Congratulations to Larissa Palma, the winner of my TRS Thanksgiving Party drawing. I would like to thank all who commented, and The Romance Studio for hosting this event.
The fifth installment in the Haven’s Realm series loosens all the barriers and reveals the heart of the Community. Vincent, a longstanding member of the series, gets his turn at bat in this tale that is the culmination of the series, and the beginning of things to come. Here, at the beginning of the story, we find our hero contemplating a fire with his best friend and King.
And now, here’s a taste of what has become truly an epic tale…
When her best friend is taken by a vampire, Dr. Charlotte Vinetti shifts her genetic research focus in hopes of finding a cure. Five years later, she’s no closer to her goal, and long-troubled by the one vampire she’d killed who was different from the rest. Her worst nightmares become terrifying reality when she’s captured and realizes her captors are intelligent, sentient beings rather than the mindless creatures who continued to invade her home.
Vincent was nearing the end of his strength. Haven’s trials over the past five years had overtaxed his resources, but he knew with dread his problems were only beginning when the hunter the Community had long sought was the reincarnation of his deepest love. Forced by ancient promises to stand against the Bargain, his only hope lies in ending their gypsy curse and winning her love, for only then can he earn the Council’s forgiveness.
Vincent contemplated the fire in Haven’s massive sitting room, listening as was his habit to the music it rendered while he worked to assimilate his evening meal and shore up his control. By the gods, he was tired, more than he’d ever been, more than he’d ever allow his brethren to see. Jason sat in the chair to his right, studying him in silence. His closest friend’s growing concern picked irritatingly at his nerves, setting him on edge.
“You’re not yourself tonight, Vin. I’m concerned.” His words were an understatement. What he didn’t say spoke louder than his quiet observation.
“I’ll be fine, Jase,” he insisted, fatigue evident in his voice. “You’ve no need for concern.”
“You’ve overtaxed yourself. Everyone senses it. I don’t believe you can handle…”
“Leave it alone.” He hoped the sudden edge in his voice would be enough. It wasn’t.
“You’re going to need—”
“I said leave it,” he growled, jumping to his feet.
Jason rose to face him, power shining in his dark brown eyes. “Not this time, my friend. Not after all you’ve sacrificed in my name. I can’t.”
“There’s nothing you or anyone can do!” The sharpening of his vision meant his eyes were burning their unique sapphire fire. His tenuous control was wavering. “No matter what I do, no matter how I try, the end is always the same.” He turned away, agitated and with good reason. This was his least favorite topic. “I’ve never been able to escape. My past revisits me with unerring regularity.” He wrung his hands before thrusting his fingers through his hair. “This is my own personal hell, Jason. No one can help.”
“It’s different this time, Vin. The timing is off. Perhaps you should consult your sire. She has her own way of interpreting things.”
Vincent scoffed. “Antonia had a hand in fashioning my punishment. I was a fool to believe surrendering my mortality to her would put an end to it.”
“I’m sure she didn’t know of the curse before–”
“No one knew. No one alive knows, save you and Joshua, and the two of you only by accident of fate.”
“If she can discover how to undo–”
“I’ll have no more gypsy tricks.” He spat the word gypsy with a brand of disgust he’d never allow his sire to hear. She possessed a soft spot for the vagrant life those early clans led, the freedom of the open road. Their lifestyle appealed to the free-spiritedness uniquely hers. Never mind the fact he’d once shared the sentiment.
“It’s one of the few things you’ve yet to try. Even I don’t know what Toni can do, given the right motivation.”
He leveled his gaze on Jason, his control at its end. “I will speak of this no more.” The deep warning his tone conveyed was enough to convince even Trey to back down. It only served to deepen his brother’s sorrow.
“How can I stand by while the Brother of my Soul faces devastation? I can’t turn aside, knowing you’ve weakened yourself to unstable levels to save my mate, and so the Bargain. Must I…” He paused to swallow hard at the thickness evident in his throat. “Must I sacrifice our friendship to preserve your life?”
Jason’s impassioned plea dissolved his anger. His vision dimmed to normal. He dropped his shoulders in defeat. “The best you can do is stay out of my way. I will do what I must, as I always have.”
He put his hands on Vincent’s shoulders and met his gaze. “Should you require aid, I won’t hesitate to step in with all I am able.” With a faint hint of humor in his voice, he added, “If I recall correctly, you acted against my wishes and did for my wife the one thing I would’ve been unable to do. I can’t stay out of it this time. I owe you too much.”
The tension holding his jaw clenched eased. His remaining agitation softened to sad resolve. “I wish I possessed Hope’s vision,” he said at last, “but then, I’ve tried more than once to avoid what fate insists upon. I’m afraid all you can do is nurse me back to sanity when this is over.”
* * * *
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Where to find Tamara:
In the second story in the Haven’s Realm saga, an extraterrestrial princess is brought to earth by a strange storm and deposited in the sitting room of Colton Graves, an angry and remorseful vampire. As she struggles to understand his self-hatred, she creeps closer to the truth with the help of a woman she meets in town. In the following segment, she is walking to Graves Manor from a visit with Molly, deep in thought over her perplexing explanations, when she receives a sense of fear. She turns aside to investigate and discovers Colton holding a strange man in a darkened alley.
“What are you doing here?” His voice was low and menacing, but his eyes caught and held her attention–they were aglow with feral red fire. “You followed me. I warned you not to interfere.” He closed the gap between them much more quickly than anyone should be able to move. “Why couldn’t you just stay away?”
She couldn’t move. Couldn’t think. With great effort, she pulled her gaze away from his and turned toward the man lying in the center of the alleyway. “You killed him.” Her voice came out a whisper and revealed her confusion.
“Yes. That’s what I do. Are you satisfied now?”
She saw the blood dripping from his anguished lips, the sharp fangs peeking from behind them. “Why?”
He laced his fingers in the hair at the back of her head and pulled backward sharply enough to bring tears to her eyes. “I need blood. This is what I am.” He pulled her closer, and she thought she saw a hint of regret on his face when he whispered tightly, “Oh, why couldn’t you leave this alone?”
He was going to kill her. She saw it on his face and felt it in his rage. Waves of torment and sorrow poured from his heart, mingling with a hunger both dark and insatiable. Instead of fearing for her life or the loss of her destiny, she felt pity for the man holding her brutally in his arms. She couldn’t hope to fight him. In his present state, he was far too powerful. Resisting him would only prolong the pain he’d surely inflict.
With surrender her only remaining option, she braced herself against the shock and opened her mind to him while he moved to her throat. His conflicting thoughts and feelings instantly flooded her mind, and just as it had the night she arrived, his power overwhelmed her. She lost consciousness before his fangs penetrated her throat.
Katie Mills, a young high-school senior, is about to have her entire world turned upside down by the most handsome Scot she’d ever laid eyes on. The following excerpt places Katie with her friends on the midway at the Clark County Fair just after dark.
Twilight Destiny, and all the Haven’s Realm novels, are available from Secret Cravings Publishing and your favorite online retailer. Don’t forget to comment for your chance to win an e-novel from Haven’s Realm.
She rolled her eyes and turned, and felt a fresh knot form in her stomach. Across the midway stood the finest example of male beauty she’d ever seen. His general height and outline gave her the uncomfortable feeling he was the same man she’d seen minutes before staring at her from the shadows. At the moment, he was busying himself at one of the contest tables, throwing baseballs at stacked bottles. His aim, she noticed, was dead-on perfect.
He appeared to be in his early twenties, twenty-two or twenty-three. He was dressed in a pair of tight fitting blue jeans and a loose linen shirt. The long sleeves were cuffed tightly at his wrists, making them blouse softly. His rich brown-gold hair curled softly around his head and fell to below his shoulders. Those shoulders were broad, and, judging by the way his shirt was tucked trimly into his jeans, muscular. The toes of a pair of snakeskin boots peaked from the hems of his jeans. He accepted his prize, a stuffed Seattle Seahawk, from the attendant and turned to present it to a small boy who happened to walk by at that moment. His face was angular. Low, straight brows topped his eyes, and a straight nose hovered over a set of lips just full enough to look soft and sensual. The slightest hint of a cleft in his chin added more strength and masculinity to his overall appearance.
She swallowed hard and backed up behind Brianne and Nicole, wanting nothing more at the moment than to disappear. Brianne grabbed her arm before she could make good her escape. “Where do you think you’re going?”
“I…uh…the popcorn made me thirsty. Anyone want a pop?” To her own ears, her voice sounded higher, weaker, bordering on panic. Luckily, her companions didn’t seem to notice.
“I’ll bet he’s married,” Brianne whispered. “No one that gorgeous could possibly be available.”
“No,” Nicole countered. “If he were, he’d have his wife with him.”
“I’ll bet I can get his attention,” Brianne said with a soft smile.
“No way,” Nicole argued. “Look at him. He’s more the sultry, seductive type.”
“Is anyone hungry?” she asked desperately. Again, her companions ignored her. The knot in her stomach pulsated suspiciously like a heartbeat.
The man turned and walked along the midway toward them. “Look,” Nicole said in a voice soft and low. “He’s coming this way.”
“L-look, I’ve gotta, uh…” she stammered, trying to pull herself free of Brianne’s grasp.
“Come on, Katie, you’re in on this too. Let’s see who ends up with him.”
“No, really, I don’t think I…”
“Hi, ladies. Great evening, huh?” the man asked lightly, interrupting her argument. She noticed a slight accent in his smooth tenor voice.
“Couldn’t be better,” Brianne said, smiling as she extended her hand. “I’m Brianne Anderson.”
He accepted her handshake briefly and gave Nicole a questioning look. “Nicole Pierce,” she purred. He shook her hand with equal brevity and turned his gaze to Katie. The knot in her stomach climbed up to her throat as if it too wanted to escape.
He sized her up slowly before catching and holding her gaze. “And who might you be?” he asked, his smile softening.
She felt instantly trapped in the depths of his warm-chocolate eyes. There was so much to see in those eyes–self-assuredness that comes from a sense of power, combined with a hint of something she couldn’t quite define. The intensity of his gaze made her feel powerless and took the starch out of her knees. It took a nudge from Brianne to snap her out of the spell he’d cast over her. “Katie Mills,” she said at last, reluctantly raising her hand to him.
He took her hand, but instead of shaking it as he had the others, he gently rubbed the pad of his thumb across her knuckles. “Katie? Is that short for something? Let me guess. Katrina?” She shook her head. “No? Caitlin?” Again she shook her head, a sudden sense of déjà vu overtaking her and making her dizzy. “Catalina then?”
“No,” she answered, her voice trembling. “It’s Catherine.”
“Catherine,” he repeated softly, his eyes pinned to hers intently. “It suits you.” Still holding her hand gently, he said, “You may call me Joshua.”
The other girls took notice of the unusual attention he was giving her, and broke the spell that had captured her so firmly. “Don’t mind her,” Brianne said with a laugh. “She’s a little shy. Have you been on any of the rides yet?”
“We’re going to the concert later. Want to come along?” Nicole offered.
He held her gaze for a moment longer. She thought she saw irritation flicker in his eyes. He turned away to smile at the other girls. “You know, I haven’t been on the rides yet. Which ones do you like best?”
“The Ferris wheel,” Nicole purred.
“Yeah,” Brianne agreed with a sultry smile.
“Well, come on, then. I have plenty of tickets.” He put his arms around each of the girls and glanced back to her. “Are you coming, Catherine?”
“I…that is, uh…you guys go on ahead. I’m not crazy about the rides anyway.”
“Aw, come on Katie,” Brianne called sharply.
“What are you afraid of?” Nicole asked, mischief gleaming in her eyes.
“Losing my stomach,” she muttered, looking at the two of them hanging on Joshua’s arms like soft taffy.
“It won’t be as much fun without you,” he coaxed.
She almost asked him if he didn’t think he already had his hands full. She desperately wanted to say no, but found herself trailing along anyway. Something about his voice, soft and warm, and yet able to carry so easily over the fair’s chaotic atmosphere, pulled at her like a tether. He can sing. She watched him walk with her companions and noticed the fluid way he conducted himself. He’s graceful, a dancer, for sure–and rich, no doubt about that. Rich, to her, meant trouble–rich people couldn’t be trusted. Better to leave him to her friends and escape before things got out of hand.
He allowed the girls to lead him along the midway, Katie following behind and watching in disgust while they laughed too loudly at his jests and openly competed for his attention. Desperate for a way to gracefully escape the group, she decided to blend in with the crowd as soon as they boarded one of the rides. With any luck, she would be in her car and on her way home before they noticed she’d gone.
When they reached the Ferris wheel, Joshua handed the attendant enough tickets for the four of them and led the girls to the first gondola. The ride operator quickly stepped in and closed the bar over the two girls’ laps. “Hey,” Brianne protested. “There’s room for one more.”
“Two to a car, please,” the operator said with practiced curtness.
“Sorry, ladies,” he called when the ride swept into motion and they swung over the ground. When the next car came available, he turned and held his hand to her.
Crap. Now what do I do? “N-no thank you. I really don’t…”
“Come on,” he insisted lightly. “I won’t bite.” She swallowed her reluctance and accepted his invitation. After all, what else could she do without looking foolish? He seated her in the gondola, sat beside her, and put one arm over her shoulders while the attendant secured the bar.
At first, she sat still and endured the ride while it surged and paused repeatedly to change riders. When the car stopped at the top, she looked across the fairgrounds and lost some of her nervousness to the wonder of the sight. From high above, the lights took on a more magical appearance than they did from the ground. She leaned over the bar, trying to take it all in at once. “First time on a Ferris wheel?” he asked, drawing her attention back to him.
“It’s been a long time. I forgot how high it is.”
“Does it frighten you, being up this high?”
“No, not really.” She turned back to look over the midway. “The view is beautiful.”
The tips of his fingers stroked her shoulder lightly, and she turned to him again, her pulse rate suddenly skyrocketing. “Why do you associate yourself with girls like Brianne and Nicole? They’re beneath you.”
She took a deep breath in an effort to calm her racing heart. “They’re not so bad, once you get to know them. When they’re not acting like half-crazed…”
She almost laughed. “Well, that’s one way to put it. Anyway, they let me hang out with them. I don’t have many friends.”
“I can’t believe that. Pretty girl like you? I’ll bet all the boys in school trip over themselves to get close to you.”
She felt a warm blush rise to her face, and quickly turned away. “They prefer girls like Bri and Nikki.”
“Their loss, I suppose,” he said, not unkindly. “Don’t get me wrong, Brianne and Nicole are two very attractive young ladies, but to be honest, I found their behavior somewhat…obvious. It’s a shame, really, that more men don’t see through their kind.” A soft smile of appreciation pulled at her lips, but fled the instant he touched her chin with the tip of his index finger and guided her face back to his. His eyes had darkened from warm chocolate to hot cocoa. “I am not interested in what they appeared almost desperate to offer.”
She felt trapped once more in the power of his gaze. The seriousness in his expression made the bottom drop out of her stomach. “Please don’t.”
“Forgive me,” he begged, lowering his hand. “I’ve overstepped my bounds.”
“No, it’s just…” She attempted a lighthearted laugh that sounded as forced as it was. “I barely know you.”
The ride pulled to a stop and the operator stepped forward to release the bar so they could disembark. The girls were waiting for them at the gate. Brianne stepped forward instantly and took his arm. “Come on. The Tilt-a-Whirl’s next.” Katie heard the desperation in her voice.
He smiled brightly and put an arm around each of the girls, leaving her feeling bewildered. After guiding them into motion, he lowered his arms and dipped one hand in his pocket. “That sounds like great fun, ladies. Tell you what though, why don’t you go on without me for a while.” He handed them a fist-full of ride tickets and took her hand. “Catherine isn’t feeling well and needs to sit down.” They stared in open-mouthed surprise when he pulled her into the crowd.
She allowed him to guide her along while she regained her bearings. They were halfway through the midway before she laughed, forgetting just for the moment the strange nervousness that had settled uncomfortably in her stomach. “Did you see the looks on their faces?”
His smile was warm and soft. “Took them by surprise, didn’t I?”
“I don’t think anyone’s done that to them before.”
After a few moments of silence, he observed, “They follow. No, don’t turn to look. They’re there.”
Maybe that’s for the best. “What should we do?”
A spark of amusement lit his eyes. “Come this way.” He put his arm around her back and guided her between a food booth and the fence surrounding one of the rides, across the next aisle of midway, and around to the rear of some game stalls. It all happened so fast it made her head spin, and she had to lean against the back of the stall for support. “Quiet now.” She heard Brianne and Nicole calling to each other in frustration for a moment, and then their voices were lost in the chaos of other noises around them. “That should do it,” he said at last. “Are you all right?”
She took a deep breath and looked up to see the concern in his eyes. “Fine.”
“When was the last time you ate?” She thought about the sausage she had for lunch and the two or three bites of popcorn, and realized her diet was not equal to the excitement of the evening. Before she could answer him, he said, “Come. I’ll get you something to eat.”
The fifth installment in the Haven’s Realm saga focuses primarily on Vincent, a long-standing member of the series and Council Elder. Vincent has long held within him a secret pain known only by Jason, his king, and Joshua, his brother in blood.
Readers of the series will know the Community is still searching for the woman who has been hunting vampires without discretion. Readers of Haven’s King will know she’s been captured, and Vincent acted in an unexpected manner, placing his position, and his very existence, at risk.
Secrets & Promises, and all the Haven’s Realm series, are available from Secret Cravings Publishing and your favorite online retailer. Don’t forget to comment for your chance to win an e-book from the Haven’s Realm lineup.
In the following scene, genetic scientist Charlotte “Chari” Vinetti iscaptured by a pair of vampires while on a hunting expedition…
Soon the snow would begin to fall. Already the tracks she’d made were being blown clear by wind-driven snow. Sudden movement caught her eye. She froze, her senses shouting signals to her brain. Vampire. She held still and waited, her eyes and inner self wide open and her mind firmly closed. He moved into the open a hundred yards ahead of her. Well, at least she would have a chance to see if the new serum worked. She slid the rifle down her arm and leveled the sight on him. After she adjusted the focus on the scope, she almost gasped aloud. It was him–the creature she’d shot over four years ago with one of her earlier compounds that proved disastrous on the second subject, who’d exploded within seconds.
But this one got up and walked away. Well, okay, staggered, but he’d survived! She lowered her rifle to the ground and winced at the slight crunch when its weight settled on the snow, unclipped her crossbow and raised it. This could be another of those mutants. A slight twinge of conscience tugged at her once more, making the crossbow seem heavier than usual. She firmly told herself taking him down was necessary. She was on to something. If she could unlock this mystery, she could help those poor, tortured souls back to the living world. Save them. Save Ross. For that, the death of one more vicious vampire was worth it. She brought the arrow level with his heart and put her finger on the trigger.
The weapon vanished from her grasp. She gasped and looked down. Her rifle was gone as well. An instant later, a cold hand clamped over her mouth. An arm went around her neck from behind. My God! A vampire! A soft female voice spoke–spoke?–low in her ear. Her tone was lethal. “Make a move or utter a sound and I’ll snap your neck.”
Frozen in sheer terror, her worst nightmares materialized before her eyes. At any moment, she expected razor sharp fangs to rip her throat open. The one she tried to shoot appeared–just appeared–in front of her. He radiated power like a thousand watt light bulb, his flaming eyes drilling into her, his anger gripping her heart. She wondered how long they would make her suffer before she died. At this point, there was no use fighting. So, why aren’t I dead? Why does he seem to be studying me?
She stared at the vampire, shocked. He seemed self-aware and intelligent. The control he exerted over his power was deliberate and practiced. He was seething. Even with her limited mental discipline, she sensed his rage more keenly than she saw it in his burning eyes. She couldn’t think past the shock of his actions, or the wonder that she was still alive, when every vampire she’d ever encountered would’ve drained her on sight. Or worse.
Confused, she asked probably the worst question imaginable. “Why are you alive?”
His brows drew downward, giving his gaze the power of a raging storm held tremulously at bay. “You sound disappointed.”
“No, I mean, I’m not, it’s just…you survived.”
“Others of my kind weren’t so lucky,” he growled. “You’ve visited deep pain upon my house. You killed my dearest friend, nearly undid my Realm, and set all of vampirekind on high alert. I wish to know why Devon had to die.”
A horrible realization struck her square in the chest. She cursed herself for her utter foolishness. The creature that so confounded her research was no mutant. The true mutants, if there were such, were the mindless beings invading her town. These creatures were sentient, maybe even civilized.
And they were pissed as hell.
Tears dripped down her cheeks. This was all her fault. She didn’t know how to answer the demands the man standing before her issued. She remained silent, certain her lack of action or response would be regarded as foolish bravado. In truth, she had no idea what to do.
The woman pulled her back against a nearby tree while divesting her of the sheltering cloak. Winter struck her skin full force, adding to her trembling. She wished she’d pulled a sweatshirt over her scrub top. She preferred to rely on her cloak for warmth because it allowed for more freedom and stealth of movement. She wondered if she’d have time to freeze to death. The man removed his belt, and for an instant, she believed he meant to thrash her. He folded it in his grasp, coiled to strike, his glowing gaze never leaving hers. She hid her relief when he tossed the thick leather strap to his female companion, who mercilessly bound her arms backward around the trunk.
She found voice enough to protest. “Please don’t. Let me go. You don’t understand.”
Her plea might’ve never been uttered, for all the consideration her captors gave it. The woman pulled the belt so tight she felt certain at least one of her arms would dislodge from its shoulder at any moment. The rough bark dug into her flesh through the thin cotton of her scrubs. When the woman stripped the quiver from her thigh and tied her at the knees with her scarf, she was pulled more upright against the tree. The flesh on the insides of her arms tore, sending shocks of pain through her nerves. The skin at the center of her back and down low behind her hips was forced against the trunk by her own muscles’ protests at the strict position. But the tears in her eyes were not brought on by pain. She was still reeling from her horrifying epiphany.
The woman circled into Chari’s range of view. She recognized the stunning redhead on sight. She’d recently been all over the news—a police detective who’d been taken down by, of all things, a drunk driver. Obviously, the facts regarding the woman’s demise were either misunderstood or unknown by Carrington’s authorities. Her jade eyes flashed with ethereal power. “You deserve whatever punishment the Council chooses. You don’t know what you’ve cost us.”
The two moved away from her. While she watched, the man pulled the erstwhile detective into his arms. Then, one by one, more vampires emerged from the woods. Here was a young man with hazel eyes and long, curly dark hair. His youthful face held an expression of barely restrained violence. His companion was an older man, judging by the gray at his temples and the beginnings of crow’s feet at his eyes. Yellow malice burned in his gaze.
A slender woman with black satin hair, onyx eyes and remarkably pale skin came next, and she moved among the gathering as if she were floating instead of walking, so exceptional was her grace. When she lifted her dark gaze to look at Chari, her eyes flashed red fire brighter than her blood red lips. Then a blond man, accompanied by a couple she’d never seen together, but recognized with a deeper sense of dread. One was a man she’d believed dead. After all, how could he survive one of her arrows? That he stood in judgment of her did not bode well. His female companion was the young mortal she’d met briefly in the woods later that same season. She hadn’t understood the woman’s assertions at the time, or why she’d chosen to marry a vampire. She’d called her a fool.
After a few moments, the forest broke apart to admit a creature darker than the shadows surrounding him, bigger than big, and as all-powerful as they come. Just the sight of his massive height and thickly layered muscles turned her own muscles to jelly. The thought of the things a man like him could do to a weak and deserving mortal such as herself made her stomach turn to mush.
She struggled vainly against her bonds while more vampires arrived. They circled her in ethereal silence, communing while they studied her with varying degrees of anger and disdain. Mental power and rage snapped through the air around her like static bursts, sharpening every time one of them met her frightened gaze.
She closed her eyes, trying desperately to block their thoughts to no avail. Their anger burned through defenses she battled to maintain in the face of so many powerful beings. Shrieks of pain raced along her nervous system. With a deep, bracing breath, she opened her eyes again, resolving to face her impending doom with dignity instead of cowardice. Her eyes lit first on a newcomer, and for reasons she struggled to define, his gaze captured and held her. It was the difference in the way he studied her that set the hairs on the back of her neck prickling–that, and an absolute surety she was going to die.
He was tall, say maybe six-one or two. Slender, though every bit as powerful as his companions. His chestnut hair framed his face like a mane. And, oh, what a face! He was absolutely beautiful. His sensitive features belonged on a poet, or maybe a musician, not a vampire. His eyes were glowing with strange blue fire while the tension in his demeanor grew.
The other vampires were discussing her fate. They wanted her life. They had to, after what she’d done. Her limited sensibilities were picking up the waves of rage filling the air. She had no way out at that point, so she didn’t bother paying attention. At the moment, only one creature commanded her focus. His lips were drawn into an increasingly thin line. His delicately arched brows dipped lower and lower over his burning eyes. Powerful emotions played in his gaze. She intuited with growing confusion that he was on the verge of panic.
Her attention broke from him only when the female with black hair grabbed her chin and forced her gaze. The sharp tone in her voice made her threat a promise. “You will wish for death long before you find it.”
“No!” The chestnut-haired man suddenly stood in front of her, knocking the woman aside to take a surprisingly defensive stance. “Lei appartiene a me!”
She didn’t understand the words or the language he spoke, but his declaration lit the deepest reaches of her heart, bringing warmth she didn’t recognize. His voice resonated with challenge. Most of the vampires stared at him in shock and disbelief.
The vampiress hissed at him.
He shot her an evil glare. “You heard me, Antonia. Back off.”
“You dare!” she snarled, her eyes blazing. “You! After all this woman cost us! Can you so easily forget, Vincent?”
His jaw ticked with tension. “I cannot, yet must I set aside my anger. I swore my fealty to her long before you and I ever met.”
His words confused Chari. Antonia’s anger was much easier to understand. “I’ll rip your heart out and feed it to the bitch.”
“Try,” he invited, the blue flame in his eyes flickering with intermittent red sparks–his stance that of a man prepared for battle.
The fourth installment in the Haven’s Realm saga takes a step back to the beginning, back when Joshua and Catherine (Twilight Destiny) were first learning to trust each other. It’s Jason’s story, which up to now has been spoken of very quietly by the Community. Haven’s King lays out for the first time the foundation of the Community, and reveals Jason’s history in a way that threatens the lives of everyone within his Realm.
Today I’ll share a part of the prologue, in which Jason first lays eyes on the one true love of his life. He is visiting a bar on the lower side of Carrington, appraising the sinners for his evening meal, when an unusual woman enters and takes even more unusual interest in the man he’d chosen for his target.
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He took another casual sip of his drink while the woman breezed past him and made her way back to the bar. “It looks like I’m going to be here for a while.” She fished for her wallet among the contents of her cloth shoulder bag. The secretive way she sheltered the opening made him wonder what vital secrets lay inside. “Got anything to eat?”
“All I gots is peanuts,” the bartender replied. “They’re free, but you gotta buy a drink.”
“Okay. Could I just have a ginger ale?” She accepted the drink and a small bowl of peanuts, and carried them to one of the few empty seats in the bar—the one next to the mucus muncher. “Do you mind if I sit here?”
The man smiled at her—really more of a leer in his opinion—and motioned for her to sit. “Name’s Ron,” he offered, his eyes lighting up as she shimmied her way into the chair, the spandex fabric of her skirt stretching across her little round backside and showing the outline of its cleavage. Her long, nicely toned legs curled under her until the toe of one shoe rested on the floor, the other foot looped over her ankle.
“Thanks. I’m Mirissa. I don’t usually come to this part of town, but a friend of mine invited me to this party, and I really don’t know why I went, but, anyway, the party wasn’t all that great. Boy, it sure is smoky in here.”
She spoke too quickly, a nervous hitch occasionally tripping her words. And she was lying. He knew that as surely as he knew the sun would be rising in seven and a half hours.
“So, you have car troubles?” Ron asked.
“Flat tire,” she confirmed with an exaggerated sigh. “Really, I don’t know the first thing about cars. You put gas in them, and they go.”
Another lie. Truthfully, she was quite good with cars, or at least, better than the average woman. Motor oil and engine coolant were familiar scents to her. Again, he didn’t understand why he felt certain of these things, but although she did her best to look like a dainty, helpless damsel in distress, he knew without doubt she’d changed more than one tire in her life.
He hated contradictions. They upset his sense of balance. He, himself, would never have fallen for the overt lack of intelligence Mirissa projected. Ron seemed to be taking it in. “That’s too bad. You know, I could have that tire changed in no time at all.”
“Really?” she asked, leaning over the table toward him with feigned gratitude, her breasts bulging over the rim of the bustier.
Ron’s gaze went right where she apparently intended it to go. “Sure,” he slurred. “Why don’t you finish your drink, then we’ll go have a look.”
She smiled and he felt his heart stop. Her teeth were so white they glowed like pearls behind her sensuous lips. He didn’t have to work hard to imagine those lips without the glaring red wax she’d smeared across them. He brushed her mind with his, his curiosity piqued. She instantly straightened. Her eyes blinked while she tipped her head in reflexive surprise. She’d sensed his intrusion.
He quickly averted his gaze and attention to one of the two men at his table, and pretended interest in the bawdy tale he was relating. He felt her gaze sweep past him, then return. He sensed her mild curiosity, and wondered at it while he reviewed the brief glimpse he’d received from her mind.
She wasn’t innocent, and yet, somehow, she was. Although her body had been used, her soul tarnished, she’d never experienced passion. He thought she must have suffered some personal trauma early in her life and it colored her opinion of men in general. Her interest in Ron wasn’t entirely feigned, but her agenda didn’t include pleasure. In fact, she seemed distinctly disgusted by him. He wished he could take a closer look, if only to solve her growing mystery, but didn’t dare attempt it again and risk discovery.
“Something wrong?” Ron asked, regaining her attention.
“No,” she answered quickly. “I’m just not used to being in a bar. I don’t like crowds.”
“Well, why don’t we just go, then?” Ron rose to his feet, a bright smile on his face and the glow of lust in his eyes.
She didn’t seem to notice the predatory gleam, or if she did, she ignored it. She nodded, looped her bag back into place over her shoulder, and followed him toward the door. “I’m parked about a block down.”
He rose and blocked their path before he realized what he was doing. “This one’s not for you,” he said low, his eyes fixed on Ron’s while his mental powers swept the sick man’s mind.
“Excuse me?” Mirissa exclaimed hotly. “What gives you the right…?”
“You don’t want to go with this man,” he countered evenly, turning his powers her way.
She resisted. “I can go with whoever I want.”
“Whomever,” he corrected, “and you really don’t—”
“Hey, man, leave her alone,” Ron interrupted, coming to her defense. “If she wants to leave with me, that’s her right. It’s still a free country.”
“Return to your table and wait for me,” he commanded, his gaze capturing Ron’s and holding it. Ron’s mouth worked voicelessly for a moment, then he turned away without further comment, a typical blank look on his face.
“You son of a bitch! You have no right to interfere—”
“I’m sorry, but if you insist on going where angels fear to tread, you should at least learn about the people you’re dealing with before you run off with one and get yourself hurt.”
She shoved him out of her way with a huff and stalked out of the bar. Her touch staggered him. He instantly knew why she’d been sending so many mixed signals. He gaped at her retreating back in stunned silence, only finding the impulse to pursue after the door closed behind her.
“Look, miss, I’m really sorry,” he apologized while she stood at the curb and raised her hand in a signal similar to that one might use to summon a taxi.
She spun around and glared at him, jade green eyes flashing while a glorious curtain of medium-auburn hair flew around her, catching on the evening breeze, the soft waves shimmering in the bar’s exterior lighting. Her subtle and unique scent filled the air around her like an aura. Once again, he felt his loins tighten. Then, unexpectedly, a sharp, golden pain stabbed him in the most vulnerable part of his heart. He knew the sensation instantly, had felt the sting too many times in the past not to know its import.
“I could arrest you, I suppose, for interfering in a police investigation, but I’d have a hard time proving it. Don’t push me, or I’ll think of a way to make it stick.”
Her words stunned him. “Police investigation?”
“I know, you had no way of knowing,” she snapped. “Just do me a favor. Next time you see me, turn your radar in some other direction. Okay?”
She climbed into the back seat of the unmarked police car that had stopped at the curb, and slammed the door.
A smile stretched his face as he watched them merge with traffic. She looked back at him, and he felt the heat in her gaze until the car vanished around a corner.
600 years ago, a new clan arose!
With war between vampire clans escalating, a group of brave friends, led by Jason, former king of ancient Greece, gathered atop Mount Olympus. Their goal? To strike a bargain with all higher powers, one unlike any conceived before.
Welcome to Haven’s Realm and the Vampire Community. The stories in this saga bring an end to the tremulous peace between the clans. The Council of Elders must do all they can to avoid an all-out war and defend the Bargain. The vampires of the Community seek to minimize their footprint on the mortal world, and desire most of all to be left in peace to explore their gifts and all of creation.
While each Haven’s Realm story may be read separately, and have different characters of their own, the series paints an on-going struggle that grows with each tale as the saga unfolds.
A Scottish loner becomes involved with a young, profoundly innocent mortal. Their tender romance is cut short when Joshua is called away to aid in Haven’s defense against an unknown hunter, leaving Catherine alone to face the Council of Elders. She must call upon all her love and courage if she is to meet her destiny.
Joshua and Catherine’s story introduces readers to the Community at a time when tensions are high and the Council has been dealt a lethal blow. The circumstances leading to Catherine’s involvement with the Community are not understood until the fourth installment, Haven’s King, and not resolved until Secrets & Promises, the fifth in the series.
In a side-step to the traditional vampire series, The Darker Path introduces an extraterrestrial character to Haven’s Realm. The storyline is unexpected, the outcome surprising, and the consequences to the Community not fully realized until Dragon Lord, the third in the series.
Ki’ara, Empress of the planet Bricia, is taken willingly from her home and responsibilities by a strange storm that carries her to Colton Graves’ manor in New England. Her quest to solve the mystery of Colton’s apparent anger and self-hatred leads her to Haven and the Council of Elders. Their answers force her to choose between her love and the needs of her people.
The third chapter in the Haven’s Realm saga introduces Ronan, a vampire with ancient origins who possesses a terrifying power. The consummate loner, he avoids all contact with fellow vampires, keeps the fact of his continued existence secret, for millennia, until a looming threat to all vampire kind inspires his intervention. His investigation into the disappearance of vampire servants is interrupted by the surprising appearance of an HSA field agent he’d been asked to protect.
Tyler Jenkins embarks on a covert mission to retrieve stolen Government secrets. Her careful plan is interrupted by Ronan’s irritating interference, sparking a chain of events that quickly leads to mortal danger. Together they’re thrust into a flight for survival, their only hope to seek the aid of the Community’s Council of Elders.
The fourth chapter in Haven’s continuing story steps back to a point just before Joshua and Catherine begin their romance, taking up details regarding the tragedy that had befallen Haven’s Realm. Readers have seen in the first two books the plight of the Council’s reluctant King, Jason. Here we learn the events leading to his four-year coma.
Trapped in Cupid’s spell, Jason falls in love at first sight with Mirissa, a Carrington police officer. When his ancient enemies take notice of his desire for her, they trigger an assault that threatens Carrington and rocks the Community to its core. With both his love and the Bargain at stake, he knows it will take more than a golden fleece to set things right.
Vincent’s pain was his own. He served his King as a member of his Council, bore his responsibilities and trials in silence. When the curse of his existence reappears in the form and figure of his lost beloved, bearing weapons identifying her as their long-sought after hunter, he must turn his back on his brethren and the Bargain to defend her, for promises he made over an eon ago provided him no choice.
Secrets & Promises lives up to its name be revealing the very core of the Community. Details regarding the Council of Elders and their role in supporting the vampire Community will at last be shared, before engaging the Savant in a power-play over the status of one of the Community’s newest and most important members.
My Haven’s Realm series is written with sensitive adult readers in mind, those who love vampire stories, but prefer to read less graphic language and swearing, and more drama. These three-flame romances offer readers a fun and exciting read. All the chief players are present in each book, giving readers a collection of characters to become familiar with and care about.
As I wrote about my beloved vampire family, I kept the basis of my beliefs in mind, providing a paranormal experience with just enough sin to be sexy. My love scenes, and there are a few, are written with poetic sensitivity, and led up to through intense situations and building desire.
These stories area step between YA and erotica, for those who prefer something in-between. I’m certain you’ll enjoy every word.
Haven’s Realm is available from Secret Cravings Publishing. Don’t forget to comment for your chance to win an e-novel from Haven’s Realm.
Dragon Lord introduces a different kind of vampire to Haven’s Community. The third Haven’s Realm tale brings an ancient and enigmatic creature to light when Ronan and HSA field agent Tyler Jenkins cross paths, and end up captured, in the headquarters of a group of international criminals. Tyler Jenkins has just survived the most bizarre interrogation (and torture) she could ever imagine, and has been returned to the cell with Ronan, who she believes is dead, where she collapsed and passed out beside his drying pool of blood. Before he submitted to restorative rest, Ronan hypnotized Tyler, changing her language and her name so their captors wouldn’t learn her secrets. Now she must face truths no sane person would believe…
“Spider, get up.” Tyler tried to reply, but her throat refused to respond. She lay surrounded in a warm mist nothing could penetrate. It was seductive, compelling. She wanted to stay in the safety of the mist. She didn’t want to wake.
“Tyler.” The soft voice filtered into her mind, but she couldn’t make herself react in any way. She really didn’t want to. Then she felt a hand on her shoulder.
She surged to her feet, ready for battle.
“Whoa now, girl,” Ronan said quickly, using the language he had given her. “You’re back in the cell.”
She stared at him for a moment, reconciling reality against the disjointed imagery of her dreams. Then she started to sink to her knees, but he quickly put his arm around her and led her to the bunk. More than a minute passed before she trusted herself to meet his concerned gaze. His eyes were blue again, but instead of stark light-blue rings around his pupils, he had bright flecks of gold. She thought she saw hints of actual flames burning inside his pupils, but when she blinked and looked again, they were solid black and fathomless. A look of understanding flickered across his face.
“Most people don’t notice my eyes,” he said in an odd tone.
“Why aren’t you dead?”
It seemed to take him a few moments to realize why she’d asked that question. Seating himself on the edge of the bunk, he said, “I’m a very sound sleeper, as you’ve no doubt noticed.”
“No,” she insisted. “You weren’t breathing. When they came to take me, I yelled loud enough to…to wake the dead, no pun intended.”
“I am sorry,” he said. He put a cool finger on her chin and studied her face, then tenderly touched the bruises on her cheekbone, temple and jaw line. “I meant to protect you, and it seems I can barely take care of myself.” He lifted one of her hands in his and examined the swollen wrist. “Was it bad?” he asked softly.
The feel of his hands on her flesh, the coldness of his skin on hers, sent a shiver up her arm. “Bad enough,” she answered, retrieving her hand.
He looked at her, his face practically inscrutable. She had the strangest feeling he could see into her soul. He turned his attention to his abdomen, relieving her of his gaze, and plucked at a piece of tape. “Tell me about Spider.”
“Don’t do that! You should give it time to…” She let her sentence trail off when she saw the unmarked flesh beneath the tape. He rubbed the irritation from his skin and picked at another. “How the hell…?”
“I heal quickly,” he commented as he peeled the tape from below his shoulder. “Spider?”
“People don’t heal that quickly.”
He heaved what sounded like a sigh of resignation. “I am unlike any person you’ve ever known. And you haven’t answered me.”
“That’s because I don’t know what you’re talking about.” She had a feeling he saw through her guarded tone.
He grunted, dismissing the subject. “What did they tell you about me?”
Her mind jumped to her recent nightmare while he picked at the tapes on his legs. “They were talking nonsense,” she told him. “Personally, I think Courleon is insane.”
He glanced up at her, then turned away without comment and motioned for her to remove the tapes on his back. As she fumbled with them, her wrists sent reminders of their trauma, along with the vivid memory of the most unusual interrogation she’d ever witnessed. After removing the last tape, she rubbed his skin with the backs of her fingers, taking in the firm, cool flesh and absence of even the slightest hint of injury.
“My God, can it be true?” she whispered.
He leaned toward the wall, braced his arm against it, and met her gaze. “That I’m a vampire? Yes.” His voice and manner were casual, matter-of-fact, as if his admission wasn’t unusual.
“There’s no such thing as vampires.”
“You only believe there is not.”
She scooted herself against the wall and drew her knees to her chest. After moistening her lips with the tip of her tongue to relieve their sudden dryness, she said, “Okay, then, show me your fangs.”
He leaned forward, bringing his face to within a foot of hers. The gold flecks in his eyes seemed to sparkle for a moment. He inhaled slowly, apparently taking in her scent, while her own breath caught in her throat. “You would rather I did not,” he said, his voice suddenly tight.
“Are you going to bite me?” she asked, her voice coming out barely louder than a whisper.
“Not if I can help it,” he replied, straightening again.
“Can you? Help it, I mean.”
“I don’t take the blood of innocents.” He stood up to retrieve his clothing. “Not unless they ask me to.”
“I’m no innocent.”
“You are strong and experienced. You have had a very hard life, and that has toughened you against the world. But you have not shared your bed with another. You’ve never felt the heat of passion. That makes you innocent.”
“How do you know so much about me? Damn it, get outta my head!”
“I need not get into your head, as you so delightfully put it. You are broadcasting your thoughts so loudly any human with moderate talent could hear them.”
“But your condition…If I understand at least half of what you’re saying, then you really, really need blood. P-probably a lot of it.”
“Yes,” he answered while buttoning his shirt casually. “Unfortunately, that is so. If it were up to me, I would starve rather than take your blood. I can’t tell you what would happen if my life came to an end. I promised to protect you, but if no other meal presents itself, in the end I’ll have to take you. I promise to hold off as long as I can.”
His manner and tone of voice were too casual, as if merely predicting the outcome of a sporting event. There was nothing casual in the way she took the threat. She relaxed against the wall, too much in shock to fully appreciate the gravity of her situation. “Great. I’m stuck in a cell with a hungry vampire.”
The second installment of the Haven’s Realm saga visits a New England vampire named Colton Graves. Brought across against his will, he leads an existence of constant bitterness and self-hatred. In the following segment, an unexpected visitor is carried from her home on another planet and deposited in his sitting room.
The transition seemed almost instantaneous. Had there been a bright flash of light, Ki’ara would have believed she’d been taken by their transport system. No sooner had the mist finished closing around her, muffling the sounds around her until even the palace’s shrill alarm was silenced, that it began to thin. She held her breath while new and strange surroundings became visible. She was afraid to move at first—too cautious to do more than take in what her gaze could reach.
The room she found herself in looked far more primitive than any place she’d ever seen or imagined. Tall candle stands provided the only light in the room. She saw no hint of a power source anywhere. And if the décor was enough to quell her spirit, it paled in comparison to the room’s occupants.
They were ordinary enough, she supposed, if not for their strange raiment. The shorter of the two men wore trousers made of a sturdy blue fabric and a black shirt with no lacings which hung too short on his torso. The neck opening hugged his thick, muscular throat. After a moment’s thought, she supposed it stretched over his head. The decoration on the front of the shirt depicted a skull with fire coming out of the eyes, and symbols, words she suspected, in flames above and below the main design. He looked thick muscled and powerful, but in a simplistic, physical way. His light brown hair was cut unfashionably short. Golden brown eyes stared at her in open shock.
The taller of the men made a statement, drawing her attention. His language was unfamiliar, but his tone wasn’t. His anger at her sudden arrival roiled around him like invisible storm clouds. His appearance nearly took her breath away–tall and lean, with bearing which communicated a great deal of power and authority. His black hair was also cut shorter than she’d have liked, but it covered his ears and curled softly at the base of his neck. His eyes were the cold gray of forged steel. He wore black trousers and shiny black shoes. A crisp white shirt that buttoned down the front was tucked trimly into his trousers. The odd collar folded in half around his neck and ended in stiff points. A button and buttonhole at the collar suggested it could be closed at the top.
She studied his face for a moment. Aquiline nose, firm set to his jaw, square face, low brows drawn in a frown. She opened her mind to him, as was the custom of her people when meeting a new race, and attempted to gain knowledge of his language. She knew her error instantly, for his mind was stronger than any she’d before encountered. His power poured through her in a surge of conflicting emotions and thoughts too intense to make sense of. His overwhelming potency shocked her system. Fire erupted in her head. She heard herself scream before she lost consciousness.
When she became aware again, she slowly opened her eyes and found herself lying on the sofa she’d noted out of the corner of her eye. Her cheek rested on brushed velvet of deep burgundy. One of the men had put a covering over her, either to preserve her modesty or keep her warm, and a fire burned beyond her head. She smelled the wood smoke, heard the crackle, and felt its warmth.
She tried to sit up, to take a more dignified posture in the presence of the men she saw watching her intently, but her head protested loudly. With a groan, she pressed a palm to her forehead. The pain increased as the taller man attempted once more to probe her mind. “Please stop,” she begged weakly, holding her other hand, palm forward, toward the man in supplication. “You’re hurting me.”
The shorter man murmured a suggestion to his companion, and the power coursing through her mind ceased. Heaving a relieved sigh, she forced herself upright and wrapped the covering around her shoulders. She sat still with her eyes closed while her head adjusted to the new position, and when she dared open them again to look at her new companions, she saw the taller one sitting in a chair near her, still wearing an angry frown. A twinge of something she didn’t recognize tugged at her heart as she met his gaze. The shorter man watched her from behind the chair with a mixture of awe and concern.
“I need a doctor,” she said, putting a hand to her forehead. “I’m damaged.”
The shorter man posed a question softly to the taller, and he responded negatively. She wished she could open her mind again, but the trauma she’d already suffered had left her abilities too weak to make the attempt. Without treatment, she’d need time to heal the burned out synapses, time she felt certain she didn’t have. “A doctor…” she begged again, cradling her head in her hands in a gesture of pain she hoped they’d understand. “Or something for pain? Please?”
The taller man made a suggestion, sending the shorter one to a cabinet near the pair of double doors behind the chair. He approached her after a few moments carrying a small glass filled with amber-colored liquid. He said something in a coaxing tone and offered her the glass. After she’d glanced from the glass to his eyes and back again, she reluctantly raised her hand to accept his offering. She gave the contents an experimental sniff and looked back at him in question. He made a drinking motion with his hand as if expecting her to understand.
With a frown caused more by her intense headache than studious caution, she tipped the glass to her lips and took one deep swallow, assuming it might be some form of medication. The instant burn that trailed down her throat made her cough so hard she nearly lost her grip. Her head complained loudly at the sudden stress. She realized the beverage was an intoxicant of some sort. Her people didn’t imbibe because it clouded their sensitive mental disciplines. She shook her head carefully as she handed the glass back to the man, hoping to communicate her reluctance to partake, but he eased her hand, glass and all, back to her and spoke in a tone obviously meant to be reassuring.
She reluctantly took another, smaller sip, and as the liquid flowed into her stomach, she felt its relaxing effect. She supposed if she drank the liquor carefully it might ease some of the pressure building inside her skull. Too much and she’d lose control, and, especially in her current situation, losing control could prove fatal. With a satisfied nod, the man started to retreat, but she quickly raised her hand to him. “Come here, if you please,” she asked softly. When he cocked his head in a quizzical manor, she moved her hand to indicate the empty space beside her.
He cast a questioning glance at the taller man, who gave a curt nod, then sat beside her.
“Come closer. I need to touch you,” she said, again in a soft, coaxing tone. She waved her hand toward herself, and when he was near enough, she slowly put her hand on his head. She gave him as gentle a smile as her pain permitted, and closed her eyes to concentrate.
Direct contact with the man allowed her to probe his language center without having to expose herself to the more powerful man’s thoughts. Navigating his mind was surprisingly simple, easier than some species she’d encountered. It took her a few moments to grasp the basics of his language, enough to think she might be able to communicate adequately.
After lowering her hand, she said, “Thank you,” in her newly acquired tongue.
“How did you do that?” he asked her in surprise.
“I took your…language…from your mind. It is a simple task.”
“Not for us, it isn’t,” he said as he rose to his feet.
“Forgive me if I’ve acted out of turn. I am…uncertain…of your culture.”
“No. It’s all right,” he told her as he shot a nervous glance at the other man.
“Perhaps now you can tell us who you are and why you are here,” the taller man said sternly.
She took another sip of the brandy, a good excuse to take a moment to think things through. The rules regarding new contact with alien species were clear: unless technology is at least as advanced as her own, she should proceed with caution. These people couldn’t be familiar with beings from other worlds if they lacked the most basic comfort of electricity.
“I am called Ki’ara,” she told him carefully. “Why I am here is unclear. I…forgive me for my…in-incursion.”
“I believe the word you want is ‘intrusion’,” the taller man stated. “And, yes, you are intruding where you are unwelcome. Still, the fact remains you are here.” He paused to issue a reluctant sigh. “Now I must decide what is to be done with you.”
In the first of the Haven’s Realm stories, vampire Joshua MacAaron becomes involuntarily involved with young mortal Catherine Mills. Their sweet, tender romance comes to a head in this next segment, where Joshua is faced with exposing Catherine to his most dangerous secrets.
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Joshua walked through the woods, as was his want of late, deep in thought. His mind continued to return to that night in the clearing when his relationship with Catherine had so drastically changed. The passion they’d shared that night nearly drove him insane. He’d almost given in to that passion before she was ready, long before he was ready to face the consequences of becoming intimate with her. It frightened him more than he wanted to admit to himself. Keeping distance between them had been the hardest thing he’d ever endured.
She was in love with him, deeply. Her longing sang to him constantly, making his dilemma all the more difficult. She was waiting for him to declare for her, but every time he attempted to work up the courage to bring her into his confidence, the words refused to come. He berated himself on a nightly basis for his own cowardice. Still, he couldn’t bring himself to face the possibility of her fear, her rejection.
With a heavy sigh, he opened his mind to her, as he had done covertly over the past months, to savor the thoughts and feelings she was unknowingly broadcasting. She was dreaming of him…a passionate dream, judging by its intensity. He paused when his mental compass told him she was not in her bed, as she should have been. No, she was in the clearing, reliving in her dreams the passion he could not himself dismiss.
In the space of a heartbeat, he was there. He knelt beside her, laid a hand gently on her arm and felt her trembling sigh. “Catherine,” he whispered. She mumbled softly, but didn’t wake. He shook her gently and called her name again, bringing her out of her dream with a start. “Are you all right?” he asked softly, helping her to her feet.
She busied herself with brushing off her dress, too flustered and embarrassed to do little more than nod. “Guess I fell asleep. What time is it?”
“It’s after two in the morning. What are you doing out here alone?”
“I was thinking about us,” she told him shyly.
“Oh?” He gently lifted her face and studied her. He saw the longing in her eyes, the uncertainty. She nodded again and reached up to smooth a strand of hair from his eyes. When her fingers brushed his ear, he caught her hand and pressed her knuckles to his lips. He pulled her into his arms and held her tightly against him while his own feelings waged a war within him. When she raised her face to his, his lips found hers of their own accord. He couldn’t give her the tender kisses he’d held himself to. Instead, all the feelings he’d held tightly at bay broke free of their bonds. She returned his kisses hungrily and clung to him as if she were drowning.
He wanted her. God help him, he did. He sensed her passion rising, and when he realized she intended to let him take her as far as he would go, his tenuous control nearly snapped. She touched her tongue to his lips in a tentative gesture, igniting his passion into a raging storm that demanded answer. He took possession of her mouth, drank in her sweet, warm depths until her knees weakened. In another moment, he’d have her on the ground, exploring every inch of her, making her his own. It was only with the greatest difficulty that he managed to stop before he did just that. He pulled her tightly against him and held her while he did his best to bring his mutinous body back in line. “Oh, Catherine,” he said at last, his voice strained.
She trembled with frustration and need. “Joshua…” Her voice sounded like a sob. She tried to push away, but he held her more firmly. “Joshua, I…”
He pressed his fingers against her lips so suddenly it took her by surprise. “No, love. Be still.” When her sobs started bubbling their way to the surface, he stroked her hair and tried hard to soothe her. “I know how you feel,” he said softly. “I know what you want. We mustn’t. Not yet.”
She pushed against him until he reluctantly allowed her to leave his arms. The look on her face spoke to him of the pain and frustration in her heart. “I’m in love with you.” Her statement sounded like a desperate challenge.
He felt a lump growing in his throat. “Aye.”
“You…you love me too.”
“More than I can tell you.”
“I know you want me as much as I want you.”
“So much so it’s killing me,” he confirmed, his voice growing thick with anguish.
He turned from her, unable to face the strength of her pain for another moment. “There are things you need to know first. Things I haven’t been ready to tell you. Things that…” he paused to swallow the lump in his throat, “things that may frighten you.”