Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Excerpt: Caressed by Night


I'd like to share an excerpt from Caressed by Night (Rulers of Darkness #2). The following chapter is one of my personal favorites, even though it doesn't feature the hero and heroine of Caressed by Night. It introduces my favorite ruler of darkness, Hadrian. 


Falcon took the cool air of the mountains deep into his lungs. Snow had just begun to fall and white flakes floated about his head, settling on his shoulders, and dusting his boots as he went up the steps to the large, imposing doors of the ancient fortress.
            Raising his hand, he prepared to knock as he did every time, but tonight was not like the nights in the past. Tonight he had to convince Hadrian to leave this depressing fortress. Tonight the world had to change.
            Shoving the massive doors open, he stepped into the dark, empty hall. The high ceilings were covered with cobwebs and the sumptuous tapestries that covered the gray stone walls wore a thick coat of dust.
            Glancing over to the wide hearth, he noted one crude-looking wooden chair; gone were the vibrant colors of fine, upholstered furniture.
            Crossing the great hall, Falcon’s heart ached. This castle had once been a happy place, filled with warmth and joy. The world was a bright, simple, and kind place then. His Clan had never been more at peace than when Hadrian reigned as king; they hadn’t a care or a worry and Falcon longed for past days.
            Coming to a halt at the bottom of the grand staircase, he closed his eyes and searched the fortress with his senses. He knew Hadrian must be masking his power or he would have been able to locate him the instant he had stepped from his car. Stilling his breath, his heart, his blood, he strained his senses.

          Hadrian’s aura was faint, but unmistakable. He was in the west wing…Falcon’s eyes snapped open and he took the stairs two at time until he came to the third level. Making a hard left, he continued down the wide corridor. The moon’s rays shimmered through the floor-to-ceiling windows, which lined both walls. His footsteps echoed through the corridor as he rushed to the one room in this castle he never wished to see again.

            The doors to the ballroom were open.

            Falcon’s steps stuttered for a breath as he reluctantly entered the room.

            Clean, clear mirrors covered three of the four walls. The fourth was made up entirely of windows and one French door that let onto the wide balcony. The ceiling too was made up of reflective glass save for the enormous crystal chandelier that glittered in the moonlight, which was streaming in through the windows.
            Falcon came further into the ballroom. He carefully studied the shadows. Hadrian was here, in this godforsaken room.
            The blood in Falcon’s veins turned to ice. Dimitri’s vision had taken place here. He had seen Hadrian standing on the railing of the balcony preparing to jump to his death.
            Falcon’s gaze shot to the wide-open balcony doors. The biting mountain air billowed into the room filling it with a death-like chill.
            Three hundred years, that was how long it had been since he had entered the Hall of Mirrors. He had stood in this very spot on that fateful night, the night that his world had come crashing down around him.
            The memories slammed into him like a freight train, stealing his breath and stopping his heart. His limbs were numb, his mouth dry as the images of the past flickered before his eyes.
            “Hadrian!” Dorian shouted, “Answer me, Goddamn it.”
            “What happened?” Dorian repeated for the fifth time.
            With a violent growl, Dorian grabbed Hadrian by the shoulders and hauled him up to his feet. “What happened?” he asked again and, again. Hadrian did not respond. Dorian shook the vampire, his head snapping back and forth, but it was no use, Hadrian had gone completely catatonic.
After a string of curses, Dorian gave up and allowed Hadrian to sink back to the cold, hard stone of the balcony floor.
“My lord in heaven,” Gudmund whispered as he came to the edge of the balcony. Unable to tear his eyes away from the gruesome scene below, he asked, “Do you think he was murdered?”
“Anything is possible. There have been rumors of a plot to overthrow Hadrian,” Dorian said.
“Who would desire such a thing? Hadrian is a just and noble ruler. Much unlike the kings before him.”
Dorian reached out as Gudmund swayed forward, his legs buckling beneath him.
“I am fine,” the old monarch of the Voidukas Clan insisted, shrugging off Dorian’s hand.
“Gudmund, perhaps you should go inside. You need to save your strength.”
“The Death Curse has marked me and there is no sense in fighting the inevitable. Soon, it will take my life, just as it has taken those before me. How is Hadrian?”
“He refuses to speak and his eyes…they are hollow,” Dorian said with a shiver before his gaze fell to the body of Titus Lucretius, Hadrian’s identical twin brother.
            “What do you think, Dorian? Murder or tragic accident?” Gudmund asked.
            “I fear we may never know,” Dorian said, his words a sorrowful sigh. He glanced back to Hadrian, who still sat motionless in a heap on the floor.
            Stepping out onto the balcony, Falcon’s gaze locked on his king, his heart breaking in his chest.
“Falcon,” Dorian called to him, “perhaps you can get Hadrian to come around.”
            “I will try,” he said, his words faint, a trembling whisper.
And wasn’t that what he was doing now? Trying to get Hadrian to come around. Was that not what he had been trying to do for the past three hundred and fifty years?
“What brings you here?”
            Falcon started at the sound of the strong, familiar voice.
            “Your Majesty,” Falcon said to the shadows, “will you not show yourself?”
            “I asked you a question, Knight,” Hadrian replied.
            Clearing his throat, Falcon answered, “I have come to deliver a letter. I was instructed to place it in your hands. Will you come forward, so I may―”
            “Place the missive on the throne and go.”
            Falcon blinked. He had not noticed the ancient throne of his Clan when he had entered the ballroom. It stood proud in the brilliant light of the moon, an inch from the shadows. Had Hadrian pushed it into the open?
            “My king, I was told to―”
“Place it on the throne,” Hadrian commanded.
            Falcon did not move. He was not going to allow Hadrian to command him tonight. No, tonight the knight was going to command the king.
            “My deepest apologies, my king, but I must refuse your demand. You see, this letter was given to me by King Arsov.”
            “You jest. Mayhap a cruel game you are playing or a trick.”
“No, Your Majesty. The true king of the Volkov Clan has returned. Dimitri Arsov lives.” Pulling the envelope from the inside of his pea coat, he held it up over his head allowing the light to shine on Dimitri’s seal. “He came to me last night and requested I deliver this to you,” Falcon swallowed hard, “He wants you to come back to your Clan. It is time for you to return to us.”
“Oh, my dear Falcon, you of all people know that I can never go back,” Hadrian said, his voice low and filled with regret and…shame.
“My king―”
“I am not your king!” he snapped.
“Then who is?” Falcon countered.
With a heavy sigh, Falcon’s shoulders slumped. “Fine, you are not my king, but you are my friend. Hadrian, you have been gone for so long. Are you even aware of how long you have been here, imprisoned by your memories and pain? Your Clan needs you.”
“I am no good, Falcon. No good. I am ruined, stained.”
“The Clan is falling apart. With no one to lead them they are deserting, joining the ranks of other vampire clans. Soon the Validus Clan will be no more.”
“You lead them, I cannot.”
“I am not their lord, Hadrian, you are. I have no right to your throne.”
“You would have every right if I were dead.”
Ice crept up Falcon’s spine. “Don’t talk like that.”
The shadows shifted and Falcon’s eyes jumped to the dark figure. Hadrian was still masking himself with his power, but his energy was waning. He would not be able to hold his guard for much longer.
“It is the only way to stop all the pain,” Hadrian explained, “stop the voices from attacking me.” His dark laughter bounced and filled the ballroom. “Fitting, is it not? For years I longed for death to claim me, to take away my suffering, to wipe away the images of my brother’s…my brother’s…body…my brothers―”
The figure began to pace.
Falcon decided to switch his approach. The news of Dimitri being alive had not given Hadrian the shock he had hoped for and his words of the Clan had not worked in his favor. He needed to reach the man within Hadrian, not the noble king, but the man and this meant Falcon had to stop repressing his emotions.
For too long he had bottled his feelings, burying the hurt and sense of abandonment. Hadrian, his closest friend, his mentor, and his sire needed him. It was Hadrian who had rescued him from the sea of dead strewn across the battlefield. Hadrian had been the one to bring new life to his veins against the wishes of his superiors. The nobles of the Clan had felt he was a lost cause, a waste of strong vampire blood, but Hadrian had faith in him and now it was Falcon’s turn to repay the favor.
“Do you remember the night you changed me? I was laying face down in the bloody mud struggling to hold onto life. You picked me up and brushed the soil from my eyes.”
The pacing slowed, but continued.
Falcon cleared his throat as he felt his caged emotions begin to slip free. “I owe my life to you. You came to me when I was at my lowest. You had faith in me, even when the others were telling you I was a waste of blood, that I would be worthless. You saw me, Hadrian, you really saw me. You knew I could be a great warrior and all I needed was the chance to prove myself.” His hands began to shake as he ran them through his hair. Tears stung his eyes, but he refused to let them fall. “Through all our years together, you never once gave up on me and I will never give up on you, Hadrian. Never.”
The pacing stopped and the figure moved closer to the light. Hadrian still held his guard, concealing his features.
“I don’t think you know what you mean to me. I never had a father or a brother. I never had anyone to guide me or anyone upon whom I could depend.” Falcon forced back the tears, he would not cry. He would not. “Please, Hadrian, I have been so lost without you. I need my friend, my brother, my mentor, my king.”
“Falcon, I…I am deeply sorry for abandoning you, but I am not fit to rule. I am no king. I do not deserve the power, the reverence…I am so unworthy.”
“Why? What makes you think you are undeserving? For years you reigned over our Clan―”
“If only you knew, but…shh,” he whispered, “I will never tell. They say I must never tell.”
Falcon dropped his head. Dimitri had said he did not believe Hadrian was truly mad, but he was not so sure.
“You need help, Hadrian.”
Hadrian shook his head. “The letter, Falcon. Please, set the letter on the throne.”
Falcon gave a weak nod and did as his friend and king asked. He placed the envelope on the ancient, royal throne and turned his back. He knew Hadrian would never emerge from the shadows if he were watching.
The sound of rustling paper pricked his ears and he prayed that whatever Dimitri had written would convince Hadrian to return.
Hadrian’s hands shook as he read the perfectly scrawled script.
My dear friend,
I have asked Falcon to come speak with you. He knows the facts of my return for I gave him a letter containing the details. The truth is, I was never dead, and Fate has aligned in such a way that it is now time for me to reclaim my throne.
We all possess dark, painful secrets and, if we are not careful, they will devour us whole. Please, Hadrian, I beg of you, do not allow your demons to take you from us. You must remember who you are, remember the man you are. Come back to us and shake free of your shame, your guilt, and your self-loathing. The voices you hear are only your thoughts. Free yourself from the past. What is done cannot be undone.
I too struggle and suffer like you and, unlike anyone else, I know the truth. I know what happened that night all those years ago. I know how your brother died. Fate can be cruel, but they have plans for you. I have only been shown a glimpse of your future and believe me, your life is not over yet. The second act is just beginning.
Return to your Clan. It is time for you to lead your people, just as it is time for me to lead mine.
Hadrian read the words over and over again as his thoughts spun out of control. Dimitri was alive. He knew his secret. And he had seen his future. His future. He had a future.
Looking about the ballroom, he cursed. This castle, this cursed room was his future. This is where he belonged. Locked away from the world, from those over whom he had no right to rule. He was nothing. No one.
“Hadrian,” Falcon called to him, “it is time for you to return.”
“I…I cannot,” he protested, his voice shaking as his entire body quivered.
Falcon’s heavy exhale of exasperation rushed past his ears and his soul cried out. Hadrian wanted help, needed help, but he did not deserve it. Not after what he had done.
            He carefully refolded the letter and placed it in the waistband of his tattered pants. The paper was warm against his cold flesh.
            “I need you to come back,” Falcon cursed. “I can’t handle this, Hadrian. I can’t go about pretending to be the Clan’s leader anymore. You are our king. Please…” Falcon’s voice lodged in his throat and Hadrian could see the emotions flash across his friend’s face.
            “I am no longer the man I was. I am a beast.”
            “For fuck's sake,” Falcon snapped, “I am not leaving here without you.”
            Hadrian ran his hands over his skull, his short, rough hair pricking his fingers. Taking in a deep breath he stepped into the light.
            Curse after earsplitting curse fell from Falcon’s lips in a faint whisper. Hadrian straightened his shoulders and took another step.
            He was thin, too thin. Every muscle stood out, etched perfectly by shadows. His stomach was hollow, the lines of his ribs were clearly visible, the jutting lines of his hipbones were all that kept his pants from falling.
            Hadrian knew he looked like a deranged beast. His eyes had always been dark, but now they were soulless, obsidian pits. His face was sunken, revealing the harsh lines of his jaw and cheekbones.
            The animal within him snarled as Falcon came closer.
            “Why…how―” Falcon clamped his mouth shut as he tried to put his thoughts in order. “I’ve brought blood for you…I don’t understand why you would not drink it.”
            “I take in enough blood to sustain myself,” he answered, his dried lips cracking.
            “You’ve been living off the blood of animals,” Falcon said as the cold realization swept over him and Hadrian’s vampire smiled at the look of shock that came over the Knight’s face.
            “Yes, I take just enough to keep the vampire within placated. Be careful, Falcon,” Hadrian warned as Falcon took another step forward, “it is very close to the surface. I would not wish for him to claim another brother of mine.”
            Falcon’s steps stuttered as Hadrian’s voice changed to the deep rumble of the demon.
            “I have blood in a cooler in my car. Please, Hadrian, come with me.”
Hadrian dropped his head, his chin nearly hitting his chest. His body hummed as he thought of the promise of blood. Sweet, nourishing blood. The vampire roared for him to take the offer, but he could not. Rats and other small rodents were what he deserved. Humans were too good for him.
            Blood. Thick and rich, the vampire whispered. The strength, the power that it brings, you need it. You crave it!
            Hadrian covered his ears, trying to block the soulless voice.
            “It kills me to see you like this. Suffering.”
            Suffering. The word echoed in Hadrian’s mind as the monster within him laughed. Yes, he was suffering, as he should.
I too struggle and suffer, like you, and unlike anyone else, I know the truth, Dimitri had written.
“He knows,” Hadrian whispered, his voice almost too low for Falcon to hear. “He knows the truth.”
“Who? What truth?” Falcon’s eyes dropped to Dimitri’s letter tucked in the top of Hadrian’s pants. “Dimitri has visions of the future and he sent me to bring you home.”
Dimitri had visions of the future. The idea was a blast of lightning to Hadrian’s system. Dimitri would not lie, his honor and respect for others was too great. If Dimitri had said he had seen his future, then it must be true. There must be more for him than this rotting fortress and his haunted memories. A future that lay beyond these walls in a world he no longer knew.
He had removed himself from the world over three hundred years ago. No doubt everything had changed. Every now and then, when his curiosity surfaced, he would skulk down to the towns at the base of the mountains and observe the humans. They rode around in something they called a car and talked into tiny black contraptions that fit in the pockets of their blue pants. There was so much he would have to learn if he were to return with Falcon. He could not begin to think of ruling his people before he became educated about the ways of this new strange world.
            Was he ready? Could he handle such an enormous change? Was he stable enough to return? He had not fed properly; the vampire in him was hungry, desperate. Could he be trusted around humans or around his Clan members? Kings in the past had been driven mad by the death curse and turned on their own people. Would he do the same?
            He turned his gaze upward, studying Falcon. Hadrian would not tell him that the Death Curse had marked him. Before his decent into madness, the curse had settled upon him. The attacks on his mind were far and few between then and he had been able to hide it. When he renounced his throne, the pain had stopped, the curse releasing its hold since he was no longer king. Though painful memories, guilt, shame, and hate still clawed at his soul.
The curse will attack again. I cannot escape it or my madness.
He could return, reclaim his throne, restore his land to order and peace, then pass on to the great beyond, embrace the true death bestowed upon every vampire ruler by the Shaw witches.
            Yes, he would return and he would keep all his secrets locked away. He would bury the madness brushing at his mind, the madness caused by the death of his brother and the effects of the curse.
            Clearing his throat, he clasped his hands behind his back and raised his head. “I will need your help, Falcon. I do not want anyone to see me like this.”
            Falcon’s eyes lit with a strange light Hadrian had not seen in centuries, hope.
            “I cannot guarantee that I will stay and there is no telling whether or not I will be able to…'handle this',” he said, using Falcon’s terminology.
            “I will see to it that you get well,” Falcon assured him.
            Hadrian’s smile was slow to form. And I will pray that my dark memories, haunting secrets, and the curse of death will loosen their cold vise-like grips on my soul.

Be seduced by the first ruler of darkness, Dorian, in Caressed by Moonlight

Enjoy Dimitri's story in Caressed by Night

Surrender to Hadrian in Caressed by a Crimson Moon

Fall in love with Falcon in Caressed by Shadows 

Caressed by Moonlight (Rulers of Darkness #1)

Dorian Vlakhos is no ordinary aristocrat. He is a vampire king, who will do anything to save his clan from complete annihilation, before an ancient curse can claim his immortal life.
Penniless and orphaned, Victoria Kingston has nothing to bring to a marriage, yet she must shackle an unsuspecting gentleman into marriage by the end of the month or forfeit her rights as guardian of her younger sister. With the help of her dearest friend, Victoria begins her hunt, and vows to stay far away from the dark, mysterious, Dorian Vlakhos.

After meeting the beautifully innocent Miss Kingston, Dorian had to have her. He would do absolutely anything to make Victoria his. One sweet stolen kiss would bring them together while a force, more powerful than any vampire, would bind them for all eternity, but treachery, war, and death rule Dorian’s dark world and Victoria would be fortunate to survive.

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Caressed by Night (Rulers of Darkness #2)
Dimitri Arsov, the last remaining pure vampire, was thought to be dead for the past four hundreds years. Now, he is back and has a score to settle with the traitor that had tried to kill him centuries ago. But as he waits for his prey to blindly step into his carefully laid trap, his overwhelming hunger for blood is triggered when he saves a beautiful art historian.
Kerstyn Ingmar’s life was normal and straight up boring until the night she is rescued by the dangerously sexy, powerfully mesmerizing, Dimitri. Unable to resist his diamond blue eyes and intense kisses, she is drawn into his world of darkness and closer to her impending doom.

While their desire consumes them, Dimitri is haunted by images of a bloody and deadly future. As his enemies draw near, he must find a way to save his mate from her destiny before fate destroys them both.
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Caressed by a Crimson Moon (Rulers of Darkness #3)

Consumed by madness and tormented by dark memories of blood and death, Hadrian Lucretius, King of the Validus Clan, has returned after living in self-imposed exile for nearly three hundred and fifty years.
To maintain peace with the vampires, Eva Maldonado is offered as a sacrifice to the crazed vampire king by her father, the alpha of the Silveria Shifter Pack. Hadrian’s reputation is both legendary and lethal; he is ruthless, bloodthirsty, lusty, and soulless. When Eva arrives at the ancient fortress high in the Carpathian Mountains, she is shocked to find a ravaged man with dark burning eyes filled with loneliness and dangerous desire.

Would she be his lover…or his prey? His savior…or his victim? Would Hadrian lure her into madness or would their perilous passion be their redemption?

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 Caressed by Shadows (Rulers of Darkness #4)

Black Knight, Falcon Kenwrec is powerful, relentless, and fiercely loyal, his only allegiance – to his king. But he is torn between duty and desire when the war between the vampire clans and the Red Order hunters escalates and the enemy captures the one woman he longs to claim as his own, Sonya Rebane, Queen of the Voidukas Clan. Falcon will risk everything to save her, even if it means forsaking his king.
After weeks of imprisonment, Sonya is stunned when the chivalrous knight that she has secretly loved from afar appears outside her cell. As they fight and struggle to elude their enemies, they must battle their overwhelming attraction for each other and their love that is forbidden.

As every perilous moment draws them closer together, every smoldering kiss drives them to the brink of a passionate destruction. Will they be able to resist temptation? Or will their love be their ruin?

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