An Encore for First Chapter Friday

Dear Readers and Fans:

Greetings! We have an encore for First Chapter Friday. Another upcoming work from Autumn Montague, ‘An Unintended Seduction’. Please find the first Chapter below. Please Enjoy! Happy Saturday. 🙂

Peace,

Emily

Excerpt:

Chapter One
London, 1816
“Hell and damnation!” Julian Charing, Ninth Earl Hetherton, swore as a wayward drop of sweat stung his eye. He scrubbed at the offending moisture with his upper arm, the one part of that limb still covered. Both sleeves were rolled to the elbows, though that precaution had done little to preserve their once-pristine whiteness. The young stallion being groomed slammed sideways, momentarily pinning him to the stable wall.
“Stand still, you impudent piece of cattle!”
“He won’t listen, m’lord.” The old groom’s eyes twinkled with the humor and subtle impertinence of a lifelong servant.
Julian attempted to quell that bit of presumption with a severe frown, an impossible task at best. As expected, James only flashed him an impudent grin. The man had known Julian since he’d worn leading strings.
Turning back to the horse, Julian continued the rubdown of his skittish mount. As the arrant idiot who’d let his temper best his good sense, it behooved him to master his rage until both he and Mercury calmed. Venting his frustration on the hapless animal was useless. He should have yielded to the heat of his anger earlier—perhaps it would have ended the ridiculous, aggravating situation that plagued him now.
His once-cherished morning ride had become a disaster and he a laughingstock. All of this thanks to a woman who did not understand the word no meant exactly that. His greatest humiliation, the scandal of the ton, had become an embarrassment, a ball and chain he could not break.
It had not promised to become such a terrible thing at the start. Affairs among men of his station were commonplace, though usually one did not dally with the wife of an old friend, as he had done. Nor was it unusual to pursue such engagements with more than one woman. Most men, however, did not repeat their disastrous mistakes with the same woman.
Having finally realized this error, Julian had striven for two years now to disentangle himself from the situation—to no avail. Geraldine Huntsford possessed an appalling habit of being disobliging and making a public display of the two of them. Did the woman feel no shame?
Mercury snorted and stamped, irritated by the painful brush strokes against his hide. Julian unclenched his white-knuckled grip on the wooden handle. The stallion soon steadied under the softer brushing.
Failure? An abysmal disaster, rather. Lady Huntsford stalked him like a cat after a mouse in a hole. He could not avoid her, no matter where he went. Once, the morning rides had been a mutual thing, meant for privacy, despite the blatant nature of their affair. Now they were akin to a ride through hell. The woman flung herself in his path at every opportunity in her attempts to recapture what he now refused.
He’d given thanks when she’d left London last month to visit her parents. For four blessed weeks, he’d reveled in his solitude. He had hoped her decampment meant she had taken his last words of parting to heart. Her behavior this morning dashed those hopes. Geraldine Huntsford would not let him go, gracefully or otherwise.
“I think he’s clean, m’lord,” James suggested, as he moved to Julian’s side to take the brush. “I’ll finish him, if you don’t mind.”
Julian gave the man a rueful glance. “Made a fool of myself, did I?”
“No, m’lord, not a fool, but this colt’s still green. Ye’ll set his teeth on edge. I’ve no liking to be kicked when I muck.”
“You’re right, of course.” Julian sighed. “I should have known better.” He stepped back to let the man finish the job, watching as Mercury settled under the groom’s knowledgeable touch.
Julian’s fingers still itched to wring one dainty, ill-bred woman’s neck. She had him taking out his anger on a hapless animal with ruthless abandon. A rough rubdown wouldn’t hurt the horse, but it could compromise Julian’s relationship with the fine steed. He left the stall and headed across the garden to the kitchen entrance, using the back stairs to avoid traipsing his dirt through the halls.
Upstairs in his room, Julian dropped into the armchair beside the fire, sagging against the raised wingback. He made no move to undress, despite the stable dust he was undoubtedly leaving on the intricate brocade. He yanked his cravat loose, crushing the starched material in his fist, taking a small bit of pleasure from the satisfying crunch of the crisply starched linen.
Julian shut his eyes, wishing himself to the devil. Not for the first time, nor the last. He was a craven coward—that was the long and the short of it. He must be, for he’d made such a mull of his life that there was no saving him.
“My lord?”
Julian suppressed a groan at the subtle reproof in that mild question. “Forgive me, Stimms,” he sighed, opening his eyes to look at his valet’s stern expression. “It seems my temper has gotten the best of me this morning, and I fear I have made more work for the staff as a result.”
“I am certain Mrs. Cannon will manage, Master Julian,” Stimms replied.
Though Stimms’ tone remained mild, Julian winced over the man’s reversion to the childhood form of address. It was another subtle reminder that his actions were a touch beyond the pale.
“Lady Huntsford called while you were out, Master Julian.”
It took Julian a moment to register what Stimms had said. Then his head began to pound. “I am not at home when she calls, Stimms. I do not wish to receive her. Ever.”
“Yes, Master Julian. The staff understands, and she is always advised that you are not at home, as you have ordered. However, Lady Huntsford seems…rather determined.” Stimms set aside his casual tone; his voice had become outright disapproving.
Julian clenched his jaw against the vile imprecations hovering on the tip of his tongue. “She is not to be admitted under any circumstances. I don’t care if she is standing on the front step without a stitch on.” Julian ground the words out, jaw muscles aching from the tension. “Find the idiot who told her where I was and dismiss him—or her—for blatant disregard of my wishes otherwise. Fending off Lady Huntsford ruined my morning ride.”
“As you wish, sir.” Stimms tsked over the state of Julian’s clothes, taking the crushed cravat and looking expectantly at Julian. “I understand you will be attending Lord Parkman’s masquerade this evening, Lord Hetherton. Would you prefer your bath now, or would you rather wait until the afternoon?”
The hint was plain, and Julian agreed with only the faintest of growls. Bathing now would save time later and would not delay his other morning duties overmuch.
Once sufficient hot water had been boiled to fill the slipper tub, Julian stepped in with a sigh, considering the masquerade and regretting the acceptance he’d sent to the baron a week earlier. His friendship with Robert Parkman had grown exceedingly strained over the years, primarily due to Julian’s involvement with Lady Huntsford. Not to mention that other, more shameful act that haunted him. Knowing he’d no one to blame but himself, he could only hope Parkman forgave him. If so, Julian would do his best to make amends for his other offense.
First, though, he had to extricate himself from the clutches of a woman who had once been his fiancée. A sigh escaped him, borne of frustration and worry. He’d spent the past two years fighting his way back into society’s good graces and trying to make amends to his old friend.
He fervently hoped Lord and Lady Huntsford would not be attending the Parkman masquerade. If so, she was likely to make a scene and put paid to any chance Julian had of returning to Parkman’s favor.
* * * *
A mass of people crowded the Parkman residence, attired in a variety of costumes, from Roman senators to Aristotle and Sophocles. Lady Parkman graced the rooms dressed as the wife of a Roman senator in a blue sleeveless gown, her blonde hair capping her head in a mass of curls held back by a gold bandeau. Beside her, Lord Parkman wore the white robes of a Roman senator with the signature red cape trimmed in gold. He looked regal and uncomfortable.
Not as uncomfortable as I feel.
Julian had come dressed in full Roman military regalia, complete with a crown of laurel leaves, to represent Julius Caesar, in a nod toward renewing the closeness of their friendship with a hint at what they had once called a “triumvirate.” He hoped it did not make him look ridiculous.
At least he carried it off with more aplomb than did Lord Milford, whose stout figure better suited a senator’s gown than a soldier’s garb. Unfortunately, the mask covering his face did little to hide Milford’s identity. The woman beside him could only be Abigail Milford, more sedately attired. He could not tell which of the myriad Greek or Roman goddesses she had chosen to represent.
He scanned the room in a preemptive search for Lord or Lady Huntsford. Instead, his gaze was caught by the unmistakable figure of Lady Griffindon. The giggling group of young ladies nearby could be none other than her daughters. Julian had no doubt that Matrimonial Ambition lurked in Lady Griffindon’s heart, and he determined to avoid her—and her brood—if such a thing was at all possible.
Near the chattering gaggle stood a young woman garbed in white Grecian robes, sporting a golden shawl and carrying an equally golden apple. Glittering ribbon threaded throughout her coronet of curls and braids, continuing the theme. The red-brown color of the hair and the expressive curve of the lady’s lips called an old memory to mind.
Like sun through dappled autumn chestnut leaves, came the recollection, along with memories of happier times.
Miranda Parkman. Robert Parkman’s little sister, who had traipsed after her brother and his friends, determined not to be outdone. She’d provided a gentle anodyne for a terrible summer and given him tender attention that had almost lured him into marriage.
A twinge of guilt stabbed Julian’s conscience. He had toyed with her affections, leaving her with hopes he had never returned to fulfill, despite hints promising that very thing. A greater shame, even, than his repeated cuckolding of a man who had once been his closest friend.
Yes, forgiveness from Robert Parkman would be hard-won, not only for the wrong Julian had done to their friend Anthony Huntsford, but for crushing the bloom of Miranda Parkman’s first love. Even though such puppy love rarely survived, Julian knew he had been cruel in his complete abandonment of her girlish hopes.
Tonight, Miranda wore a brilliant smile, laughing a little at something one of the Griffindon chits had said. Her merriment caused Julian to smile in turn, and he admired the way her figure showed the simple Grecian gown to great advantage. She had filled out, maturing from a lithesome girl to a lovely, curvaceous beauty.
Though he’d always held a predilection for slim, fragile-seeming women, the full swell of Miranda’s hip and bosom sent a quiet thrill through him as he watched her meander through the crowd, the pleasant sway below her waist drawing his attention downward more than civility allowed.
“Hail, Caesar!”
Julian nearly jumped from his skin at the greeting. He turned and glared at Lord Parkman, who had come up beside him.
His host sported a broad smile, plainly enjoying the sight of Julian in Roman garb. It augured well for a rapprochement and obtaining Parkman’s forgiveness.
“My compliments on such a bold choice,” Parkman continued, with no attempt to hide his amusement. “Elinor insisted on the theme.”
Julian gave a wry smile of appreciation. “Hopefully I do scandalize all the mothers here as I prance about with my knees bare to the world. At least my girth does not strain this soldier’s tunic.” He gave his flat midsection a firm slap to emphasize that distinction between him and the unfortunate Milford.
Robert answered with an appreciative cough and then led Julian over to where Lady Parkman chatted amiably with a woman in green robes. Despite the myriad colors, most of the ladies wore the same style: Grecian or Roman robes, and a black or gold mask. Very few had obvious personas, such as Miranda’s Aphrodite, evident from the gold-painted apple she carried with her.
As they approached, Lady Parkman turned and gave Julian a welcoming smile. “Lord Hetherton. How wonderful of you to join us this evening. I am so glad you acceded to Parkman’s advice. You look quite splendid as Julius Caesar.”
The woman beside Lady Parkman nodded her agreement. “You do look very imperious, Lord Hetherton. I am certain you will have all the ladies here swooning at your feet.” She followed this with a giggle and bade good-bye to Lady Parkman.
Julian followed her progress through the room, certain she went to spread his identity to everyone she met. He sighed, knowing his anonymity would be no more protected than Lord Milford’s. That meant a host of women converging on him throughout the evening, cornering him at every opportunity.
He turned back to Lady Parkman and caught an odd twinkle in her eye. The idea came to him that she had deliberately revealed his identity to her companion. Julian kept his groan firmly behind his teeth. Was this some subtle chastisement for past actions?
As he chatted with the pair, Julian glimpsed a cluster of determined females headed their way. Clearly, it was time to make his escape, if any were to be had. He bowed low, Roman fashion, right fist to left shoulder, and took his leave of host and hostess, ignoring Robert’s sardonic smile.
Despite his haste, Julian’s attempt to flee came too late. The women descended en masse, burying him in a cluster of voices, all clamoring for his attention. Damn. He could not escape with any grace, so he gave in and did his duty as a gentleman, greeting the ambitious mothers and allowing himself to be pressed into dancing with one hopeful daughter after another. He had barely finished when he saw that another group had coalesced, moving to converge on him even before the last strains of the contra-dance ended.
Robert Parkman rescued him just as he wriggled from the clutches of Lady Griffindon and her pretty daughters. Maintaining pleasant conversation with the dowager and her brood had exhausted him, though his dance with Elise Griffindon had been blandly pleasant. His mere presence clearly overawed the young woman. He could not say if it was his title or his person that intimidated the girl.
He said nothing to Lord Parkman until they were out of earshot. Once they had reached a far corner, he leaned against the wall and took a deep breath. “What was your wife thinking, Parkman? She has made me the target of every matchmaking mother and bored wife present.”
Robert laughed at him, taking no pity on his predicament. “She is determined to have you wed, Hetherton. She told me so the other night. She feels it is high time you started your nursery and did your duty to your estate.”
Julian groaned. “Not another matchmaker.”
Parkman laughed. “As reluctant as ever. Nevertheless, Elinor is right, you know. You should leave a son to inherit after you, if only to honor your father’s memory and your grandmother’s wishes.”
Julian looked away. Parkman had the right of it, but the idea of living in a loveless marriage for the rest of his life depressed him beyond measure. “You are correct, of course, but I feel like a prize bit of horseflesh on the block. All the young ladies here are insipid, or spoiled, or unable to utter a coherent sentence in my presence.”
Robert looked at him hard for a moment, his companionable smile gone, replaced by a grim sternness. “Then you should have married my sister. She is none of those things.” He walked away.
Julian stared after, caught unaware by the rebuke, but not at all surprised. He regretted stirring the dormant embers of Parkman’s wrath. Robert Parkman had thoroughly raked him over the coals eight years ago, but Julian’s explanation of concern for her youth had mollified him. Parkman had said nothing on the subject since then, though Julian had known it still rankled. To date, he’d been stonily silent on Julian’s dalliance with Lady Huntsford, despite the gossip the rest of the ton engaged in.
He’d known his friend viewed his dereliction seriously, but Julian had never realized how deeply he must have hurt Parkman, who had always adored his younger sister. Julian hadn’t given thought to the way his actions had humiliated Parkman as a doting brother.
Abandoned for the moment, his own self-recriminations made him uncomfortable. The sight of Lady Griffindon weaving her way through the room with all four girls in tow did not help to ease his situation. Julian cast about him for some means to escape, wishing to avoid the dowager’s matrimonial efforts for her daughters. She had not yet spotted him, but if he lingered where he stood, she would catch him, with no hope of reprieve.
The dark mahogany of Parkman’s study door gleamed between a pair of candlelit sconces, inviting entry. He opened it and slipped in with a soft sigh of relief. “Safe at last.”
Julian nearly jumped out of his skin at the small shriek of fright that met his muttered words. Across the darkened room, the dying embers in the fireplace outlined the shadowed figure of a woman. In the faint red-orange glow, the glimmer of a white Grecian robe and gold-tasseled fringe of a shawl told him Miranda Parkman had also come to this darkened hideaway.

First Chapter Friday

Dear Readers and Fans:

Happy Friday! Today, we are re-sharing the first chapter from Autumn Montague’s upcoming novel, ‘Salva Me’ Book One of the Blood Sworn Series. Please enjoy! Next month, our feature will be ‘Unintended Seduction’.

Please find the chapter shared below.

Enjoy!

Peace,
Emily

Excerpt:

Chapter One
London, 1816
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.”

First Chapter Friday

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.

Peace,

Emily

Excerpt: Chapter One
London, 1816
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.”

Some (Whale) food for thought.

Dear Readers and Fans:

In honor of our orcha and whale friends, please check out the following:

Killer Whale Attack ( Documentary ) *
Who would win in a battle between the orca, the largest of the dolphin family, and a Great White shark. And, more importantly, why would that animal win?

*I’ve posted only the title on my website because it’s illegal to have a link to a video without the express permission of that video’s creator. I don’t have that permission. Yet.

Peace,
Emily

Thursday Teaser

Dear Readers and Fans:

Please enjoy the following Teaser from my upcoming work, ‘Hunter’s Claim’. Thoughts and feedback welcomed.

Love,

Emily

Excerpt: A strong, well-remembered hand closed around Charlie’s automatically outstretched right. Then the man before Charlie pushed that hand aside and grasped Charlie’s left, white cane and all.

Charlie laughed as lean, muscular arms pulled him close and tightened around his back. It was Luis. His nose had been right.

“I was planning to see you here,” Luis whispered in Spanish, his voice richer than the thrum of the best-played bass. “But I didn’t think it would be so soon.”

Charlie drank in Luis’s scent, relishing how Luis held him. Then he pulled back slightly, though he was still safe in Luis’s embrace. “It’s good to see you.” That was an understatement, and he was hard-pressed not to resume the kisses he’d run from in March. He had no right to such a warm welcome, and for a breath his heart lodged in his throat.

Then another smell–a stench compared to Luis’s heady aroma–invaded the library, and Charlie stepped away completely. He held up one finger. “Un momento.”

Luis retreated several paces, and Charlie blinked at the psychic vampire’s discretion. Luis hadn’t possessed anything close to circumspection or respect for duty when they’d worked together in Tampa.

Charlie went to the library doors, meaning to close them, but the werewolf he’d smelled stood before him. He made the conscious switch to English, realizing he must be overwhelmed by Luis’s presence if the change needed to be willed rather than instinctive. Or maybe I’m intoxicated again. As he’d been when he and Luis had tumbled into bed for a single, blissful hour. Maybe it wasn’t the Lady Lavender drinks that got me drunk in March. It could’ve been Luis.

“Yes?” he asked, pushing for the authority he didn’t technically have here but that he should. If only.

“I came to see if everything’s all right,” said the female wolf.

Charlie blessed his quick ears and his quicker memory. “Thank you, Cassandra, but Agent Delgado and I are fine.” It had crossed his mind to say satisfied or more than comfortable. Five minutes in Luis’s presence, and I’m ready to throw in all the hard-earned camouflage. “He’s here regarding the peace summit.”

“Stop talking,” Luis whispered in Charlie’s mind. “She’s intimidated by you already. Don’t spoil it.”

That was why Charlie had fled Luis. The psychic vampire couldn’t be trusted not to spy.

Or feed.

“Get out of my head.” Aloud he said, “Thank you for your diligence, Cassandra.” He reentered the library, closing the doors in her face. He crossed to Luis, and the two of them sank onto the leather sofa. “Thanks for telling me, but ask my permission next time before you jump into my thoughts.” As if such a reminder would keep Luis in check. Charlie had watched, back in March, as the psychic vampire tapped indiscriminately into people’s heads.

Luis had pissed off Agent Tavery, when angering a water dragon wasn’t wise. He’d also barged into an unshielded human’s mind in the name of doing his job.

“It’s not that I’m not grateful for your insight,” Charlie continued in Spanish, in case Cassandra still lingered by the door. “But I’d appreciate it if you’d stay out of this pack’s minds.” Now that was interesting. He’d planned to say my pack’s. What had changed his mind?

“I’ll be good.”

Even though Luis sounded repentant, Charlie didn’t believe. Still, it was a step in the right direction. So he spoke more gently. “They’re all suspicious. How did you handle getting in here?”

“I hid my eyeteeth when I smiled. And of course I sent out a general impression–not into anyone’s mind specifically–that I’m harmless.”

If Luis hadn’t been a SearchLight agent, such things would be accepted as a matter of course. SearchLight’s employees were held to a higher standard, however, and Charlie wondered how Luis had risen to such a high position–second in command of his department–with such a slipshod modus operandi. Then, remembering that Luis was a tracker and that trackers were allowed many freedoms, Charlie set aside his frustration. It felt too good to see Luis. There would be time for chewing the younger magical creature out. Surely Luis would give him plenty of opportunities.

So Charlie smiled a little to hide his feelings. “Since when have you known how to manipulate werewolves?”

Luis took Charlie’s white cane and set it aside. Then he began massaging Charlie’s left wrist and forearm methodically.

Charlie did his best not to melt under the ministrations. Except for that one night, he hadn’t let Luis touch him much beyond a handshake. Because he was attracted to Luis, who was a psychic vampire, a Tampa-based SearchLight tracker, and fifteen years Charlie’s junior. Of those three reasons, that last was the least important. Age hardly mattered between most magical creatures, who tended to be essentially immortal. Even though Charlie thought he’d gotten his father’s long-lived genes–he based this on the fact that he still looked twenty-five rather than his forty-two years–he couldn’t be sure that applied to a half-and-half.

He smirked mentally at that term. Besides the name “half-and-half,” his kind were called “creamers” and “halfies,” not to mention a few more disrespectful nouns.

Luis said, “I’ve commanded werewolf trackers a time or two, although it’s usually Ethan and me, not me versus five other trackers and twenty-five werewolves with their own ideas and prejudices.” He laughed quietly. “I’m scared to death, but it will be all right. The team I’ve been given is competent.” He nodded toward the closed door, the movement of his head surely exaggerated for Charlie’s near-sighted benefit. “What’s her problem anyway?”

“She’s– It’s not a problem. She’s protective and curious in accordance with her species. Like a certain psychic vampire I know.” Charlie groaned, working to keep the sound quiet. “Stop, please. That feels good.”

“That’s a contradiction.”

Charlie pulled away. If he didn’t maintain some sort of distance, he’d lose his concentration completely. “Which part? That she’s–”

“That you want me to stop because it feels good.” Luis caught Charlie’s wrist between firm palms and resumed the massage.

And it was purposeful misunderstandings like this that helped me ignore your blatant desires back in March. Not to mention mine. Still, he couldn’t pull away yet, and Luis’s closeness drew the truth from his lips. “I’ve missed you.” He used the fingers of his right hand to trace Luis’s stubbly jaw. He stroked the psychic vampire’s long hair back, relishing its soft texture. In many ways, Luis was a god.

In too many ways, he knows his effect on others and uses it to his advantage.

Luis caught Charlie’s hand, kissed the palm lightly, and let him go. “Me too.”

Lured by Luis’s voice, Charlie closed the distance until he held the psychic vampire.

Charlie felt Luis’s heart pound and knew his pulse was just as high. Do you know how badly I want to give in to this and kiss you?

That thought brought Charlie up short. To kiss a psychic vampire was to take their virginity. Not sexually, as for humans and most other magical creatures, but to take their soul sanctity. Perhaps Luis had given that up long ago, but Charlie couldn’t be sure. And even losing one’s virginity in the more well-known way didn’t make one a slut.

Charlie drew back, leaving only his left arm, which Luis still seemed to want to massage, in the psychic vampire’s power. He refocused, working to remember why Luis had come here. “Who put you in charge of so many trackers and civilians?”

“Agent Weinberg.”

Luis’s frustration showed in his voice, and Charlie laughed. “She is a meddlesome pain in the ass, isn’t she?”

Luis didn’t relinquish Charlie’s hand, and he managed to sound businesslike as well as annoyed. “That’s a polite way of putting it. In her seventeen pages of written orders, she commanded me to make Firos William’s acquaintance first thing. I take it he’s not home?”

Strange how Agent Weinberg, with all her preparatory statements, verbal and written, hadn’t mentioned to Charlie that Luis would be here. “He’s not.” Although it took you long enough to get to the point of your visit. This thought was unfair, so Charlie didn’t share it. Besides, he might not have gotten to enjoy more than a few seconds with Luis if he’d announced earlier that his father wasn’t here. “You get his erstwhile son instead. I’m here at SearchLight’s request. As their long arm of the law, so to speak. And of course as a physical reminder of SearchLight’s interest in peace.”

“Madre de Dios.” Luis laughed. “Apparently those words have a habit of jumping from mouth to mouth.”

Charlie raised his eyebrows, but it had never been like Luis to share inside jokes, so he didn’t press. “What do you need to ask? I’ll do my best to answer.”

“My team’s assembled. Our delegation’s all here. We’re staying at the Palace Hotel several blocks south of here.”

“Were there any squabbles over your delegation taking the smaller accommodations?”

“Not once I pointed out how historic and beautiful the Palace is.” Luis’s teeth gleamed in a quick, sun-kissed smile.

Charlie’s heart constricted, and he fumbled his right hand up to Luis’s face again, needing desperately to touch him, to know this wasn’t a dream. “Really?”

Luis laughed softly but said nothing.

The straight werewolf delegation had claimed the Merrik Hotel in downtown Buffalo. Because they had more clout–and more money, for the most part–they got what they wanted. The LGBT delegation had been relegated to the Palace on Delaware Avenue, a beautiful old building with historic ties to the city. But it was significantly smaller. “Tell me the truth. I knew you possessed a silver tongue, but that’s a bit much.” Yes. I remember your silver tongue. Luis had licked him all over with that talented muscle.

Luis continued the massage, moving on to Charlie’s forearm. “I’m not quite that good. I pointed out how much easier the Palace would be to defend, and the eighteen werewolves with good sense shouted down the ones without. With a little help from Ethan.”

That’s the second time he’s mentioned this man Ethan. Vaguely Charlie remembered a short, black-haired werewolf who had accompanied Luis to the Tavery-Morrison wedding back in March. It was after the wedding that Luis and Charlie had slept together. “Is Ethan your second-in-command on this mission?”

“He’s my partner. We’ve worked together for almost six years now.”

Partner? Charlie dragged his mind past that word. Romantic partner? He repressed a stab of jealousy. Of course, he thought. Ethan had joined Luis at the reception after Mark Tavery’s wedding, so it made sense the psychic vampire and werewolf were romantically involved. They hadn’t been “together” enough to keep Luis from wanting to jump Charlie.

And vampires, psychic or otherwise, tended to have many sexual partners at one time.

Charlie forced himself to listen as Luis continued.

“Ethan’s different than anyone I know. I’ve never met a werewolf with so little interest in leading a werewolf pack yet who has so much ability to convince alphas that his way is the right way.”

That is special. Even if Luis sounded half admiring and half in love.

Charlie’s heart ached. He’d never know the joy of working with a werewolf like that. He hated the notion of being someone else’s beta or gamma, but that was the only way he’d become a member of a pack. LGBT wolves accepted psychically able humans–and halfies–into their packs. But no pack would ever follow a human, half or otherwise. “Ethan must be incredibly loyal.”

Luis leaned close. “I don’t want to talk about Ethan, though.” He spoke with a sultry, forget-the-world, love-me voice that made Charlie break out in goose bumps.

As Luis moved even nearer, Charlie stared at his lips. They were thick and slightly pinker than the rest of Luis’s olive complexion. Charlie struggled to think clearly. This time he failed. Using one finger, he traced the shape of Luis’s smile.

Luis kissed Charlie’s finger before briefly sucking the digit into his mouth.

Charlie shuddered.

“I know we can’t do anything here and now,” Luis whispered after releasing Charlie’s finger. “But is there a time, maybe later today, when you can get away?”

The thought of escaping this house, where he had to be so polite and he was watched all the time, made Charlie’s heart lighter than it had been since Agent Weinberg roped him into this assignment. But then he thought of what excuse he could possibly use to leave his post. None presented itself, and he knew any reason would come off self-serving.

Besides. As much as he enjoyed Luis’s body, Luis’s touch, he couldn’t trust Luis to stay out of his mind. Sexual attraction knew nothing of trust, but at this point in his life, Charlie wanted more than a series of now-and-then tumbles.

He sat back, folding his hands in his lap. “I can’t.”

Luis sighed. “I understand.”

Moving past the disappointment he heard in Luis’s voice, Charlie asked, “Is there anything else you need to tell me?”

Luis drew back far enough to be out of Charlie’s ready sight range. “Probably nothing you don’t already know or suspect.” He shifted forward again. None too discreetly, he pressed his knee against Charlie’s thigh. “Both sides have agreed to SearchLight’s presence, but there weren’t enough werewolf trackers willing to protect the LGBT wolves. My security team’s made up of enough psychically strong agents to defend, or defend against, the twenty-five wolves we’re guarding.”

That caught and held Charlie’s attention. “Do you expect those you’ve brought to cause problems?”

Luis laughed softly. “Werewolves are as hotheaded as vampires. There will be many disagreements at this peace summit. And telling alpha wolves to run one way or another in response to danger may prove to be like telling a toddler to stop eating things off the ground.”

Charlie nodded. “True.”

“Ethan and Agent Stanford are the only werewolves among my team. The other members are fae, although I don’t know their specific species.”

Luis sounded annoyed at that idea. Charlie had become a professor at SearchLight Academy during a time when the fae–elementals, fairies, and many others–were encouraged to keep their species private if they wished. However, because not knowing often caused misunderstandings and hurt feelings from fae and nonfae alike, the academy had started a new trend: when dealing with other magical creatures, tell your species no matter what you are, and have confidence that others will treat you fairly. That policy had only gone into effect at the academy last semester.

Charlie considered the news of three nature spirits working together. Surely a water elemental, another of air, and a tree sprite could act as one if given the opportunity. But how would they deal with two werewolves and a psychic vampire?

Luis said, “Not a single heterosexual werewolf could be bribed enough to work with my team.”

Charlie buried the familiar frustration that rose in response to Luis’s words. “SearchLight is a model of acceptance, but that doesn’t mean every employee can be taught the difference between honoring traditions and thinking for themselves.” Aware of his duty as a language and cultural expert, he added, “And would a single LGBT wolf serve as a security guard for the straight wolves?”

Luis made a slightly choked but amused noise. “No. Ethan would have volunteered, but I wouldn’t allow it.” He gripped Charlie’s hands. “I’ve talked about everything I came here to say. Mostly I wanted to make Firos William’s acquaintance before tomorrow. Failing that for now, I’d like to steal a moment of your time. Or I could steal you.”

Too tempted by that suggestion for comfort, Charlie stood up. “No.” He couldn’t smell Cassandra or any of the other wolves who’d stayed behind, but he didn’t need that warning. His time with Luis hadn’t ended well in March, and it would play out less well now that August had come with increased responsibilities for both of them.

“But, Charlie–”

“Stay out of my head, please.” He reinforced his shields, bringing them up to the strength they’d often been when he and Luis had worked together in March. Not that it was Luis he’d guarded himself against back then. The psychic vampire was no real threat. Not to Charlie, whose telepathic talents rivaled those of everyone he’d ever met. Luis was just a horny kid.

I’m horny too. Now that he’s so close… Charlie clamped down on that thought, and when he spoke, he did so as much for himself as for Luis. “We’re both here in an official capacity, and neither of us can afford the distraction.” He held out his hand. “May I have my cane?” He cursed the formality of his tone the moment he’d spoken, and once he felt the rubber grip between his fingers, he said, “Thanks. I’m sorry we can’t talk about this now, but we can talk. Later.”
Copyright © Emily Carrington

Thursday Teaser

Hello Readers and Fans:

For this week’s Thursday Teaser, I am including an excerpt from ‘Dragon in Training 3’ for you to ponder and enjoy. What follows is the opening chapter. Feedback welcome!

Peace,

Emily

Dragon in Training 3

Chapter 1:
Mark didn’t relax once the front door of the condo was closed. He backed his lover’s quieter car out of their driveway in the predawn shadows, turned right, and escaped their court at a crawl.

Please keep meditating until I’m on the freeway. Once he was there, five short minutes would take him to the bay.

White-knuckled and hunched to make his five-ten frame all but disappear, Mark nudged the Prius onto the freeway. Only then did he accelerate, scowling when the tiny vehicle didn’t shoot forward, but seemed to putt-putt-putt like a run-down Chevy.

“You’d think Luke had the eighties Pontiac.”

“This serves my purposes. It’s good for the environment, and I don’t have a lead talon like a certain water dragon I know.”

Mark jumped, and the car swerved.

Luke, casual as a stretching cat, reached over from the passenger seat and steadied the wheel. “Do we need to switch places?”

Fuck. Mark shot a guilty glance at his genie lover. “How long have you been here?”

“Less than thirty seconds. I heard you leave, though. At first I thought you were just going for your morning run, but when I stepped out on the balcony to enjoy the air, I saw my car was gone.” He patted the dashboard. “You must have been desperate for me not to hear you if you stooped to taking this lunch box.”

“So you’re a mind reader too?”

Luke raised one golden eyebrow. “No, that’s just always how you think of her. Face it, my Mark. Your spirit is like your dragon form: eight feet tall, anxious to blow fire, and not meant for confined spaces.”

He winced. “We’ll go home.”

“Nope. I’m curious to see where you were sneaking off to.” Luke rested a hand on Mark’s thigh. “Please? I promise a reward if you’ll indulge my curiosity.” Using his other hand, the genie drew a line from Mark’s chin, down his throat, pausing at his pulse point, and then continuing all the way to his groin.

Mouth watering, Mark couldn’t speak at first. He nodded and covered the hand on his thigh. “Will you promise to stay out of the water?”

“Why did you need to sneak out to go swimming?”

He stared straight ahead. “It’s a little more than that. Will you stay out?”

Luke paused. “All right. I’m not a great swimmer in any case.”

Less than ten minutes later Mark dived beneath the night waves, losing himself in the dark and danger of Tampa Bay in the last hour before false dawn began to lighten the sky. He’d planned to go in naked, but how could he explain that to Luke? So as soon as he could, he lost his trunks, saying a silent apology to the ocean at large for adding one more bit of garbage to its great waters.

Then he changed his human guise for dragon scales.

At once, his sight shifted to black-and-white with overtones of night-vision goggles, and he rolled over in the water, which seemed ten degrees colder, relishing its slinky caress.

A small school of fish shot past him then, and his instincts took over. He loosed a roar that stunned a quarter of his prey. He swallowed those and then made for the rest, circling them to keep them together. At times like this, when he couldn’t fight the monster inside him anymore, the hunt became as much about the capture as about the eating.

When he was sated, he headed in, wondering what kind of excuse Luke would accept this time.
* * * *
Luke trudged up the warehouse steps to the second floor. When his supervisor in the Miscellaneous Magical Creatures Department had assigned him this detail, he had jumped at the chance to get out of the office. Now, when it was far too late to turn back, he was having second thoughts.

“You’ll enjoy this,” his supervisor had said. “Inventory checks aren’t usually a pleasure, but I know you’re interested in everything out of the ordinary.” He’d chuckled as he urged Luke toward the office door. “The head office wouldn’t be sending the executive secretary if this might not prove to be something big.” He’d opened the door. “You’ll meet Mr. Snyder in Warehouse C, first floor.”

Now Luke followed Dan Snyder across the second floor, feeling the press of magic all around him. It was like a wet blanket full of jumping spiders. Whatever had drawn them here would prove to be interesting.

And possibly dangerous.

“It’s just an inconsistency between the computer and what the cleaners saw on the shelves when they came through here last week,” Dan said, his voice tight. “I wouldn’t have brought anyone else, but it was suggested someone…magical…should be with me to tell me anything I couldn’t see for myself.”

“It’s a magical powder keg in here,” Luke said for the third time since he and the executive secretary had entered the building. “Maybe you should—”

Dan stopped walking; his shoulders were tense. “Maybe you should remember I’m not Mark, I don’t think you’re a god, and I don’t really give a shit what you think. If we’re in real danger, I’m sure this”—the thing in his hand reminded Luke of a magic spectrometer—“will tell us when we need to leave.”

The sound of his lover’s name on the other man’s lips froze Luke’s tongue.

Dan glanced back at Luke, and his expression was slightly apologetic. “Let’s just get on with this.” He strode toward the back wall.

If you insist. He followed the slightly taller man to a row of shelves, each bearing its own label.

Dan stopped before a large bay, screening it from Luke’s view. “This was supposed to be a collection of journals written by a ninth-century Irish monk. Obviously, it’s not.”

Luke stepped up beside him. The clay urn stood nearly two feet high and perhaps a foot and a half wide. Stark pictures of fantastic animals covered the entire circumference. Luke saw a lion, a flock of birds, and a hydra along the curve facing him. Greek characters ran around the rim.

“The wax seal looks broken,” Dan said, crouching so that he was eye level with the image of the lion. “I think whatever was in here is long gone.”

The sensation of spiders jumping all over his skin changed to a feeling of the arachnids crawling up his spine in a single, slow column. “I don’t think it’s gone.” He frowned at the Greek letters. This exact configuration looked familiar, which made no sense. He could translate Greek, but looking at these letters made him almost feel like he was looking at a badly composed sentence in English.

Dan said, “Help me lift this out.”

He really didn’t want to touch the thing, but he’d rather be close in case the genie inside woke up. Because the magic-signature was clear. The genie inside the clay pot was more powerful than any being Luke had ever encountered.

Hating his nervousness, Luke helped Dan lift the urn out of its bay, carry it several feet from the wall, and set it down. He circled the urn at a distance, avoiding Dan, who had knelt on the floor. Luke looked for the beginning of the Greek statement. He circled twice, frowning when the translation danced out of his reach.

His cell phone vibrated, and he plucked it out of his pocket, opening it without glancing at the caller ID. He frowned at one etched letter, trying to decipher it. “Hello?”

Mark’s voice was tense. “What’s wrong?”

Oh please. Not this again. “Aren’t three months of false alarms enough?” Although he had to admit Mark might actually be right this time. “I’m okay. I’m in Warehouse C checking out an inventory mistake.” He frowned deeply as he made another revolution, finally putting the words on the urn together: For mine are the labors of Hercules.

His blood froze.

“Something’s wrong, Luke. I can hear it in your voice,” Mark said.

Dan grunted, drawing Luke’s attention.

The man was holding a penknife and chipping away at the wax.

“Dan, don’t—”

The secretary ignored him.

Mark all but shouted, “Luke—”

Luke grabbed Dan by the back of his shirt as the urn’s top rattled. “Mark, call—”

The magical world exploded. Luke staggered back, still trying to drag Dan with him. Pain bloomed in his chest and temples, and he tried again to make his lover understand. “Mark—”

Speech failed him, and a moment later his body did the same. With a low moan, he passed out.
Copyright © Emily Carrington

Orca Week Post 1

Dear Readers and Fans:

It is Orca week. Thus, I will be posting blurbs regarding videos, books and other media related to these awesome whales! Enjoy!

Post 1: GoPro: Orca Rescue in 4K *

This is a video about orcas that includes exciting, little-known facts, like the idea that orcas are first formed with legs that they absorb back into their bodies. It also includes an amazing orca rescue. Starring: Dr. Ingrid N. Visser.

* The reason I’m giving only the title is because it’s illegal to post a link without permission and I haven’t been able to reach Dr. Visser.

More cool posts to come!

Love,

Emily

An Early Start on First Chapter Fridays…

Dear Readers and Fans:

First Chapter Friday has come early. Today, we feature the work of the talented, Selena Illyria, and the first chapter from her new novel, “Engaged to The Lone Wolf”. Do enjoy!

Peace,
Emily

Chapter One
“Come on, honey. Give us a smile? Sweet thing like you should smile more,” one of the drunks at the bar called out.
“And we need something nice to look at with Moving Day coming.” Both drunks roared with laughter.
Valerie rolled her eyes and concentrated on reading her book. She had to bide her time before her room at the little inn was ready. Only two more hours. No big deal, right? As long as Drunky and Lushy didn’t come over here and get handsy, she had nothing to worry about.
Her wolf, on the other hand, growled and licked its chops. The magic of the change slithered along Val’s skin in sparks. It focused on Drunky’s thick neck. Even a gentle nip might cause a deluge of blood that would bathe them both in ichor and liquid heat before they got down to the business of eating the meat off the bones until nothing remained of Drunky’s throat.
Val gave her wolf a mental shake. Can’t do that, she thought to the animal. The wolf had feasted the last time they’d shifted with their pack. And the full moon was only two weeks away. The lure of the silvery orb could only be felt in a pulse just behind her heartbeat.
“Nah, she can’t smile.” Lushy nudged his friend. “She’s too deep in bitch mode. Maybe she doesn’t care about those government bastards getting closer to our little haven.”
Val narrowed her eyes at her book and clenched her jaw. No. I refuse to go to jail for beating morons to death. But the idea to switch to wolf mode and rake her claws along his torso appealed to her. Her sharpened fingertips ripping through delicate tissue and layers of fat, all to get to the prized organs, made her quake with bloodlust.
She bit down hard on her bottom lip. No, we don’t have time for this. Get out of this no-name town and get back home. No detours, no get-out-of-jail-free cards, and certainly no attention drawn to this place. But she did keep an eye on them just in case they tried to start trouble. She’d already passed two state troopers on the way into town, and she was sure they were there to watch for unusual activity in the area. She’d heard rumors of government agents close by doing a “census.” Ha! More like looking for shifters to catch and send off to those camps for testing. At least that’s what the conspiracy websites were saying.
Drunky snort-laughed. “Bitch mode.” His body shook so hard he slipped off the stool.
Lushy caught him and yanked him back onto the chair. “There ya go.” He swiveled on his chair to face her. “Now, come on, dearie. We’re just being funny. Come sit with us. We’ll buy you a drink. Give us a little something before we shifters have to move on from here before the Feds get onto us, hmm?”
Val picked up her glass and took a slow sip of her sparkling water. She set her cup down and made a show of checking her watch. Five minutes had passed. When the hell would the inn call?
Drunky blew her a raspberry. “No fun at all. And I hate no-fun dames. Wouldn’t touch ’em with a ten-foot pole for a hundred grand, even with Moving Day coming on Friday or not.”
“Me neither.” Lushy tittered.
She turned her head and eyed them both. Maybe clawing them to ribbons wasn’t such a bad idea. It would at least get them to shut up and she’d be able to pass the time in peace.
“For a hundred grand, I’d do more than touch her, but only if she wanted it, and you two morons would be offering up the money. And I wouldn’t use Moving Day as an excuse,” a velvety, deep voice murmured. “And if you keep harassing her? Well, I’ll do more than touch you, understand me?”
The tone of his voice reverberated around her body, pinging her organs and inciting fires in every inch of her. The timbre slithered over her skin, raising goose bumps in its wake. Her breath caught in her throat. Who is this man?
Only alphas have that kind of power in their voice.
She focused her attention beyond her two tormentors behind the counter. The bartender stood in the shadow with his back to the group. She stared at him. Turn around. Turn around. Turn around, she urged silently.
Whether he heard her or not, he did move to face the group, pausing, and with a free hand reached up and tucked a stray hank of shoulder-length, wheat-blond hair behind his ear. His dark-brown eyes glimmered in the low light. He focused on the two drunks, but his voice and attention were all on her.
“Do we have a problem, Smythe? Dudley?” Authority threaded his words. He glanced from one man to the other.
The drunks shifted on their stools and shook their heads.
“Especially since she’s not bothering you. How’d you feel if some jackass told your sisters or wives to smile? Or join you for a drink, huh?” He growled out the words.
“I’d skin ’em,” Drunky or Dudley muttered.
“And you, Smythe?” The bartender’s eyes narrowed at Lushy.
Lushy murmured something that even her sensitive hearing couldn’t quite catch.
“No, say it to her,” he growled and nodded toward her. “Not to me.”
A flush broke over her face and ebbed down her throat. Her ears burned and prickled from the attention.
The drunks turned to the side and, without looking at her, whispered, “I’m sorry.”
“They really are.” He still hadn’t glanced in her direction. “They’re just keyed up about Moving Day. Rumors are floating around town that the Feds are closing in on us here and we all have to find somewhere else to hang our hats.”
She couldn’t shake the sensations he evoked her, even without directing his power at her. Electricity burst around her and filtered through the air. Words fled her brain. All she could do was stare at the man she’d dismissed when she’d walked in to get out of the afternoon heat. Not even his explanation of the drunks’ behavior penetrated the spell he’d managed to weave around her.
He put the glass down, picked up another, and began cleaning it. His stare was still on the two patrons on the stools in front of him but his power was directed at her.
She felt a magnetic draw to him. Every inch of her body yearned to get up and go to him, touch him, be enveloped by all that he was. She couldn’t understand what was happening but didn’t fight it. Instead, she became intrigued by this stranger who’d flipped a switch and forced her to sit up and take notice of him.
The drunks turned back around. Any humility they’d felt from the bartender admonishing them fled after a second.
“Aw, come on, Gunman. You’ve only been here three months. You don’t know what it’s like. And the women in this town hardly come in here. They’re high-maintenance broads. All they do is cause trouble. Like that one over there.” Drunky tipped his head in her direction. “Too good to come over and thank us for the attention we’re paying her. We could be rude and ignore her all together,” Drunky whined. “And I always tell my sisters to not be rude. You never know who you’re dealing with.”
Valerie glanced around. With the exception of her, the bartender, and the two drunks, there was one other person who was male and had been asleep when she’d slipped in here to wait.
Who the hell else would they pay attention to? her wolf asked.
Valerie fought back a snicker.
Now the bartender… The wolf’s voice became gruffer.
Val gave him more attention than before. He moved closer to the tabletop. The overhead light illuminated his features. A golden beard cover his jaw and cheeks—trimmed short but could still cause a burn if you got too frisky—but it didn’t disguise the prominent bone structure underneath.
I wonder what all that scruff would feel like against my skin? Her thighs tingled, and her vaginal walls contracted. Liquid desire dampened her panties. Her gaze wandered up to his eyes.
His soft-brown eyes were framed by long, thick, pale lashes and dense but neat eyebrows. He glanced in her direction.
She stared back at him, taking in the intensity that softened in his look when turned on her. They stayed that way for a few more seconds. She looked away first and focused on his neck. Various necklaces and chains hung down, contrasting against his dark tan. She wondered how his throat would look with patches of love bites covering the well-crafted column. Her scrutiny continued on to the tight T-shirt that left nothing to the imagination. The thin, long-sleeved top outlined his pectoral muscles and gave a hint at his trim waist. The counter blocked her view of the rest of him.
He wore a leather bracelet with tool marks she couldn’t make out, but a small patch of skin showed a hint of black ink work. His fingers were long and tapered to neatly trimmed nails. He held the glass and rag with a firm, easy grip. Completely confident to not drop it.
She tried to recall if he’d worn jeans when he’d served her or not. A vague memory rose of tight denim covering thick thighs and scuffed work boots that had seen better days. After that she’d focused on her book and keeping her head down and out of trouble.
I wonder what it would be like to pass the time with him? She couldn’t stop the thought, nor did she regret it. Her wolf just watched him, a different kind of hunger in her amber eyes.
Just the thought of rolling around with him for a bit and feeling all that hard muscle on top of her caused her pussy to contract. She shifted in her seat and refocused on her tablet. No use approaching him now, not with the peanut gallery.
Drunky and Lushy returned to whining about aloof women and the dangers of not being nice to strangers—as if they knew what aloof meant or what it really meant to be polite to outsiders—and what they’d do if they had a hundred grand to spend.
“Will you two shut up!” The bartender’s voice came out like a whip, drawing her attention back to him.
A spark of cobalt lit his eyes, and he growled. “You both wouldn’t know what to do with a woman like her even if she was interested.” He threw the dishrag on the counter, came out from behind the bar, and strode to her. Assurance in each step made her sit up and watch.
Her wolf panted, watching the tight fabric of his jeans and the easy swing of his arms.
Valerie eyed his large hands. Not a speck of dirt to be seen. His scent drifted toward her: soap, musk, testosterone, leather, and man.
She resisted the urge to moan. She loved when guys went simple on the grooming. Too much cologne was like being stuck in a cologne factory. In other words, no fun at all.
He stopped at her table and leaned down. His gaze stoked a fire deep inside her.
She sucked in a breath.
A bright-blue wolf’s gleam flashed in his eyes once more. “I’m going to kiss you. Yes or no?”
That warm, rich, velvety voice wrapped around her, stalling her thoughts and playing havoc on her nerve endings.
It took a few seconds for her to understand what he was saying.
Once she grasped his meaning, she nodded her head like a bobblehead doll.
“No. Say ‘yes, please kiss me.’” He moved a little closer.
The bar around them had fallen silent.
She licked her lips. “Yes, please kiss me,” she whispered in a hushed tone.
He moved his head toward her until their mouths were a spider’s thread distance apart. His body heat pounded against her. His masculinity swallowed her whole. The heavy beat of arousal thudded in her vagina. Her entire world narrowed down to just him.
“Wait! What’s your name?” She had to know who she was about to kiss.
His rose-pink lips curled into a smile that could only described as wolfish. She almost expected to see his canines, but he didn’t show a hint of his teeth.
“Gunner,” he purred.
His voice rumbled around inside her, throwing propane on the leisurely simmer in her veins.
She opened her mouth to repeat his name, but he cut her off. He pressed his lips to hers. The barest hint of alpha wolf power trickled out.
His tongue slipped into her mouth to tangle and play with hers. He tasted of cinnamon and whiskey.
She groaned.
His lips were warm and firm, yet softer than she’d thought any man’s mouth should be. He cupped her chin with one hand while he held her head still with the other. Gunner controlled the kiss, moving his mouth over hers with assurance. She tasted his attraction and desire, a potent mixture that went straight to her head like champagne. Effervescence burst in her blood. She fought back a giggle and a sigh of happiness. Her body flushed with heat, and her head swam. All her thoughts broke apart.
He pulled back, panting, and gave her a slow grin. “Bloody hell. Gotta get back to work.” He pressed one more kiss to her lips and then walked away.
She traced her heated mouth with her fingertips and watched him, enjoying the way the denim molded over his butt cheeks and the way they rose and fell with each step. He had more confidence in his gait than before.
The drunkards let out wolf howls that bounced off the walls and hit her from all directions.
Lassitude slipped into her limbs. Her shoulders slumped, and she rested against the back of her booth, unable to move for a moment. Nothing touched her. Only the lingering tingles of his kiss on her lips mattered.
“Brave man. Glad she didn’t rip your balls off,” Drunky grumped.
She wanted another kiss. But without the audience. If she dispatched the drunks to find another drinking hole, she could have Gunner all to herself. She reached into her pocket and pressed the power button on her cell to check the status of her accommodations. A text message from the inn told her that her room was ready. Thank the goddess.
She put ten dollars on the table even though she’d only had a sparkling water and glanced toward the bar.
He nodded at her. “See you in an hour?”
“Yup, and you better be ready.” She bobbed her head at him in agreement and opened the door. Dry heat blasted her in the face. The aroma of hot garbage, deep-fried food, dead vegetation, and animal musk hung in the atmosphere. An anemic wind tried to bat at her, only to fail. Sweat bathed her brow.
“Too hot for ya, honey?” Lushy guffawed from behind her.
“Better take your pleasure where you can. The Feds are coming, and we have to move on. You’ll never see Gunman again,” Drunky warned.
She ignored them, crossed the street, and entered the inn. The door swung shut behind her with a quiet click. Cold air tickled her body, cooled her face and arms, and seeped past the cloth barrier of her clothing. The person on duty at the front desk waved her over. She went to him once she felt she’d shaken off the last of the outside heat.
“Sorry that took so long, Ms. Archer. We wanted to make sure the room was up to our standards before releasing it to you. Your luggage has already been taken to your room.” The front-desk attendant handed her the key.
“Thank you. I really appreciate all you’ve done. Checkout is at noon, right?” She’d be back on the road before then if the mechanic could figure out what the hell had happened. It better not be something complicated and costly, or I’ll skin him alive, she thought.
She’d been too tired to figure it out herself, and standing in the middle of nowhere in ninety-degree heat with 100 percent humidity in a car whose AC wasn’t working was not her idea of happiness.
“Yes, Ms. Archer. If you want to stay beyond that, you’ll have to make other accommodations come Friday. Moving Day and all,” the desk clerk warned.
“I doubt I’ll be here that long. May the Lady of the Woods bless your travels come Moving Day.”
“The same to you, Ms. Archer. Please enjoy your stay, and if you need any recommendations, let me know. I’ll be happy to help you.” The desk clerk turned to help the next customer.
She headed for the stairs, her gait stiff. Sitting on a hard, wooden chair did tend to make her ass and legs ache.
The trip took no time, with her room in the far corner of the second floor, looking out onto the dried-out garden filled with dead flowers and tall husks of grass. She entered her room and shut the door, thankful for the whole-home AC system in full effect. She heard the faint bumps of people moving around next door but nothing else.
That was impressive. Most inns she’d been in these tiny settlements didn’t take the time to soundproof anything. Just leave it the way it is and let it fall around your ears if you so much as sneeze.
The inn was a run-down Victorian with peeling paint and dirty windows. No one looking at it would think much of it. But beyond the doors, quiet comfort, dignity, and old-fashioned quality and service could be expected. Even if the time the shifters had here was limited, based on when someone would rat them out to the Feds, then Moving Day protocol would be enacted. If they didn’t participate in the shifters’ Moving Day—something that happened maybe every three months if a no-name town was lucky and the Feds hadn’t caught on until then—and remained opened, she would love to stay here again or maybe take a little vacation from her family and her life. She unpacked one outfit and her toiletries and took a quick shower. Rather than go fancy—which she hadn’t packed for—she pulled on a pair of black jeans, a tank top, and sandals, put on a light bit of gloss, eyeliner, and mascara, and headed back out, locking the door behind her.
She jogged down the stairs, walked across the main floor, and paused at the front doors, bracing herself to go back out into the afternoon heat. With a deep breath, she shoved the entryway open and headed out. Sweat bathed her face and soaked her clothes, ruining her makeup and what little the shower had done for her.
She entered the bar and found him leaning against the wall next to the entrance with his arms crossed and wearing a short-sleeved shirt—showing off his massive biceps and the ink work that wrapped his golden skin in glyphs, pictures, and words in various colors from black and white to bright blue, red, and green.
She noted a familiar symbol of a bat, the logo of a well-known superhero. Interesting. She pointed at it. “He’s my favorite.”
Gunner turned his arm this way and that, showing off more logos, a lovely mishmash of symbols from various comic powerhouses. “Mine too. Just a few I got out of boredom. Plus they were free since I was letting a friend test out his skills on me.” He gave her grin. “I’m off shift. Wanna go spend some time finishing what we started back there?”
His brown eyes were the color of the perfect cup of coffee—dark, rich, and close to black without being sludge. A glint of blue showed through all that darkness.
Her wolf answered the tease, rising up. She shivered but allowed the wolf to show through her gaze.
He chuckled. “Gold. What pack are you? You’re covering up your scent very well.”
She shrugged and moved closer to him. “I’m in neutral pack territory. Figured I’d rather be Little Red than Goldilocks and start trouble. I’m Valerie Archer.” She held out her hand, which he took. “Nice to meet you.”
He whistled, withdrew his hand, and bowed from the waist. “Pack royalty? Well, I’m honored.”
She chuckled but didn’t acknowledge his question. “And what pack are you affiliated with?”
“None. I’m a bit of wanderer. I’m only in town long enough to make enough money to fix up my bike, and then I’m off.” His features became shuttered.
Surprise stunned her at being shut out when he’d been so open before. His body relaxed, and he allowed emotions to float across his features. “Sorry. Bad past. Don’t like to talk about it much. So, I know a little place that serves the best fried chicken in three counties and has great sweet tea, cold enough to make you forget the heat and humidity. Wanna go?” He held out his hand to her.
“Sure.”
Taking his hand, she allowed him to guide her down the street toward a restaurant she’d spotted when entering the town. It looked like someone’s home, with a screened-off front porch and dusty windows and siding that needed repair.
When he pulled the screen door and held it open for her, she stepped into the first floor of what used to be a family house, now converted into a working restaurant. The grand staircase led up to the second floor, where she could see various tables and tall columns of wood.
The main floor was divided into two areas—to her right were three pool tables and some blackjack tables; to the left were booths set up against the wall with padded benches and a few tables scattered about. Every seat was taken, and there were groups of people at the pool tables playing a round. It was surprisingly cooler in the house than outside.
“Wow. Packed.” She sniffed the air: spices, old wood, bread, and fried meat permeated the area along with whiffs of sweat, pheromones, perfume, and cologne.
Her stomach rumbled. She hadn’t eaten since lunch.
“It’s always like this. Come on.” He guided her up the stairs and to the back of the room, where they stepped out onto another screened-in porch that faced out onto a lake surrounded by a garden in various stages of dying. Closer to the house, it was better maintained. The space was empty. Only the lazy creak of the fan spinning overhead and the murmur of conversation reached her. Privacy. She eyed him. He really did seem to want to talk to her, at least for now.
He led her to a table in the corner that gave them a view of not only the room but the lush garden underneath. The buzz of insects beyond the screen could be heard, but thankfully there weren’t any flying around them. He pulled out a chair for her.
“Well, chivalry isn’t dead. Thank you.” She slipped into her seat with a nod at him.
“I was taught manners.” He came around the table and settled down across from her.
A waiter entered into the room, glanced around, and spotted them. He strolled over holding a stack of menus, a huge grin on his face and sweat beading on his forehead. “Welcome to Susanna’s. Here are the menus. What can I get you to drink? The boozy strawberry lemonade and blueberry lemon sweet tea are our drinks of the day. And I can attest that they are both as cool, refreshing, and delicious as they sound.” He handed a menu to each of them.
Val eyed Gunner, wondering how he’d take this suggestion. Most men she knew would jump at the chance to take the lead and impress their date. “I’ll let you order for me since you’re the local. At least for now.”
Gunner gifted her with a megawatt smile that lit her up from the inside out. He took her menu and handed both of them back to the waiter. “Thank you for trusting me, Val. We’ll have two blueberry lemon sweet teas and two chicken baskets with buttermilk biscuits, extra honey butter, and for dessert some strawberry shortcakes.”
The waiter nodded. “Very good. I’ll be back in a few minutes with your teas.” He moved closer to Valerie. “You’re a lucky one. He doesn’t smile that often.” He left the room without waiting for a reply.
“Well, now, where were we?” She thought over the little they’d said to each other. “Getting to know each other…”
He settled against the back of his chair, his shoulders down, arms placed on the armrests and chest area open. “What do you want to know?”
She ran through a list of questions she’d normally ask on a date, only to wave them all away. “How’d you end up here?”
“Was just passing through when I skidded out and damaged my bike. Since I was broke, I’m working off my debt to Davis in the garage by tending bar until the bartender is well enough to go back to full-time and I’ve earned enough to get my bike out of their clutches. What about you?”
“I was on my way home from a friend’s wedding when my rental stalled. I’m waiting for the garage to fix it. They said they’d get it back to me by tomorrow morning.”
“Davis won’t overcharge you or make you wait. He’s a good man, even if he is a lion shifter. So one night, huh?” He raised a thick eyebrow. The look seemed both questioning and naughty at the same time.
The waiter returned and set down their drinks. “There you go. Your food should be ready in ten. Here are some biscuits and honey butter to tide you over. Enjoy.” He set down bowls of fluffy, golden, big-as-your-palm biscuits and a dish filled with butter swirled with honey.
Valerie’s stomach grumbled in approval. “Those look divine.” The wolf lifted its head and sniffed the air. The beast licked its chops. Her stomach rumbled again.
“And they are. Go on; try one.” He nudged the bowl toward her.
She accepted his offer, picked one disc up, broke it up, and inhaled the comforting scent of buttery bread fresh from the oven. “Mmm. I’ll try one without the butter first.” She took a large bite without hesitation and let out a muffled squeak. “Hawt,” she mumbled around a mouthful of bread.
Gunner chuckled. “Drink the tea,” he urged.
She didn’t need to be told twice and picked up her glass and took a deep swallow before going back to chewing. The sweetness and tartness of the blueberries and lemon burst on her taste buds, chasing way the rich, buttery goodness of the biscuit.
She finished off her first choice and picked up a second one, this time breaking it open and smearing some butter on it. Val let the spread melt and the biscuit cool a bit before taking a bite.
Gunner helped himself from the bowl and to the butter and followed her lead. “Good, right?” he asked before taking a bite.
“Very. I’ll have to remember this place next time I’m passing through. Hopefully, it will not have moved like the rest of the town, come Moving Day.” And get as many of these beauties as they’ll let me have.
They fell silent, each of them making a good dent in the bread and butter until both were gone. The chicken arrived with a second helping of biscuits, butter, corn on the cob, and thick potato wedges fried golden-brown to perfection. Most people would goggle at the sight. It only made Val hungrier.
Not intimidated, she ate with gusto, making sounds of appreciation between bites. The corn was buttery, creamy, and sweet, and the potato wedges had a bit of a spicy kick to them. And the chicken was out-of-this-world good.
“This is so…” For a moment she lost the ability to form words. “The chicken is spicy, but it’s not ‘oh my God, my mouth is on fire,’ kind of hot, and the corn on the cob and wedges are just so damn good.” If her grandmother still cooked, she’d have wanted the recipe to everything. Val wiped her fingers on a napkin, took out her phone, and put in a reminder about this place into her notepad before slipping it back into her pocket.
“No purse?” Gunner asked. He was two-thirds of the way done with his basket.
“Nope. Hate carrying them unless I have to. Besides that, I’m more of a stay-at-home type of person.” She grinned and waited for him to make some sort of disparaging remark. None came.
“I wouldn’t know what that’s like. Home, I mean. I like to keep on the move.” His features became shuttered for a second before opening back up to her.
“I can’t imagine that at all. I like to have my place and nest there. Call me weird.” She laughed. She didn’t add that until recently, she’d been moved around from place to place just like all the other shifter communities to avoid the government or hunters finding them.
He shook his head. “Not weird at all. Some people have their places. I just haven’t found mine.” He shifted in his seat and ducked his head.
Not wanting to make him uncomfortable, she switched gears. “So what kind of bike? I know nothing about cars or motorcycles. I just like to look at them.”
“Not a gear head?” He grinned at her.
“Nope. My dad tried. I know how to fix a flat tire and fill up my own gas, check the tire pressure, and put in antifreeze, but the rest is kind of wasted on me. I take the bus to work most of the time—or a cab if I work late—or walk everywhere. So, it’s good info to know, but I don’t really use it. Poor Dad.” She shook her head. He still tried to educate her on the finer points of owning a car, but it fell on deaf ears.
He gave her a sad smile that tugged at her heartstrings. Why, she didn’t know. “Cars aren’t everyone’s cup of tea. Same with bikes. I got it brand new. I know a guy who knew a guy. Anyway, it was a lucky break.”
“Nice!”
“Maybe I’ll show you before you leave town. I need to check on it anyway. Make sure the boys at the shop don’t have designs on her. So, what do you do?” He leaned forward, interest lighting up his eyes.
Small talk. She wasn’t sure whether to be annoyed or to just go with the flow. “I work in Belladonna Grove as a personal shopper, and yes, it really is protected by witches so shifters are safe there, so long as they follow the rules.”
“Okay, that’s going to go over my head. Is it fun?”
She bobbed her head. Excitement sparked inside her. “Oh, yeah, it’s creative, a challenge. I love every second of it, even when I’m frustrated as hell and would love to deck my clients.” She gave a laugh. “But yeah, it’s great.”
“That’s good.” He nodded.
An earlier comment swirled around her mind. “How’d you know who I was? I mean, that I was a pack princess?”
She didn’t advertise that fact. It was a way to keep their progeny safe. Only other pack royalty or those within the pack structure could tell.
He shrugged; all mirth left his face. “I’ve heard rumblings here and there. If you’re a good listener, then you get pieces of valuable information. But don’t worry. I won’t spread it around.”
She let the wolf rise once again and stared at him. “You better not let even a whisper of who I am get out, or I’ll rip your guts out.”
Fire sparked in his eyes, darkening them. “Try it, love. I’ll show you what an alpha can do when provoked.”
Her pussy tightened, and her wolf panted. A fission of heat rushed up and down her spine. “Alpha, huh? Prove it.” She knew she was playing with fire, but what the hell. She was having far too much fun to stop.
He shook his head. “Not here. Later. When we have more privacy.”
She raised an eyebrow. “Scared?”
“Not in the least.” He sat back and relaxed. “Just not into exhibitionism.”
She let out a laugh. “Neither am I, but nothing wrong with PDA.”
“No, nothing wrong with it, but some things should be private. Like what I’m going to do to you later.” His gaze remained steady and unyielding. A challenge sparked in the darkness.
She shifted in her seat. The weight of his stare pressed against her skin. Her wolf grumbled, accepting the challenge. She titled her head to the side. “Don’t start something you can’t finish, alpha.” She didn’t doubt for a second he had the power to lead a pack, but a small part of her wondered why he didn’t have one to begin with. Had the government caught them or had another pack attacked them or something else? Maybe something like what had happened with Alfred, the Blood Breaker?
He leaned forward. “Oh, I intend to finish it all right. Several times.” His voice dropped to a rough whisper that lit up her insides.
She quaked. Her toes curled at the threat. Arousal flared hot. “Let’s get dessert to go.”
He shook his head and settled back in his chair once more. “Not yet.”
She frowned. “Why not now?” Impatience jittered up and down her legs. In need of letting out all that energy, she jiggled one of her legs.
“Because some things are worth waiting for. Like a sexy-as-hell woman, good food, and another kiss.” He picked up his sweet tea and took a slow sip, never taking his eyes off her. When he drew the glass away from his mouth, the pink tip of his tongue darted out to lick up the last traces of his drink.
She wanted to feel that tongue on intimate places on her body. “Fine, but just for this, I’ll go slowly with you.”
He chuckled. “I bet you will.”
The waiter returned, took away their dishes, and promised their dessert in a few minutes.
“It should take me less than ten minutes to eat that shortcake,” she said, hoping to provoke him.
He didn’t take the bait and shook his head. “Nope. Take your time. Savor it. I haven’t let you down yet, have I?”
“Well, you refuse to make out with me right here and now.” She pouted but didn’t really mean it. Much.
His lips quirked in a smile. “You didn’t ask, love.”
Hope bloomed in her chest. “So, you’d—”
“I kissed you back at the bar, didn’t I?” He raised an eyebrow at her.
“That was in front of two drunks,” she pointed out.
He lifted one shoulder and took another sip of his tea. “Still an audience. What I do to you next isn’t for public consumption.”

-Pack loyalty or howling hot passion? What will she choose? #FilthyWerewolves #IRRomance #ParaERom #Werewolves-

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Thursday Teaser

Dear Readers and Fans:

For this Thursday Teaser, I present to you an excerpt from my upcoming novel, ‘Dragon in Training’–sequel to ‘Dragon Fire’. Do enjoy!

Peace,
Emily

Excerpt: What I wouldn’t give to have someone in my corner right now. Mark’s boss (head of the Department of Dragons), his boss’s boss (head of their Tampa offices), and every single doctor who had so much as sniffed in his general direction faced Mark Tavery in a semicircle, and he had no one. His genie lover had offered to miniaturize himself and hide inside Mark’s suit coat collar, but he would have been caught, so Mark had smiled and said, “Luke, I’ll be fine. I can always roast them if I’m in real danger.”

If he couldn’t have his lover here, he wanted a lawyer. No one had mentioned firing him–yet–but he needed someone in his corner who was paid to be calm and rational. It would also help if the hypothetical lawyer wasn’t suffering from the effects of a delayed shedding.

“It’s not a question of performance,” his immediate boss, Ray, said. “Mark hasn’t let this stop him or even slow him down.”

For the fiftieth time since he’d sat down, Mark resisted the urge to scratch both arms.

“I wouldn’t expect anything less.” Jack, his boss’s boss, met Mark’s gaze. “Your record has always been exemplary.”

Except I haven’t been promoted in eight years. “Thank you.” His first-ever dragon scale shedding was now three months, four days, ten hours, and–he stole a glance at Jack’s huge grandfather clock–two minutes late. And unless this meeting was suddenly going to take a spin off into left field, none of the doctors could figure out why it hadn’t happened on schedule.

So I’m being a little unfair. Ray didn’t say it was going to start at exactly 12:01 a.m. on June first, but it should have started long before this. He closed his eyes as Jack rehashed all the old questions with the doctors. Was Mark maybe carrying some germ that could be hampering his shedding? Had they checked for all the weird permutations HIV could take on when interacting with a dragon’s cells?

That second question made Mark’s eyes itch, and he kept his lids firmly down just in case his blue irises started shifting to yellow-green. He hadn’t been with anyone but his lover, Luke, since they’d met. The man before that had been many things, but he wasn’t that. And there hadn’t been a man before him since Mark was twenty-one, over ten years ago. There was no chance Mark had HIV.

His palms itched. He forced himself to count silently back from ten.

“Well, Mark,” Ray said, “I guess this is just like how it was after you came to us. It took you over thirty years to even figure out that you were a dragon. I guess it’s going to take you a while to decide to shed your first scales.”

He’d opened his eyes at the sound of his name. Now he tried not to look away from his boss and made himself smile. He knew Ray was joking; the evidence was all over the man’s face. But he kept his smile closed, fearing the number of teeth he’d inadvertently end up showing. “So I’m free to get back to my reports?” He’d been stuck behind his desk since returning from vacation on the last day of June. Behind his smile, but probably obvious to at least Jack and maybe to Ray as well, he ground his teeth.

“For now,” Jack said. “But if you haven’t started shedding by the beginning of October, I think we should try to induce this first time ourselves.”

You can do that? His whole body exploded with a thousand pinpricks of need. Do you know what it’s like to lie in bed next to your lover at night and not be able to let him touch you because anything short of a bone-breaking slap makes the itching worse? As if that wasn’t enough, we’re in fucking Florida in late summer, and you can do something about it and haven’t?

One of the doctors touched his temple with two fingers and winced.

Mark froze and did all he could to rein in the famous Tavery temper. Shit, dragons are telepathic. Did I just…? “I’m sorry, Doctor.”

“It’s all right. You didn’t know.”

Jack leaned forward. “If we have to induce the shedding, Mark, you’ll most likely have to be hospitalized. The drugs that have been developed have only been used a few times, and even in clinical trials, they’ve caused temporary insanity.”

He felt himself blush. “I understand. Are there any other techniques I can use to encourage the shedding?”

The doctor who had touched his temple said, “The only reason dragons fail to shed is because they are ill. You are not physically ill, Mr. Tavery. Neither are you mentally ill. I am not a spiritual man myself, but when all other avenues have been thoroughly explored, the last road must lead us home.”

What did spiritually ill mean for a dragon who hadn’t practiced religion since childhood? He thought of Luke, for whom spirituality was a quiet, constant part of his life, and wondered if his lover could help. At this point, he’d pretend to worship a lightbulb if it would jump-start his shedding.

His mind and body jumped briefly to thoughts of his golden-haired lover, and he shifted in his chair, oh-so-casually adjusting his long shirt so it lay over the bulge in his dress pants. In the first twenty-four hours he’d known Luke, he’d seen the Adonis-like genie all but naked twice. His initial attraction had been formed by thoughts of Luke lounging on his couch, clad in nothing but a thong. When they’d first touched, it had been Luke’s gentle, persistent strength that had brought down Mark’s shields from within.

Okay, most of his shields. Some things just couldn’t be shared, especially not if he wanted to keep Luke as his lover. But Luke would know how to help him with his spiritual problem. Luke, his golden god, knew all about patience.

* * *

Cordless phone pressed to his ear, Luke stalked through the house. “I understand what you’re saying, but this situation is different.” He saw the vase he’d knocked over fifteen minutes ago and magically hurled the pieces into the garbage can, scowling when they tinkled too musically. “I’m not just his boyfriend, sir. I’m a genie. I’m more than capable of protecting myself in the field. I should be allowed to join him on his missions.”

“Your ability is not in question,” the calm voice returned, “but the fact remains that you have no training.” There was a pause. “And right now, it is a moot point. Please note that Mr. Tavery will be restricted to research until he completes a successful shedding cycle. Until that time, you are more than welcome to accompany him to the office in Tampa so long as your visits do not exceed more than two hundred twenty-five minutes each week.”

That sounded like a lot of time, but Luke conjured a pen and a pad of paper in midair, did a quick calculation, and said, “That’s all of Mark’s lunch hours added together.”

“Exactly.”

The genie used his powers to rip the pad of paper in half. He snapped the pen too, catching all the ink in a swirling sphere that he imagined splatting against the too-calm man’s face. He also sent this into the garbage can. “So what’s to stop me from joining SearchLight? I could accompany Mark then without trouble.”

“If you were accepted, and if you completed all the required coursework and training over a three-year period, and if you were hired into Mr. Tavery’s department, there still is no guarantee the two of you would be a team. Agents in smaller offices must sometimes work alone.”

Tampa’s a smaller office? But that question couldn’t hold him. Three years? He’d been reading all of Mark’s textbooks for the last two-plus months since Mark had gone back to work at the end of June. He did this at first because his interest was piqued, and then because he’d found less and less to do around the house after Mark’s vacation ended. Didn’t all that studying count for anything? Wasn’t there a test he could take or something?

“I take it you’re finally thinking this through,” the security director out of DC said, possibly in response to Luke’s silence. “Good. I appreciate how shocking it must be for you to be out of your lamp, and of course we offer counseling to all magical creatures who are dealing with unique situations–”

The back door opened. “Luke?”

His Mark sounded a little more hopeful than he had for the last two months, but also exhausted. Luke made the decimated pen and pad disappear. “Thank you for your help, sir.” He hung up, poofed the phone to its cradle, and transported himself from the kitchen to the living room. Walking there would have taken less than ten seconds, but he loved making Mark jump.

“Luke, shit!” Laughing, Mark dropped his briefcase and keys. “One of these days, I’m going to put my scales on and fry your ass for doing that.” His Gulf blue eyes were bright with amusement, and he brushed dark hair off his forehead with a steady hand. There was no sign of the frustration that had dogged his steps for weeks.

“Good news?” Luke asked as he levitated the briefcase and keys into their proper places. Please let it be good news. He hated having to tiptoe around Mark, and not just because he knew their fledgling relationship would have been able to take so much more if Mark hadn’t been going through the dragon’s equivalent of a never-ending menstrual cycle.

“Maybe.” At once, Mark’s eyes dimmed, and the exhaustion rushed forward in his gaze like a wave. “The doctors can’t find a damn thing wrong with me.” He brought up his right hand and touched Luke’s face gently. “God, I want you so badly.”

Unable to do any of the half a million things he craved, the genie tried something slight, praying it wouldn’t torment Mark’s sensitive skin. He turned his head and ran his tongue lightly across the tips of the dragon’s fingers.

His lover winced, pulled his hand back, and scratched where Luke’s tongue had been. “I’m sorry,” he told his fingers. “If this would just fucking start already…” He sighed, stopped scratching with what looked like a tremendous effort, and met Luke’s gaze. “So this one doctor suggested that I’ve got to try a new avenue of healing. He said that since I’m not physically or mentally ill”–he snorted, and Luke found himself smiling in return–“that I should explore my spiritual wellness. Problem is, I stopped praying to anything about the time I stopped believing in miracles.” He met Luke’s gaze, seemed to steel himself, and then plunged both hands into Luke’s hair. “But I’ll try anything. I can’t stand being away from you.”

Mark’s jaw was clenched; Luke felt the tension in his lover’s hands. His own cock had awakened at Mark’s words, but he stepped back. “Doing even that much is making your skin burn.”

Mark dropped his hands. “God, I hate this.” He sighed and squared his shoulders. “Tell me about your One-Who-Decides.”

Luke blinked. You can’t just convert. Being a Listener is much more than words. But Mark would want an in-depth explanation, and Luke fumbled for a moment.

Mark grinned a little. “You look like I asked you to wear a dress. I’m not going to become a monk in your religion or anything, but if I’m going to start shedding, I need to figure out what’s wrong with me. Maybe it is spiritual. Whatever that means.”

“You don’t believe that.” Luke gestured toward the couch, sat, and waited for Mark to do the same. “Mark, I don’t think that’s going to help. What did you believe in as a kid?”

Mark scratched at his forehead as sweat beaded there. “My family’s Jewish.” His shoulders were hunched. “That’s not going to work. I haven’t believed in any of the laws or customs since I sang the four questions at Seder.”

The sweat on his lover’s brow was thicker now; Luke tried not to watch it. He wanted so badly to wipe it away and to take all Mark’s discomfort with it. “You used to sing? How old were you?”

His lover was worrying at his bottom lip as if he didn’t feel the sweat. Maybe compared to the itching he’d been dealing with for two months, it was nothing. “Seven or eight when I stopped, I think. My aunt had a little girl who got old enough to sing the questions. It’s always the youngest child who sings. Luke, if you’ll just–”

A drop of sweat trickled down Mark’s nose. Except it wasn’t sweat. Luke reached out and caught it before it could disappear. He held up the dark blue, triangle-shaped thing. “Mark.”

His lover stared at the scale. “Or maybe talking about my Jewish heritage is just what the doctor ordered.” He laughed, pushed Luke’s hand aside, and kissed the genie chastely. When he drew back, he scratched his lips with his sharp teeth, but he was grinning. “Let’s talk Seders, Passovers, and dreidels. The sooner we get started and the sooner I shed, the sooner I can have you inside me again.” He pressed his palm firmly over Luke’s crotch, and before he had to pull away and scratch, his eyes flickered briefly to a dragon’s hungry yellow-green. “I miss you.”

Luke moaned. “Miss you too,” he managed, but his throat had half-closed. Mark spoke so casually of his shedding being over, but once it finally began in earnest, it was going to last for two weeks, during which time Luke wouldn’t be able to touch him at all. Once Mark started shedding long rows of scales, he could touch Luke, but it couldn’t go the other way.

The genie’s balls tightened as an old hunger burned. Mark could touch him. And maybe it didn’t even have to be skin to skin. He licked his lips.

“Not yet,” his lover said, and he was laughing again. “Use your centuries of patience, Luke. In another couple of weeks, you’ll have me back. Until then, let’s talk. Do you want to hear about my brother’s botched bar mitzvah or the way my sister threw a fit when she realized Moses was a man?”
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