Blood of the Raven

Blood of the Raven

Self-published Re-issue | April 9, 2012
The Embraced series, Book 2

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This title is totally stand alone. You do not need to read the other titles in the series to enjoy this story.

Gabriel Letourneau, a four-hundred-year-old Vampir, has been guarding Fate Harding from the dark forces that swirl around her for a very long time. On the night Gabriel’s period of watching comes to an end, when he finally believes she’s safe, Fate is violently attacked, Embraced, and left on his doorstep.

Fate didn’t know she had a badass vampiric bodyguard until the night she became a Vampir herself. She awakens from her ordeal with a powerful craving for both sex and blood, and Gabriel looks perfectly capable of satisfying all her needs at once. With sexual desire hot enough to spark the whole city on fire, she turns to Gabriel to sate the lusts of the recently Embraced and teach her the ways of her new life.

But Fate awakens something within Gabriel that has been asleep for centuries. He is insatiable in every way when it comes to her, but taming and keeping fiery, headstrong Fate is another matter entirely. Especially since she has a history of being mistreated and betrayed by those she loves. Gabriel’s greatest challenge becomes earning Fate’s trust.

Yet even if Gabriel manages to convince Fate he’s the only man for her, it may not be enough to keep her. Someone is stalking Fate, manipulating them both, and punishing Gabriel for his past sins…

Blood of the Raven is an exciting, fast-paced erotic tale jam-packed with steamy sex, suspense, and lovable characters that captured my interest from the beginning…. Blood of the Raven is a blazing read with profound secondary characters.”Fallen Angel Reviews

“Gabriel and Fate are both incredibly strong characters and share an intense passion.”Sizzling Romances

Excerpt

Chapter One

“He can make you forget your own name in bed.”
Fate snapped out of her reverie and blinked at her acquaintance, Cynthia Hamilton. “Excuse me?”

“That man you were just staring at.” Cynthia took a sip of her white wine and glanced up to the balcony that overlooked the crowded room of charity ball-goers. A tall, broad-shouldered man with glossy black hair stood by the balustrade, watching the milling crowd below him.

Fate had noticed him earlier, since he wasn’t a man easily missed. That black hair fell to the middle of his back, framing a ferociously masculine face with full, sensual lips and dark blue eyes. The shadow of a beard graced his strong, square jaw. The length of his hair didn’t make him seem any less male. She doubted anything could weaken the powerful masculine energy the man emanated even from across a crowded room.

His tall, well-built body was clothed in an expensive-looking tux. The women did a double take when they noticed him. Interested sexual heat emanated from their designer gown-clad, workout-sculpted bodies.

Aside from his gorgeousness, she had noticed him earlier because he seemed familiar to her for some reason, and also simply because he was a man a woman did not glance past. But if she’d been staring at him now, she hadn’t been aware of it. Too lost to other thoughts.

“That’s Gabriel Letourneau,” said Cynthia.

Fate nearly choked on the sip of martini she’d taken. “That’s Gabriel Letourneau?” She knew the name well. He was the keeper of the Vampiric territory in which Newville fell, and was a member of the Council of the Embraced. Notoriously private and reclusive, it wasn’t often he ventured into the public light.

“Yes.” Cynthia leaned in, her dark red hair falling loose over her shoulders, and enveloped Fate in a cloud of L’Eau D’Issey. Behind them, the crowd seemed to heave and sigh. “That man fucks like he does business, ruthless, intense and all-consumed by the project…at hand.” Cynthia laughed softly at her own little joke. “He’s an absolute god in bed.”

Fate eased back away from Cynthia and drained her martini. That was a bit too much information. Her companion must be a little tipsy. “Really.”

“Mmmm-hmm. He’s an Embraced, but I never saw any fangs during the night we spent together.” She drained her glass, and then shrugged. “More’s the pity.”

Fate’s gaze flicked back to the man. The ranks of the fully Embraced Vampir mostly kept to themselves except for the few narcissists that sought the admiration of the humans who worshipped them. For the most part the Council of the Embraced “handled” those few aberrations with their own force of peacekeepers. The attention seekers disappeared as soon as they surfaced to give a controversial interview or start their own short-lived rock band. The Embraced were feared, and therefore hated, by many activist humans. As the leaders of their kind, the keepers were the very few that were publicly known to be Vampir. They took most of the heat from those who feared the Embraced and most of the danger, too.

Fate pulled the olive off the plastic spear in her martini glass with her teeth and bit into the salty meat as she studied him. The man in question turned his head and looked at her…right at her. She straightened, her eyes widening. His gaze took her in from the top of her head to her feet, seeming to undress and caress her as it slowly slid down her body. His sultry, full lips curved in a smile as he lifted his glass and took a drink.

The heated look in his blue eyes made her nipples tighten and her sex tingle—and she thought she’d been paralyzed from the neck down, a sexual quadriplegic. That man had just aroused her with one very potent look. He’d awoken her libido with a glance.

Unsettled, Fate swallowed the olive, set her glass on a nearby table and turned to look in the other direction. Instantly, she froze. Christ, what were Christopher and Lisa doing at Dorian Cross’s charity ball? Then she remembered. Christopher was Dorian’s attorney. He worked for Dorian. Half of Newville did.

“He’s an asshole and she’s a bitch,” summed up Cynthia, after her head swiveled in the direction Fate’s had gone.

Fate glanced at Cynthia. “I-I have to go.”

“Wait, Fate, you have to stay at least until after Mr. Cross auctions off your paintings.”

Cynthia was right. She was trapped here for another couple of hours. Fate backed up into the crush of people behind her. Cynthia worked for Dorian Cross, too, sort of as a personal secretary. She often acted as a go-between for Fate and Dorian. “I know. I meant, I have to go—uh—powder my nose.” Inwardly, she cringed. Did women ever say that in real life?

“Dorian would very much appreciate it if you stayed until the end, if possible, Fate. You’re the star of this show.”

She feigned a nod of assurance. “Of course I will.”

Cynthia smiled in relief.

She hesitated, remembering what she’d wanted to ask, the reason she’d initiated conversation with this woman in the first place. “Cynthia, do you know if Dorian sent me any packages earlier today?”

Cynthia frowned. “No. I mean, if he did, he didn’t tell me about it.”

She bit her lower lip. Then who had? Granted, she was slightly relieved that the rich man who’d become the patron and benefactor of her art had perhaps not sent the gorgeous designer-made dove-gray gown and heels—not to mention the underthings, a delicate, lacey gray demi-bra, thong and silky thigh-high stockings. Nestled in the gown’s box had also been a lushly packaged bottle of Clive Christian’s No.1. Even poor, starving artist Fate knew that was an outrageously expensive perfume. Whoever had sent the clothing had also provided a prepaid appointment to a swanky local salon for a session of complete pampering and a makeover, of which she had availed herself.

She was glad Dorian might not be the one playing prince to her Cinderella. Fate didn’t know what she’d do if he ever made that kind of an advance in her direction. But if he hadn’t, then who had?

Fate forced a smile. “Okay, see you later then.”

“See you.” Cynthia turned to greet a tall silver-haired man who’d approached her, and Fate disappeared into the crowd.

Tottering on the dove-gray four-inch heels and wishing like hell for her far less glamorous painting sweats and slippers, she made her way across the room…away from Christopher and the woman he’d left her for.

She’d celebrated New Year’s Eve—nearly a year ago now—with Chris. She’d figured what better way to meet the New Year than making love? Instead she’d just ended up getting fucked.

What was it with love? What made it real? Fate sure hadn’t found out yet. All she’d found was self-induced illusion. It was amazing how people could delude themselves into believing someone was something they needed, when they were really just poison.

She searched the lush and glittering throng for a sign of Dorian. Crystal chandeliers glimmered above the small, intimate tables scattered about the ballroom of the Augustus hotel. The rich and fashionable elite sat at each of the small, round tables. Wide swathes of gold silk hung on the walls between her paintings and those of other local artists. Dorian had bought them all and planned to auction them off tonight for charity. Fate was Dorian’s favorite artist, however, and far more of her paintings hung the walls than anyone else’s.

She stopped dead in the middle of the crowd, feeling that same tingling sensation she’d had on and off for the last number of years—like she was being watched. She knew it was true—knew that feeling couldn’t be wrong. Fate had psychic ability. Once in a while, she experienced flashing visions of things that came true. Knowledge about people sometimes suddenly flooded her mind.

And the lucid dreaming.

Although, she wasn’t sure if she’d use the term lucid dreaming for what she did. That was simply the term that came closest to defining it. Sometimes while she slept, she traveled to people’s homes in the dead of night—people she would later end up meeting in waking reality. At times she’d wind up going to their homes for some reason and she’d confirm that everything she’d seen while she’d been in the dream world version of their house was correct down the exact shade of Berber covering the floor.

And other things happened while she took those trips into that other realm. Dark people stalked her, harassed her, and fought her. Were they apparitions created from the fears deep within her own subconscious mind, merely her own issues that had taken a human-like form in her psyche—her nightmares? Fate told herself they were and not something real. Not something related to the truth of the places and people she visited before she met them in waking reality.

Fate told herself they were not the Dominion, the wraiths the Embraced claimed they kept in check on behalf of humankind. Some people believed the stories about the Dominion, those psychic vampires, and how they could wreak havoc on humankind if they had the strength and opportunity. Others thought the Embraced had simply made them up as a way to make themselves legitimate.

That she was different was a secret she kept to herself, a problem that had been barely controllable her whole life. She just wanted to fit in, but normality remained ever elusive.

She looked up toward the second floor and found Gabriel Letourneau’s mesmerizing gaze locked on her. She couldn’t look away.

* * * * *

Gabriel grasped the brass balcony railing and watched Fate in the crowd below him. The gown he’d sent her was perfect, as he’d known it would be—perfect for her creamy pale skin and her cool gray eyes.

He imagined the fine material stroking over her thighs like a lover’s hand as she walked. He envisioned the bra that he’d selected cupping her breasts, the delicate, lacey thong pulling between her thighs with every step she took, rubbing against her clit. He wanted to lift the soft layers of her gown and slip that thong down over her hips. He could almost hear the whisper of the fabric against her skin as he slid it off.

Her long, dark brown hair was twisted up into a sleek chignon on the back of her head and secured with pearl-tipped pins. Soon, maybe tonight, he’d free that hair so it fell down her back, allowing him to gather the weight of it in his hands. Soon, he’d have that hair spread over the mattress of his bed as he took her beneath him. She’d be soft and warm. Her breasts would fit against his palms so exquisitely. Her nipples would tighten and flush with her excitement. Her cunt would grip his cock like a tailor-made glove. Gabriel suppressed an aroused shudder and took a long drink of his bourbon.

A woman walked differently after a man had found her G-spot, a little more fluidly and with a little more roll to her hips. No man had ever found Fate’s. It was Gabriel’s intention to change that.

Though he knew she’d had men. Christopher Connor was one. She’d also had a couple—but just a couple—one-night stands in the months since she’d broken it off with him. Gabriel intended to be the next man she took to her bed.

It’d been close to five years since Gabriel had started watching Fate Harding. He’d been interested in her from the beginning, but after keeping such a close watch on her, enveloping her in his anonymous attention, protecting her from the dark forces at work around her, and learning all he could about her and her life, he’d become enraptured with her.

He knew her well enough to understand just how uncomfortable she was here. How badly she wanted to trade that gown for her painting sweats. Fate Harding was a bundle of contradictions. She was a sensitive, introverted and creative artist, but far from the stereotypical dreamy waif.

Her father had died when Fate was three years old. Her mother had been an alcoholic and had abused her mentally and physically. When Fate was twelve, the state discovered the abuse and took Fate away from her mother and sent her to live with her detached and uncaring aunt. She’d had a hard childhood and had been deeply hurt and betrayed by those she believed she could trust. It hadn’t been easy for her, but Fate hadn’t allowed her turbulent upbringing to become a chip on her shoulder. Instead, Fate had decided she would never again be a victim. As soon as she was old enough to have a part-time job, she’d saved up enough money to start taking self-defense classes. She hadn’t stopped until she’d become a black belt in Tae Kwon Do.

Gabriel knew she’d done it to make sure she could always take care of herself, since she knew there was no one else to do it. He’d spent the last couple centuries amassing a fortune for the same underlying reason, so he understood the motivation well. The need to feel some sense of control over your own destiny. A sense of safety.

Yes, he understood her well because in some ways they were very similar.

Now that his period of watching had come to a close, it was time she learned who he was. It was time he became visible to her.

If only for one night. Then he could say goodbye.

He wanted to feel the soft slide of her body over his, her hair brushing his chest as he rolled her beneath him on the bed. He wanted make her scream in passion and claw the sheets, come so hard she brought him with her.

Below him, Fate stilled in the middle of the crowd and looked up. He held her gaze with his until she could have no doubt about his interest in her. Then a drunken guest bumped into her, nearly spilling his drink down the front of her gown, and the spell was broken. Fate glanced up at him once more, then turned and disappeared into the crowd.

Gabriel set his drink down on a table and descended the stairs, lightly willing the humans out of his way with a small bit of glamour. After picking up two flutes of champagne, he found Fate in the crowd. He followed behind her, keeping his eyes on the sensual swish of her skirts as she walked.

Christopher Connor intercepted her before Gabriel could. When Connor approached, Gabriel felt the shocked unease within Fate through the one-way mental link Gabriel had forged with her. She didn’t want to talk to this man who’d injured her so deeply, and had betrayed her trust and love, like so many others.

Gabriel hung back, and pitched his hearing to listen and watch from afar, as he’d listened and watched her for the last five years.

“You move fast, Fate. I’ve been trying to catch up with you,” said Connor.

Fate stiffened visibly. “Why?”

Connor smiled slowly, revealing the dimples Gabriel was certain that women loved—though he knew they didn’t work on Fate anymore. “I wanted to offer my congratulations. Your art has really grown wings.”

“Big of you to say, Chris. You never thought my paintings were any good.”

“That’s not true. I just thought—”

“I should commercialize more.” Gabriel could scent the hot anger that flashed through her even at a distance, even through the crowd.

He shrugged and a look of exasperation crossed his handsome face. “You have to go where the money is.” He paused, looking her up and down. “You look absolutely stunning this evening.” Gabriel could hear the note of desire in Connor’s voice. Gabriel’s hands clenched on the stems of the champagne flutes.

Fate sighed. “Where’s your date?”

“Lisa? She’s around.” He smiled again. “Does it matter? Fate, she and I, we’re not as good as you and I were.”

Fate went silent for a moment. Gabriel felt emotions swirling within her, not the least of which was deep resentment. “You and I were never good, Chris.”

Connor leaned toward her and lowered his voice. “I don’t know about that. I can remember one place where we were pretty good together.”

“Maybe from your perspective. I never thought it was much.” Fate took a step back and Gabriel moved fast, ensuring she backed up against him. Holding the champagne flutes in one hand, he placed his other hand on her waist and pressed his chest to her back. She looked up at him and let out a surprised gasp but didn’t move away.

“Are you all right, ma cheri?” Gabriel asked. “I go to get drinks and come back to find you talking to—” Gabriel flicked an irritated glance at Connor “—what’s your name?”

“Christopher Connor. I’m Fate’s former fiancé.”

“Fiancé?” he raised an eyebrow and exaggerated his almost completely faded French accent on purpose. Gabriel leaned down, inhaling the scent of Fate’s skin, and brushed his lips against her cheek. It was absolute heaven to finally touch her after so long only dreaming about it. Fate didn’t move away; instead she snuggled back against him and let out a contented sigh. “Should I be jealous, ma cheri?” Gabriel growled into her ear just loud enough for Connor to hear. Fate hesitated a moment, closing her eyes at his touch. Gabriel’s confidence grew. Then she straightened and looked pointedly at Connor. “No, you have no reason to be jealous at all…darling.” She cocked her head. “Christopher was just leaving.”

Connor went silent, narrowing his eyes at her. He tipped his head toward Gabriel. “Have a nice evening.” He backed away into the crowd.

“God, what an asshole,” Fate muttered under her breath. She turned to him. “Thank you so much, Mr…?”

Gabriel pressed a flute of champagne into her hand. “Gabriel Letourneau.”

“I-I actually knew that. You’re the keeper of Embraced here in Newville.”

“I am. I hope you do not hold the same prejudices and fears so many others seem to have about us.” He knew she didn’t. Fate had even participated in a rally once when an ultraconservative senator in Mississippi had tried to push a bill through Congress that would’ve declared open season on the Demi and the Vampir. As if the humans could locate and kill all the Embraced. As if the humans could survive the Dominion on their own if they ever succeeded. It was a ridiculous notion. They didn’t understand the checks and balances in place to ensure the survival of their race. They didn’t understand the payoffs and sacrifices they needed to make to maintain it.

She shook her head. “Not at all.” She held out her hand. “My name is Fate. Fate Harding.”

He took her hand and, instead of shaking it, brought it to his mouth. He flipped it and laid a careful, deliberate kiss to the pulse at her wrist, flicking his tongue out minutely to taste her skin. Her heart rate sped up under his lips. Gabriel suppressed a groan. She tasted so sweet. Her blood would be like sipping heaven. Reluctantly, he released her hand. “And I knew that.”

She raised an eyebrow. “You did?”

He indicated a wall behind him where some of her lush, nearly erotic, artwork hung. Fate used dark, muted colors and her subjects were generally locked in heated embraces, on the brink of a kiss, or teasingly and temptingly on the verge of some other activity. They were generally provocative works, seething with dark angst. They revealed a concealed passion within the artist. Gabriel wanted to unlock that passion he knew Fate masked. She just needed the right man with the right key. He felt sure he had it. “You’re the artist.”

She lowered her eyes, her lashes shadowing her cheeks, and took a drink of her champagne. “Yes.”

“Your work is highly sensual, Fate. I enjoy it very much. I bought several pieces from the Eastside Gallery last year. I intend to purchase more this evening.”

She looked up at him in silence for a heartbeat, her full red lips parted in wonder. As though she couldn’t believe people actually enjoyed her paintings. “Thank you.”

Gabriel glanced to the left where Connor stood, watching them. Fate’s gaze followed the direction of his narrowed eyes. Gabriel couldn’t help himself, even though he knew it might scare her off. He took a step toward her, closing the small distance between them. “Maybe you should kiss me. You know, to complete the illusion.”

She smiled and tipped her head to side coyly. “Kiss you?”

Gabriel smiled back. He held her gaze for a long heartbeat, feeling their shared connection born of strong and good chemistry. Gabriel knew Fate felt it every bit as much as he did. “Only for show, you understand.”

She stepped forward and tipped her face to his. He twined an arm around her waist and pressed her to him. The activity around them ceased to be of any importance. It ceased to exist. He lowered his head and let his lips hover over hers, inhaling the heady scent of her breath and noting how it came faster, before he brushed his lips over hers.

He’d imagined kissing her…and doing so much more to her for so long. She tasted every bit as sweet as he’d fantasized she would.

Rubbing his thumb back and forth over the exposed skin at the small of her back, he crushed his mouth to hers. Her lips relented beneath his and parted. He swept his tongue into heaven. A multitude of fantasies rode him hard, made him want to pick her up, carry her to some secluded area of the hotel and act every one of them out.

He worked his mouth over hers, tasting, possessing. Her breasts pressed up against his chest and her hips brushed against him. He wanted to strip her clothes off now and lay her down on the floor. He wanted to savor the taste of her sex on his tongue, slip his cock into her and drive them both to climax.

But something irritating scrabbled at the outer edges of his awareness. Someone tapped a microphone. The crowd hushed. “I want to welcome everyone to this year’s charity ball and auction…”

Dorian Cross’s voice droned on about something far less important than Gabriel’s mouth on Fate’s.

“…overriding number of the paintings are Fate Harding’s. So without further delay, I’d like to ask the star of this auction up here to say a few words. Fate?”

Fate pushed against his chest and pulled away, and he let her…reluctantly. She looked up at him with heavy eyelids and a languorous look on her face. She raised an eyebrow. “Really too bad that was only for show and not a promise of something more tonight.”

Gabriel smiled. She was perfect. “Well—”

“Fate?” Dorian called again from the podium. “Fate, are you here?”

“Damn. I have to go.” She backed away, set her champagne flute on a nearby table and hurried through the crowd toward the podium.

Gabriel covertly adjusted his rigid cock in his pants and watched her take the microphone.

“She’s sweet little piece of ass.”

Gabriel turned to see Adam Ridge standing beside him. The Vampir aided him in the management of Newville’s population of Embraced, though Gabriel intended to soon divest him of that position of power. Adam was rash—a loose cannon. He’d flaunted the laws of their kind too many times. He was young by Embraced standards, only about 160 years old, and he was an American of the worst kind, straight from the Wild West. He planned on having a long discussion with Adam tomorrow. It was past time he did it.

“What are you doing here?” Gabriel asked in a tight voice.

Adam gave a slow smile. “I crashed.”

“She’s an unmarked sweet little piece of ass.”

Gabriel turned at the familiar voice that still held a trace of cultured Bostonian accent after all these years, to find Charles Scythchilde on his other side. Charlie was even younger than Adam, but far more mature and responsible. Charlie had been at Gabriel’s side for a very long time, since the late 1800s in New York City, Gabriel’s former territory. “What is this, a reunion of the Embraced? Is Niccolo here, too?”

“I had an invitation,” commented Charlie, casting a look of scorn in Adam’s direction. “Niccolo did not attend. Though he, too, had an invitation.”

“Niccolo isn’t much for parties,” said Gabriel.

“Niccolo isn’t much for anything these days,” remarked Charlie.

It was true. Niccolo was one of Gabriel’s most trusted friends, and far, far older than any of them. Niccolo was taciturn and stoic at the best of times, but lately he’d grown even more remote.

“So, what’s with you and the fascination with that woman, Gabe?” asked Adam. He took a sip of what looked to be whiskey as he eyed Fate making her remarks on the podium. “I mean she’s pretty and all but she’s an unmarked human.”

“That’s why he likes them, Adam,” replied Charlie. “He can fuck them and leave them. Easy. Uncomplicated. It’s not like they share our world. Gabriel doesn’t want to get heavily involved with a woman, be they human, Vampir, or Demi.”

Gabriel took a drink of champagne, his gaze fixed on Fate. “Thanks for that little bit of psychoanalysis, Charlie. It’s good you never decided to take it up as a profession.” Although he mostly fed from the Demi-Vampir, the vampiric class that lived from sex, not blood, it was true that he’d been with many human women. To a human, the bite of a Vampir was beyond orgasmic. It could cause a human to become addicted if they sought the experience too often. That was why he nearly never bit. If he did, he used glamour to cause the woman to forget the experience and he healed up the wound.

And he never spent more than one night in a woman’s bed.

“Is she tonight’s conquest, Gabe?” asked Adam. “A little late-night snack?”

At the front of the room, Dorian Cross had taken the microphone back and was introducing the man who would conduct the auction. On the left side of the room, hotel employees were handing out auction paddles.

Gabriel smiled. “She’s far more than just a late-night snack, Adam,” he answered finally. He flicked him a cold glance. “But, unlike you, Adam, I do not flaunt the rules that the Council of the Embraced have set down. I will not bite her. For breaking those rules, you may find yourself knocked down several notches in this territory very soon.”
Adam paled. Good. He understood the threat behind those words.

“She’s the one you’ve been watching, isn’t she? The human dreamwalker,” said Charlie.

“Yes, and she’s a very powerful one.” Without waiting for a reply, Gabriel walked away to get a good seat for the auction.

* * * * *

Fate pulled on her coat and scanned the crowd one last time. Gabriel Letourneau had bought every one of her paintings.

Every. Single. One.

There was something approaching erotic in the idea that her paintings—a little bit of her own soul—would be hanging in that man’s home. Her thoughts, ideas, and desires had gone into every single stroke of the brush on the canvas. It was a subconscious imprint of herself, an intimate part of her psyche.

She wanted to thank him for his generosity. And, damn, she wanted to kiss him again. It had been incredible, spine-tingling, and toe-curling. She’d never been kissed like that. Never in her life. No…it hadn’t even been a kiss. It had been Gabriel making love to her mouth. His lips had seduced hers at first, sliding over them in a light tasting. Then he’d slanted his mouth over hers and taken her in a deep, penetrating kiss that had shot lust straight down between her thighs.

Fate hadn’t felt that level of desire in years. Maybe never.

And his voice and accent. Fate drew a breath. Nearly all the French had been bled from his deep, velvety voice, but there was still enough to make her spine tingle. She’d like to have him for a night, just for one night, in her bed.

After he’d kissed her, she’d still been shaking when she reached the podium. She’d been flushed the whole way through her remarks.

Now it seemed Gabriel had left. Maybe he made an ordinary practice of stalking women down with that predatory, sexual light in his eyes, kissing the hell out of them, casually dropping twenty grand for charity and then disappearing.

Man, it had been a strange night. A strange day.

She wondered if it had been Gabriel who sent her the package. Could it be? Mentally, she shook her head. No way. Despite his apparent interest in her and despite the fact he seemed vaguely familiar they’d never met before tonight. She would definitely remember if she had. Gabriel wasn’t the kind of man you forgot.

With one last look around the ballroom, she buttoned her long black coat and headed out to the lobby. She squinted at the glass doors leading out onto the street and frowned. It was raining. Hard. Her heels clicked on the marble floor of the entranceway of the hotel. She nodded and smiled at guests who were slowly filtering out of the ball.

A couple walked in front of her, also on their way out. The female portion of the couple squealed as she walked out into the rain. The man, apparently her husband or boyfriend, opened his umbrella and ushered her beneath it. He wrapped an arm around her waist to keep her out of the downpour and laid a kiss to her temple.

Something in Fate’s stomach twisted at the sight.

The day she’d caught Christopher cheating on her, she’d taken paint to canvas like a mourner to the veil. She’d painted into the early morning, her tears blurring her vision and obscuring the work on the canvas. She’d really loved the bastard. Well, she’d loved the illusion of him. The illusion of what she’d thought their life together would be. The reality had been somewhat different.

Fate stepped out the brass and glass front doors of the hotel and approached the group of bustling valets. She hadn’t felt comfortable handing the keys to her dented seven-year-old Honda Accord over to the valet while they were parking shiny new Towncars and Cadillacs, but she’d done it anyway. Walking down a deserted city street at one in the morning wasn’t her idea of a good time, black belt in Tai Kwon Do or not. All the fighting she’d ever done was in the competition ring or the dojang—never on the street, and never against anyone who actually meant to harm her outside competition.

With Dorian’s generous patronage, she would now be able to afford a new car. She wasn’t sure why she had the vague feeling she was selling her soul to the devil for it, though. Dorian had not asked anything of her she didn’t want to give, had never asked her to compromise herself or her art.

Not yet, anyway.

Fate maintained her right to suspect his intentions.

One of the valets approached her and she gave him her ticket. “Be right back, miss,” he said, and then hurried away.
The cold December wind whipped around the buildings, down the streets and slapped the breath out of her as she stood waiting by the doors, safely out of the cold November rain.

The valet pulled her car around and she hurried as quickly as she could on teetery high heels over wet pavement—which wasn’t very quickly at all—down the steps. The valet met her with his umbrella and ushered the rest of the way into her vehicle. Before getting into the car, she pressed a hefty tip into his palm. She wanted to share her good fortune. Despite the umbrella-laden valet, she was soaked by the time she sat down in the driver’s seat and slammed the door closed.

“Yuck!” she said. Her hair had come down in sodden clumps around her face and quick glance in the rearview mirror confirmed her suspicion about her mascara. Well, it wasn’t like she was going anywhere but home, anyway. Her lovely vampiric quarry had escaped her, after all. Tonight, only one would occupy her bed.

How depressing.

She threw her purse onto the passenger’s seat, flicked her windshield wipers on and pulled out into the street. There were very few residential areas in downtown Newville, mostly just office buildings and closed-up shops. At one in the morning, everything was absolutely still and quiet.

She turned a corner and flipped on her CD player so that Seether could sing about love-stained hands. Strangely, something niggled way down deep within. Her sixth sense, if that’s what it was, kicked it up a notch along with a feeling of being watched. Which was silly. She was moving, after all, and there was no one behind her, or in front of her—or anywhere at all around her, for that matter. There was no one around to observe her.

But, still.

This was a far different feeling from the mere tingling she’d had before. This felt antagonistic, not simply watchful and interested. This was a heavy, dark feeling—the feeling of someone wishing to harm her. And she would take it seriously. After all, it wasn’t as if she lived in a world of mere mortals. Other, far more powerful, creatures lurked in the shadowy city.

“Fine,” she muttered as she surrendered to her intuition. She stopped at a red light. It was probably nothing more than her runaway imagination. Still, she groped for the handle of her glove compartment and opened it. Her Smith & Wesson lay comfortably within. It wouldn’t hurt to have it near.

At the same time her hand closed around her gun the dark feeling of foreboding deepened in pitch, hummed for a heartbeat and then exploded in her head.

They were coming for her. She knew it for certain in that one moment.

Everything happened too quickly for her to register each individual event. Two dark figures rushed her car—one on the passenger side, the other on the driver’s side.

She straightened, her gun in hand, and slammed on the gas. Her car moved about a foot before the engine sputtered and died. She coasted to the middle of the intersection.

What the hell?

The figures still advanced.

Adrenaline rushed through her, screaming for fight or flight. She chose fight. Since she had a clear shot at the one rushing her passenger side, she raised her gun, sighted a line of fire and pulled the trigger. The passenger side window shattered and the loud sound of the gun firing in her car nearly shattered her eardrums. Everything went eerily silent for a moment and the chokingly strong scent of sulfur filled the air.

The man kept coming.

She raised the gun and shot again. This time she hit his shoulder. He lurched to the side, shouting out obscenities and holding his arm, but he still kept on coming. Who was this guy, Superman? She trained her gun on the figure, this time aiming for his stomach. In the same moment, the driver’s side window smashed.

Hard hands grabbed her shoulders. She struggled and shifted her aim to point-blank range on her attacker. Right as she pulled the trigger, he pushed her arm and her shot went wide, blowing a hole in her windshield.

With unimaginable strength, her attacker pulled her through the car window. She cried out as the broken auto glass ripped through her clothing and into her flesh when she was dragged over the shards. The man dealt with her easily, as though she weighed nothing. That’s when she realized that whatever he was, it wasn’t human. They struggled for a moment as she tried to turn far enough to shoot, and she drew blood from his forearm with her nails. He grasped her wrist and squeezed…really hard. She gasped in pain and dropped her gun. The man kicked it and it went skittering across the pavement.

Every bit of hope she had plummeted straight to her toes.

Both figures were hooded and dressed in black. The man who held her in this iron grasp had to be Vampir. Were both of them?

She stood in the middle of the street, her back pressed against the Vampir’s. Her breath came fast and heavy and showed in the cold air. The rain still fell. The other man—the one who’d come up on her passenger side—approached her. She watched him carefully, her mind clicking over possibilities for escape.

Her car started, startling her, and the radio turned on. The CDs in the changer in her trunk flipped one-by-one, as though someone was selecting one. Finally, the fourth CD—Nine Inch Nails—started playing.

The other had come to stand in front of her. “Better,” he commented from the depths of his hood. The material of his long coat, where it covered the shoulder she’d shot, was wet with his blood, she noted with no small measure of satisfaction. He stepped toward her. Using the man holding her from behind as leverage she kicked up high and hard, nailing the man in the eye with her very sharp heel. He screamed and collapsed to the ground, holding the hand of his uninjured arm to his face.

He seemed more vulnerable by the moment. It looked like at least one of them was not a Vampir. The one she kicked could be a human under the influence of vampiric glamour. That would account for the fact that the bullet in his shoulder had barely slowed him down.

To loosen the bear hug of the man who held her, she dropped low and thrust her elbows up, twisting out of his grasp at the same time. She turned, brought the flat of her palm up hard toward his face, intending to smash his nose.
If he’d been human, it probably would have worked.

With mind-numbing speed, he grabbed her wrist and twisted it behind her back. Then he slammed her bone-jarringly hard to the street, knocking the breath out of her. Her cheek hit the pavement and she stared straight ahead at the tire of her car—at the raindrops splashing onto the road. It was as if she could see them hit one-by-one. Plink by relentless plink, they pooled like small lakes of teardrops on the pavement. The loud angry music coming from her car was all she could hear.

The Vampir grabbed her hair and jerked her head to the side, exposing her neck. Terror bubbled up within Fate as the dark, hooded head dipped to hers like some macabre lover ready to bestow a kiss. Fangs ripped into the tender flesh of her throat.

Fate regained her breath and screamed.