edges of the wounds on the girl’s neck. “There are multiple bites here, some more recent than others.” He laid a gentle, gloved finger near the deepest one. “This bite is hours old, and she is nearly exsanguinated. I am amazed she can still draw breath.”
“Is it too late for a turning?”
That caught Colbourne’s attention. His master stood, searching Morgan’s face for something. Then he sighed, perhaps finding no answer to what he sought.
“It is far too late. At this point, all we can do is ease her passing by treating the wound and dosing her liberally with laudanum. I doubt she’ll notice, but it should be done nonetheless.” He gave Morgan another cryptic glance. “I suppose it’s time to introduce you to the real meaning behind the existence of the Colbourne title. I’ll call you to my study after I have fed. In the meantime, you might want to do some research into turnings. The library has plenty of material for your reading.”
Research? Morgan felt the faintest flush of embarrassment warm his neck. It seemed he’d touched on a sensitive topic. He turned to the coachman. “Toby, get the lap blanket.” He considered for a moment. “And your long coat.” Between the blood, the sodden clothing, and the general mess, two layers should provide both warmth for the young woman and protection for the carriage.
Toby returned, and Morgan watched as Colbourne bundled the girl tightly in the coat, wrapping her head to toe in the blanket. When he lifted the fragile burden, Morgan attempted to assist him, only to receive a flat denial.
“This slime will eat through your hide,” Colbourne reminded. “Don’t forget your teachings, Holland.”
Morgan stepped back, feeling the Compulsion his master laid behind the words. He suppressed a sigh. When Colbourne used such a trick, it usually meant unpleasant instruction ahead.
They rode home at a rapid clip, carriage swaying on its springs at Toby’s urgent pace. Morgan could see the lax bundle in his master’s lap out of the corner of his eye, though he did his utmost not to stare. He focused instead on the adorning crest of the panel immediately behind Colbourne’s head, little good though it did him. Every time he relaxed his control, his eyes flew inexorably to the doomed girl. At some point, he glanced down again and discovered her hitching breaths had ceased.
Colbourne’s dark eyes were shuttered. Even in the dimness of their carriage, distress showed in the line between his brows and the bunched muscles of his jaw. Morgan reached across the gap separating them, called to soothe his master’s pain. Dark lashes lifted, revealing Colbourne’s grief at his failure.
Tonight’s enjoyments were meant to be a prelude in advance of Colbourne’s Contracted feeding; a bit of casual camaraderie to make amends for the awkward strain that had recently come between them. With this appalling discovery, the emotional toll on them both could hinder the process. Worse still, it might encourage Colbourne to postpone the feeding.
A tinge of red outlined those dark eyes. “Don’t worry, Holland. I’ll have myself under control by the appointed time.”
“I am certain you will, my lord,” Morgan answered, keeping his voice level. “I worry more for my control than for yours.”
A wistful smile touched Colbourne’s lips. “Your iron will? It will never waver, regardless of my desires.” The smile vanished. “Nonetheless, we will bury this poor child before we begin, Holland. I owe her that much, at least.”
* * * *
At the expected time, Morgan stood outside the sanguis cubiculum, irresolute. After a moment, he drew a deep breath and opened the heavy door enough to slip into the dim room. Hoping to recover his usual calm, he looked around at the comforts scattered about the feeding chamber. His master’s ancestry held full sway here, unlike any other room within Colbourne Manor. In the center, where the Contract always took place, a pile of soft bedding dominated. Oriental basins and water pitchers flanked the futon, with folded cloths of soft linen laid neatly alongside. Wax-paper lanterns lit the room with softened candlelight, casting shadows over the ornate screens and furnishings in the corners.
Colbourne waited on the futon, his white shirt open at the neck. Shadows from the flickering lanterns enhanced his Japanese ancestry, drawing attention to the faint epicanthic folds and the graceful arch of his brow. It presented a strong contrast to the British height and strong jaw, but Colbourne’s nosferii nature blended the two into pleasing harmony. Altogether attractive, sensual, and dangerous for Morgan’s heart, given what usually passed after a feeding.
Over the past twelve years, Morgan had gradually become accustomed to his master’s bisexuality, though with difficulty. It was a hallmark of the nosferii, but as Colbourne had said, Morgan had once been an untutored farmer. The Church of England considered such relationships unnatural and anathema to any God-fearing man. To be accused—worse, to be convicted—bore the potential for death. Earlier this year, Lord Byron himself had fled from England, fallen from his lauded pedestal and hounded by rumors of sodomy. Despite the political immunity granted by the kings of England to the nosferii, what a choice it proved: declare yourself attracted to the same sex, or declare yourself a vampire.
Yet for all the moralizing of his past, for all the strength he put into his denials, Morgan found himself continuously consumed by the desire for the sexual acts that followed a nosfera’s blood-feed. Though he could not prevent the upsurge of lust, he held it at bay, keeping his master at arm’s length and insisting another partner be ready once the feeding was done.
Despite knowing all this, despite his desires, the sight of Jeremy Colbourne’s demanding eyes and waiting lips had Morgan’s groin twitching in anticipation. It shamed him to know he couldn’t settle his feelings into the simplicity he’d known a dozen years earlier.
Colbourne’s strong hand pulled him to the down-filled bedding, sending a shiver through Morgan at the contact. Raw, sensual hunger rolled over him in waves, as the nosferii power of attraction shattered his determination with mere proximity. He swallowed, exerting as much control as he could over his physical reactions.
“You are as unyielding as ever, Holland.”
“Only in one matter, my lord. Is there someone near at hand for—after?”
A sad chuckle answered him. “Yes. My guest waits in my chambers.” Colbourne’s hand grazed Morgan’s neck, sliding sensuously along his throat. “Are you ready, Hostia Aeternus?”
The change in Colbourne’s voice indicated the time had come. Morgan looked at his master, seeing the reddened eyes, the widened pupils. A surge of desire flooded him, and he suppressed the unnatural lust. Still, the yearning to yield and be everything his master asked of him almost overpowered his sense.
Colbourne’s tongue touched his neck. Morgan shuddered, unable to prevent the involuntary reaction.
“I am hungry.” His master’s hot breath accompanied the words, while bared fangs grazed Morgan’s skin. “So hungry.”
The shivers increased tenfold. Morgan felt his control slipping and struggled to hold on to it long enough to complete the Contract. “Then please feed, my lord.” His voice had grown husky as anticipatory tremors took hold of him.
Another caress of Colbourne’s rough tongue drew an exquisite shudder. Such an intimate act, followed by an even more intimate one as the piercing bite of sharp fangs penetrated his neck and withdrew. Hot lips formed a seal around the twin wounds, and Morgan felt his groin tighten with the intense sensation of his master drawing deeply of the crimson flow.
It shouldn’t be this way, Morgan’s hazed brain insisted. Despite this, the lust bubbling up was the same as always, driving him to the brink of madness as he fought the desire. Every time he offered his blood, the yearning to succumb, to yield more than he gave—every time, it grew stronger. He wanted what he denied Lord Colbourne, wanted the carnal touch the Church deemed sinful, longed for what the courts condemned with death.
He trembled at the strengthening draw, fighting the spiraling temptation. The ache in his loins increased with every passing minute, inflamed by the chemicals hidden within the nosferii fangs. His stomach tightened against the feeling as he strove to suppress the exhilaration racing through him, starting with the fanged kiss at his neck.
Morgan shivered as Colbourne laid a hand between his thighs, stroking him, caressing the erection he couldn’t suppress. A groan escaped Morgan as the pleasure increased tenfold.
In a flash, he found himself pinned against the futon. He jerked at the feel of Colbourne’s hand fumbling with the buttons of his breeches. Heat flooded him, running straight from the hot contact to the ecstatic draw of blood from his neck. Hot, shaking with need, he pressed himself against that warm palm, his mind a blaze of passion. Colbourne moaned into Morgan’s neck, sucking harder.
“Touch me…touch me please, Morgan.”
The words slipped into his mind, jarring him from his lust. He shoved hard at the man above him, desperately building a wall in front of the invading thought.
“Get out of my mind!” Frantic, Morgan lunged upward, thrusting Colbourne away from him and wincing at the sudden, tearing sting at his neck. He stumbled forward, pressing his hands to the wounds, attempting to stanch the flow of blood.
He didn’t finish feeding, a portion of his mind whispered. He didn’t finish, and now I’m going to bleed to death.
“Makoto!” Colbourne’s panicked voice beat on Morgan’s ears with the force of a drum. “Makoto! Tasukete!”
Footsteps drummed across the floor as Colbourne’s retainer responded. The room started fading at the edges, and Morgan blinked at the bedding wound about his feet. Arms like steel trapped him, holding him up but keeping him hostage.
“You damn idiot!” Despite the angry hiss of the words, Colbourne’s voice shook. “Hold still.”
Morgan struggled against the iron grip holding him fast, while his hands were wrenched away from his neck. Colbourne’s unyielding grip held his head as the vampire leaned in to bite a second time. The pain shattered the last wall of Morgan’s consciousness, blackness overtaking him at the penetrating sting of his master’s fangs.
* * * *
Jeremy stared at Morgan’s sleeping face, the tremors of angry fear finally subsiding. He’d never before lost control during a feeding. Never. He’d been taking blood from normal humans for more than three centuries, and not once had he ever insinuated his thoughts into an unwilling Host’s mind.
Host. Hostia. The cruel irony of the title struck Jeremy more forcibly than it had ever done before. Hostia, the victim. Centuries before, it had been a word to deny the humanity of those used as nothing more than a food supply. Now, it stood as a title of respect, of importance. Hosts themselves had made it so.
When Morgan had fought Jeremy, rending his flesh beneath Jeremy’s fangs, the true meaning of Hostia had resonated in the terror shining in Morgan’s eyes. It had cut Jeremy to the quick, flaying him with the knowledge of his transgression.
But Morgan had allowed him liberties he’d denied for a dozen years. Jeremy had been pushed over the edge of reason, and he’d reached out, succumbing to a longing he’d thought he’d safely buried.
He stroked the bandages wound about Morgan’s neck. The man’s power of will never ceased to amaze him. The nosferii mind connection had originally been a means of prey control. For anyone to break free and physically pull away, as Morgan had, took strength of mind not commonly found.
A shadow shifted behind him as Makoto entered the room, a laden dinner tray in his hands. Fresh cuts of red meat predominated, lightly seared but rich with the coppery smell of blood.
“Time to eat, danshaku,” the samurai said, setting the tray on the small table by the chair. “You did not feed enough. Please replenish your strength with this.”
Jeremy ignored the dark look, though he did reach for the glass of brandy. “It was sufficient. I do not need to dine early.”
“I respectfully disagree.” Makoto plated a modest portion of beef and fruit. “Will you call for another Host?” Despite the words, Makoto’s voice carried no disapprobation. “It may be weeks before Holland-san is able to meet his Contracted terms.”
“I will be ready when he is, Makoto,” Jeremy answered, loath to consider anyone else. “I can wait.”
“That would be most unwise, danshaku.”
“Perhaps, but I will wait, nonetheless.”
“As you wish, danshaku.” Makoto bowed and left the room, shutting the door noiselessly behind him.
“I have no need of another Host, do I, Morgan?” Jeremy posed the question aloud, more for his own reassurance rather than expecting his Host to wake and answer. “After all, you are my Hostia Aeternus, my Eternal Host.”
Jeremy looked at the brandy in his glass, staring at the deep burgundy liquid. Sweet, yes, the thick fluid was sweet and restorative, but it was not Morgan’s blood, which had called to him from the moment they met.
“No, no need at all.”