Book 3 in the Vampires of Crimson Bay Series
Release date: September 28th, 2012
From the back cover:
True love is put to the test in the third book in Kristin Miller’s Vampires of Crimson Bay series.
Tortured by demonic voices, Dante’s soul is as black as they come. But when he meets Ariana—an innocent vampire fighting demons of her own—he second-guesses everything he’s ever known about sacrifice, passion, and soul-scorching love.
Before Dante wages war against Crimson Bay’s greatest threat, he must make a choice: love Ariana the way she deserves, risking her life in the process—or fight to protect her, unleashing the monster he’s determined to bury.
“The high fantasy melodrama of good vs. evil satisfies at every turn, just like the fine aftertaste from a glass of AB.” –Library Journal
“I’ve enjoyed this series from the very beginning. I have to admit that I am a sucker for prophecies and lost texts that reveal cryptic messages. Many of the characters in this series have turned out to be something more or something different than they had assumed. These are the mysterious elements that have made this series such pleasurable reads.”–The Jeep Diva
“The forest was breached tonight. Black Moon is sending out Seekers and taking other precautionary measures. We are as well…”
–Watcher Archive, most recent update
If the Watcher sucking face with a platinum-blonde wood nymph in front of Black Moon’s ocean access gate wasn’t already hovering on the brink of excommunication, Ariana would’ve had him thrown out on his ass. He wasn’t supposed to sneak back to their haven to body-rock with a scantily clad nympho on a healing binge. He was supposed to be at his post, just outside the ring of fir trees in the forest, watching over her body as she astral-projected to the streets of San Francisco.
If he’d done his job, she might’ve been able to do hers.
Now, because he’d been distracted by velvet words and the jerk of a tiny hand, a vampire from the elder black market piggybacked on Ariana’s projection.
He got too close to their haven, to her.
Ariana could still feel the heat from his liquid gold eyes scorching across her skin. And even though she didn’t get more than five minutes with him—at the black market when he caught her eye, then the forest when she told him never to think of her again—he was permanently etched into her memory. He had a head of dark stubble that she longed to graze her fingers over. A hard, set jaw that showed every strain of his body, and broad, warrior shoulders that could bear the weight of the world.
She’d never met anyone like him.
Everything Ariana had learned about vampire elders didn’t prepare her for what had happened back there, with him. Elders had mawares—powers bestowed upon them when they transitioned into the ethereal Ever After—and Ariana thought she’d seen them all: orbs of protection, wicked cool time warping skills, control over the weather or elements…but she’d never seen a run-of-the-mill vamp teleport.
But that was exactly what her vamp had done.
Except instead of teleporting them to his destination of choice, wherever that might’ve been, Ariana’s astral-projection had snapped them back into Black Moon’s range like a rubber band returning to form.
She thanked her lucky stars that the stranger was on his way to Darkly Meadow. She was finally free from his penetrating gaze. He looked at her with ravenous hunger, yet remained tense and fiercely in control, with tight white lips she wanted to soften with a slow swipe of her tongue.
He wasn’t wrong for looking at her that way. He was a hormonal vamp male, after all.
Ariana was wrong for liking it, especially as much as she did. Her skin flushed merely thinking about the way his eyes had devoured her body.
A percussion of horses’ hooves and hollering men dragged her down to reality with a thud. The warmth blooming through her body iced over as she remembered her Primus had raised the flag—sent out the first wave of Seekers. Someone had breached the invisible umbrella that kept their peaceful world hidden from the tainted one beyond it.
Not wanting to be seen by the goon squad, Ariana slinked behind the shadow of a fir tree and eyed Black Moon’s back access gate. Echo and his wood nymph didn’t seem to hear the thunder of hooves. Or maybe they didn’t care.
Echo shoved the girl against a post and hiked her legs around his waist.
Ariana couldn’t help but think about the burning desire in her vamp’s eyes when he pressed her up against that tree in the forest. It’d sparked a fire in her core unlike anything she’d ever experienced.
For a split, crazy second, Ariana had thought about welcoming him in to her haven. Surely Black Moon could use a vampire who could teleport! But she’d been rattled back to reality, followed her orders to allow only elders in, and turned him away.
Coming close to Black Moon and the powers it possessed wouldn’t be enough for him. If she showed him their haven—welcomed him in—he’d never leave.
He’d be trapped in Black Moon…just like the others.
But there’d been no time to think things through anyway, she reminded herself as she dodged beneath the low hanging branch of a cypress tree. The Seekers were coming. And if they caught him within Black Moon’s borders, they’d killed him on sight. On second thought though, he didn’t look like he’d go quietly into the ground.
No, the clench of his jaw, the way it pulsed when he became infuriated with her, made her think that when he got worked up enough to fight, he’d fight to the death.
Would his jaw clench and pulse when he got worked up in other ways?
Seekers’ hooves rumbled across the western ridge, stopped, then circled back.
What the hell was she thinking? Now was not the time to be lost in a daydream.
Shaking her head, Ariana lifted her cloak high and darted across a cobblestone path, into the shadow of a looming cypress not ten feet from the back gate.
Echo and his wood nymph were too tangled in each other’s arms to hear her approach. He moaned into the nymph’s mouth, his hands skimming beneath her pathetic excuse for a skirt.
When Ariana was close enough to hear the stomach-churning sound of wet lips slopping together, she cleared her throat.
Echo looked up, his blood-red eyes matching the color of his cloak, his face as ashen as the pale moon. The tiny wood nymph dropped from his gigantic grasp and hit the dirt. Her eyes were wildly violet, caked with ten pounds of makeup. Her platinum pixie hairdo was spiked every-which-way, making it look like she’d been electrocuted a time or two and thoroughly enjoyed the experience.
“What the hell happened to you?” Ariana whipped when she blended with the shadows of the stone pillar behind them. “You just left me out there.”
“I’m sorry Ariana, I just…” Echo lowered his eyes.
Shame was so damn unattractive.
“You told me three hours.” He checked his watch. “You’re early.”
Oh, so the blame was hers. She stepped closer, until she could smell whiskey on his breath and hints of sex and pine wafting off the nympho.
“I don’t care if I’m gone three seconds or three hours, you need to be watching my back. That’s your job. If you’re out doing,” she shot the nymph a hard glare “the first thing that barks up your tree, how am I supposed to trust that I’ll come back in one piece? What if someone was sitting there, lurking over my helpless body, waiting for me to return and I…didn’t?”
“But you’re here.” He swallowed hard, his pointy Adam’s apple doing a little jig. “Everything’s fine.”
Not even he believed the bullshit coming out of his mouth. “Everything’s not fine, Echo. Send your cricket home. The Seekers have been called out.”
They gasped as Ariana pushed past them and through the heavy wooden doors leading to Black Moon’s massive courtyard.
Ariana had been right—they had no idea Seekers were scouring the land. Were they really that lost in each other? Or was she merely uber-sensitive to the workings of Black Moon? She wondered if everyone felt the same things she did about this place. It was almost as if the strong walls were her body, and the gentle melodic inner-workings, her blood and soul.
From behind its towering stone walls, the crash of the ocean against the jagged bluff on which the haven stood, could barely be heard. Roses—blacks, reds, and whites and all shades in between—lined a pebbled path that wound tighter and tighter into the center, where a phallic fountain sprayed water high into the air. Walkways branched off from the center, leading to khiss bed quarters, the main galley, and the library.
Ariana didn’t stop to pick the blooming flowers like she usually did on her way in for the night. She strode past the fountain, straight into the heart of the main hall. The Primus would want to see her…and ask why she’d failed at her mission.
She didn’t know what to tell him. It was the first time she’d set out to do something, to bring someone back from the brink, and failed.
She didn’t have time to stop and think of an appropriate response to the tongue-lashing she was about to receive. The instant she opened the doors, she was blasted with loud voices, laughter and music. The haven was bustling. A carefree party. Detached from the stresses of the real world.
Floor to ceiling windows let in the honest gleam of the moon, casting bright light on the faces of vampires gossiping on leather sofas cradled beneath them. Gold sweeping valances that hung high on the vaulted ceiling draped all the way to the newly waxed stone floor, making the place seem more colossal and the khissmates much more regal than they actually were. The walls were painted deep burgundy, perfectly complementing the tan and chocolate sofas sprinkled here and there. Their Primus believed the place should make khissmates feel warm and at home. With lots of candlelight and marble and roses and Spanish lace.
Ariana couldn’t recall any of the refugees coming from a seaside mansion with such elaborate furnishings. But the place wasn’t designed or decorated on her dime, and she got the benefit of staying here, so she kept her mouth zipped.
Nodding as she walked by group after group of mingling elders, Ariana walked as quickly as she could, past the grand fireplace that was sparking to life, through the lobby where vamps were curled up reading, and along a quiet, winding hallway that led to the Primus’s quarters.
She tried to pretend she couldn’t hear her khissmates’ whispers as she passed by. But she could. She tried to pretend they didn’t bother her instead. That didn’t work either.
Hesitating in front of the door, she adjusted her robe. It was covered in mud and crusting at the edges.
“Damn it.” She stuck her finger through a hole in the side. Black Moon’s cleaners were closed for the night and her room was on the top floor. It’d have to do.
She thought about stripping from her robe and addressing her Primus in the jeans and tank she wore underneath, but decided that wouldn’t help her situation. Not only would her Primus be furious at her lack of respect and insist she address him in her haven robe, he’d also get an eyeful of the strange mark on Ariana’s arm. It was light, but getting darker with each projection—a series of dots that formed a gradual arch around the inside of her forearm.
Tugging her robe over her wrist, Ariana let the silver lion head knocker on the Primus’s door drop two times. And waited.
Echo stepped behind her with not so much as a draft to clue her in. He was quiet for his enormous stature and made an excellent spy—able to sneak up on just about anyone, anywhere. That was the precise reason she’d asked him to be her Watcher in the first place.
“I’m sorry, Ari,” he whispered, his hot breath coating her neck. “It won’t happen again.”
She looked over her shoulder. His lips were puffy. His eyes back to black. His shoulder-sweeping red hair a tangled mess.
Was her long, sweeping chestnut hair as disheveled? Her mocha colored eyes as guilty? “It’s all right. But now I’ve got some explaining to do.”
“We,” he corrected.
“No,” she said on an exhale. “It was my duty and my failure. I’ll face him. Hope she was worth it.”
He snorted, then caught himself. “Ain’t none of them worth it, but you know how I crave that real sweet nectar those nymphs have and Narci from Depot didn’t have no more bottled. She said next week. That nymph saw me huddled over you near the pit, said she needed some scar her daddy gave her to go away. Fair trade I thought, and we weren’t gone long. Didn’t think it’d be no big thing. Didn’t expect you to show early.”
Ariana knocked again. “Yeah, well, someone hitched a ride back with me this time. Didn’t expect that either.”
She smoothed her fly-aways and pulled her braid over her shoulder, realizing for the first time that the blue ribbon tied on the end had slipped off. Damn it. She knew better than to leave anything behind that could possibly lead back to this place. One hint of the magic on the satin, and someone searching for the haven could trace the way to the front gate with ease.
Would her vamp return? Would he listen to the harshness of her words as she turned him away or did he sense, as she did, that something sparked between them?
“That’s odd, Ari, for true. Didn’t think someone could piggyback unless you—”
“I didn’t want it,” she blurted, as blood flushed to her cheeks. “Besides, it wouldn’t have been a problem if the vamp hadn’t stayed in her projection ring as long as he did.” When could she get back out there and look for the damned ribbon before someone noticed? “He called too much attention to himself.”
“Why didn’t you shoo him off? Tell ‘em to git on his way before he summoned the Seekers?”
God, she didn’t know. That rock hard body towering over hers, causing her to lose her breath. Those liquid gold eyes that drank her in and replaced the cool chill of her blood with warmth. The way he moved; like a cheetah, calm but ready to spring into action with the slightest twitch. The way he scooped her up so easily in that elder black market like she really was a damsel in distress.
No matter how much she hated the fact that her mission was spoiled, Ariana couldn’t help but smile when she thought about the vamp tossing her over his shoulder like a chivalrous knight from a forgotten age. How could she have been expected to think clearly under those circumstances? No one had ever looked at her, or touched her, like that before.
Everyone in Black Moon treated her with distant reverence. Their gazes were receptive and friendly, yet there seemed to be undercurrents of unease when she came near. As if she could astral-project them out of Black Moon with a slight touch of her hand.
She was an emotional leper. An outcast. A freak among freaks. And damn if she cared.
“Come in Ariana,” a voice boomed within.
She sighed and met Echo’s hard gaze. It seemed to slice right through her. “It’s now or never.” She pushed open the door and stepped inside.
Echo nodded, oblivious she’d completely dodged his question, and turned to face the hall, guarding the Primus’s door.