Dark and sexy vampire romances are now all the rage, and this trade paperback
collection of four novellas features a wide array of styles and historical settings.
Veteran writer Howells's "The Yearning" takes readers to 15th-century
Scotland with a tale of vengeance, a witch's curse, and a heroine brave enough
to set things right; in Lynsay Sands's "Bitten," a young woman is rescued
from a shipwreck only to learn that her savior is not quite human; Sara Blayne's
"Stranger in the Night" tells of a young antiquarian searching through
the ruins of an ancient manor and finding more than the treasure she seeks; and
in Kate Huntington's "The Awakening," an orphan rushing to the estate
of her ailing aunt learns that the mysterious stranger she encounters along the
way is not only her aunt's longtime companion but also something far more ominous.
The room was nearly pitch black. The weak glow of moonlight coming through
the only window gave little illumination, but that didn’t matter. Darkness
was their friend for this trap.
Keeran crouched behind the chest that had been positioned to block him from
the view of anyone entering the room. Hand clenched around his sword, muscles
tense, he stared with fixed attention at the crack of light coming in under the
bed chamber door.
A rustle reached his ears as his father shifted in his own hiding place on
the other side of the chamber. Keeran turned his eyes in that direction, but while
he could see the dark shape of the bed between them, he could see no sign of his
father in the gloomy corner beyond it. Keeran knew he was equally invisible to
the older man.
Another rustle. It was the barest of sounds, but he recognized it for a sign
that the older warrior was restless. They hadn’t been standing there long,
but Keeran was restless as well, eager to claim vengeance for the deaths of his
mother and sister.
His gaze returned to the dark corner and Keeran silently cursed his father
for refusing to remain at his side as he had wished it. After losing both his
mother and sister in quick succession, he’d wanted to keep his sire close
as they awaited the beast they were sure would strike again this night.
His mother and sister. Keeran felt grief try to claim and weaken him, but
staved it off. He needed anger now to strengthen him so deliberately reflected
on the events that had lead up to this night.
Keeran had returned from more than a year fighting the King’s battles
to find castle MacKay in an uproar and his mother dead. It was his father who
had told him the tale of what had come to pass. Some weeks past young village
girls and boys had begun to die, found pale and bloodless, two marks on their
throat as if bitten. Panic had been quick to set in among the MacKay clan. Since
the attacks had all taken place at night, so parents began locking their children
away the moment the sun went down, but this did little to slow the deaths. Two
more young girls turned up dead in their beds, both only feet from their sleeping
As clan chief, Keeran’s father was expected to stop and avenge these
deaths. He immediately set up a night watch to patrol the village, then gathered
a group of men to hunt the source of the attacks. It was the third night of the
hunt that Keeran’s father came across what appeared to be a man feasting
on the neck of one of the warriors assigned to patrol the village.
Geordan MacKay had told Keeran that for a brief moment, he had been so overwhelmed
by the horrible realization that the ancient myths of night-walking beasts who
fed on the blood of men were true that he had been unable to move. Vampires existed.
But he had soon shaken off his temporary paralysis and attacked, taking the creature
by surprise and hacking off his head before the Vampire could straighten from
his last victim.
News of the kill had spread quickly and the clan had gathered to greet him
as Keeran’s father had made his triumphant ride into the bailey, the headless
vampire across his horse before him. They had all cheered when he held up the
head; jaws open, deadly teeth exposed. A huge bonfire had been started and the
body and head unceremoniously dumped on it to be sure the creature could not return
to life again. Then they had celebrated his death and the return of safety to
the MacKays well into the morning.
Keeran’s father had thought his troubles over then. He had killed the
vampire plaguing his people. They were safe now. And they had been. At least the
people in the village were. But the very next night his wife had fallen victim
to the bloodless death. Geordan MacKay had awakened in the morning to find her
lying pale and still beside him. Obviously, there was a second vampire, and this
one had possessed the gall to kill Lady MacKay while she lay sleeping beside her
husband. The horror was not over.
Keeran had arrived home the afternoon of his mother’s death and joined
the hunt for this new beast that night. That hunt proved fruitless as did the
next night’s hunt, and the next. In the dawn after the third night, the
men had returned to the news that Keeran’s sister was dead. This new vampire
had got past the patrols and guards that had been set everywhere and had killed
her in her sleep as had happened with their mother.
It had been obvious at that point that this second creature knew that Geordan
MacKay had personally killed the first vampire and was now seeking vengeance.
That being the case, Keeran had been the next logical victim. Father and son,
both furious and grief stricken, had redoubled their efforts to hunt down this
new threat, but after nearly a week of fruitless searching, the laird of the MacKay
clan had decided they should change their approach. They would lay a trap.
His plan had been simple. They would stuff straw under Keeran’s bed
clothes, hoping the creature would think him asleep there. Then each would take
position on either side of the bed so that no matter which side he approached
from, one or the other would be positioned to come up from behind and tackle him.
His father’s plan had seemed a good one at first, but that was before
they had doused the fire in the hearth and then the candles and been plunged into
stygian darkness. Suddenly blind, Keeran had feared they wouldn’t be able
to see the vampire to attack him when he came. But his father had insisted they
would see him enter by the torchlight in the hall spilling into the room when
he eased the door open.
With no better plan to take this one’s place, Keeran had acquiesced
and backed into his assigned corner. It was a relief to find that his eyes did
adjust to the darkness and that, aided by the weak moonlight coming in through
the window on the opposite wall, he could make out the dark shape of his bed.
Realizing all at once that this was no longer true and that the room seemed
even darker than before, Keeran turned his gaze toward the window. It appeared
that a cloud had been passing over the moon. Even as he looked, it moved away,
allowing the faintest light back in. Keeran was just relaxing when another sound
reached his ears.
Stiffening, he shot his gaze to the corner where his father stood invisible
in darkness. Had that been a moan? He held his breath, straining to hear until
his head ached with the effort. Keeran heard no other sound, but icy cold was
creeping over him and he had the sudden uncomfortable sense of being the hunted
rather than the hunter.
“Father?” he called in a bare whisper of sound.
Silence so thick it seemed to have a life of its own was his only answer.
Keeran felt the hair on the back of his neck prickle. Had the beast got in? Nay.
Light would have spilled into the room from the door had anyone entered. Still,
his senses were on alert and his instincts were shrieking that there was trouble.
Father?” He said louder to combat the sudden eerie sensation of being
alone and exposed.
When there was no answer this time, Keeran eased up from his crouching position
and moved carefully around the chest toward the door. They had removed all the
rushes from the floor except for a foot wide space around the bed. This had been
to ensure they would be betrayed by no foot fall as they crept up on the vampire
when he appeared. Keeran was grateful for this forethought as he made his silent
way to the door.
Relief coursed through him when he felt the wood of the door beneath his seeking
fingers. Pausing just to the side of it, he listened for a moment, then pulled
it open and thrust it wide.
Light immediately spilled into the room. Blinking as his eyes tried to adjust,
Keeran turned to the corner his father had taken, prepared to apologize for the
skittishness that had made him open the door, only to freeze as the man’s
crumpled figure came into view. For a moment,Keeran was bewildered as to what
the older man was doing lying there slumped against the chest he should have been
crouched behind, but then he saw the blood dribbling from two small puncture wounds
on his neck. He also noted that - while pale as death - Geordan MacKay was breathing,
taking in short gasping breaths.
Instinct sent Keeran hurrying across the room toward his father. He had just
reached the foot of the bed when movement out of the corner of his eye made him
stop his forward motion and turn. In his concern, he had forgotten the monster
they had been lying in wait for. It was a fatal mistake.
Keeran’s sword was raised by the time he completed the turn, but the
sight of the woman who stepped calmly out of the shadows stunned him so that he
froze to gape.
She was slender, pale and petite. She was also one of the loveliest women
Keeran had ever seen. Her face was a pale oval, with perfect features framed by
midnight hair that cascaded over her shoulders and out of sight down her back.
His gaze stopped briefly on her large, lovely eyes then dipped down to her sweet,
blood red lips and stayed there. Keeran might have stared at her all night had
a sound not drawn his attention to his father again.
“‘Tis her. She is Vampyre. Kill her!”
Keeran felt as if he had been punched in the stomach at these words. He turned
back to the woman, expecting a denial. Surely this beautiful creature could not
be the monster they sought? But he found her smiling an unholy smile. A shudder
ran through him as she licked her lips and he realized the crimson color had been
his father’s blood. This was the beast who had killed his mother and sister
and had now felled his father.
Red hot rage immediately coursed through Keeran. He started to bring his sword
down, but found she suddenly held the razor sharp blade in a grip as hard as the
steel she gripped. Keeran could neither raise nor lower it. Without hesitation,
he drew the sword toward him as if her hand were a sheath. She didn’t even
flinch as it sliced into her flesh. Neither did she bleed, he realized. Only the
dead don’t bleed.
Before he could attempt to hack at her again, the woman’s open hand
shot out at him. He barely had time to note the move, let alone block it. Her
cold palm slammed into his throat with incredible force, then closed her fingers
with a strength no human could possibly muster. She followed that with a lightning
swift blow to his chest that sent him to his knees as the air was punched out
of him. The woman then stepped forward, dragging him around by the throat at the
same time so that she stood behind him and they both faced his father.
The sword had dropped from his hand when she punched him. Now weaponless,
Keeran could only grab at her hand, trying desperately to tear it away. His shock
at his inability to do so had his eyes bulging as he attempted to suck air down
the throat her vicelike grip seemed to have sealed closed. He was a warrior; strong,
hard and twice her size and yet she was stronger.
“Hell bound creature!” Geordan MacKay gasped and the woman holding
Keeran as easily as if he were a rag doll laughed. It was a tinkle of amusement,
more suited to a ballroom than this tense moment.
“Undoubtedly.” She sounded amused, but her voice turned cold as
she added, “But you shall go to your maker knowing that I am taking your
son and heir there with me. ’Tis a fitting punishment for your killing my
mate, would you not say?”
Keeran saw his father try to rise from his slumped position at this claim,
even as he himself attempted to break the grip on his throat. Neither of them
succeeded. His father fell back with a weak moan of despair even as Keeran felt
the sting of the beast’s death kiss on his neck. That first nip was all
the pain there was to his death. Then ecstasy exploded where the sting had been,
spreading from that spot through his whole body. Much to his shame, Keeran felt
his body respond as if to a lover. Then cold began to creep over him and his vision
began to narrow. His last sight before the encroaching darkness claimed him was
of the tears leaking from his father’s regret-filled eyes and rolling down
his pale cheeks.
awareness returned to him, Keeran found himself lying abed and not knowing how
he’d got there. He rolled weakly onto his side, then stilled at the sight
of his father lying dead in the corner, a stake through his heart.
“He is dead. It is done.”
Keeran’s eyes shot to the window where the woman stood, shrouded in
the grey light of pre-dawn. She had awaited his regaining awareness before making
her next move and he suspected it would be to stake him too.
“Nay. I’ll not put you to rest,” she announced, apparently
able to read his mind. “Your father shall suffer more in his heaven knowing
that you walk the earth, taking life to sustain your own as I do.”
“Never,” Keeran spat, repulsed by the very idea.
“We shall see.” Her smile was cold and cruel. “You will
find you will do much to end the pain of hunger when it strikes.”
Realizing now that she did not have the mercy to kill him, Keeran turned his
gaze away, wishing she would go just away. He wished to be left to his misery
and mourning. But while he could avoid looking on her monstrous beauty, he couldn’t
shut out her voice.
“The dawn comes. You should seek shelter ere it arrives and sends you
to hell in a blazing glory. A most unpleasant experience I am sure.”
Keeran jerked his gaze back to her, prepared to spit out that he would rather
die than live this walking death as she did, but he was just in time to see her
slip through the window and out of sight. Now he understood how she had entered
without alerting them and realized that they hadn’t had a chance. Neither
of them had even considered she might enter through the window. Keeran’s
room was in the tower, too high for any mortal being to reach. They had underestimated
At least now she was gone.
Keeran relaxed on the bed with every intention of staying right where he was
and allowing the sun to show him the mercy she would not, but when the first rays
of light began to creep through the window and touched his feet, it felt as if
someone had set a torch to his boots. It affected him even through his clothing.
Jerking his foot out of that finger of light, he tried to sit up, but found he
was yet too weak.
Cursing himself for not staying where he was even as he did it, Keeran managed
to roll off the bed, hitting the floor with a body jolting thump. This gave him
some respite from the sun’s rays, but he knew it would not be for long.
Unshuttered, the window would soon allow the light in to fill the room. Yet he
was too weak to gain his feet, let alone walk somewhere that the light could not
reach him and he refused to call out for help. He would not have his people see
him this way. As far as they were concerned, their clan chief Geordan MacKay and
his son and only remaining heir Keeran MacKay had died this night. He would have
it so. He would not remain among them to sully them with his presence.
His gaze slid to the side and landed on the chest he had hidden behind. Mustering
the little strength he had left, Keeran managed to crawl inside it. Relief flowed
through him when the lid dropped closed, enclosing him in a cocoon of darkness.
It was quickly followed by shame that he had not had the courage to stay where
he had been and allow the sun to destroy the monster he had become.
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