Tuesday, September 06, 2011

The First Chapter of Master of Darkness

Here's Chapter One of my new novel, MASTER OF DARKNESS, which will be out May, 2012. Please let me know what you think, folks. :)

Chapter One

Normally, William Justice found gardening about as exciting as watching paint peel. He got a hell of a lot more interested when the gardener was Miranda.

Lovely Miranda Drake, wearing a pair of snug jeans that made the most of her long, strong legs and heart-shaped ass, a Black Eyed Peas T-shirt cuddling round, delightful breasts in soft cotton…

Ohhhh, baby. Plant one on me.

Besides, it wasn’t every day you got to watch a werewolf garden. Especially when she was also a witch.

Miranda sent another wave of magic rolling across the lawn like summer fireflies, cool blue sparks drifting down to sink into the soil. Everywhere the sparks touched, violets and peonies thrust eagerly up into the air, vivid petals unfurling in the space of seconds.

There was something hypnotic about the way magic illuminated the striking curves and hollows of Miranda’s clever face and the elegant, narrow line of her nose. Her eyes glowed soft amber as she cast her spells, and her full lips parted as if for the kiss he'd ached to give her for weeks.

The soft blue-white sparks of werewolf magic faded. Miranda cocked her head as she looked across the sweep of lawn, considering the effect of her new flower beds in their sweeping curves of color. "What do you think, Justice?"

He shook his head. "Randi, I'm a cop and a werewolf. Ask me who killed who with what, that I can tell you. But when it comes to gardening, I don't know carnations from kudzu."

Miranda eyed him over her shoulder, gleaming curls sliding around her shoulders with the movement of her head. "Could you get any more male?"

“Hey, if you’re gonna do it, do it right.” His gaze drifted down to her butt in wicked appreciation. Want to find out how right I can do it?

He managed not to ask. That would really be pushing it.

Apparently deciding to ignore both Justice and his growing obsession with her ass, Miranda returned her attention to her garden. "I think it needs some rose bushes." An offhand flick of her fingers brought them bursting from the earth in shades of yellow and red and soft peach, surrounding the two-story cream stone cottage in pretty blooms. “And … there. Finished.”

“Nice job,” Justice told her, letting the sincere admiration show in his voice.

The little house looked snug and homey with its rosewood shutters and peaked roof. The sturdy door was carved with an image of a wolf peering through leaves, and curving front steps led up to the wide porch supported by wooden rosewood posts. Stained glass windows glowed bright with the house’s interior lights, depicting yet more wolves running through moonlit forests or serenading the full moon.

Yet lovely as it was, the house was dwarfed by the elaborate castles, chateaus and villas that surrounded it, towering walls of marble and granite shimmering with magic in the moonlight.

Avalon. Enchanted city in the magical universe that existed alongside dull mortal Earth, invisible and unknown to humanity. Here magic was a natural force, like gravity or electro-magnetism. A power you could use to build a house – or turn into a werewolf.

God, my life is getting weird, Justice thought. And it was pretty damned weird to begin with.

Miranda had spent the last week building her new home with all that energy, condensing magic into cream stone walls and stained glass. The furniture had come next: imaginative creations in exotic Mageverse woods, carved in Celtic designs, upholstered in impossibly soft fabrics. Rugs covered the shining hardwood floors, and piles of pillows lay here and there, all in jewel-bright shades of red and green and blue that seemed to shimmer as brightly as the stained glass.

Justice had watched her conjure every bit of it, shaping raw energy with the power of her will, intellect and talent. She’d gloried in the act of creation, her smile wondering, her eyes lit from within by flashes of magic.

That sheer sensual pleasure grabbed him right by the balls, awakening his Wolf to growl in possessive need. Not that his animal nature was ever that deeply buried to begin with.

Never mind that Miranda Drake had no interest in belonging to anybody. Particularly not a certain werewolf she seemed to view mainly as a pain in the ass.

So he wasn’t the least surprised when Miranda turned her attention from her new house to look at him with narrow, determined eyes. As if he was the next thing on her mental checklist of things she planned to fix. She headed for him with a long-legged stride, determination in every step.

Here it comes.

She’d probably been planning this for a while now, but she’d been either too busy or flat on her ass with exhaustion.

Now she was neither. He got ready to fight.

Miranda stopped just inside kissing range and looked up to meet his eyes, her amber gaze flat with cool challenge.

He rocked back on his heels and folded his arms, silently telling her he was ready for whatever she wanted to dish out. “You have something to say?”

“This isn’t working.”

“What’s not working?”

“You know perfectly well. You. Here. With me.”

He lifted a brow. “That’s not what you said when I was waiting on you hand and foot.”

She’d been immobilized with exhaustion after creating enough potion to vaccinate the Magekind against werewolf Bites.

Something about the magic in those bites triggered an anaphylactic reaction that was invariably fatal, since the Magekind’s healing magic had no effect on it.

However, Miranda discovered her own werewolf magic could treat the Bites. She’d then created a vaccine to prevent the reaction altogether.

Unfortunately, the magical drain of brewing enough potion to treat the entire city had kicked her ass so thoroughly, she’d barely been able to move. Since Belle was off on a mission, Justice had taken care of Miranda himself, cooking for her, making sure she ate, even helping her to and from the bathroom.

Being who and what she was, she felt she owed him a debt. And she hated that.

Now Miranda glanced away, flushing, despite the stubborn jut of her jaw. “I didn’t ask you to do any of that.”

“No, but you needed it. You needed me. And you need me now.”

Her eyes flicked back to his, and she bared those pretty white teeth. “No. I don’t.”

“You do. Or have you forgotten that Warlock wants you dead?”

“This is Avalon, Justice. There’s a magical shield around this place you couldn’t blow a hole in with a nuclear bomb. Warlock can’t get to me.”

“No, he can’t.” She looked a bit surprised at his easy agreement. “Assuming you never leave.” He lifted a brow. “This city makes a really pretty prison, doesn’t it?”

“Dammit, Bill, I can take care of myself!”

“Like you did when Tanner tried to gut you like a rabbit?”

“At the time,” she gritted, “I was a little busy saving Guinevere’s life!”

“Good thing I was there to save yours.”

“And believe me, I’m grateful.” Her red brows drew down, and she took a challenging step forward until they were nose to nose. “But I don’t need a bodyguard anymore, Justice.”

“Too bad.” He gave her a deliberately pleasant smile. “You’ve got one.”

“If you think you’re moving in with me…”

“You want me to pitch a tent among the azaleas?”

She bared her teeth. “I want you to go home.”

He bared his teeth right back. They were starting to feel a little sharp, a sign he was just a bit too close to Changing. He tightened his control over his inner werewolf. “I don’t have a home anymore, sweetheart. Not since I saved your ass. Warlock and the Council of Clans have declared me a traitor.”

“Then you can stay with Tristan and Belle, just the way we’ve been doing. She won’t care.”

“Oh, hell yes, she will. She’ll be too polite to say so, but she’ll care. She and Tristan are Truebonded now, remember? Living with those too is like being trapped in an episode of Knights of the Round Table gone Wild.”

Even as pissed as she was, Miranda’s lips twitched in an aborted smile. It really had gotten damned uncomfortable staying with the couple, whose psychic bond made them newlyweds in all but name. “Yeah, well, Avalon is a big city, Justice. Find somewhere else. Hell, ask Belle. She’ll find somebody to put you up.”

“No. I’m your bodyguard, Miranda. I’m not leaving you until Warlock’s dead. Or I am.” Protecting people was what he did. It was what he was. Even becoming a werewolf hadn’t changed that.

He damned well wouldn’t let it.

“I. Don’t. Need. A. Bodyguard!” Her soft upper lip curled into a lupine snarl, and her eyes sparked with temper.

Justice looked at that pretty mouth – and his temper Shifted, transforming like a werewolf into raw, hot lust. God, he burned to know how that mouth tasted. Just keep snarling, baby, and we’ll find out.

Miranda wished to hell Bill Justice wasn't so damned hot.

There he stood, long-legs braced wide in faded jeans and worn black boots, brawny arms folded in a way that made his biceps look the size of grapefruit. His hair was black and glossy in the moonlight, just long enough to curl, and sparks of werewolf magic flickered in his black eyes when he angled his head to snarl at her.

She liked to tell herself he had a thug's face, what with the broad cheekbones, square jaw and Roman nose, his brows thick slashes over his narrow, deep-set eyes. Cop's eyes, watchful, accessing, more than a little paranoid.

Miranda could resist all that. Really. She'd be just fine if it wasn't for his mouth. Wide, curled in a wicked grin more often than not, with a full lower lip she really wanted to bite. Just hard enough to make those ebony eyes go all hot.

The trick was to keep him the hell out of her house. If she was dumb enough to let him move in, he'd be in her bed the next time she turned around. That was just the way Alpha Males were. Pushy bastards, each and every one. And God knew Justice was as Alpha as they came.

Just like my psycho father.

Only Justice was nothing like Warlock. She knew that. But he was still a dominant son of a bitch, and eventually, he’d want to prove just how dominant he really was.

Just like Warlock. Just like the stepfather she’d had to kill because he’d finally murdered her mother after years of abuse. Miranda didn’t need another dominant son of a bitch in her life, good guy ex-cop or not.

I don’t want to have to kill him too,
a tiny voice whispered in the back of her mind.

She told it to shut up. I’m not going to kill Justice. But he’s still not moving in.

His eyes fixed on hers in a hot predator stare that made her nipples harden, and his wide mouth flattened in a determined line. "I'm not leaving, Miranda. Deal with it."

"You're not staying, either." She braced her hands on her hips and tried to ignore the nipples. It wasn't like she was in her Burning Moon, dammit. This stupid attraction would be understandable then, a natural product of magical werewolf hormones driving her to mate. Anything male would do.

But she wasn't in her Burning Moon. This was all Justice. And she had no idea how he was doing it to her. If she didn't know better, she'd think it was a spell.

"What happens the next time Warlock sends one of his killers, Miranda?" He was tall enough to look down at her at just the perfect masculine angle. Bastard.

Miranda glowered up into those seductive eyes. "I can handle anything he throws at me." A bald-faced lie, but never mind. She just needed to get Justice out of her hair. She's figure out the assassin thing later.

"I don't want your death on my conscience."

“I’m not going to die, dammit. And either way, it’s not your problem.”

Temper flared in those midnight eyes as he spoke through gritted teeth. “By God, it is. I’ve made you my responsibility, so you’re my responsibility.”

“Why?” she growled back, so damned frustrated she wanted to pull her hair. Or his. “What the hell difference does my life make to you?”

“This!” Big hands closed over her shoulders and snatched her right off her feet as if she was a three-year-old. His mouth covered hers in a kiss that flooded her brain with pure need.

Oh, my God, Miranda thought, his lips are as soft as they look.

And then she couldn’t think anything at all.

His body crushed into hers, broad firm muscle under soft cotton, arms wrapping around her in a powerful grip that dragged her close and drowned her in his hot male animal strength. His tongue stroked between her lips, drugging her with the taste of masculine hunger and Direwolf magic. The blend of wild wolf heat and pure male desire hit her brain like a shot of Kentucky bourbon in strong black coffee. It jolted and dizzied, making the world swim and stealing her will to resist.

As if sensing that weakness, he dropped one hand from her waist, found the curve of her ass with a warm, possessive grip. Tightened and lifted as if she weighed no more than a child. Her feet left the ground and the world spun as he carried her toward the cottage. Still kissing her.

The door banged open and he swept her inside like something out of a fairy tale.

Except Miranda had quit believing in fairy tales when she was four years old -- the day she’d realized her magical daddy was more devil dog than Prince Charming.
But God, there was a different kind of magic in Justice’s skillful mouth and strong, steady grip, and Miranda let herself believe.

For the moment.

Justice lost himself in the sheer sensual feast that was Miranda’s mouth – the velvety warmth of her lips, the curl and flick of her wet little tongue, her teeth tugging his lip in hungry demand. Her body felt warm in the cradle of his arms. Deliciously soft in all the perfect places, firm and strong in others. Her scent flooded his head, sensual musk and the fresh green tang of deep forest. All of it spelled Direkind female to his growling libido.

His sexual need had grown stronger, darker, since he’d become a werewolf three years ago, and Miranda brought that hunger to quivering attention. But then, she could arouse a plaster saint in a church niche with those soft, soft lips…

Justice tore himself away from her mouth just long enough to scan the house for a place to make love to her. He knew damned well if he paused too long, she’d start thinking about all the reasons this was a bad idea. He needed his hands and mouth on her now if he meant to keep them there.

Off to the left of the foyer lay the living room, with its fireplace and the semi-circular conversation pit that curved around it. He carried her into the room and down the steps into the pit, where jewel-tone pillows lay in a tempting pile.

Justice looked down into her vivid eyes as he lowered her into the inviting little nest. “God, I want you.” He ached to see that pretty body spread for him in long-legged, exquisite nudity.

But as he reached for the hem of her T-shirt, he froze.

She watched him as she lay sprawled across the pillows, her copper hair spilling in bright curls around her head. Her chest rose and fell in the quick rhythms of arousal, but cynicism had begun to cool the heat in her eyes.

Justice rose to his feet, grabbed the hem of his black polo shirt and dragged it off over his head. Her eyes widened, the cynicism drowning in surprised arousal. The tip of her pink tongue flicked over her lips.

He concealed a smile of satisfaction. During his human days, he’d logged a lot of hours running and lifting weights, but not out of the usual gym-rat vanity. For a cop, building strength and muscle was a survival strategy. If you got into a chase or a fight with some asshole, you wanted to make damn sure you won. Becoming a werewolf had only added to the size and density of the muscle he’d worked for years to build.

Judging from her dilating eyes, Miranda approved of the results.

His cock bucked against the fly of his jeans. Justice reached down to free it. His zipper whispered, erotically loud to his wolf senses.

Toeing off his running shoes, he caught the waistbands of both jeans and cotton boxers, dragging them down his thighs in one ruthless motion. Stepping free of the tangle of fabric, he kicked them away and straightened. His cock jutted from his groin, his balls heavy and tight below it.

Then he just stood there, letting her look. A bead of sweat ran down his spine.

By stripping first, he’d put all the power in her hands. Justice had come to read Miranda pretty damned well over the past month, and he knew if he didn’t give her this moment of control, she’d never trust him.

Jesus, the men she knew before me must have been real bastards.

Miranda stared at him in helpless, aroused amazement. Alphas didn’t do things like that: display themselves to a woman, let her make the choice. They seduced, they demanded, they overwhelmed with sheer erotic skill. Just as Justice had been doing to her from the minute he’d grabbed her shoulders.

When he’d put her down on the pillows, she’d figured she was in for a dominance fuck – hot, arousing as hell, but still designed to put her in her place: that of a female who knew who her master was, and obeyed accordingly.

But now he just stood there, magnificent in his nudity, and waited. Waited to find out if she wanted him.

As if she could do anything else. Justice was armored in delicious male muscle from wide shoulders to tight waist, down long runner’s legs to the big feet he’d planted wide. Yet the brawn wasn’t beefy or overdone, like that of some steroid-shooting professional gorilla. His was a knife-fighter’s body, the perfect balance between mass, agility and speed. It was a musculature that shouted of aggression, yet his powerful hands hung open and easy, not balled in threatening fists. And his cock…

Sweet Mother Mary.

It jutted at her, rosy and thick from the heart-shaped head to the broad base and heavy balls. She felt a rush of heat deep in her belly as she imagined him pumping it in and out of her with the all power of that muscular ass.

Miranda licked her lips and lifted her eyes from that meat shaft. And got caught in his hungry black gaze. He stared at her as if she was everything he’d ever wanted in a woman.

Nothing like the Alpha Warlock had sent to breed her. That one’s stare had reduced her to the hole between her thighs. If she hadn’t killed him, he’d have raped her. Warlock had wanted her pregnant rather than dead then, and Harold Worthington had meant to do the job.

Worthington had been old enough to be her father, and she’d been a virgin. He’d threatened to beat her mother if she didn’t submit.

Instead Miranda conjured a blade and drove it into his brain. Not to save herself, but because Joelle Drake had been beaten enough.

Barely a week later, her mother was dead, murdered by her abusive husband. Miranda burned down her stepfather’s beloved mansion around his corpse and fled.

Two nights later in some one-stoplight town, she’d picked up a twenty-year-old human in a bar, just to make sure her first time wasn’t rape at the hands of another of Warlock’s thugs. The boy had been sweet and surprisingly tender despite his clumsy inexperience, and Miranda had decided on the spot to stick to human lovers.

She’d sworn then that no werewolf would ever occupy her bed.

But here was Justice, looking at her with those dark, hot, patient eyes. And waiting.
Miranda caught the hem of her T-shirt and pulled it off over her head.

As she tossed the shirt aside, he seemed to quit breathing. Freezing like a predator, he stared at the round curves of her breasts cupped in the black lace of her bra.

She’d have expected the eager wolf heat in Justice’s gaze to make her feel vulnerable. Instead she felt powerful – and more profoundly female than she’d ever been in her life.

The front clasp sprang open under her fingers, and Miranda shrugged the bra off with a roll of her shoulders.

His tongue flicked over his full lower lip.

She dragged her boots off and threw them one by one across the room. The thump and skidding clatter as they landed on the hardwood floor sounded loud to her sensitized hearing.

Justice’s gaze didn’t falter.

Miranda tugged off her socks and sent them flying over the semi-circular couch. Her heart hammered.

Her zipper hissed. His powerful shoulders coiled.

She took her time pulling off her jeans, adding some gratuitous hip wiggle just to make a muscle twitch in his square jaw. The jeans sailed off after the socks.

Miranda rolled to her feet with the easy strength of her Direwolf blood. She watched him watch her as she slowly slid the thin black silk panties down her thighs. Spinning it out, making them both wait.

Until she straightened, toed the panties aside, and stepped up to him, as naked as he was. Justice still didn’t move, though those big hands had coiled into fists, as if he was fighting the need to grab and take.

He must be six-three or four, tall enough that she had to tilt her head to meet his gaze. The wolf inside him flickered deep in his eyes, its feral hunger caged by Justice’s iron control.

That control gave her the courage to touch his chest, run her fingers over the curves and hollows of firm muscle under warm, tanned skin. His dark chest hair felt as soft and fine as fur. His heart thumped against her fingertips in a drumbeat of sexual need.

God, he was big. Even bigger than her stepfather...

The flashback hit.

Miranda started to snatch her mother’s limp body into her arms, only to freeze, afraid to touch her and hurt her even more. “Call 911!” she yelled at her stepfather.

“It’s too late.” Gerald Drake sounded utterly indifferent for a man who’d just murdered his wife with one blow of his fist. Easy enough to do, since he was in Direwolf form, and Joelle had not even dared to transform. “She broke her neck. She’s dead.”

He bared his teeth, stalking toward Miranda on clawed feet. Grabbing her by a fistful of mane, he hauled her up away from Joelle’s body, drawing back for another open-handed swipe of his claws. “And I’m not done with you.”

He didn’t notice the short sword shimmering into her hand, but he did when she rammed it into his chest. Miranda’s lips peeled off her teeth. “Well, I’m done with you!”

The memory disappeared back into the depths of her mind like a hit-and-run eighteen wheeler, leaving Miranda dazed in its wake. What the fuck am I doing? Justice is an Alpha Direwolf, just like Gerald, just like Worthington. He…

Justice lowered his head. Before she could obey a howling instinct to jerk away, his mouth touched hers, tender, soft, a bare brush of lip on lip. He didn’t grab her, didn’t shove himself against her to make her aware of how he dwarfed her with all that muscle. Only his lips touched hers, the contact tender, questioning, reassuring.

Hunger carefully tamped down, though she could smell it in his scent, a dark male perfume growing stronger with each second.

Inside her soul, her werewolf nature stilled, protective rage draining. Sensing Justice meant her no harm.

A thought flashed through her mind, hard and sharp as a blade. I can let Warlock and his bastards make a sexual cripple out of me, or I can prove I’m not a victim.

She opened her mouth and let Justice in. Besides, I’m a werewolf. I can heal anything he does to me. I’ve done it before.

His tongue swirled around hers in sweet temptation, silently inviting her to play. She pursued it back into his mouth, letting his mint-and-male taste flood her brain and drown her ghosts.

Passion began to heat her blood like a pot slowly coming to a boil.

Warm fingers found the stiff peak of one breast and traced a slow, tempting circle over the sensitive nipple. Pleasure curled through her, lazy as sun-warmed honey. And just as sweet.

Miranda leaned into Justice with a soft, helpless little moan. And tried not to think about all the reasons this was a really bad idea.

Hope you liked that little taste. I will post more latter.

Angela Knight

Thursday, July 21, 2011

A sample of Chain of Kisses

My new e-book, book, Chain of Kisses, is out now from Changeling. It's available in Kindle and Nook format, among others. I just wanted to share a little sample of it.

You will find it here:
Chain of Kisses

Be aware, though-- this is short, but it's really, really kinky. There's a wide streak of BDSM in it, so if you don't like that, you won't like this book. In fact, I had to hunt some to find a section of it clean enough to post. As it is, don't read any further if you are under 18. I MEAN IT!!! I'm a momma, so don't make me come over there....

Twenty members of Arles’s crew sat around the octagonal serving tables in the Mjölnir’s mess. As we walked in, their voices filled the room with a cheerful babble of jokes, tech talk, and the usual playful taunts, reminding me of happier days aboard the Valkyrie.

But as they spotted Arles leading me toward the officer’s table, all conversation died away. Men and women alike turned to stare.

No wonder. A length of gold chain led from my jeweled collar to the prince’s big hand, and manacles bound my wrists. My bonds were as finely crafted and gem-studded as any jewelry I’d ever worn, but no one would mistake them for anything but symbols of my sexual captivity.

I lifted my chin and met the curious gazes, freezing my expression into one of cool disdain. I might wear chains, but I was still a royal princess of Swanhilde.

Still, the walk to the captain’s table stung. Women smirked in satisfaction at seeing an enemy so shamed. Men leered at the nipples visible through my filmy thrall tunic. One spacer made a comment that triggered barks of crude laughter.

My hands curled into fists. I wanted to rage at them, but I muzzled my fury and reminded myself of my bargain with Arles. A little shame was a small price to pay for the lives of my crew.

Even as I drew my shoulders back and stiffened my spine, eyes widened all across the room. Everyone promptly found something else to look at. The snap of heads turning to gaze elsewhere looked almost synchronized. What the hell

Which was when I noticed the tension in Arles’s broad shoulders and his white-knuckled grip on my leash. I couldn’t see his expression -- I walked at his heels -- yet I could almost feel the radiating heat of his anger -- directed, for once, at someone other than me.

I stared at his stiff spine in speculation. Perhaps he was simply a jealous man, yet some naïve part of me hoped he’d felt my shame and silently defended me with a glare.

Ridiculous thought. Why would he care? Especially given that shaming me was obviously the intention behind the sex-thrall tunic and chains.

But as I trailed him across the gleaming faux marble floor to the table reserved for senior officers, I remembered the boy I’d loved. Arles had been an idealist then, devoted to his father’s vision of imperial honor and responsibility.

I’d been five years old the summer my mother had hand-fasted me to Prince Arles. Even then, the tall, handsome fifteen-year-old had fascinated me. He’d been kind, showing me the model starcraft he’d built, even teaching me to fly the little toy around the palace.

I’d proceeded to break one of my mother’s priceless Elderkind vases with a particularly ill-aimed dive. To my astonishment, Arles told our parents he was to blame. Though he suffered his mortified father’s thundering wrath, he didn’t reveal I was the true culprit. And I was deeply grateful.

Queen Zerelda expected her daughters to be worthy representatives of our royal House. Had Arles not claimed responsibility, Mother would have ordered the captain of the Royal Guard to flog me with his sword belt.

It would not have been the first time, nor the last.

From then on I’d worshipped my prince. And that was how I thought of him, My Prince, as though he were a hero from some ancient tale.

We spent hours together in the years that followed, arguing ancient battles and plotting wild strategies to defeat the Fafnar. I came to adore Arles with all the passion in my young heart. Not even Galon had been able to dislodge him.

But Arles was no longer that boy, as I was no longer the foolish girl trembling before her mother’s anger. It was past time I took responsibility for my actions.

I had indeed shamed the royal House of Vanda and voided the treaty that had been in place since our parents had hand-fasted us. It was a good thing Emperor Ragnar had not abandoned Swanhilde to its fate, or the Fafnar would have enslaved my people and wiped out my royal House. They’d done as much on the other worlds they’d preyed upon.

We wouldn’t have had any hope of defending ourselves. Swanhilde’s people were artisans and poets, farmers and philosophers. The Torreans, on the other hand, were the finest warriors in human space, which was why my mother had sought the treaty with Emperor Ragnar to begin with.

My stomach clenched as I considered the fate I’d almost brought down on my world. I deserve anything Arles wants to do to me.

The prince sat down at the server and waved me to the high-backed seat next to his. I settled into the chair, feeling its warm, dark blue padding shift and move around me until it cuddled my body like a living thing. I glanced over the room, lifting my brows. Every seat in the mess was of the same expensive type. “You pamper your crew, Captain.”

He shrugged. “Small comforts are the brick and mortar of crew loyalty. My people are well paid, and I treat them with respect. In return, they never hesitate to follow me wherever I lead.” Arles grimaced. “Including more than one hand-to-hand brawl with the lizards.”

“That couldn’t have been much fun.” Fafnarian warriors are built like biped tanks, more than two and a half meters tall, with armored black hides and claws like daggers. “I’ve had a scuffle or two with them myself. I killed one, but I damned near bled to death doing it.”

That particular lizard had slain Galon, which was why I went after the reptilian fucker with a quark-splitter’s axe. I’d been so blind with rage and grief, it was a wonder I lived through the fight at all.

Galon had been dead two years now, but I still missed him.

Blue brows lifted. Arles eyed me as if he saw far more than I wanted him to. With his sensor implants, he probably did. Finally he nodded shortly and turned his attention to the tabletop menu display.

I watched his clever fingers tap meal choices for both of us. I was not surprised he didn’t ask my preferences. I was his thrall, not a guest, and he wanted to make sure I knew it.

While we waited for the server to produce our plates, the prince propped his elbows on the table and studied me. I decided it was time to own up to my mistakes.

“I was a stupid girl ten years ago, Arles.” I had to force my gaze not to drop. “I know you may not believe me, but I’ve rued my flight every day since. It was cowardly, and I was not raised to be a coward. I have spent the last decade trying to become a woman who could meet her own eyes in the mirror.”

Arles bared even white teeth, not sympathetic in the least. “While my House endured the shit-storm of rumor you left behind -- rumors my enemies used against me to erode my reputation and stain my honor.”

I swallowed. “Yes, I’ve seen the news vids.” The galactic news coverage had been vicious. Reporters brought up my jilting him in every story about his victories.

“And we won’t even mention your sister’s antics once she became my brother’s wife.” The prince grimaced. “Had I not redeemed myself in the Fafnar war, our nobility would have refused to acknowledge me as my father’s heir. You damned near wrecked my career before it even began.”

“I know.”

“Meals are served,” the table announced before I could say any more. Panels in its gleaming surface opened, and the server lifted our food into place.

I picked up my fork, only to put it down again, unable to eat for the tension knotting my belly. “I wish there was a way to make up for my actions.”

“There is.” Arles studied me with a gambler’s cool calculation. “My tour of duty here is done. I’m returning to Tor. If you truly mean to make up for your transgressions, serve as my thrall until I find a wife.”

I gaped at him. It was one thing to parade around his ship on a leash, playing sex games. To do so on Tor, where the news services would beam every juicy detail to Swanhilde… ”But my mother…”

“Yes, I imagine it will be quite the scandal. A Swanhilde princess in bondage to her former betrothed.”

Another woman might have mistaken the nasty curve of his mouth for a smile. “Fortunately, you’ve seen to it that I’m inured to scandal. You, however, will experience the same depths of shame I knew when you jilted me before the whole of my father’s empire.”

I hope you'll enjoy "Chain of Kisses" as much as I did writing it. Thanks for reading!


Angela Knight

Friday, July 15, 2011

The First Chapter of Hope's Kiss

My new e-book, "Hope's Kiss," is now available from Red Sage. Here's the first chapter. If you're interested in buying the book you'll find it here: Hope's Kiss.

In the meantime, enjoy the sample...

He was naked, covered in blood, and lying in the floor of a steel cage.

She’d still know Mark Wilder anywhere.

Detective Hope Barton scanned the room from the bottom step, eyes flicking from the cage to the bloody wooden table beside it, to the shackles that hung from blood-splattered cement walls.

The big, dimly lit basement reeked of murder: body fluids, rotting gore, and helpless suffering. Her stomach heaved, but Hope had been a violent crimes detective for two years, and she’d stood over her share of slaughter. Swallowing hard, she forced her dinner back where it belonged and did her job.

“Mark.” Hope strode toward the cage, ignoring the sticky puddles drying on the cement underfoot. She was too busy scanning the room for the key to his cell. There was no sign of one, dammit. “What the hell happened to you?” When he didn’t move, she raised her voice in a cop’s bark. “Mark!”

He stirred and lifted his head from the cage’s dirty floor. One dazed green eye met hers under a shock of matted blond hair. Blood and filth streaked his face, his lips were cut and bruised, and his left eye was swollen shut.

Somebody had beaten the crap out of him. And judging from his bloody knuckles, he’d fought back hard. Which was no surprise. Mark never took anything lying down.

Her gut twisted. How was she going to get him out of here? She grabbed the thick iron bars in both hands. “Mark…” “Mark, it’s Hope.”

For a suspended instant, he stared at her without any recognition at all.

Until he roared with a tortured animal howl and leaped at her in an impossible eight-foot bound. Pure reflex had her jolting back, barely dodging his hand as it shot through the bars.
How did he do that? Nobody could jump like that!

Mark’s lips peeled off snapping teeth, his powerful body straining to reach her with fingers curled into claws. His bare, bloody feet thudded on the bars as he kicked them savagely, trying to bend the steel. His one good eye glittered in frenzy.

He has fangs. She froze, staring at his sharply pointed canine teeth. Sweet God, Mark has fangs!

He sure as hell hadn’t had them in high school. She’d put her tongue in his mouth often enough to know.

As he bellowed and clawed, Hope damn near drew down on him. She managed to drag her hand away from the grip of her shoulder-holstered 9mil. Glock, but it took an effort. I’m not going to shoot Mark Wilder.

God, she ached to call for backup, but she no longer trusted anyone in the department.

Mark finally stopped howling. Clinging to the bars, he stared at her, his good eye feral and desperate, like a wolf’s with one leg in a bear trap. Recognition flickered in his gaze. “Hope?”

His voice sounded broken, raspy, as if he’d been screaming. Screaming for a very long time.

Pity raked at her heart, along with a certain tense relief. At least he’d recognized her. “Yeah, it’s me.” She gave him a twisted smile. “Guess you were right. There is a vampire in Reede County.”

“Told you.” He closed his eyes and gritted his teeth as if fighting some powerful urge. “I warned you…what he was.”

Yeah, but she’d thought he’d lost his mind. The story he’d told her last week had certainly sounded crazy.
* * * *
They’d been working their way through a pizza in his den as Blade Trinity roared away on the big flat-screen television, Wesley Snipes killing vampires with a fanged snarl and flashing arcs of his sword.

It was a DVD choice Hope later realized was deliberate.

She’d folded a slice of the pizza and was about to take a healthy bite when Mark said, “I know who killed Joy.”

Hope dropped the slice back on her plate. He’d said he had something to tell her when he’d invited her over, but she’d had no idea he’d meant anything like this. He looked tense, as if he dreaded telling her whatever he had in mind, his green eyes narrow and wary. “I’m listening.”

“Patrick Stone came to my folks’ house the night after Joy died.”

“The tent revival preacher? You think he killed your sister?” Sexual predators often assumed religious covers that gave them access to victims, and they moved around a lot to keep from getting caught.

“Yeah. We thought Stone was going to offer to pray with us or something, like my folks’ pastor had.” Mark braced his elbows on his knees. A muscle in his jaw flexed as he bit off the next words. “Instead, the fucker told us all to forget about her, that she was nothing but a little slut.”

“Oh, my God. He said that to your parents? So how hard did you kick his ass? And how many punches did your daddy get in?” She grinned, imagining Ted Wilder’s reaction to anybody saying something like that about his little girl. Preacher or no, Ted would have taken the guy apart.

“None. Dad believed the bastard. They both did.” Mark’s big hands flexed between his knees.

“What? That makes no sense. What did you do?”

“Invited Stone outside and tried to knock his teeth down his throat. He blocked every punch, tossed me on my ass…” Mark stopped and took a deep breath. “And then he told me he was a vampire. Showed me his fangs and told me exactly what he did to Joy. In sickening detail.”

“He actually had false teeth made to look like fangs?” That would explain the puncture marks in the victims’ bite wounds.

“No, Hope. He really is a vampire. He said that’s how he made my parents believe him -- he’s got psychic abilities no human can resist.”

A chill raced over her skin, and Hope had to work to keep her face expressionless. On the screen, Wesley showed his fangs in a flash of white against his dark skin. “Let me get this straight. You believe your sister was murdered by a vampire?”

He didn’t look away. “I know how crazy it sounds, but yeah, that’s exactly what I believe.”
* * * *
It had to be Post Traumatic Stress. Mark had just left the Marines after ten years in Afghanistan and Iraq as a demolition specialist. A decade of that would give anybody PTSD.

Except it hadn't been the trauma talking. Every word of his wild story had been true.

“Talk to me, Hope,” Mark begged in a ragged voice, leaning against the bars as if all his furious energy had abandoned him. “Help me hang on, or I’m going to lose it again.”

She studied him, frowning. His face was white and bloodless, his lips pale.
“What do you want me to say?”

“Anything. Just talk to me.” He closed his good eye and pressed his forehead against the bars. “How did you find me?”

“Your parents came by the Sheriff’s Office yesterday.” The Wilders had known Hope for years, so they asked for her whenever they needed a cop. “They told me they hadn’t seen you in a week. At first they’d thought you’d just forgotten to call, but when your father kept checking your house and you never came home, they got worried.”

He grimaced. “I’ll bet they’re going out of their minds, after what happened to Joy.”

“Pretty much. Which is when I decided to question Stone after last night’s revival, something I damn well should have done when you said he killed Joy.”

“Hell, I wouldn’t have believed me either.”

Hope turned and began to pace, trying to work off her outraged energy. “You know, Stone actually ordered me to forget those women, as if he expected me to obey him.”

“He did. And you would have, if you’d been an ordinary human.”

She decided not to ask what the hell he meant by that. She wasn’t sure she wanted to know. “So I started asking questions. One of the women from the church hosting the revival told me she’d loaned Stone her mother’s house. The mother’s been dead a year or so, and this lady hasn’t been able to sell the place.”

“And she never will when word gets out about this.” He gestured at the blood-smeared cement.

“Then this morning, Sheriff Williams called me into his office. Said to quit wasting my time with animal kills and get back to work on my caseload. But animals don’t leave finger shaped bruises, and those were human bites, no matter what the coroner said.” Hope turned to face Mark, her hands curling into fists. “Thing is, I’d discussed the cases with the sheriff just the day before, and he’d agreed they were homicides. It was just like you said -- Stone had done something to his mind.”

“Bastard’s got a lot of power.” Mark straightened abruptly, as if someone had goosed him with a Taser. His good eye widened in panic. “What time is it? Is Stone here? You’ve got to get the hell out, Hope, or he’ll…”

“Relax, tonight’s service just started. Which is why I decided to drop by and check out the house, even though I didn’t have a warrant.” She curled a lip at the blood splatter that painted the cinderblock walls. “I smelled the stench of this dungeon of his all the way out on the porch. Instant probable cause. I kicked in the door and followed the reek.”

“For all the good it does either of us.” Mark wrapped his bruised hands around the bars and stared at her with desperate intensity. At least he seemed to be tracking now. “Hope, you can’t touch Stone. Even if you managed to arrest him, all he has to do is use his powers on the sheriff and he’s out the door. Given his strength, I doubt you could bring him in at all. And I don’t want him to get his claws into you too.”

She moved back over to the cage, staying just out of reach in case he tried to grab her again. “How did you end up like this?”

“I was dumb enough to challenge him at my folks’ house.” A bitter grimace twisted Mark’s mouth, and the knuckles of his fists went white from his grip on the bars. “He told me later that’s how he knew I’m Kith. He almost grabbed me that night, but he decided to wait, think it over. Then like a moron, I showed up here and got myself caught.”

“Wait.” Hope frowned. “What the hell’s a Kith?”

“That’s what vamps call people with the psychic strength to survive becoming a vampire.” Mark leaned his forehead against the bars and closed his eyes. The hollows beneath his striking cheekbones looked deeper, as if he was growing gaunter before her eyes. “The same strength makes us immune to a vampire’s orders, so that’s how they recognize us. Which is how I became a monster.” His good eye opened, meeting her gaze in a blaze of urgent green. “And that’s why you need to stay the hell away from him.”

“And let him go on killing?” She snorted. “Not very damned likely.”

“Hope, Stone thinks you’re Kith too because you refused to back off the case. He’s thinking of turning you. And you don’t want to become that bastard’s toy.”



Hope reached for the cell phone clipped to her belt. No matter what, Mark needed medical attention. He was in shock, suffering from blood loss and God knew what else.

He straightened in alarm. “What are you doing?”

“Calling dispatch for an ambulance.” She started thumbing buttons. “You need treatment. The Rescue Squad carries equipment that can cut into a car. They can slice open those bars.”

“I’d kill them, Hope. I’d kill them all. And you too.” His gaze haunted and urgent, Mark stared desperately into her eyes. Even his tongue looked dry as he licked his lips. “Stone hasn’t given me enough blood. I’m starving. I wouldn’t be able to control myself.”

Hope froze with the phone halfway to her mouth as she stared at him. And finally started to think through the implications. Even if the team managed to subdue Mark -- maybe by drugging him -- what then? He was a fucking vampire. Half an hour after he went to the hospital, he’d be on CNN.

Somebody would shoot cell phone video of his fangs and a few choice shots of this chamber of horrors. And he’d be screwed.

Meanwhile Stone would return from his tent revival, where he was probably choosing a sixth blonde from among the worshipers. Another woman to rape and murder.

That bastard needs to die. It wasn’t the first time in Hope’s law enforcement career she’d had that thought, but it was the first time she intended to carry it out.

She clipped the phone back on her belt with a hand that shook. It had been too damn long since she’d slept, or had anything to eat beyond stale cop coffee and candy bars. Being the lead investigator on five serial murder cases would do that to you. Especially when the killer’s a fucking vampire.
“All right. What do you think I should do?”

His good eye lit with hope, and he stepped closer to the bars. “Go to my house. Look in the garage, under the blue tarp. There are eight pipe bombs and a detonator I built to look like a ball point pen…”

“Wait -- bombs? Pipe bombs?” She stared at him, incredulous. “Do I look like a suicide bomber to you?”

“I’m not talking about blowing yourself up. I sure as hell don’t want you dead. Just Stone.” Mark’s bruised hands wrapped around the bars, and he stared at her with desperate intensity, as if willing her to listen. “I’ve already built everything you need. All you have to do is position the devices, get the hell away, and press the detonator.”

“What if somebody sees me, Mark? They’d think I was some kind of psycho, killing a preacher for giggles. They’d never believe he was a vampire. I’d go to jail for the rest of my life.”

“I know, I thought of all that too. Thing is, it’s the only way to be sure of killing him.”

“What about a stake through the heart? It’d be a hell of a lot less complicated.”

“And a lot more risky.” Mark released the bars and started to pace in long, urgent strides. “What if he woke up before you finished? Hell, we don’t know whether a stake would even work. It could be a myth, like the one about crosses. Holy objects obviously don’t bother him, or he couldn’t be hanging out in churches, waving a Bible.”

Hope grimaced. “Good point.”

“But I’m damned sure those bombs would do the job. That’s why I took the risk of telling you what he was. I knew you wouldn’t believe me, but I wanted you to know why I’d blown the house. Unfortunately, I made the dumbass mistake of casing the house at night, and Stone caught me.” He stopped pacing to rest his forehead against the steel and closed his good eye. His normally healthy tan had leached away, leaving him pale beneath the bruises that spotted his broad shoulders. “Next thing I knew, I was in this cage, slowly starving to death. You and those bombs are the only hope we have of stopping him now.”

Well, at least it was a plan. A crazy plan, but a plan. Hope scrubbed her hands over her face. They were trembling hard now. “So what do I do?”