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Albert Camus

Don't walk behind me; I may not lead. Don't walk in front of me; I may not follow. Just walk beside me and be my friend.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

If the Demon Master gets his way... Hellcat Series by Sharon Hannaford

"This has become one of my all time favourite series. The dynamics between Gabi and Julius drive the whole series and the characters around them are simply wonderful, so alive and vibrant.  [...]
The story was brilliant but in my opinion anything we need to do to hear about these characters is worth it. The background has been set for the next book and boy does it look like a biggie! " book #4 Sarah, Goodreads 

Description:

A Cat's Chance in Hell (#1)

If the Demon Master gets his way the City is about to become Hell on Earth.

Gabi has some extraordinary talents. Some might call them supernatural, but for her they’re just part of everyday life. What she knows about the supernatural would give most humans nightmares forever. Ridding the streets of bad-ass creatures of the night is Gabi’s other job. Taking up the mantle of her father’s legacy, she is a Hunter for the Societas Malus Venatori. The first female ever bestowed the title. Her day job is a little less dangerous. Most of the time. 

Being ambushed and kidnapped by the sinfully sexy Master Vampire of the City should have been just another night on the job, except for the fact that Julius has other plans for her. When he reveals that his nemesis wants control of the City and has plans to fill it with Demons from the Etherworld, creating an army of Ghouls and turning humans into nothing more than cattle to feed his Clan, Gabi must choose her path. She must decide whether to join with Julius in a stand against the Demon Master or flee the City with her friends and family, leaving the Vampires to wage their own war and the rest of the residents to their fate.

But it’s not in Gabi’s nature to back down from a fight, no matter how impossible the odds. As the Malus Venatori prepare for war, Gabi finds herself pulled deeper into Julius’s world and she makes some disturbing discoveries about her unusual supernatural abilities. Her existence might just be the answer to a mystery as old as the Vampire race. Even more unsettling than that is her undeniable attraction to Julius and the taste of his blood. But before she can come to terms with her conflicting desires they must all survive the Demon onslaught and find a way to safeguard the truth of her heritage. 

While the supernatural bad guys know her as Angeli Morte, her friends call her Hellcat!

If you like your heroine smart, sassy and absolutely kick-ass and your Vampire hero sexy as sin and twice as dangerous you’re going to love the Hellcat Series.

All Hell Breaks Loose (#2)

In the City, the Werewolves are restless. 

Gabi is striving to get back to life as usual. Dealing with the aftermath of being kidnapped and tortured by Dantè, wrapping her head around being a Dhampir, and trying to figure out Julius’s unexpected attitude as he withdraws from her and becomes cool and distant. As if that isn’t enough to cope with, she receives the disturbing news that someone she cares about has been dragged unwillingly into her world after a brutal and calculated Werewolf attack. 

As rogue Werewolves run rampant through the City, it becomes clear there will be no gentle reintroduction to Gabi's duties as Hunter for the Societas Malus Venatori. Once again the Vampires join forces with the SMV to contain the threat, but the odds seem stacked against them and the casualties keep mounting. Tensions run high as the perpetrators manage to stay one step ahead of the Hunters and the senseless violence continues. No one suspects betrayal from within, until Gabi’s pets unmask a traitor. But the traitor isn’t the real threat and the war has only just begun.

This time their nemesis isn’t playing by any rules and no one is safe in this deadly, new game. Not even the Master Vampire of the City. As the undeniable chemistry between Gabi and Julius reignites, they realise the danger isn’t only to the human population of the City, but threatens to overwhelm them all. What they finally uncover brings Gabi into very real conflict with the SMV Council and leaves her questioning her life-long allegiances. 

Not all monsters come in obvious monster packages and sometimes what you’re fighting to protect is what you should be fighting against. 

Not everyone will walk away from this fight intact. 

Strap in, hang on and grab a breath while you can. All hell is about to break loose!

"The Hellcat series is one wild ride ... one of the best new series to hit the dark urban fantasy world, ever! Two words: more, please." Diane Nelson (Sand in my Shoes Reviews) 

A Cold Day in Hell (#3)

The City may be calm, but is the Hunter about to become the hunted?

For the first time in months the City is peaceful, so peaceful that Gabi’s suspension from the Societas Malus Venatori doesn’t feel like a punishment. Her relationship with Julius is stronger than ever and Kyle has finally found his soul mate, even if he seems to need some convincing. Gabi thinks boredom is her most serious problem. She couldn’t be more wrong. 

The visitor Julius has been both expecting and dreading arrives, bringing with him dire news. An old enemy, out to destroy them, has revealed to the Masters of the Vampire race that Gabi is a Dhampir. The visitor’s presence also answers the question that’s been simmering in Gabi’s head for years; the truth of her origins. This truth brings with it a deeper understanding of the implications of her very existence, and she doesn’t like what she discovers. But it’s too late to change what’s been done and Julius must now answer to the Princeps’ Court. 

As Gabi makes plans to leave the City, drawing danger away from friends and family, a dark prophesy by the Magi Oracles forces her to change course. She will not be leaving the City alone, and she will not be running from the threat. She, Julius and a handful of others will be heading straight into the mouth of the beast. They must present themselves at Court before the Princeps travel to the City and inadvertently uncover one of the most closely guarded secrets of the Magi world. 

While the Princeps wear a face of impartiality and civility, what boils beneath the surface is a storm of selfishness, greed, lust and perversion. Danger lurks in every corner and it soon becomes clear that someone is determined to ensure that Gabi will never get the chance of a fair hearing.

Old friends and old enemies do what they have always done best, while new friends and new enemies emerge at every turn. Only one thing is sure; it’ll be a cold day in Hell before Hellcat goes down without a fight.

Put the coffee on and warm up your page-turning finger, it’s going to be a long night. 
This is a full length novel. 
Please note this novel is written in UK English and contains some adult content.

To Hell and Back (#4)

SOME SECRETS ARE WORTH DYING TO PROTECT

When Werewolves start turning up dead, drained of blood, the City’s Alphas turn accusing eyes on the Vampires. It doesn’t take much to get the newly-formed Werewolf Alliance riled up. But once Vampires start dying the same way it becomes clear they have a mutual enemy. 

An unexpected visitor brings news that vulnerable supernaturals from neighbouring towns are also being kidnapped and murdered, and that the City seems to be the focus of the violence. With no idea of the motives behind the attacks, Gabi and the rest of the City’s defenders immediately commit to eliminating whoever, or whatever, is behind the bizarre and gruesome acts. 

Adding to the chaos, demons suddenly attack in unprecedented numbers, stretching the City’s supernatural resources thin. The reappearance of an old foe from the Etherworld sparks fears that Mariska is back and still seeking revenge. And that once again, she’s made powerful, dark alliances. When all fingers point to something hellbent on uncovering whatever secrets the City hides, eyes finally turn to the Magi. 

A war will be waged for the greatest supernatural prize of them all, and the outcome is impossible to predict. Not even the presence of a powerful Princep and the shocking revelation of Julius’s true potential can assure victory for the pure of heart. 

This time Gabi is determined to get Mariska in her crosshairs, and she’s ready and willing to even the score. But there is no guarantee that everyone will survive this trip to Hell and back! 

Come Hell or High Water (#5)

IS IT WRONG TO FEAR SHADOWS WHEN THOSE SHADOWS HAVE THE POWER TO DESTROY YOU?

The City’s supernatural community is still in mourning, but there’s no time to spend licking their wounds. The face of the City has changed forever and now her citizens must keep up or risk succumbing to the darkness.

As the Magi withdraw to protect themselves and their vulnerable power source, it falls to the Werewolves to step into the void left by a crippled SMV. The Vampires are more than willing to help, but things are moving in the shadows; bad things that threaten to destroy everything Julius has worked for. Princep scheming seems suspicious, but in truth the greater danger lurks much closer to home.

When one of Gabi’s Werewolf friends is kidnapped by tech-savvy vigilantes it seems like an open and shut case of humans fearing what they do not understand. But as Julius travels from the City to answer the Princeps’ summons, leaving Gabi in the relative safety of the Clan, it soon becomes clear that they’ve misjudged the real enemy.

Left confused and floundering, it’s the Princep Benedict who finally provides the information they desperately seek. But his answers do not come without a price.

Defending their beloved City may seem overwhelming, but, come Hell or high water, Hellcat and Co will do whatever it takes.

Batten down the hatches, a tempest is imminent. 

There'll Be Hell to Pay (#6)

THIS TIME IT’S PERSONAL

Just a few months ago Gabi thought her life was damn near perfect. She could never have imagined that meeting one man would spark a chain of events that would change everything. The only resemblance to her previous life is her relentless hunt for supernatural criminals. Right now, her world has narrowed to two points of focus; co-leading the newly formed Special Investigations Department alongside Julius, her Master Vampire Consort, and searching for the traitorous Vampire Caspian and his pregnant Dark Magus cohort, Mariska. Catching up with friends and making peace with her mother are also on her agenda for the week, but life may just have other plans.

Even the most rookie supernatural investigator would figure out that things aren’t going well for the Magi of the City, but the High Council is maintaining its silence and remaining distant from the other races. The safety and security of the City’s population is falling ever more heavily on the shoulders of the fledgling Werewolf Alliance, leaving Kyle, Trish and the other Pack Alphas to handle a rising influx of demons committed to infiltrating the City and wreaking havoc.

There are many scenarios that keep Gabi from her sleep, and when one of those concerns becomes a sickening reality, it rocks her to the core. Taking one of those most dear to her is a dangerous game, one that few would play, knowing what she and Julius are capable of. The list of suspects is short and the guilty party soon shows their hand, but is this all just a ruse and what could they hope to accomplish by riling up such powerful enemies?

There is no rest for the team as, with one emergency over, they are handed a scrap of information that will ultimately lead them straight to Caspian and Mariska. But are they truly ready for the final standoff?

Who will make the ultimate sacrifice and how will the rest deal with the repercussions of an ancient prophesy that culminates in the birth of Mariska’s twin children?

This is the nail-biting conclusion to the Hellcat Series.
Buckle up boys and girls - there’s turbulence ahead. 

Raising Hell - A Hellcat World Novel

The rest period is over and the ultimate endgame round has just begun.

The City has seen a peaceful lull for the past three years. The Werewolf Alliance has settled into their role as peacekeepers, stamping out threats the moment they rear their heads. The Magi have recovered from their losses both in numbers and strength and the Veil is more solid than ever. The Vampires never rest; the desire to create Dhampirs grows despite the law and the deadly consequences, but even their weapons are gathering dust.

And yet all of them know this peace is an illusion; a small space in time to rest and regroup. Because the Decuria still exist in the shadows and the Prophesy calls to all sides. The battle of the millennium is looming and only one side can win.

A new player has joined the game as old foes prepare to once more roll the dice. The board pieces are set, the gameplan is decided and the protectors of the City are the only ones who don’t know the rules.

Kyle and Trish have the family they never dared to wish for. Not only two daughters but an ever-growing, ever-strengthening Werewolf Pack. The love and security of family is everything they desired, but the weight of responsibility is burdensome and they can never let down their guard. Just when they thought everything was black and white, they are faced with a new choice; one that is all shades of grey, one that could change the Werewolf world forever.

Still reeling from the shock of the decision they must make, the fragile peace is inevitably broken, leaving the Pack blind-sided and chasing their tails. It will take everything they have to keep their family and friends safe. They will have to find strength in their weaknesses and vulnerability in their strengths if they are to survive this assault. Can they ever be prepared for the consequences of that which has been prophesied?

Fasten that safety belt and grab a handhold, this will not be a quiet Sunday afternoon drive. 

EXCERPT



A Cat’s Chance in Hell:
“They’re still human,” Gabi whispered, not sure if she was speaking to herself or Julius. 
“They could still be infected,” Julius warned.  “Maybe they haven’t had time to become fully Ghoul yet.  How long does the transformation take?” 
“I don’t know.” Gabi replied.
“How long have you been here?” Julius demanded of them. 
They all just looked at him in utter terror, not one of them could get a word out, and the one who had been moaning began to cry softly. 
“Bugger, they’re scared shitless,” Gabi cursed roundly.  “We’ll leave them here for now.  Byron will know what to do with them.  Let’s carry on and see what other horrors this crypt holds.”  They backed out of the cave-like room and Julius shot the bolt back in place. 
As they headed towards the next doorway, the acrid stink of burnt flesh, hair and clothing came wafting down from the entranceway.  Apparently, the flame-throwers had arrived. 
They checked three more open rooms and found all of them in much the same state as the first, give or take a body or three.  Gabi had begun holding her breath whenever they entered one — the stench was stomach churning, she was sure she wouldn’t feel like eating for a week. 
The next door they came to was closed.  The sounds from the other side seemed familiar, almost identical to what they had heard from the other occupied room.  If anything, the sniffling sounded more like crying.  They didn’t let down their guard and entered the same way as before, quickly and ready for anything. 
On the pallets this time was a woman holding a small body in her lap.  She was facing away from the door, her shoulders hunched protectively as she sniffled over the limp bundle in her arms.  Gabi froze in shock.  A mother and child, in these conditions?  Her stomach rolled nauseously but her anger burned white hot.  She unfroze and moved closer to the pair, wanting to see if there was any hope of saving the child, though she could only hear one heartbeat besides her own.  
As she bent towards the woman, she heard Julius say, “No Gabi, I don’t…” and in that instant the woman struck.  Hurling the body of the child off her, she spun and plunged a splintered shard of wood straight into Gabi’s side. 
“No, you can’t have her!” the woman shrieked.  “Child of Satan.  She’s mine.  You can’t have her.”  The woman was raving now, screaming as she gathered up the pitifully small body and backed into a corner like a brutalised animal. 
“Gabrielle,” Julius shouted in alarm.  He reached her before reality did and caught her as she swayed towards the dirt floor, her hand clutching at the crudely made stake protruding from just under her right ribs.
“Fuck,” she said slowly as she felt hot, sticky blood seep onto her hand.
*******************
The flames in the fire-place suddenly surged brighter, as though hit by a blast of oxygen, and in the brief surge of amber light Gabi saw Julius’s eyes flare with their own dark flame.  He quickly dropped his gaze from hers and turned his head to stare out into the night.  “In fact, I think it’s probably a good time for me to leave.  I just needed to know that you were alright.” 
The need inside Gabi flared more insistently, resisting the thought of him leaving, and demanding she act to draw him closer.
“Why should you leave, it is your room isn’t it?” she asked, trying to keep her voice from betraying her desperation. 
He turned his face back towards her, a strange kind of anguish sharpening his features.  “I,” he began, then broke off, as his eyes stroked down the length of her body and legs, lying sprawled across the bed. 
Gabi realised she was wearing only a loosely buttoned man’s silk shirt and nothing else. All her clothes must’ve been covered in blood. 
“I’m not sure I could… resist,” he continued finally, “if I come any closer to you.  You call to me like a Siren.” 
She watched him swallow convulsively. 
“I said come here,” she enunciated the words slowly and forcefully. 
He closed his eyes, shaking his head slightly.  “I’m not sure exactly what’s happening right now, I’ve never felt anything like it, but I don’t want you regretting your actions in the morning and hating me for it.”  He forced out the words through a tightly clenched jaw.  “I need to go.”  He set the wineglass on a low table and stood up abruptly, as ungracefully as she’d ever seen him move, and headed towards the closed bedroom door.
“No,” she said low and fervently.  Before he could reach the door, she was standing in front of it.  Moving quicker than she’d ever moved before, she turned the key in the lock and spun to face him, leaning back against the handle so he’d have to go through her to open it. 
“Last chance, Gabrielle,” he ground out warningly as he placed his hands against the door on either side of her face.  “Last.  Chance.” 
She answered him by slowing beginning to undo the buttons down the front of the silk shirt she was wearing.

*****************************

Sometime during the discussion Razor had wandered in, Gabi had automatically pushed away from the table to allow the huge cat to climb on her lap, though he was far too big to sit there comfortably.  He was just trying to get comfortable when he noticed Athena across the table.  He went dead still for a quarter of a second, and then lunged onto the table directly towards Athena.  Gabi made a wild grab for him, missing completely, and Kyle’s face took on a horrified expression.  But Razor stopped dead a few millimetres from Athena’s shocked face, sat down and stared into her eyes with baleful malevolence. 
Athena sat back very cautiously, as though confronted by a wild tiger, and asked out the corner of her mouth, “What.  Is.  That?  And is it going to eat me?”
It was the first time any of them had ever heard Athena sound anything except controlled and businesslike.  She actually sounded terrified.
“Razor!” Gabi called sharply, “Don’t torment strangers, it’s not polite.”
“Meet Gabi’s cat, Razor,” Kyle said sardonically.  “Though we use the term ‘cat’ loosely around here.  He may take a chunk out of you, but I don’t think he’d actually eat you.”
“I doubt he would enjoy the taste of witch anyway,” Gabi muttered under her breath.
“In that case, I don’t think he likes me very much,” Athena said stiffly; ignoring her comment, and drawing in a deep, steadying breath as Razor disdainfully made his way back across the table to Gabi.  He gave her a loving head butt, before hopping to the floor with a grace that belied his incredible size, and exiting the room with an arrogant swish of his tail. 
“Don’t worry about it,” Kyle commented mildly, breaking the tension.  “He doesn’t like anybody, except Gabi.”

All Hell Breaks Loose:


“Derek, let me in,” Gabi called when her fist pounding on the door didn’t elicit a response.  She knew he was home.  If the evidence of his truck in the driveway wasn’t enough, she could clearly scent him.  The presence of another vehicle on the curb disturbed her.  It was a small red Toyota, the sort of car a woman would drive.  If he had a woman in the house with him, things could get ugly really fast because the Community was right.  His normal masculine scent was now heavily cloaked in the distinct tang of Werewolf.
“Derek!” she shouted again.  “Let me in, or I’m gonna break in.”  Finally, she heard slow, heavy footsteps coming towards the door, then a dull thud, like a body slumping against a wall.
“Gabi.”  His hoarse voice cracked on her name.  “Gabi, you need to leave.  I…” He took a ragged breath, like a man exhausted.  “I can’t explain right now, but you have to trust me.  You need to go.”
Gabi tried to keep the frustration from overwhelming her patience.  “Derek, open the door,” she said in a commanding voice.  “I can help you.  I know what’s going on, and I can help you.”
“I’m sick, Gabi.  You can’t come in here.  It’s not safe,” a note of pleading in his voice now, “please just go.  I’ll call you when I’m better.”
“It’s not going to get better, Derek,” she said softly, “not without help.  You need to let me in.  I promise you I can help.  You have to trust me.  I understand what’s happening to you.”
A half sob issued from the other side of the door.  “How can you possibly understand?” he demanded raggedly.  “No one can understand.  No one can help. And…” He dragged in a breath.  “I’ve done something terrible.  Something unforgivable.  No one can help me now.”
Ice drenched Gabi’s veins as she realised she might be too late to rescue the woman.  Either way, she had to get inside.
“Derek,” she repeated, struggling to keep her voice calm when it felt like she’d just mainlined adrenalin.  “You remember how many times I’ve been injured?  You remember suspecting that my injuries weren’t always caused by animals?  You’ve asked me about it more than once.  I know you’ve thought things weren’t quite right.  Your instincts weren’t wrong, Derek.  Those injuries weren’t caused by animals.”  She paused, letting her words sink in.  “I have another job, a job that involves things that would send most humans screaming.  I’m trained to deal with those things.  I. Can. Help.”  She said the last three words with absolute conviction.
“You know what’s happening to me?” he whispered.
“Yes, I know exactly what’s happening to you,” she replied in a soft voice.
“You can really help?”  There was a tiny thread of hope in his voice.
“Let me in, Derek.  We can’t talk about this with me outside where other people can overhear us.”  She was getting to the point where she was going to smash his door in to get inside, but she didn’t want to draw the attention of the neighbours if she could help it.  There was a sound of movement, and the lock clicked. 

************************
“My name is Gabrielle Bradford,” she said in a deceptively friendly tone.  She didn’t hold back her smile as the four new Werewolves sucked in a collective hiss of breath.
The Alpha went absolutely still, his expression frozen.  Apparently they’d heard of her.
“Angeli Morte,” one of them whispered.
“You must be consorting with a very bad element to know that nickname,” she said.  “Now tell me what you really want with Derek.”
She groaned inwardly as Derek chose that moment to come up behind her to see what was going on.  He hissed in a breath.
“It’s them,” he shouted hoarsely.  “From the alley, the ones who attacked me.”
Gabi’s suspicions were officially confirmed.  As soon as she knew they were Werewolves, she figured they’d come to claim their Pack mate.  She didn’t turn to check on Derek, she had to trust that he’d stay out of her way.  Nex was in her hand before the Alpha had done more than blink.  When his eyes flicked back to her after Derek’s brief distraction, Nex was levelled at his chest.  The black suits, who’d begun to spread out in an offensive fan, froze as one.  Mr Alpha’s face contorted in rage, but he didn’t twitch a muscle.
“This is none of your business, Ms Bradford,” he ground out between clenched teeth.  “I have come to claim one of mine.  It would be better for all concerned if you stood aside and let Mr Collins come with me.”
Gabi’s eyes narrowed even as an unpleasant smile lifted the corners of her mouth.  “Au contraire, my dear Alpha,” she drawled. “I think if you know anything about me, you’ll know that this is very much my business.”
She heard Derek fall to his knees behind her and knew he was fighting another transformation.  She wasn’t sure he had the strength for a third shift, but if he did, she couldn’t be sure his wolf wouldn’t mistake her for the enemy.  She needed to get the situation under control fast.
“I know a few people who would be very interested to meet you and your Pack.”  Nex’s blade touched his suit jacket directly over his heart.  “You do know the penalty for intentionally spreading the lycanthropy virus, don’t you?” she asked in an ice-filled tone.
The Alpha’s eyes narrowed, as his Pack stirred nervously.
“Leave me a business card, and I’ll have my superiors contact you to discuss your recent transgressions.  They may spare some of your Pack members if you decide to co-operate.”  She let the cold certainty of his death fill her eyes.
She watched the appraisal running through his mind.  Wondering if she truly was as good as the stories said she was.  Her intuition kicked in, and she knew a second before he did that he was going to call, what he assumed was, her bluff.  Not for the first time, she cursed the fact that she couldn’t simply kill a rogue without a kill order from the SMV.  Not without an enquiry and paperwork and the chance of suspension, anyway.  As the thought hit his consciousness, Gabi dropped Nex’s tip from his heart and powered a knee strike into his chest, sending him careening backwards into his compatriots.  The move took him by surprise and annoyed the shit out of him.
He regained his balance instantly and yelled, “Get her,” at his lackeys.  He stepped back to watch the show, allowing his minions to do the dirty work.  She’d already picked out the weak links in the pack.  They were big and muscular, but they were new Lycanthropes, and they didn’t move like fighters.  They’d probably never even been in a decent street brawl.  She was praying this would tip the balance in her favour; otherwise she was up the proverbial creek.

************************

Julius’s new Chief Steward was a tall, thin, pretentious ass by the name of Maximilian.  He’d apparently been a night manager at one of Julius’s boarding houses that catered to guests of the non-human variety.  Gabi disliked the man on first sight, and nothing had happened to change her opinion of him yet.  She wished Julius had just promoted Claudia, the quietly competent female Vampire who’d been Gregory’s assistant.
“Miss Bradford,” the man said with a condescending sneer.  Gabi’s sword hand began itching.  “I’m afraid the Master is currently unavailable.  Would you like me to let him know that you called?”  He was nearly a foot taller than she was and made a point of looking down his nose at her as though she was a mildly repulsive bug.
“What I would like,” she ground out, holding on to her temper by a single thread, “is for you to get the fuck out of my way.”
“Now, now, Miss Bradford, such language from a lady is hardly…”  His sentence was abruptly cut off as he stared at the tip of the curved metal blade lodged an inch deep in his chest.
“I don’t call myself a lady, asshole,” she snarled, pressing Nex another fraction of an inch closer to his heart.  “Now get the hell out of my way before I’m forced to carve out your heart and take it home for my cat to eat.”
She wasn’t sure she’d ever seen a Vampire swallow convulsively, but this one did.  As he backed slowly away from the door, she followed him, allowing the blade to pull free of his flesh but keeping it trained on him.  He was a Vampire, after all, and she was only partly Vampire.  She was almost as quick as most Vampires, but almost wasn’t always good enough.  She did have one advantage, though.  As indifferent as Julius seemed to be towards her at the moment, she doubted he’d changed the order that she was absolutely not to be harmed by any of his Clan or staff.  There weren’t too many who would (or in this case, could) defy a Master Vampire, especially one as powerful as Julius—a Master Vampire with the gift to control other Vampires just as she could control animals and, apparently, Werewolves.
“Be it on your own head, then,” Maximilian spat, as she slipped past him into the house.  She kept a watchful eye on him, alert for any sudden movements, but instead, a malicious grin spread over his face.  “Don’t say I didn’t warn you, Angeli Morte!”  The cruel vindictiveness in that look nearly made her backtrack.  Nearly, but not quite.  The steward gathered himself, slammed the front door closed, and strode away without another word.  He hadn’t even touched the wound where Nex had cut him.
A feeling of cold dread settled in her stomach, but she brushed away the man’s odd behaviour and allowed her senses to flow through the house, searching.  Then she turned and swept up the wide, wooden staircase in search of her quarry.
He wasn’t in his office, as she’d expected.  He was still in his bedroom.  She doubted he was still ‘asleep’, he usually rose long before his Clan members and often even before the sun had set.  She was so distracted by what she was going to say to him that she didn’t even notice the steady, human heartbeat in the room before she flung open the door and walked in proclaiming, “Sorry, Julius, no more hiding from…”
It was then that she noticed the human heartbeat, and the human it belonged to—the very petite, very pretty, female human sitting on Julius’s lap as his face nuzzled into the side of her neck.  Julius was naked from the waist up, his glorious, muscle-sculpted shoulders and chest gleaming with a pale luminescence in the dim lighting.  The shock on his beautiful face mirrored the shock on her own as his head whipped up to find her standing in his doorway.  She realised what she’d walked in on when she took in his elongated canines, the smear of red at his lip and the girl’s passive, vacant expression.  She took a quick breath as she tried to figure out if this was better or worse than her first assumption.  The streak of jealousy that had flashed through her like a firebolt at her first glimpse of the scene had nearly sent her to her knees.  She whirled back towards the door, but his voice caught her before she could leave.
“Gabrielle.”  It was hardly a whisper.

A Cold Day in Hell:

Julius heard her scream, heard the rage in the single word as he reached the edge of the alley.  Just in time to watch Gabi head-butt the Rogue Vampire hard enough to force bits of the bridge of his nose up into his brain.  The Vampire staggered back, dazed.  Not even the oldest Vampire could heal that kind of injury instantly.  Julius's first instinct was to seize the Vamp with the power of his mind and squash him like a bug.  Every nerve in his body wanted to squeeze the Rogue's mind until it popped, but some other, deeper instinct froze him where he stood. 
Gabi was in full-blown Red Rage.  This was the second time he'd seen it.  The last time had been her first descent into the madness.  It seemed to have been triggered by her proximity to him and needing the blood her body had been craving for years.  She'd snapped for a minor annoyance and utterly destroyed his office before he managed to calm her. Now, she was using the rage as a weapon.  It rode her, but she had control of the reins. 
Somehow he sensed that this was what she needed.  Not the therapy sessions they'd been using to desensitize her to the feeling of being trapped.  She was Hellcat.  She took care of herself and everyone else around her.  She didn't need to get used to the idea of being trapped; she needed to annihilate the enemy trapping her.  This was the therapy she truly needed.
It took more control than he thought he possessed to watch her fight the Rogue.  Though it honestly wasn't much of a fight after that.  She systematically kicked and beat the Vampire to a bloody pulp.  When he lay in a crumpled heap, face down on the tarmac, no longer moving, she rolled him over with the tip of one boot to face her.  Then she calmly picked up Nex, knelt over his body, and stabbed the blade directly into his heart.  Then she pulled the blade out and stabbed him again, and again, and again.

********************

Julius needed to get Gabi somewhere safe.  Now.  Her response was so potent that he was finding it hard to control his own reactions.  His body was screaming to rip away the clothing separating them, and to bury himself in her deeply enough to make them one entity.  Her taste, her scent, her excitement and arousal called to him like crystal meth to an addict in withdrawal.  The smell of the other Vampire still lingering in the alley and the fine dusting of his ash covering Gabi's arms and legs wasn't helping his sanity.  Possessiveness reared up, clawing at his mind like a trapped tiger. 
The car, he told himself firmly, Alexander was bringing a car.  Get her to the car.  He shifted his grip on her and lifted her into his arms.  She entwined her arms around his neck and began to leave a trail of wet, nipping kisses across his jaw and down his neck. 
She reached the spot on his neck where the artery ran close to the surface, and without warning sank her tiny, ever so slightly pointed canines into his flesh, puncturing the artery and then suckling at the wound.  The world reeled around him as fireworks went off in his mind.  His resolve vaporised.  His control obliterated, branding her as his own became his only priority.  
There was a wall behind her, though he couldn't remember moving.  He released her legs back to the ground and pressed her against the pollution-stained bricks.  Her hands were already ripping at his belt, as desperate to touch him as he was to touch her.  A separate, saner part of his brain assessed the alleyway, checking for company and alert for danger.  His men weren’t far off; he could sense them clearly.  They wouldn't allow anyone down here.  Nothing else human or supernatural was nearby.  His belt buckle came free, and her fingers deftly undid his trousers.  That was all he could take.  He lifted her with one arm and slid his other hand under her skirt to the edge of her lace panties; they gave no resistance as he shredded them.  She curled her arms around his neck, her legs around his waist, and captured his lips with hers, groaning into his mouth.

********************

A man was standing on the far side of the rectangular twelve-seater boardroom table, pretending to admire the artwork on the wall.  Gabi could sense his watchfulness from the other side of the room.  He'd been waiting with keen anticipation for them.  He took her in from head to toe with a polite, enigmatic smile, just as she studied him.  He didn't have a European complexion; she would hazard a guess at Middle Eastern origins or possibly South American.  He wasn't particularly tall, stockily built, boasting a neat moustache and goatee, and neatly trimmed, dark hair.  He must have been in his mid-forties when he was turned, but he held his age with grace.  He was dressed in a three-piece suit that she could only describe as dapper, and carried an elegant cane, which he obviously didn't need.  She allowed her Vamp-sense out to play and immediately picked up on his age, which was close to Julius's, but his power level was confusing to her.  Not anywhere near as powerful as Julius, but his power had a strange feel to it, and it seemed somehow familiar. 
"Caspian." Julius's tone was sharp, but outwardly calm and controlled.  He stalked further into the room, keeping the boardroom table with its plush leather executive chairs between them.  Gabi kept pace with him, but didn't crowd him.  She always allowed enough room to draw a sword in tense situations.   
"Julius." The man greeted him with a slight nod of the head in a polite, almost paternal tone.  It bordered on patronising, and Nathan and Fergus stirred slightly at the mild insult to their Sire.  They were standing against the walls on either side of the room, the newcomer sandwiched between them.  Julius didn't give them the nod to subside; he allowed the tension to rise to a firm simmer. 
"I am not here to pick a fight with you, Julius," Caspian said soothingly, his strong accent negating Gabi’s previous assumption of his origins and making her think more of Spain or Portugal.  His grasp of English was excellent, though.  "I have simply requested an audience with you and safe passage in the City for a few days." 
He took two steps away from the artwork on the wall, closer to the table, and hefted the cane so that the head was clearly visible.  It was an intricately carved wolf's head with rubies for eyes and ivory fangs.  Both guards tensed, hands on weapons, but he ignored them as though they didn't exist.  "Are you going to introduce me to the lovely lady at your side, or should I introduce myself?" 
Spanish, Gabi decided, hearing his heavily accented English.
"This is Gabrielle Bradford," Julius said stiffly.  "Gabrielle, this is Carlos Medina, now known as Caspian." 
The other man inclined his head respectfully and took another step closer so that he was pressed up against the table, one hand on the back of a chair as he laid the wolf's head cane across the highly polished surface of the table.   
"Enchanted to meet you, Gabrielle," he said in a slow, lazy drawl.  "Please don't consider me rude for keeping my distance."  He indicated the table between them.  "I don't want to upset my host; he seems a little…highly strung tonight."  His eyes flashed to Julius, and something passed between them. 
Julius remained silent, but a muscle ticked along his jawline.  Gabi wasn't in the mood for obeying the rules and niceties of Vampire society.  She narrowed her eyes.
"Is there a reason for your visit to our City, Caspian, or are you simply here to make trouble?" she asked. 
A genial smile curved the Spaniard's mouth despite her curt question, and his nostrils flared, clearly drawing in the scents around him.  He opened his mouth to reply and then froze, his eyes going wide.  He drew in another breath.  His eyes raked over Gabi's body from head to toe and then narrowed on Julius; a riot of emotions flashed across his face before he shut them down.  His smile had suddenly become stiff and forced.
"I have recently spent some time at the Court of the Princeps and simply have some information that I wished to share with Julius," he replied to Gabi, but his attention was fully on Julius now, who, while no less tense, was radiating a degree of smugness.  
In a flash of intuition Gabi realised why Julius hadn't protested her refusal to get changed.  The essence of Julius and sex cloaked her body, and her scent clung to every inch of him.  He'd marked his territory as effectively as if his name was tattooed on her forehead.  She had no right to be angry at him; the sex hadn't been one-sided, and he hadn't known about his unwanted guest until they arrived home.  And he had given her the chance to clean up and change before coming to this meeting.  But that didn't stop the annoyance flaring; men could be so…pubescent.
"How interesting."  Caspian drew the words out into distinct syllables as his pensive gaze flicked between the two of them.  "Have you told her yet, Julius?  About our conversation on the telephone a few weeks ago?" 
The question was mild, but the jolt of fury that slammed through Julius was enough to make her want to move away from him.  Her blood ran cold as she realised this was all about her. 

To Hell and Back:

“Make your pretty little cohort hand back my things, and nobody gets hurt,” Gabi growled, only barely holding onto her temper now.  Mr Tall-muscled-and-stupid was either too witless or too unobservant to take the hint.  He took another step closer, actually lifting his right hand as though ready to backhand her.
“What you going to do?” Gabi challenged him snarkily.  “Assault me in front of dozens of witnesses.  Gods, you’re even more moronic than I originally thought.”  It seemed there was only going to be one way to conclude this little set-to, but she wasn’t walking away from her wallet and phone.
The man raised his eyebrows incredulously, shocked that she hadn’t backed down from his aggression.  Then, emboldened by the gathering crowd’s lack of action against him, his eyes narrowed deviously.
“Twenty bucks on the lady,” a rough, gravelly, masculine voice called lazily from her left.
Gabi allowed her attention to dart in that direction for a fraction of a second, assessing the newcomer.  He’d shouldered his way through the crowd to stand a foot closer than the rest of the humans, with his arms loosely crossed.  He was a tall, older man, maybe in his fifties.  Grey flecked the dark brown hair at his temples and punctuated the five-day-old stubble on his chin.  Grizzled was the word that popped into Gabi’s mind, the sort of man you expected to see playing the lead in a fifties Western.  While there was nothing overtly dangerous about the man, even his casual dress code of jeans and a button-down, checked shirt didn’t detract from the air of unconscious swagger that marked the man a fighter to Gabi’s experienced eye.  Mr Stupid seemed confused.  Again.
“I’m not sure there are any ladies here,” Gabi quipped, buying time to work out if the older man was in on the con.  He was human, so no real threat to Gabi, but if he was on their side, things weren’t looking good for the recovery of her personal items.
A slow, wry grin broke through the stubble on the man’s face, and he inclined his head ever so slightly.  “I use the term loosely,” he conceded.
“What the fuck do you want, old man?” Stupid snarled.
Gabi noticed that the girl was trying to back away from the fray.  She could run, but she couldn’t hide, not from Gabi.  The chase might be fun though.
“Hey, it’s your funeral.  I just thought it was fair to warn you, you know, man to man?” the newcomer told him.  “You see, this lady,” his lips twitched in amusement, “works out at a dojo I used to do maintenance work for.  She’s pretty notorious there; not too many women achieve black belts in three different martial arts, and she has a reputation for a pretty short fuse.  I think you’ve caught her on a good day if you’re still standing here arguing with her.”
Gabi was hard-pressed to keep back the snort of laughter that bubbled up from her chest.  Did this man have any idea of how close to the truth he’d just hit?  Or did he?  Still keeping half her attention on Stupid, she flicked her gaze back to the older man, studying him more deeply, trying to discern if she’d ever come across him before.  Aside from his fighter’s bearing, nothing about him seemed familiar to her.
With a nonchalant shrug of his shoulders, he turned dismissively from Stupid.  “Don’t say I didn’t warn you.”  Then he lifted his leather-booted foot onto the lip of a sturdy, cement flower box and leaned one elbow against his upraised knee as though preparing to watch the showdown.
Something must have finally penetrated Stupid’s thick skull because he looked around at the gathering crowd, took a couple of steps back from her, and twitched his head at the girl.  She gave a sullen snarl and threw the wallet and phone at Gabi before the two of them took off at a dead run, straight towards the nearby train station.


Gabi’s hurried rappel down the rope was crazy.  The walls of the hole were as smooth as glass and made from some kind of crystalline substance marbled with veins of high-quality silver.  There was no way a Werewolf could withstand touching the surface.  She made it to the bottom without breaking her neck and immediately fell to her knees beside Alexander.
There were no signs of life, which wasn’t entirely unexpected, but didn’t help the anxious knot in Gabi’s chest.  She clung to the fact that if he was already dead, he would’ve turned to dust.  As she made a quick assessment of his condition, she recited the fact like a mantra to herself.  “He’s not dust, he’s not dust.  Fuck, pull yourself together,” she commanded.
He was as close to a corpse as she’d ever seen anyone get without actually dying.  His skin was blistered to the point of turning black, his face entirely unrecognisable, his tendons tight enough to turn his hands to claws and fix him rigidly in position.  She blew a sharp breath out her nose, trying to clear the burnt-flesh stench.
“The stake first,” Gabi whispered to herself, praying that she could obey her own directions.  She got a solid grip on the stake and gave a hard yank.  It slipped from her grasp, and she fell backwards.  It seemed to be made from the same material as the walls and was slick with Alexander’s blood.  She quickly repositioned herself, one foot on either side of the stake, and this time gripped the slick spike with both hands.  It took several heart-stopping seconds of tugging, but it finally shifted a little.  She caught her breath and tried again, this time twisting slightly as she pulled, and it flew free with a sickening squelch.  A muted groan came from Alexander’s blackened lips, and Gabi flung the crystal shard away, kneeling over him.
“Open a vein,” she instructed herself.  Shit, she didn’t want to pull Nex out in these close quarters in case Alexander responded to the scent of the blood before she could resheath.  She hadn’t come down here to save him only to have him die by impaling himself on her sword.  Her teeth would just make a mess of her own flesh.  “Anyone got a pocketknife?” she called up to the anxious faces looking down on her.
“Incoming,” warned Kyle a second before a small, multi-tool Swiss Army knife dropped towards her.
She caught it and flicked open a small blade.  She drew in a deep breath, bracing herself, then jabbed the narrow blade into one of the veins of her inner wrist.  The pain was sharp, and blood gushed immediately.  Gabi quickly pressed the wound to Alexander’s mouth.  There was no response.  His rigid body remained motionless, the blood dribbling from his ruined lips.
Desperate, Gabi used her free hand to shift him, tilting his body so that his mouth faced upward.  His flesh was deteriorating with each passing second.  She managed to get some blood to stay in his mouth, and she worked his throat muscles, beseeching him to swallow.  Faint movement, a gurgle and then a convulsive swallow.  Gabi sagged in relief, forgetting Julius’s cautioning words.  Without warning, the blistered, charred thing that was Alexander lunged upward and slammed into her with the force of a speeding car.
They hit the solid wall hard enough that Gabi was surprised it didn’t shatter.  Her breath evacuated her chest, and black spots erupted in front of her eyes as her head connected.
“Gabi,” Julius barked.


Come Hell or High Water:

Gabi had thought they were ready for just about anything.  She had been wrong.  There was indeed a trap inside, but not the kind they’d been expecting.  As Gabi followed Rory, Ross and Butch through the double doors at the back of the building, she, along with all the other rescuers, came to a screeching halt, and the Vampires paused on the ledges of the windows they’d broken through. 
The entire inside of the old church had been stripped bare, and in its centre a large metal cage huddled, cemented into the ground and reinforced with thick cables lashed to the very foundations of the building.  A dozen spotlights, dark but ready, surrounded the cage, and on a pallet in the middle of the cage lay Adriana.  She sat up in alarm, her blonde curls tangled and dirty, her face streaked with blood and grime and tears, her clothing in tatters, barely covering her body. 
“Adriana,” Gabi gasped, rushing forward and tucking the MacDart gun into its holster on her hip. 
The girl’s eyes widened with recognition and then relief.  And then fear.  In the dim lighting Gabi could see dark red welts covering much of her friend’s exposed skin, her eyes were round with terror, and the scent of her wolf was dangerously strong.
“Down, down, the cellar,” she said in a hoarse whisper.

****************

“What time is it there?” Gabi asked Julius’s visage on the laptop screen, realising she had no idea and utterly lacked the required mental capacity to work it out. 
“It’s a little after midday,” he said.  “I’ll get some sleep soon.  I’m just waiting for Xavier to stop by.  I need to find out what he knows before my meeting with the Princeps tonight.” 
“I miss you,” she blurted, unable to keep the words contained a second longer.  The moment she said it, she felt the blush threatening.  The sexy smile that slowly lit his face made it all worthwhile. 
“Is that you or the pain meds talking?” he purred, his grin reminiscent of the Cheshire Cat.
“It’s the pain meds, definitely the pain meds,” she confirmed, returning his grin.
“Good, I’ll make sure Jonathon gives you some more,” he said.  “I like Gabi on pain meds.”  But his face darkened at his own words.  “I felt your pain.  Even here, on the other side of the world.  I didn’t know what had happened, if you were alive or at death’s door, I just knew you were hurt.  You’re going to be the death of me.”  He pinched the bridge of his nose as he leaned towards the camera. 

*****************

“Wait, wait, wait,” Sally cried out, holding placating hands up towards Julius as he turned warning eyes on her.  “I won’t say anyfing, I swear it.”  She tugged a cotton handkerchief from the pocket of her apron to dab at her forehead, her heart was racing, but she was taking deep calming breaths.  “Oh, sweet muver of God, I’m getting too old for excitement like this.”
“Why don’t you have a seat, Sally,” Julius said, pulling a chair away from the table.  The woman’s blood pressure had spiked alarmingly.  “You, eat.”  He pointed to the seat on the opposite side of the table with a commanding glance at Kimberley.  He remained standing; the woman was human, and an older one, but he wasn’t taking any chances. 
Sally was staring with open-mouthed amazement at Kimberley, who was already buttering a warm muffin.  “’Ow on God’s green earf did you find one to look exactly like ’er?”  And then her open mouth curved into a wry smile, and she shook her head in wonder.  “A Doppelganger,” she breathed.  “Neva in all my years did I fink to see one.  And one so gifted.  You got some interesting cards up yor sleeve, Master Julius, that you hav’.”  The woman’s reactions were consistent with the signals her body was giving off; unless she was a world-class actress, she was on the level.  She was genuinely pleased, relieved and amazed.  “I was so worried about that fekking hair.  You know, I swear I cleaned that place from top to bottom, and everyone that ’elped was there because they themselves would’ve done the deed if they knew they ’ad even the tiniest chance of pullin’ it off.”  She turned her gaze up to Julius.  “That lady of yors, she’s a true gem, she is.  The kind that restores my faith in this world.  I ’ope you neva forget ’ow special she is.”
“Don’t worry,” Julius assured her, “she reminds me on a regular basis.” 
Sally threw her head back and let out a raucous laugh. 
“Now tell me how you knew this wasn’t Gabi.”
Sally sobered.  “I’m good at noticing details, you know.”  She looked over at Kimberley.  “Your Doppelganger has the looks down exactly right, but I’m guessing she didn’t spend very much time wiv yor lady.  It was mostly a collection of small fings, you see—the cat not bein’ ’ere; how easily you ’ad agreed to the testing of the hair, even though Xavier is sure it’s genuine—but two fings really gave it away.  First was the way you looked at ’er when she came out the room.  A man in luv wiv a lady has a certain look in ’is eye when he sees ’er; eiva you weren’t in luv with Lady ’Ellcat, or that wasn’t Lady ’Ellcat.  And second, you can’t fake sass, a girl eiva ’as it or she doesn’t.  This one ’as a good go, but she ain’t got nuffin’ on yor lady.” 
Sally was right, Julius mused, she did have an excellent eye for details, luckily it was the kind of details most overlooked, but they’d have to tread more carefully over the next couple of days.
“You can drop the mask, Kimberley,” he told the younger woman.  “You’ll be needing your strength later.” 
The Shifter looked at him, checking he was sure, and then she put her coffee cup down and rolled her head across her shoulders, as though she was relieving a stiff neck, and when she looked at them again, she wore her own face.  It took a few more seconds for her hair to return to its usual shade of light brown.
“Well, I’ll be…”  Sally stared in absolute astonishment.  And then Derek chose to join them, perhaps roused by the smell of breakfast.  He was wearing a pair of boxer shorts and nothing else.  “Well, I’ll be…” Sally repeated, this time taking in the Werewolf’s muscled body from head to toe.


There’ll be Hell to Pay:


Red.  Red.  A deep red mist erupted at the very edges of her vision as fury tore through her.  She roared unintelligibly and lunged at Julius, her fists ready to pummel, to hurt, to kill. 
Steel bands fastened around her wrists, as unbreakable as they were gentle.  She struggled, spinning her body, twisting into her captor, throwing her hip and swiping at his knee with her boot.  Her move failed to shift the bands that now held her even tighter in their grip.  The red grew thicker, obscuring her vision and dulling her senses.
“Lea, my Lea.”  A soothing voice washed through her mind, blowing at the mist, trying to clear it. 
“No,” she growled, fighting harder, kicking out again.  The fury felt right, it felt good, it was part of her and it wanted to be free.  The shackles tugged her forward, forcing her hands down and behind her back.  Strong pillars enclosed her, and she was yanked up against a cool, familiar wall.
“The rage will not help us now, Lea.  I need you back with me.  All of you, not just vengeance, not just fury.  You are strong enough to deal with this.  We are strong enough to deal with this.  Come back to me.” 
She didn’t want to hear the words, trying to block them from her ears, from her mind.  But the crisp, cool breeze of his presence was so familiar, so intimate that it was impossible to resist.  Lips touched hers, featherlight at first, and then, as she softened her stance, the red cloud receding just a little, the kiss turned harder, became demanding.  She breathed out, opening her mouth to allow his tongue entry.  His grip around her wrists unlocked and his hands travelled up her body, over her ribcage, up her back either side of Nex’s sheath and into her hair. 
As the last of the rage burned away, Julius pulled back a fraction, his eyes searching hers, his chest rippling under her fingers.
“Hello, beautiful,” was all he said.  She dropped her head to his chest, suddenly exhausted.  He folded his arms around her and just held her.

*************************

The inside of the large cave was unexpected, to say the least.  Gabi couldn’t stop her eyebrows shooting skyward as she followed Julius and the Decurian Number One inside.  The entrance was more than large enough to accommodate a horse or pack mule.  The floor was smooth and flat, the ground so hard-packed that it felt like concrete beneath her hiking boots.  Nearly a dozen bronze wall sconces hugged the rock walls surrounding them, each supporting a lit candle, illuminating most of the cave and creating a warm, comforting glow.  Another fire crackled near the back of the cave, the smoke drawn upward by an unseen chimney.  A cave-in marred the rear of the otherwise smoothly excavated cavern, leaving large rocks and boulders strewn for several metres, but the rest of the cave was clean and clear of vermin, cobwebs, animal droppings and anything else you’d expect to find in a long disused cave in the middle of undisturbed jungle.  To add to the surreal scene, three wingback chairs, opulently upholstered in red and gold, sat in the centre of the room, facing each other, a large hand-woven rug spread out beneath them, and in their midst was a low table with crystal glasses and several carafes of what Gabi could only assume was wine.
“Please come, sit and relax.”  Eka strode to the chairs.  “I hear that you both indulge in some fruit of the vine.  Can I pour for you?” 
Julius walked forward as Gabi threw a quick glance behind them to check that Fergus was in position.  He gave her a small nod from just outside and flicked his wrist so that the firelight from the cave danced off the blade of his broadsword.  They were protected from the outside; now they just needed protection against whatever the Decurian threw at them inside.  Gabi was curiously dismayed that the alarm bell in the back of her mind was utterly quiet.  She prayed it wasn’t on the fritz.
“My dearest Consort,” Eka called to her, “you have nothing to fear.  There is no ill will here.  I would not expose my dearest Flora to violence unless I have absolutely no other choice.” 
Gabi turned away from the door and mentally steadied herself before going to join the two men. 
“I have kept her terribly protected from the brutal reality of my life, and I will keep it that way for as long as I possibly can.  Being a parent is such a joy and such a burden at the same time, but what can we do?”  He turned a dazzling smile on Gabi, the edge of madness doused.  Now he was pure, unadulterated charm.  “What can I pour you?  I have a wonderful Domaine Jean-Louis Chave Ermitage Cuvee Cathelin.”  He rattled off the name of the wine in a near perfect French accent and, though Gabi was no sommelier, even she recognised it.  “It’s a wonderful wine from the Syrah grape,” he continued, unaffected by Julius’s twitch and Gabi’s audible swallow.  “This is my last bottle.  I’ve been saving it for a special occasion.” 
Gabi wondered when she’d fallen down the rabbit hole again.  This particular wine probably made the list for the top twenty most expensive bottles of wine in the world, and she was being offered it in a cave on a remote mountaintop in central Mauritania by the leader of the group who opposed just about everything she and Julius stood for.
“Come, come,” he continued, holding out one of the flawlessly cut crystal decanters.  “If it makes you feel better, I will take the first sip or I can call in one of my people, but I swear to you there is nothing but exceptionally good wine in here.” 


Fergus reinforced the chains holding his own beast, whipped to a frenzy by the presence of Julius’s own viciousness released to run free.  He knew Julius would be relying on him to keep his head, to pull his Sire back and help him chain the beast once the mission was complete.  His Sire didn’t allow himself the luxury often, only twice that Fergus had seen.  The beast got things done that Julius found difficult.  And so Fergus followed, but not too closely, as the traitor continued to run through the dark streets.  He was content to keep his distance, but not prepared to leave Julius completely unprotected. 
And then something caught his ears and froze his feet to the ground.  A baby’s cry.  How long had it been since he’d heard a baby cry?  Since he’d heard his own daughter’s tiny voice.  The familiar hurt, the deep down one that never left him but mostly lay quiet inside him, flared to life, once more ripping through his heart with a nigh-on physical pain.  Even the beast cowered back from the weight of that pain. 
And then he realised what the traitor was up to.  He hadn’t been carrying anything when he fled.  He was trying to lead Julius away from the babies, the things he’d been hiding and protecting for months.  The things he valued above all else.  He would be circling back to get them.
Fergus turned and raced back the way he’d come, almost running a small group of tourists over; they shouted at his back.  He barely heard them.  He smashed through the rear entrance of the clinic, ignoring the biting pain as the shattered glass sliced his hands and face. 
There was no sound of the bairns now, so he paused to sniff and listen.  The clinic wasn’t very big; they couldn’t be far.  If he found a nurse or the doctor, he could roll them and find the bairns quickly, but the place seemed deserted.  Had Caspian already found a way to spirit them away?  And then he smelled blood.  Human blood.  Following his nose, he found the nurse behind the admin desk, a pretty young thing with her hair neatly plaited and her uniform spotless, except for the blood.  Fergus didn’t pause; she was clearly dead, though very recently.  Unsettled, he rushed to the doors labelled Staff and Patients Only.  The instant he opened the door, he smelled the smoke.  And then he heard the cry.  It wasn’t the plaintiff cry of a hungry newborn, it sounded more…demanding…angry…alone?
He rushed down the narrow corridor, already able to feel the heat of naked flames.  Flames.  His beast stood up and roared.  Fire.  Run.  He ignored it and concentrated on the sound of the bairn.  An image of his bairn swam into his mind.  She hadn’t been a bairn at the end, his Emelia; she’d been a beautiful young girl, full of life and mischief and as stubborn and strong-willed as her mother. 
Thick smoke oozed from a door to his left.  He shouldered it open, and the heat hit him like something solid.  A wall of unstoppable death. 
The vision of his beautiful Emelia’s eyes as she took her dying breath spurred him forward.  Into the flames and the smoke.  Everything was burning; the curtains were ablaze, the bedding on the tiny cribs, surgical equipment sparking and exploding, ceiling boards collapsing onto the floor.  Beside the door a body lay slumped on the ground.  A male, probably the doctor, but there was no time to check.  There was only one heartbeat in the room, a tiny, rapid one, too fast for an adult.  He pushed forward.  The bairn lay in a small plastic crib, everything around it burning, but the crib with the tiny human lying inside was completely untouched by the fire.  The bairn was looking directly at him, its gaze clear and bright, tiny fists waving in the air, but deep intelligence in it…no, her…he knew the bairn was a girl…in her eyes.  She knew him, and she knew he was coming to save her.   





About the author:
Sharon has been calling herself a writer since she was eight years old. She wrote her first auto-biography at age ten. As a teenager, she was teased about being a witch, because she wore lots of black and walked around with her black, Oriental cat on a lead. She never disagreed too loudly, after all, that may have drawn attention to the herd of unicorns that lived in her back garden.

Born and raised in South Africa, she has called New Zealand home since 2008. Her life consists largely of looking after her husband, two kids, three cats, a dog, a pony and a horse, but her working day is spent writing, and her occasional hours off usually include books, horses or a glass of good red wine.

Though she has had many jobs over the years, her favourite is, without doubt, being paid to write about the characters who take up residence in her head. After an early foray into writing for children, Sharon discovered Urban Fantasy; the genre that felt as though it had been created with her in mind. She loves nothing more than to create strong-willed, female lead characters, who challenge those around them almost as much as they challenge themselves.

Sharon also loves animals of all shapes and sizes. She has owned all the usual suspects one would keep as a pet, and a few more exotic ones thrown in for good measure. She spent her teens working at a tourist farm and animal park, and as a result has handled everything from porcupines and warthogs, to ferrets and hedgehogs. She has been surrogate mom to many orphans including; kittens, lambs and an eagle owl. No matter how hard she tries, animals always seem to steal the limelight in her novels. 

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3 comments:

Laura Thomas said...

The covers are stunning and they all sound thrilling. I love that I don't have to wait for the next book too!

CCAM said...

Since 2012 until 2018... how the series changed? With so many UF books I think it could be quite challenging to keep your writing / stories fresh but preserving your own authenticity in the same time. How did you do it?

Nafeeza Chung said...

Beautiful illustrations