STROKE OF MIDNIGHT
Four of romance’s most intriguing authors have come together to create a mesmerizing anthology - unforgettable tales of vampires, shapeshifters, and werewolves. At the heart of these deeply sensual tales are everyday people facing extraordinary events - men and women thrown together by fate and an irresistible desire. In this world, your eyes can betray you as myth becomes reality, curses are vanquished, and love is the only weapon that can stand in the face of evil. In this world, there is a moment when passion and forbidden desire collide at the…STROKE OF MIDNIGHT
BORN OF THE NIGHT
Death carried a sword and rode a tall black stallion. Shanara stared up at the figure on the horse, unable to stop the tremors that wracked her from head to foot. The rider’s clothing matched the color of his mount – black boots, black trousers, black shirt, a black hooded cloak that hid most of his face. She glanced at the sword in his hand, the wicked looking blade stained crimson with the blood of her kinfolk, and felt the bile rise in her throat. Would he now add her blood to that of her slain family?
With a choked cry, she scrambled to her feet and shook off her fear. She would not die in the dirt like some sniveling coward. She was Lady Shanara of the House of Montiori and she would die in a manner befitting her station.
“Do it!” she said defiantly. “Strike me down and be done with it.”
“Eager to die, are you?” His voice was low and deep, tinged with a hint of wry humor.
She stared at him. How, in the name of Astur and Caleron, could he find amusement at a time like this? She glanced at the field of battle, the greening grass of spring made dark and ugly with the blood that had been spilled only moments before. There were bodies everywhere, limp, lifeless, like broken dolls cast aside by a careless hand. And somewhere, lying among the dead, were the bodies of her uncle and two of her cousins. For all she knew, the hooded man had killed them. If only she had stayed home where she belonged instead of coming here! But she’d had to get away from her father and her future, if only for a little while.
Death threw back his hood and ran a hand through his hair, hair as black as ten feet down. He studied her through eyes that were the cool deep blue of a midnight sea. His brows were straight and black, his jaw roughened by thick black bristles. A thin white scar ran from the outer edge of his right eye to the curve of his jaw. With the sun setting behind him, he reminded her of a demon rising from the smoldering pit of Hel.
In a lithe motion, he swung out of the saddle and walked toward her, arrogance in every step.
With no thought save to escape, she turned and ran.
It was a foolish thing to do. Far better to stand her ground than to give him a reason to chase her, something no true predator could resist. Fear gave wings to her feet and she flew over the ground, her heart pounding in her chest, her breathing labored.
She gasped when she heard a noise behind her. It might have been a harsh laugh. It might have been a howl. Whatever it was, it fueled her fear and added impetus to her flight.
But like a hare trying to outrun a winter-starved wolf, there was no way to escape.
She screamed in fear and defiance when his arm snaked around her waist. His momentum carried them both to the ground, his body turning in mid-air and sliding under hers so that he took the brunt of the fall against his back. She landed on top of him, the air whooshing out of his lungs and hers.
His arms circled her body, as unyielding and confining as prison bars. Well and truly caught, she glared down at him.
“Unhand me this instant!” she demanded, her voice filled with a bravado she was far from feeling. “I am Lady Shanara of the House of Montiori.”
An emotion she could not fathom showed in his eyes. A muscle clenched in his jaw. The arms imprisoning her grew tighter until she feared he might break her in two.
Breathless, she gazed down at him, all bravado gone as she prayed that her death would be swift, painless.
“Why were you at Castle Dunhaven?” Death demanded, his voice harsh.
“Why did you attack us?” She thought of her uncle’s keep now lying in ruins, spoiled by this man and his barbarians. She wondered if her Aunt Eugenia had survived the attack.
“Why did your father kill mine?”
She stared at him, her fear growing as his cold blue eyes raked over her. “He…he didn’t,” she replied tremulously, though, for all she knew, it could be true. Her father was an austere, cruel man, one who loved and lived for the heat of battle, the clash of swords, the bloody smell of victory.
“Did he not?” Death asked, his expression as cold as winter in the high country. He shook her until her head snapped back. “Did he not?” he asked again, a tremor in his voice. “He wears my father’s pelt to warm him.”
She looked at her captor in horror, realizing, too late, who it was who had seized her. Dread uncoiled deep within her. Now that she knew who he was, death in any form would have been a blessing. She knew her father would avenge her, not because of any great love for his youngest daughter, but because it would give him just cause for another war.
Reyes drew in a deep breath, his rage dwindling as he grew increasingly aware of the slim female form pressing against his. Lifting his head, he sniffed her skin, his senses filling with the flowery scent of her perfume, the acrid stink of her fear. Her hair was not red and not brown, but something in between, reminding him of the rich earthy color of autumn leaves. Her eyes were the green of new grass, her skin a soft golden brown. She squirmed beneath his regard, making him acutely aware of her full breasts, of the fact that her body was cradled between his thighs.
He could have taken her there and then. It was his right. No one would dare dispute it. He had wrought the victory. It was his right to claim whatever or whoever he wished. But he did not want her writhing beneath him in fright, only in ecstasy. To his surprise, he discovered that he didn’t want to take her by force or fear, nor here, on the outskirts of a bloody battlefield. Nay, far better to seduce her slowly and gently on a bed of soft furs by candlelight.
It amazed him that he wanted her at all knowing that it had been her father who had butchered his. Rage burned anew when Reyes recalled how Luis Montiori had taken his father’s rich black pelt and then had the gall not only to line a cloak with it, but to boast to any and all who would listen of what he had done. The memory of Montiori’s treachery cooled his desire as effectively as if he had plunged into an icy lake, leaving only the simmering coals of hatred and the ashes of revenge.
Putting the woman away from him, he took a deep breath. Rising, he grabbed her by the arm and lifted her onto his horse’s back. Heedless of the fear in the woman’s eyes, ignoring the tears trickling down her cheeks, he vaulted up behind her, took up the reins, and turned his horse toward the misty mountains of home. His men, drunk with the wine of victory, gathered up the last of the spoils and fell in behind him, eager to return home to bed their wives and boast of their victory.
AMANDA'S VAMPIRE ROMANCES
THE CHILDREN OF THE NIGHT