Thursday, 26 February 2015

Over the Edge by Suzanne Carroll - Cover Reveal and Re-Release


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PRESENTS. . .

OVER THE EDGE

by Suzanne Carroll
Over-the-Edge-Hi-Res-Cover

New Cover Reveal/Re-Release Date: February 26 , 2015


Genre: FICTION / Romance / Contemporary / Contemporary Women

ISBN e-book:    978-1-61213-136-8

Available from: Amazon, Kobo, Barnes and Noble, and TWCS PH


~~SUMMARY~~

Over-the-Edge-3D-Full-Cover-Paperback-2
In six weeks, Zoe Harper will marry Dan Costi in an over-the-top Sydney society wedding, complete with fire-eaters and belly dancers. But when she receives an unexpected gift from her future mother-in-law, Zoe realises she’s making a huge mistake. In a blazing sidewalk argument, she breaks up with her fiancé—and his mother, who has joined the fight via conference call.

Following the advice of friends and co-workers, along with some inspiration from late-night-television self-help guru Dr. Pam, Zoe sets out to find the life she thinks she should be living. Always a planner, she makes a list of goals: travel, career, tattoos, and no romantic entanglements. It’s all carefully laid out, until she meets Angus Creed.
Angus is supposed to lead the opening waltz at a charity ball in New York City. Only problem is the handsome billionaire construction magnate with the tabloid past can’t dance. Not one step.
Tainted by gossip and with a well-publicised failed engagement behind him, Angus has become a master at keeping an emotional distance. Until he meets Zoe.
What starts as dancing lessons slowly becomes something more. Angus begins to let down his guard and open his heart, even when his past makes an unexpected and unwelcome return. As Zoe discovers the real man behind the headlines, she questions where her new choices are taking her. Her goals look good on paper, but are they what she really wants? And by the time she realizes where her heart lies, will it be too late?

~~EXCERPT~~

Over-the-Edge-3D-Bookstack-1Guitar music starts filtering through just as I’m drifting back to sleep.  It’s a lovely sound, soft and gentle.  It rises and falls so evenly, almost in time with my breathing, and I could listen to it forever.  Except, I’m supposed to be alone in this cabin, so that means there shouldn’t be guitar music.

Shit.

My eyes snap open.

Did I leave a radio on?  Is there even a radio here?  What if it’s an axe murderer?  Are they usually musical?

The music keeps playing as I climb slowly out of bed and, thankfully, the room doesn’t spin quite so much this time.  The door is open a crack, and when I peek into the living room, my hangover evaporates and my heart starts crashing against my ribs.

There is a man sitting on the sofa.

Who the fuck is he?  And what did I do last night?  My stomach drops to my toes.

Whoever he is, he’s made himself at home.  His bare feet are resting on the edge of the coffee table.  There’s a blanket thrown over the arm of the sofa.  Across his lap he holds a guitar.  He’s frowning, lips pursed slightly, as he studies the movement of his long fingers over the strings.  His body moves subtly in time with his music.  The muscles in his forearm roll and flex as he plays.

Despite the shock of finding him here, I’m struck by the beauty of his pose.  The way he holds the guitar is almost tender.  His face is so intent, he’s so absorbed in what he’s doing.  And what he’s doing is beautiful.  The music is so rich and sweet.

His hair is dark and tousled, and it hangs over his forehead and into his eyes.  I would guess he’s about my age, perhaps a little older.
He doesn’t look like an axe murderer.  Maybe this is some ridiculous mix up with reservations.  Should I confront him?  Or climb out the bedroom window and run for help?  As I’m considering my options, he looks up.

“Hello,” he says.  “You’re awake.”  He offers me a smile that’s warm and wary, but it’s his eyes that really have my attention.  He has beautiful eyes.  Long-lashed and dark brown.  He blinks slowly, almost lazily.  My unease begins to fade.

I find myself being drawn into the room – one tentative step, then another.  Those eyes stay on me, gauging my reaction.

“I’m not sure how much you recall,” he says.  His voice is warm and mellow.  “Should I introduce myself again?”

“That would be a good idea, yes.”  Despite a wildly beating heart, my voice is surprisingly calm.  Calmer than the voice in my head, the one yelling at me to move away from the stranger who has appeared uninvited in my cabin.  Away.  Not closer.

Guitar Man unfolds himself from the sofa.  He’s tall.  Much taller than he appeared when he was sitting.  He smiles and offers me his hand.

“Hello,” he says again.  “I’m Angus Creed.”

It could be the shock of what Guitar Man has said, or it could be the hangover, but suddenly my head is spinning again and the floor is coming up to meet me.

“Hey...”

I’m suddenly weightless as he scoops me into his arms and eases me onto the sofa.  He crouches on the floor in front of me as I sag into the corner cushions and I stare into those dark, guarded eyes with the long lashes.  This is Angus Creed?

What the fuck is he doing here?  I’m guessing the holiday brochure on Susan’s desk wasn’t for her, after all.

“Are you okay?”

“I’m fine.”  I start to nod but stop quickly, wincing.

“Headache?”
“Um...a bit.”  It’s an effort to think straight and I close my eyes, but when I feel his hand on my forehead they snap open again.

This is surreal.  I should be asking him to leave, not gazing into his eyes as he strokes his fingers over my forehead.

There’s a roughness to his skin, no doubt from those years spent as a builder, not a businessman.  But even so, his touch is gentle and soothing, like his music.  A delicious sense of warmth flows through me.

The pounding in my head begins to ease.  I sink deeper into the sofa and might never get up again.  But my mouth is dry and I run my tongue over my lips.

Over-the-Edge-3D-Full-Cover-Paperback-1“I’ll get you some water,” he says.  Suddenly his hand is gone, but the warmth stays.  There are sounds from the kitchen: the creak of a cupboard door and the splash of water into a glass.

I wrestle myself into a sitting position and catch my reflection in the glass doors.  My hair is flat.  That means I must have worn my beanie at some stage.  But when?   Not in front of him, I hope.

I turn my head and see he’s walking across the room to me, his bare feet moving silently over the timber floor.  He holds out the glass and I nod at the blanket tossed over the armrest.  “You were here all night?”

“You asked me to stay.”

Shit.  Mr One Night Stand.  What have I done?  The horror must show on my face.

“No,” he shakes his head, “not like that.”

And of course his response means he knows exactly where my mind has gone.  Quick.  Backtrack.

“Oh.  Good.  I mean...not that I thought...you and me, that we...”

            Oh, what am I saying?  And why is he looking like that, listening so intently?  Just shut up, Zoe.  Shut up and drink the water.

            But it’s too late.  The image is in my head now.  It’s probably in his head too.  At least I look fabulous and acrobatic in my version of events.  I wonder if I’m hungover with flat hair in his.

Guitar Man...Angus...Mr Creed...stays still by the fireplace.  He watches me and I watch him.  There’s the faint shadow of a bruise on the cheekbone under his left eye.

When I’ve had enough to drink, I set the glass on the coffee table.  “Thank you,” I murmur.

“How are you feeling now?”

“Better after the water.  I needed that.”  It’s true, my head is a bit clearer but the events of last night still elude me.  I need him to explain exactly what happened.  I also need to find out what I’ve told him.  Did I tell him my name?  Does he know I work for his company?  That I’m the Zoe Harper who sent his reports off yesterday morning?  I don’t think so, because I’m quite certain he wouldn’t be here, like this.

My heart pounds.  I’m not sure how to play this, but I find myself wishing he’d stroke my forehead again.



~~ABOUT THE AUTHOR~~


suzanne carroll
Suzanne lives in Sydney with her husband and children.  By day she works in an office where she sneakily scribbles plot ideas on yellow sticky notes and hopes they don't accidentally end up on the departmental monthly report.


One such sticky note has turned into her first novel, Over the Edge.







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Thursday, 19 February 2015

Cover Reveal - Matronly Duties by Melissa Kendall


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PRESENTS. . .

Matronly Duties

by Melissa Kendall
Matronly-Duties-Hi-Res-Cover

Release Date: May 21 , 2015



~~SUMMARY~~
Matronly-Duties-3D-Paperback-eReader
Hundreds of years after an asteroid slammed into Earth and sent it into a new ice age, what remains of the human race lives on in underground sanctuaries. Now, as the bicentennial anniversary of the impact approaches, a new leader prepares to take her place at the head of the government. At least, that’s what she thinks.

Bethanie Greene’s life has been planned out for her since the age of thirteen. Beautiful and intelligent, she’s spent the last twelve years training to become the next Matron of the underground nation of Oceania. But when Bethanie is kidnapped by rogue extremists just six weeks shy of taking office, her world is turned upside down by the handsome stranger who rescues her.
Howard James’ life has been the polar opposite of Bethanie’s. Struggling to survive in a world where those in power wished he didn’t exist, he harbors a deep-seated resentment of the government and all its representatives. Together with his unconventional family, he shows Bethanie a life she never knew was possible, while at the same time, opening her eyes to the injustices of the government she is meant to lead.
But can she trust a stranger? And can a few days change everything she believes and desires? Against all odds, Bethanie must decide if her heart and her duties can coexist.

~~EXCERPT~~


Matronly-Duties-3D-PaperbackMy body shakes at the thought of what could have happened to me yet again. I’ve heard stories about the slums, and I have to take a few deep breaths to calm myself.
“I was silly running away, I get it. I just couldn’t stay in your home any longer.”
Howard sighs. “Just because my parents raised us with traditionalist values doesn’t mean we are anything like the Trads. You accused us of being a drain on society, but you don’t even know us.”
“You’re right, I don’t. But you don’t know me either. If you did, you would understand why it’s hard for me to understand your way of life. It goes against every law, moral, and convention I’ve been taught. So I can’t be sorry for what I said, even if I’m sorry I ran out of the house.”
Howard takes a deep breath, then exhales long and slow. The expression on his face looks a bit like pity but with a dash of guilt mixed in. “Look, maybe I’ve judged you unfairly based on preconceived notions, but—”
A loud bang echoes outside. Howard glances at me with a panicked look on his face, and then pulls me off the crate onto the floor behind. I sit up, and turn to yell at him, but male voices outside keep my mouth closed. I instead huddle closer to Howard as he puts his hand around my shoulders. He pulls me in until I’m tucked against him.
“Did you see where she went?” a man’s voice asks.
“Nah, she just vanished.” The voice of this one sounds young.
“Damn, the boss isn’t going to be pleased about this.”
The crunch of shoes against pavement indicates they are on the move again. The sounds trail off until they’re no longer audible. I sigh in relief, all the tension fleeing my body.
“Are you okay?’ Howard asks, rubbing my shoulder.
I glance up, only then noticing how little space is between us. His blue eyes have flecks of grey in them, and there’s a smattering of freckles covering his nose and cheeks. His warm breath tickles my cheek almost like a caress, and his jaw has the barest hint of a five o’clock shadow. He really is captivating.
“I’m fine,” I eventually say, the words a mere whisper.
The butterflies in my stomach return with a vengeance. Howard licks his lips as they turn up ever so slightly in a smile.
“Good.”
I can’t stop the sigh that slips past my own lips. Howard leans forward a little, then moves closer still until his mouth is pressed against mine. I don’t dare move. A zing of something, I’m not sure whether it’s pleasure or fear, shoots through me. His lips are soft and wet, and the sensation is unlike anything I’ve felt before. I can’t even decide if I want him to continue or stop. When he pulls away though, a feeling of disappointment bubbles up inside me.
My first kiss.
Goosebumps cover me from head to toe, and unbidden, my fingers move to my lips. Glancing at Howard, he stares at me for a minute, then moves to sit further away.
“I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have done that.”
I shrug. “It’s okay.”
Howard frowns and then looks across the room.
Part of Matron training is learning not to form close relationships. It doesn’t mean it never happens. I’ve heard the odd story here and there from the other women, and I realise that’s probably what Gail was trying to tell me at breakfast the other day. But in all honesty, I can’t remember the last time I had real physical contact with anyone, above all with a man.
We sit in uncomfortable silence for a few minutes. Tension rolls off Howard in waves.
“What’s wrong?”
“Nothing. Come on,” Howard whispers. “We need to get to the house before those guys come back.”
~~ABOUT THE AUTHOR~~

Melissa Kendall
Melissa Kendall is an almost forty-year-old mother of two from Perth, Western Australia, the second-most isolated capital city in the world. Predominantly a stay-at-home mum, she works a few hours a week as a software support consultant. She has always loved to read and write, and spent most of her teens writing poetry and short stories. Over the years, daily life got in the way and she lost the passion for it, but after the birth of her first child, Melissa discovered e-books and her interest in writing rekindled. She is now the author of two published short stories. Matronly Duties is her first full-length novel.




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Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Beyond the Seduction by M.A. Stacie - A Cover Reveal


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PRESENTS. . .

Beyond the Seduction


Book 3 of the Reluctance Series

by M. A. Stacie

Beyond-the-Seduction-Hi-Res-Cover


Release Date: April 23 , 2015



~~SUMMARY~~

Beyond-the-Seduction-3D-Paperback-eReader
For a man who thought he had everything, Trace Jacks sure had nothing now.

After one letter blows his life apart, Trace is clueless how he can move on. He stumbles through the days, never accepting the grief that flows within him, and finding it easier to bury his loss. To him, if he doesn’t think about it, then it never happened. Burying the hurt, he continues with his new life. Hiding from the truth becomes a lot easier after he takes his niece to her dance class, striking up an interesting conversation with her teacher.
Shae Bennett is happy to keep things fun, enjoying Trace’s seduction and his spontaneity. She’s reluctant to get serious with anyone; she has enough going on in her life. With him she can forget about her concerns for her mom, her tumultuous relationship with her father, and stress of running the dance studio. With him she can be herself, and it becomes all-consuming.
When the fun begins to slip, when reality starts to encroach in the worst possible way, their relationship unravels at an alarming speed. Neither one is willing to end what they’ve come to need so deeply, but each of them has issues that can only be dealt with alone.
Can Trace and Shae unhook the chains that hold them back? Is their newfound love strong enough to battle back to one another?

~~EXCERPT~~

Beyond-the-Seduction-3D-Paperback
“Shae?” he called out, but his words got lost in the music as he descended the stairs. He didn’t say her name again, because the moment he saw her he was transfixed.

Shae was dancing.
She’d pushed the couch against the far wall, leaving space in the center of the room to move. Instead of yesterday’s clothes, she now wore a pair of tight black shorts and a loose gray tank. Her feet were bare. They hit the floor with a small slap.
Being careful not to disturb her, Trace lowered himself and sat on a stair, still watching her every movement. He doubted she’d hear him even if he did make a noise. Shae was locked in her moment, oblivious to the world around her.
The music was haunting, conveying her sadness, and as she pirouetted, he saw it on her face, too. Shae was crying. He expected it, though the fact that she was doing it while dancing made it harder for him to see. Dancing had bonded Lisbeth and Shae, and now it was all she had left of that. Trace couldn’t bring himself to disturb her.
Her arms swirled, her body swayed, each movement graceful and smooth. She covered the floor in three quick steps, followed by a delicate jump. It amazed him that she kept her poise during the leap, enough to point her toes. When she repeated the move, he watched her fingers this time, and smiled when she pointed those.


~~ABOUT THE AUTHOR~~

MA StacieM. A. Stacie is never without a book or her eReader. A voracious reader, with a love of sexy yet angst-ridden novels, she adores getting lost in new worlds. Her need to write did not grip her until after her second son was born, when her previous rambles became fully fledged stories.

She describes herself as one huge contradiction, and though not the most conventional of hobbies, she counts getting new tattoos as one of hers. Running keeps her sane, along with knitting and listening to loud music.

M. A. Stacie lives in the UK with her husband and three sons.


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Saturday, 14 February 2015

Sneak Peak - Koven by Vanessa Skye


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PRESENTS. . .
Paranormal Romance 
Koven
by Vanessa Skye

Koven graphic

Release Date: June 11 , 2015



~~SUMMARY~~

Hearts for Koven
When Celeste was kidnapped a century ago and turned against her will by a cruel vampire fighter, she expected to spend her doomed eternity as his slave, chained in the darkness, and she questioned her ability to survive. But things don’t always go as expected.

Just ask her kidnapper.
He never expected Celeste to learn how to fight.
He never expected Celeste to become the best warrior he had ever seen.
He never expected the secret hidden away in her blood,
And he certainly never expected to become a victim of his own sword.
Tormented by her past and the dreams she can’t explain, Celeste now roams the earth slaying the creatures she loathes—other vampires like herself—and seeking revenge against those who would harm innocents in the name of bloodlust.
Until she crosses paths with Striker, the handsome vampire leader weighed down by his own tortured story.
In his quest for answers about the stunning Celeste, Striker finds out more than he ever thought possible—about himself, his true origins, and his destiny. But the secret Celeste is keeping from him might be the one thing that keeps them apart for good—a secret even more dangerous than a new, powerful enemy they never saw coming.
As ancient mysteries, forgotten prophecies, and cruel eras collide, Celeste must confront her past as well as her future. Fighting her inner demons and letting Striker beyond the wall she built around her heart haunts her, even more than her captive past.
Enter a supernatural world of passion, lust, sexual obsession, and power that the unsuspecting humans never knew existed, until now . . .

~~EXCERPT~~


Hearts for Koven
The vampire silently watched from a balcony near the top of a shiny glass-covered skyscraper, enthralled, as the assassin neatly dispatched three Lore with brutal efficiency.


Two of the three had been beheaded before they’d even known what was happening.

Impressive, really—hard as it is to sneak up on a vampire, let alone deprive one of its head.

Granted, the three Lore rogues had looked young and inebriated—no doubt fresh from snacking on some of the drug-addled humans wandering around the club district in the very early hours of the morning. The chemical-or alcohol-laced blood of high humans was a favorite pastime of the younger generations of vampires, many of whom were reticent to leave human vices behind after their turning.

The third vampire looked shocked and tried to run as his friends met their absolute death, but the assassin was faster—considerably so. The Lore was killed quickly, neatly, and efficiently, without undue blood or relish.

He narrowed his dark brown eyes as he surveyed the assassin’s graceful movements.

The vampire didn’t kill for the thrill, which often happened because psychopaths were common within their species. No, given the calm efficiency, the assassin killed for some other reason that he couldn’t yet fathom.

He had hidden far enough away that the low clicking of his compact digital camera couldn’t be heard.

He zoomed in and refocused, the shutter softly snapping open and closed as the assassin wiped a bloody sword on one of the unfortunate vampire’s clothing before sheathing it.

He stuck around long enough to ensure all Lore—vampires turned by another vampire—had disintegrated into dust. The cold, late-winter wind whistling through the city would eventually scatter their remains across several gray city blocks. He was grateful they hadn’t been hybrids. They left a mess when killed, and a cleaning crew would have been necessary to dispose of the remains before any humans stumbled across them.

Pressing a few buttons, he examined the camera’s small screen critically. The leathers covering the assassin from head to toe made any facial features unidentifiable in each of the shots, but they were tight enough to leave no doubt.

A female assassin?

He was surprised and a little excited. Female vampires were increasingly rare, let alone one who fought as well as she did.

The wind moaning between the high-rise and its tall neighbor wasn’t enough to muffle the soft thud of footfalls from his sharp ears. He didn’t turn, however, because the intruder’s scent was familiar.

“Striker, are you following her again?” Bradford, Striker’s second-in-command, asked.

Striker reluctantly pulled his gaze away from the camera’s screen and turned slowly. “Yes. What of it?”

Bradford raised an eyebrow. “Surely you’ve got enough evidence against her to report to Kouncil by now. Why the extra surveillance?”

Striker folded his arms and remained silent.

Bradford ran his hands through his wavy red hair before shrugging his heavily muscled shoulders. “I’m aware it’s not my job to question—”

“You got that right.”

“Just wondering if you can afford the extra time. Kovens don’t run themselves, you know.”

Striker shrugged, slipping the camera into the pocket of his leather jacket. “I find her . . . fascinating.”

Bradford snorted. “Don’t let your never-ending drive for pussy cloud your judgment. The executioner’s noose is over her head, and you know it. Kouncil wants blood. She risks exposing us all with her activities.”

“You should see how she fights. She’s quick, effective . . . deadly,” Striker said, waving toward the female, who was scooping up empty clothes and placing them in a nearby dumpster. “And she’s cleaning up after herself, as you can plainly see. She poses no threat to us. On the contrary, she could be useful.”

Bradford stared at the woman, wrinkling his fair, white brow. “How old do you think she is?”

“She is too fast to be a hybrid. She doesn’t appear to be able to fly yet, so Lore less than a century old is my guess.”

“Less than a century?” Bradford narrowed his ruddy-colored eyes. “Good. She should be easy to capture and destroy, then.”

Striker clenched his fists. “Do not be so quick to destroy that which you don’t understand, brother. She could be a valuable asset.”

Bradford scoffed. “There is no way Kouncil will ever allow a female to join Koven. Nor will they forgive her for such . . . unseemly pursuits.”

“As much as they might like to think otherwise, it’s not up to Kouncil. It’s up to me who joins my Koven. Besides, fifty years ago they said the same thing about the hybrids, and now they are becoming members of our ranks as fast as they mature.”

Bradford let out a single bark of laughter. “Yes, you went against their wishes and allowed hybrids into Koven, and Kouncil is still pissed off about it! Because of you, they were forced to relax the ban on human and vampire relations, as well as the half-breeds sometimes resulting from them. All to boost our ranks. Vampire numbers are dwindling lower than ever before, and you know from personal experience that the turnings don’t always take, particularly for wome—” Bradford glanced at Striker and winced but pushed past the awkward moment quickly. “Don’t mistake their tolerance of hybrids after centuries of culling them with acceptance. They cannot stand the mongrels. They still call them Tiks, for fuck’s sake! They move about the sunlight without any discernable loss of strength, unlike Kouncil themselves.” Bradford shook his head. “It would be unwise to anger them so soon after a significant loss of face. They’ll never join the rest of us in the twenty-first century. They’re marred too deep in the old ways and prejudices. I often wonder why we sacrifice our strongest vampires to protect them. Would we be so much worse off if we let nature take its course?”

Hearts for Koven
Striker shrugged. “My maker used to ask me the same thing, and I honestly have no good answer. Tradition, maybe? Koven has been the right hand of Kouncil for millennia. But they’ll join us in modern society if I have to drag them kicking and screaming myself. You’ll see.”

Bradford huffed and cut his gaze sideways at Striker, clearly irritated. “Sadly, brother, I think you will see, and when you do, you won’t like it.” Running for the edge of the high-rise, he jumped, disappearing into the dark sky.

Striker turned back to his contemplation of the female.

He noticed she had returned everything to it pre-slaughter state, and resolving to follow her, he launched himself into the sky and flew above as she darted on foot through city alleys and quiet streets. He tracked her easily and hoped she would lead him to her keeper. It would allow his men to find her much easier later, should he wish to arrest her.

His mind raced.

Kouncil had sent him specifically to identify and gather evidence against the lone assassin killing rogue vampires—Lore and hybrid alike—indiscriminately and without permission. His instructions had not included rescue or engagement.

But something about her . . .

He did not believe Kouncil’s insistence that the assassin was putting them all at risk. After watching her from afar several nights a week over the course of many months, he had noted how carefully she cleaned up after herself to keep her activities safe from human authorities. Her death warrant was another in a long list of knee-jerk reactions from a Kouncil all too pleased to kill first and ask questions later.

Besides, the young ones she had killed had all been the result of unsanctioned turnings, so really, she was doing him and his fellow Koven warriors, not to mention Kouncil, a favor. Any rogues she killed saved him and his brothers from having to do it later.

Rogues had been an increasing problem over the decades as vampires sought to make children without the required Kouncil permission and signing of the blood contract agreeing to the rules of vampire society. Many still carried a sense of entitlement from the human world and did not appreciate the necessary constraints placed upon them in the vampire one.

No, it wasn’t that she was killing rogues that stirred the Kouncil’s ire. It was that she did it without their authorization. The fact that she was a woman didn’t help matters.

Kouncil was made up of the oldest of the old, so change of any kind was simply not tolerated. Vampire survival in a human-dominated world depended upon obeying stringent strictures.

Kouncil’s argument? If her activities exposed them to the humans—the same humans they lived with in secrecy, mind you—then thousands of years of careful concealment would be exposed.

As the humans had leapt forward technologically, if not spiritually or morally, vampires’ very existence had become precariously balanced on a knife’s edge. Any day, they could be discovered. Any day, a young rogue or a careless elder could be caught on a camera phone killing and feeding. Any day, a medical professional could stumble across the greatest discovery mankind would ever know.
Hearts for Koven
The vampires had contingencies for these eventualities, of course, including well-placed people in all levels of law enforcement and politics around the globe, but there were no guarantees.

Debates had raged throughout the centuries over their exposure to humans, deliberate or accidental. Debates that had often continued for many years at a time, but in the end, the result was always the same—humans simply were not tolerant enough as a species to coexist peacefully with vampires. Humans sought to either incarcerate or eliminate any threat to their survival, and no other species on the planet—with the possible exception of humanity itself—had ever posed as much of a threat to the human race as vampires.

It meant war on a global scale. Devastating for all involved.

Striker had never agreed with much that Kouncil said, but he agreed with that.

While humans still outnumbered vampires by at least one hundred thousand to one, and vampires were more like a perfected version of humans than the fairy-tale movie version humans had turned them into, there was no doubt that vampires’ superior strength, as well as their other gifts, eventually ensured a victory.

But at what cost?

The only reason vampires hadn’t wiped humans from the face of the scarred earth hundreds of years ago was because they were vampires only food source. The world was one big cattle station and vampires were the rustlers, and like the blissfully unaware beasts wandering into the stockyards, the humans simply didn’t know it.

Striker was torn from his musings by the woman’s sudden halt.

She remained deathly still, save cocking her head to one side as if listening for something.

Hovering one hundred feet above her, Striker also froze, momentarily concerned that she had discovered him.

Eventually, he heard it, too.

Screams. Human, female screams.

The assassin moved so quickly he almost lost sight of her.

He frowned.

Was I wrong about her age?

He caught up to her in a train station, which was deserted apart from a lone young woman engaged in a struggle with a large tattooed man. Both appeared to be human.

The thug wrestled his victim to the ground in a corner of the quiet platform and appeared intent on ripping her clothes.

The woman screamed again as she kicked out, trying to throw him off.

The thug balled his meaty fist, punched the side of the head, dazing her, and then covered her mouth and nose with his large hand.

Her struggles weakened as she was deprived of oxygen.

Striker wondered why the assassin was interested in the assault. It was a human problem and certainly nothing to do with her, or vampires in general. Surely she should move on soon. It was nearly dawn.

But the vampire didn’t move on.

On the contrary, emerging from her hiding place, she rushed the man who had subdued his victim and was now undoing the fly of his dirty jeans. She grabbed him by the collar and waistband and hurled him off the woman.

The man came to rest ten feet away from his intended victim, his breath rushing out of his lungs as he hit the ground hard. He recovered quickly, pulling himself off the ground and eyeing his attacker with naked appreciation. “You want to be next?” He sneered. “No problem, baby.”

The assassin shook her head, muttering something that sounded like never again, although Striker couldn’t be sure.

She advanced on the man, easily dodging the blow from his massive fist, and countered with a punch of her own that connected to his jaw with a resounding crack.

Striker watched in fascination, wondering why she didn’t simply end it with her sword instead of fighting as though she were in a human boxing match.

It would have been so easy, quick—over and done.

“Ahh, this kill you do relish,” he muttered as he watched her land blow after blow to the attempted rapist’s head, body, and face until he was little more than a bloody, pulpy mess.

The man fell to his knees, and the assassin lashed out with a kick, snapping his neck.

She watched as he slumped, and then she picked him up by the collar and sank her teeth into his neck, taking a few long pulls from his artery before pushing the body away roughly as though it disgusted her.

Hearts for KovenStriker observed her with unabashed interest as she staggered away and, clutching her stomach, dry-heaved. But she kept the blood down. He was pleased to see that once she got control of herself, she used her saliva to heal the wounds on the man’s neck so the bite would not be discovered. His other wounds she left untouched.

No, she is no threat to us.

She checked on the victim and carried her carefully to a nearby bench, placing her down gently and arranging her clothing so her body was covered.

Striker thought she meant to partake of this human’s blood also, but she didn’t, reaching out instead with a shaking hand and stroking the woman’s hair gently.

“Interesting,” he mumbled. “You certainly didn’t drink enough from the man.”

Striker felt his own strength waning at the late hour and was relieved to see the female vampire moving swiftly away from the train station.

He cursed as she ducked into a network of sewer tunnels that had several possible exits. If he didn’t want to lose her, he had to follow on foot.

He landed silently in the concreted storm drain and ran into the tunnel after her, noting that he had to make it quick—dawn was rapidly approaching. He followed the delicious scent of the strange woman through the tunnels until it got stronger.

She’s close.

Forced to an abrupt stop a fraction of an inch from the tip of a gleaming blade, he ruefully realized exactly how close.

“Why do you follow me?” she asked, the seething tone unquestionable as her words seemed to barely escape the tight set of her perfect, white teeth, and the point of the sword held steadily at his throat. One flick of her wrist and he would be unceremoniously decapitated.

Striker cursed his reckless arrogance in tailing her as she watched him, unblinking, through startlingly green eyes.

“You’re very young,” he blurted. “I mean, your eyes are still . . . they’re still green and not tainted by blood.”

She remained silent.

“Yet you’re very fast and fight like a seasoned warrior. How old are you?”

“I asked you a question.” She scowled and tweaked the blade’s tip against his tender skin lest he’d forgotten its threat.

“You must be young. The green eyes and the fact that you don’t fly . . .”

Or she starves herself. But what vampire in her right mind starves in a city full of willing food?

The humans’ recent fascination with a creature they considered mythical meant there was no shortage of fleshy meals willing to bare their necks and spread their legs for his kind. He’d often wondered how humans ever survived as a species, with so little regard for their own personal safety.

“You must be less than two hundred years made as well.” She tilted her head to one side then the other while maintaining eye contact. “I detect no red in your eyes either.”

He smiled pleased that they were finally having a conversation. “I am four hundred, give or take a decade. My eyes were so dark that I got teased about them being black. Makes the red less noticeable.” He flicked his gaze toward the sword still perched against his throat. “So you see, I am older and, therefore, stronger.”

“If that is what you choose to believe.” The sword did not waver, and her white fangs protruded slightly, a clear indication of anger, but she remained even keeled and in control. “You will explain why you are following me or die!”

She pressed the point of the sword into his neck, and he felt a trickle of blood slide slowly across his skin.

“And do not attempt to escape, or you will find yourself headless before you complete the thought.”

Striker extended his hands out, fingers spread wide, and slowly raised them to show he was unarmed and had no intention of fighting or trying to escape. In truth, he was more curious than scared.

He formulated every possible response and went with honesty. “I watched you kill all those rogues and the human. I want to know who you are and why you are doing what you are doing,” he said, staring at her leather-clad body and ample curves. He was disappointed he couldn’t see her face clearly. Sure, he wanted to identify her, but if her face was half as stunning at her body, she was a knockout. His pants suddenly felt uncomfortably tight.

“Why?”

“It was impressive.”

“You mean for a woman?”

“No. I mean generally impressive. I know Koven who wish they fought as well as you.”

“Oh really?” She pulled back the sword just slightly.

He cautiously reached up and wiped the blood from his neck. “It’s been a while since I’ve bled involuntarily.” He winked.

“Pardon me?”

He smirked and held out his finger, the blood glistening even in the low light. “If you want to taste my blood, all you have to do is ask.”

She stepped back. “But it’s forbidden.”

Hearts for KovenHe shrugged. “Most of the time. Blood sharing between vampires is allowed during certain ceremonies, but casual use is discouraged. Doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen between consenting adults in the privacy of a keeper, though.” He winked once more and willfully raked his gaze over her body again.

She was tall—very tall, in fact—with long, shapely legs, and lush hips leading to a small waist and an abundant bosom.

A classic hourglass.

His fangs lengthened slightly, and not because he was angry or afraid.

“Are you quite finished?” she asked.

“Fuck no. I haven’t even started.”

“Nor will you.” She flicked her wrist, nicking him again. “Now turn around and face the wall.”

He chuckled and turned slowly, deliberately, while a feeling of something akin to disappointment washed through him.

There were few women—human or vampire—he could not have if he set his mind to it. It was irritating that the first one in several decades to be so exciting appeared so disinterested in him.

“What’s your name?” he asked over his shoulder.

“Celeste.”

He listened keenly for the sound of her sword being sheathed but heard a metallic clunking instead.

“Hands behind your back.”

He sighed and complied. “I hope you appreciate my not fighting back.”

“You can try, if you like.”

She grabbed his right hand and shoved it into the small of his back, her foot resting between his feet, and the warmth of her body stirred a recognizable response in his.

“I behead arrogant assholes like you daily.”

He scoffed. “You are good, to be sure, but you’re no match for me, even with a sword. I’m thought to be the best warrior in the country.”

She snorted. “By whom? You?”

Hearts for KovenHe felt handcuffs clap around his bare wrists and tighten securely. “Vanadium?” He flexed his wrists, and her answer was unnecessary as soon as the heat of the metal burned his exposed skin. He winced. “I hope you got the vanadium to steel ratio right. Too little and they will not hurt me. Too much and the steel becomes we—”

“I don’t need a lecture, thank you. I think you’ll find them more than adequate.”

He smiled, safe in the knowledge that she couldn’t see it. “I guess I should be happy you’re letting me keep my head.”

“For now. Follow me again, and I won’t be so kind.” She patted him down and found the camera. “It seems I have a stalker.”

There was nothing but silence for several long seconds, and then he heard her soft curses as she dashed both the memory card as well as the expensive device against the concrete wall.

“You’ve been following me for a while.”

“If you’d stop cutting your way through our species, I wouldn’t have to follow you.”

“They were rogues. All my kills are. In case you haven’t noticed, this city has an infestation problem.”

“That’s not your call.”

“I’m making it my call.”

“Then Kouncil will have no choice but to deal with you.”

Celeste was noticeably quiet before finally asking, in a much less confident voice, “You’re Kouncil?”

“In a way.”

She snorted. “Ah, I see. You know, if you were doing your job, warrior, I wouldn’t even be here.”

“I’ll take that under advisement. But there are rules, and you are breaking them.” He waited for a response but when none came, he shifted a tiny bit to glance over his shoulder. “Celeste?”

Hearts for KovenMet with nothing but silence, he risked turning completely around and found he was talking to himself.

Damn, she’s quick!

Sighing, he started the long journey back to Koven.






~~ABOUT THE AUTHOR~~

vskye


Vanessa Skye has always had a love of words and spent her school years writing poetry, speeches, and fictional essays.


After completing a Bachelor of Arts in print journalism and studying psychology at Charles Sturt University, Vanessa got a job at Rural Press—Australia's largest publisher of regional and agricultural news and information—where she worked as a journalist in the Central West of New South Wales for four years.

Thousands of stories later, Vanessa decided to move back to Sydney and try her hand at public relations while studying for her master’s in communication.

Skip forward a few years, and Vanessa once again found herself joyfully studying various psychology subjects while managing a Sydney public relations firm. Enthralled with examining the motivations behind people’s actions, Vanessa realized what she really wanted to do in life was combine her love of words with her fascination for human behavior. So Ms. Skye quit public relations to begin the significantly more impoverished life of a professional writer.

Inspired by a recurring dream, Vanessa wrote her crime fiction debut, The Enemy Inside, which challenges the concept of justice, asks if the need for vengeance sometimes justifies murder, and explores whether you can ever heal from childhood abuse. The second book in this series, Broken, was released in February 2014, and the third, Bloodlines, was released in January of 2015. The first book in a paranormal series, Koven, will be released in June 2015. In her spare time, Vanessa wrote a short story, The Piece, which was published in February 2012 by Dark Prints Press as a part of the One That Got Away dark fiction anthology.

Vanessa now works as a freelance writer, lives on Sydney’s northern beaches, and tries to immerse herself in salt water at least once a day.


Hearts for Koven

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