Book Blitz & Excerpt: Serving the Wicked + Giveaway

Serving the Wicked Banner

Serving the Wicked, by Wendi Zwaduk

Book 3 in the The Refuge series

Word Count: 26,027
Book Length: NOVELLA
Pages: 109
Heat Rating: Sizzling
Sexometer: 2

Genres:

 CONTEMPORARY
EROTIC ROMANCE
FANTASY
PARANORMAL
VAMPIRES

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Book Description

A scared human plus a vampire with a secret. Things could be better, but they could be a lot worse.

Raine can’t remember time before the darkness. She’s a human in a paranormal world where humans are a commodity, not people, and she’s been abused by the vampires. When she ends up at the slave auction, she fears her nightmare will never end.

Enter Casey. He’s part vampire, part Fae, dangerous and only has eyes for Raine. He saw her at the BDSM club before she entered the vampire slave world and he swore he’d rescue her. He buys her the instant he sees her on the stage. The innocence in her eyes, combined with the sweetness in her soul calls to him. He wants her to serve him in the bedroom and be his partner everywhere.

She’s been hurt, and he’s a born protector. Can they make the attraction last and turn it into something eternal or will the fear win out?

Reader advisory: This book contains scenes of violence, fighting and death, as well as references to forced sex and feeding from humans.

Excerpt

“Line up,” the man shouted. “I don’t want to have to sell you again.” He tapped his cane on the floor. “Go. I hate trying to resell used merch.”

Raine winced. She wasn’t merch. She was a human being. The vampires didn’t see her as anyone but a thing. All they wanted to do was drain humans and kill Fae. She clutched the open side of her dress to retain a bit of her modesty. Once on the stage, she’d have to strip so the buyers could look her over. She averted her gaze. Humans had no choice but to be sold to the highest bidder.

“Go.” The man whacked her on the ass with the cane.

She crept onto the stage and gritted her teeth. She couldn’t look into the audience. One girl had been hauled off and killed for doing so. The buyers were all seated in the dark, and she’d be in the bright spotlight.

Another man, one with a spray can, walked up to her. He painted the number three on her bare chest.

She winced again. It’d taken her two days to remove the paint the last time she’d been up for sale, and her skin had been raw from the scrubbing. Worst of all? She hadn’t been sold.

The first two girls were described, and Raine fought the instinct to shiver. Her turn was next.

“Look at number three. She’s a little thicker than most humans. It means she’s got juicy thick blood. She’s trained. Won’t speak out,” the announcer said.

She flattened her palms on her thighs. God. She wasn’t a person any longer.

The announcer grabbed the front of her dress, tearing it the rest of the way open. She couldn’t help the shudder.

“Enough, girl.” The announcer slapped her. “No one wants to buy a wimp.”

Someone grunted, and the announcer closed her dress. “How much? She’s been here before, so she’s got miles on her.”

Her stomach churned. Miles… No one shouted out numbers. She clutched the front of her dress. God. Would someone give a price? Anything? The silence deafened her. All she wanted to do was get out of the spotlight.

“I’ll give you five thousand for number three.” A dark-haired man strode up to the stage. His hair glinted in the light. “Cash.”

She shouldn’t have looked up, but he’d given a price. He did have nice hair—as much of it as she could see.

“Number three?” the announcer asked. “Don’t you want to wait for number four or take number two? For so much money?”

Did the announcer have to be such a jerk? Someone wanted her. Why was that so bad or hard to understand?

“Three,” the man said. He offered the money, then held his hand out to her.

Raine froze. Was she supposed to go with him? She’d never been sold like this. Her first vampire had plucked her out of a crowd of scared, lost humans. The second vampire had killed him and stolen her from a club.

“Go.” The announcer nudged her. “If this fool wants you, then you’d better go before he changes his mind.”

The dark-haired man helped her off the stage. He held her by her waist until her feet touched the cold tiles.

She averted her gaze. The rules stated she couldn’t look at him until she’d left the building. Hopefully, he hadn’t seen her steal a glance at him earlier.

The man draped his suit jacket around her shoulders and guided her out of the sales arena. “My car is over here.”

She shivered again, despite the warmth of the jacket. The scent of him lingered in the rich fabric. She knew that aroma—vampire.

What luck! Three vampires. Her first owner had been a dick, the second one abusive…would this one be the charm? Or the worst of the lot?

He opened the car door. “Sit, please?”

Please? Vampires didn’t say such things. They demanded. She hesitated and found her courage to speak. “Sir?”

“So you do talk?” He laughed. “Please, sit. I want to take you home.”

Raine settled on the passenger side of the car. He closed the door for her and rounded the hood. When he sat beside her, he hit the locks, preventing her from escaping.

She trembled. “Trying to keep me in?” She didn’t look up from her hands. “I won’t run.”

“No one said you would,” he replied. “You’re different from what I expected.”

“Not good enough.” She folded her hands on her lap.

“No.” He brushed her hair from her face. She flinched as he tucked the lock behind her ear. “You’re afraid of me,” he said. “Because I’m a vampire?”

She couldn’t lie. If he wanted to, he could peer into her mind and read her thoughts or he could glamour her to draw the truth out. “Yes.”

“I’m a nasty piece of work, but I’m not like anyone else.” He didn’t turn the engine on or raise his voice. He simply shifted around in his seat. “Look at me.”

“I can’t.” She was human and considered fourth class to vampires.

“You can with me.” He curled his fingers under her chin. “Please?”

She couldn’t comply. Vampires demanded respect, and she needed to give it. No question. She didn’t even know his name.

“I paid a lot of money for you.” He caressed her cheek. “Please look at me and tell me your name.”

“You own me. You can call me whatever you want.” She wasn’t being snippy. He held all the power and the more he reminded her of her cost, the more she wanted to be sick.

“I could,” he said. “But I want to know your name.” He toyed with the lock of her hair. “We need to set some rules.”

Ah. Now he’d show his true colors. She braced herself for his answer. “Okay.”

“First, look at me.” He continued to toy with her hair. “I might have purchased you, but I didn’t do it to own you. I wanted to get you out of that horrible auction.”

She finally looked at him. Fine lines had been etched at the corners of his eyes. Flecks of silver colored his day-old whiskers and at his temples. His dark eyes sparkled, and the muscle in his jaw twitched. If he hadn’t been a vampire, she might have considered him sexy. Who was she kidding? He was sexy.

But he was a vampire and vamps insisted on hurting her.

“What are you going to do with me?” she murmured.

“Take you home, get you some proper clothes, a shower, some food and let you rest,” he said. “When was the last time you slept?”

“I don’t.” She had to keep one eye open in case the vampires attacked.

“You can now. I’ll keep you safe.” He brushed his knuckles across her cheek. “I promise.”

“You’re a vampire.” She frowned. “You could kill me.”

“I could.”

“You said you’re a nasty piece of work.” She trembled but didn’t pull away from him. His touch oddly comforted her. He could destroy her or lull her into complacency and devour her, but he hadn’t—yet.

“I am.” His eyes flashed. “I could kill you right now, but I won’t.”

“Why?” she blurted. “I’m sorry. I spoke out of turn.” She’d said too much for a slave. Any other vampire would’ve hit her by now for being so bold.

“First, I saw you at the club. The night Lomax took you from Isaac. I watched you. I never thought Isaac deserved you, but he had the rights, and I didn’t.” He brushed his thumb across her bottom lip. “You came alive when you played with those masters. The bindings made you happy.”

She shivered. He was right. She enjoyed being at the BDSM club. None of the masters fucked her, but they did spank her and play all sorts of delicious games with her. Wax, spankings, bindings and exhibiting her for all to see. But those games were by mutual consent—not the auction where she’d been forced up there against her will.

“I watched you, entranced.” He smiled. “I wanted you.”

“You did?” She wished she’d known that. He might not have been any better than Isaac, but he had to be a damn lot better than Lomax.

“Lomax beat me to you. He saw you as food. I wanted to play.”

She froze. He’d wanted her? And Lomax had screwed the situation up for them? Of course he had.

He tipped his head, meeting her gaze. “I won’t kill you and I won’t lie to you, either. I want to protect you.”

She didn’t know his name or that he’d seen her before, but he sounded more sincere with every word. She wanted to believe him. He’d purchased her and could do what he wanted, but a tiny shred of her trusted him.

“What’s your name?” he asked.

“Raine.”

Raine? He liked the sound of her moniker more than the colorless number three. The name fit her—sad and pretty at the same time. Case rejoiced in the progress he’d made with her.

Raine tugged his suit coat tighter around her. She said nothing, but fear radiated from her.

Casey wanted to know what Lomax had done to her. The girl he’d seen at the club had been more open and free. She’d been happy.

If he’d had a heart, it would’ve ached for her. He remembered the number painted on her chest. Those fucking idiots would paint the girls. He flicked his fingers, removing the paint with his magic. No one should have spray paint on their body.

“Aren’t you going to ask my name?” Casey wanted to tug her into his arms and hold her until she relaxed.

“No.” She didn’t move. “You’re my sir. I should address you as such.”

“Will you call me by my name? I’d prefer it,” he said. “You’re not my slave.”

Her eyes widened.

“I didn’t pay for you to put you to work.” He engaged the engine. A ripple of knowing shot through him. No one would hurt her with him around, but that didn’t mean he wanted to draw attention to them by hanging out in the parking lot.

The vampires had destroyed so much land and with the world plunged into darkness, few felt safe. He possessed means and a safe vehicle, but he didn’t want to lag about.

Raine didn’t relax, but when another car passed his, she clutched his hand.

“You’ll be okay.” He wanted to explain why, but what if she were repulsed by him being part Fae? He’d been ostracized by most of the vampires because of his lineage. The only reason he’d gained entry to the auction was his money. They’d take his cash and ignore his undesirable family line.

She ducked down in the seat. “Will he come looking for me?”

“No.” If Casey had to destroy Lomax and eviscerate him, he would. He’d enhanced the magic around his property to keep anyone from seeing he still had some magic within him. He tapped a button on the gate leading to his home and when the gate parted, he drove inside. The wards around his home provided some protection, but he insisted on the iron gate and a surveillance system as well as his shifter friend, Atell, as a guard dog.

The gate closed, and he drove into the garage. Once the door had shut, Casey parked and turned off the engine. “Let me take you inside. You can eat and bathe.”

She stayed in her seat. “What am I to you?”

“Let’s talk inside. I can hear your stomach growling.” He left the vehicle and rounded the trunk to her side. She took his hand and allowed him to lead her into the house.

“Whoa.” She gasped. “This is your house?”

He needed darkness to sleep, but preferred light. He also loved nice things. He’d decorated his home to reflect his tastes. “This is mine.”

“I’m going to be your cleaning lady, right?” She shied away from him. “Yes?”

“No. I want a companion.” He deposited his keys and phone on the counter. “Cleaning isn’t a problem.” He opened the refrigerator, then gestured to the bar. “Sit. What would you like to eat? Anything. Just name it.”

She stared at him. “Anything?”

“Just tell me.” He withdrew a bottle of wine from the rack. “Drink?”

“Will you make me a peanut butter and jelly sandwich?”

Did she have simple tastes or was she testing him? He poured a glass of wine for her, and a glass of water to go along with it. “Here.” He opened the fridge and created the sandwich with his magic. “And here.”

Raine’s lips parted. She reached for the water glass, then hesitated. “Thank you.”

“Welcome.” He smiled and sat beside her. “Call me Casey.”

She downed the water in one long swallow before gobbling the sandwich.

He gritted his teeth. Damn. She was a curvy girl, but she hadn’t been fed. What kind of asshole would do that to another being? “When was the last time you ate?”

“Are you going to monitor how much I eat?” she asked.

“No.” He’d bet had, though.

“Two days ago.”

“You’re serious?”

“They don’t feed us every day unless we allow them to feed from us.” She tucked into herself. “Sorry.”

“For what?” She hadn’t done anything to be sorry for.

“Rushing.”

“Don’t be.” He flattened his palms on the counter. He no longer felt the chill of the granite. He’d rather hold her than touch cold stone. Her warmth could save some piece of his destroyed soul.

She stared at him. “You’re being nice to me because you feel guilty.”

“I am.” He did feel guilt at not having protecting her when he’d had the chance. But he liked her and wanted to shower her with affection. “But there’s a little more to it.”

“You don’t have to be nice,” she said. “I appreciate it. I haven’t had any dignity in four years—since…” She picked at the sleeve of his jacket. “Anyway, I know my place.”

“Why don’t you have a shower? You deserve to be warm, clean and dry.” He brushed her hair back. “Yes? Then we’ll talk.”

She narrowed her eyes, then sighed. “And I call you Casey?”

“Please?”

“You’re an odd vampire. Most every other one I’ve known wants me for dinner. Either you don’t because you’re weird or you’re lulling me into liking you so I’ll give in. If you are, you don’t have to make me like you. I’ll give in. I know the rules because you bought me. Remember?”

“Why don’t you shower and maybe get some sleep? I won’t kill or drain you.” He wanted her to trust him, but he didn’t want compliancy. Not yet and not outside of the bedroom. He liked her fire and the spunk he’d seen at the club.

“I don’t have much of a choice,” she said. “May I have this?”

“The wine? Of course.” He poured himself a glass of merlot. “Let’s drink to your freedom and new home.”

She stared at him, and he couldn’t read her expression. Wary? Confused? He wasn’t sure.

Casey sipped his wine. “Feel free to use whatever’s in the bathroom. I have no secrets from you.” Not many.

Her eyes widened again, and her lips parted. “You scare me.” She drank the wine in one gulp, then coughed.

Good merlot should be sipped—not gulped. But he hadn’t gone two days without food. “Why do I scare you?”

She shrugged out of his coat. “Because I can’t tell what you’re thinking or what you want from me.”

“Oh?” His previous girl had said he’d telegraphed every move.

“I don’t know what you want and I can’t figure out if you’re telling me the truth.” She left the stool. “I’d like that shower, though, please?”

He kept getting her right to the edge of opening up when she shut down again. Soon, he’d know her secrets, and she’d know his. He led her to the set of rooms along the back of the house. “In here. I’ve got towels, soap and anything you need in the drawers.”

“Even a flat iron?”

She’d volleyed a challenge. Nice. He liked her spirit. “If you want.” He turned the water on in the open stall. “I’ll leave you to your shower.”

“You can watch. I haven’t showered in ages.” She removed her filthy dress. “I used to have guards so I wouldn’t run away. I don’t know what it’s like to have privacy.”

Lomax used guards? Interesting. Casey spied the lines on her back. Lashings? “Were you whipped?”

She shuddered and didn’t turn around “I was told I deserved it.”

He touched the silvery scars. He remembered when he’d seen her at the club, she’d gotten off on being flogged, but not to the point of bloodletting. What she’d been through was abuse. She flinched when he touched her again.

“I’m sorry.” He pressed a kiss to her shoulder. “I’ll never do anything like this to you ever.”

She tensed, but didn’t pull away. “Uh-huh.”

Soon, she’d give him her trust, and he’d prove not all vampires were evil. He wasn’t a nice man—more a son of a bitch—but not with her. She could be his salvation, and he refused to screw that up.

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About the Author

Wendi Zwaduk

Wendi Zwaduk is a multi-published, award-winning author of more than one-hundred short stories and novels. She’s been writing since 2008 and published since 2009. Her stories range from the contemporary and paranormal to BDSM and LGBTQ themes. No matter what the length, her works are always hot, but with a lot of heart. She enjoys giving her characters a second chance at love, no matter what the form. She’s been the runner up in the Kink Category at Love Romances Café as well as nominated at the LRC for best contemporary, best ménage and best anthology. Her books have made it to the bestseller lists on Amazon.com and the former AllRomance Ebooks. She also writes under the name of Megan Slayer.

When she’s not writing, she spends time with her husband and son as well as three dogs and three cats. She enjoys art, music and racing, but football is her sport of choice.

You can find out more about Wendi on her website or on her blog. You can also find her on Instagram, Bookbub and Amazon.

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Book Blitz & Excerpt: Dark Summer + Giveaway

Dark Summer Banner

Dark Summer by S.J. Coles

Word Count: 50,247
Book Length: NOVEL
Pages: 204

Genres:

ACTION AND ADVENTURE
EROTIC ROMANCE
GAY
GLBTQI
PARANORMAL
THRILLERS AND SUSPENSE
VAMPIRES

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Book Description

Is a human lifetime long enough to learn to love a vampire?

The tumultuous events of the Blood Winter are a fading nightmare, and Alec and Terje are trying to build a life together at Alec’s newly restored ancestral home of Glenroe. There’s just one problem… Terje doesn’t appear to be committed—constantly called away on mysterious errands and seemingly unable to forsake his own kind. Alec begins to wonder if Terje is capable of loving anyone, let alone him.

When an old uni friend Jay Singh, recently out of the closet and looking rather too good to be true, returns to Alec’s life, he becomes more conflicted than ever. Things only escalate when Alec is forced into the social and political issues still surrounding the haemophiles’ tumultuous integration into human society and soon it is more than just his relationship on the line.

Can Alec figure out what kind of future is possible with a vampire—and if it can ever be enough for either of them—before it’s too late?

Reader advisory: This book contains scenes of violence, murder, alcohol abuse and blood drinking.

Publisher’s Note: This story is best read as a sequel to Blood Winter.

Excerpt

The sun was warm on my face. The brisk wind brought with it the smells of sun-drenched heather and dry grass. The sky was a shade of blue so bright that it almost hurt to look at it. Summer was spreading through the mountains like molten gold, enhancing the colors and the smells, sinking into my flesh and heating my blood. The wind picked up as I reached the ridge and the sweat cooled on my face.

I stood for a moment, breathing deep, and had to admit that I missed sunshine. I’d kept haemophile hours for so long that I hadn’t even realized summer had come to the Cairngorms. But despite being out in the sun’s heat for the first time in months, the vague chill under my skin didn’t dissipate.

I rubbed a hand over my face and made myself take in the view. The undulating mountains, green glens and glistening jewels of the lochs always made me feel like I was standing alone on the face of heaven. Glenroe perched on its rocky outcrop below, the gray stone dark, even in the midday sun, like it couldn’t quite let go of its shadows. Scaffolding was bright against the dark stone, and even at this height, I could hear the shouts, clangs and rumbles of the dozens of contractors in the final stages of restoration work. It had taken almost two years and more money than I had ever dreamed, but the sixteenth-century hall was now, finally, almost up to twenty-first-century living standards. The new roof still looked odd to me, accustomed as I was to the gaping holes and worn tarpaulin patch jobs I’d grown up with. But the novelty of not having to share the house with the unpredictable Scottish elements had not yet worn off.

But Terje was gone…again. It had been almost a month this time, the longest he’d ever been away. And my doubts had now permeated me almost to the bone.

I’d made myself accept, right at the start, that there were things I would never be able to understand about my haemophile lover. I was now well-practiced at steering my thoughts away from the industrial refrigeration unit behind a locked door in the cellar, stocked with a mysteriously replenished supply of bottled human blood. And Terje had always gone to great pains to explain that he wouldn’t always be around—that, sometimes, he would need to be alone. I told myself that I had accepted that too, and as much as the huge master bed and the high-ceilinged rooms of Glenroe were achingly empty when he was gone, his return was always so full of wonder and pleasure that I soon forgot the strain of his absence.

I’d never met anyone who could absorb my turns of mood like Terje. If I was riled, he let me rant until I ran out of steam, gently questioning to better understand me then offering an insight that either validated or completely deflated my anger. Other times, if there was nothing to be said, he would take my hand and kiss me gently, letting me know without words that it would all be okay, even if he couldn’t tell me how.

As the weeks had turned into months, I’d found my habitual fire easing to a warm, steady glow that was oddly pleasant but so unfamiliar that I didn’t entirely trust it.

We would walk in the mountains by moonlight and Terje would talk about the places he’d been, the things he’d seen. He talked about the mountains of Norway—the peaks, the caves, the rivers and the ice-bound lakes. He said the Cairngorms were a gentler land, raw and wild but rolling and tranquil, the landscape welcoming, the weather more forgiving.

He said I was like the mountains I’d been born in, that I held the same mysteries and beauty, the same potential for both adventure and danger. For the first time in my life, I had started to entertain the idea that maybe I had the capacity to be happy.

Though I also knew there were parts of him I could never reach and, sometimes, he vanished without warning for days on end. But I had endured this, told myself I’d accepted it. But he’d never been away for more than a fortnight before.

We had our final meeting with the architects restoring Glenroe in Edinburgh the next day. I’d booked a room at a haemophile-friendly hotel. We were supposed to be making a holiday of it—a chance to spend time together in a city we both adored, to make love in a new bed and enjoy a change of scene. Now it looked like I would be going alone.

I shook away the gloomy thoughts, knowing from bitter experience that brooding wouldn’t bring him back any quicker, and started back down the mountain, mentally scanning the contents of the new wine cellar. There were several new acquisitions I’d been looking forward to trying, hoping they might taste enough like Terje’s Blood to suppress the craving.

The thought sent a finger of ice up my spine.

My uneasiness changed as I approached the house. The machine noise had died. The men who had been tasked with dismantling the scaffolding were clustered together, exchanging words in low voices. Other men were darting between the demountable field office and the open front door of the hall. As I approached, McGregor, the site manager, came out of the office in rock-climbing gear.

“What’s going on?”

“Got a man missing,” the red-bearded man grumbled in his thick Glaswegian accent. “He went to check on the foundation work and didn’t come back.”

I blanched. “He went into the caves alone?”

“Sounds like it, the silly sod,” McGregor grumbled, shooting a look at a pale-faced man in a helmet and sweat-soaked T-shirt.

“Doug thought he’d better eyeball the foundations before we take the west wing scaffolding down,” the man said. “It was supposed to be a quick check…two minutes tops.”

“No one’s supposed to go down there alone,” McGregor said. “Ye all know the score… MacCarthy, what’re you playing at?” I was already hurrying inside. “MacCarthy”—McGregor dogged my footsteps—”ye better not be—”

“I know those caves,” I insisted, grabbing climbing gloves and a head torch from the racks next to the cellar door.

“You’re a civilian,” McGregor argued. “Let the rescue team—”

“They’re my caves,” I said. “And you aren’t supposed to be down there, anyway. I’m going. I’ll be quicker.”

McGregor started to protest further, but I was already opening the door, noting with a flare of anger that the keypad had been set to ‘unlocked’, then racing down the stairs. The door at the bottom was wedged open with a toolbox, and the lights in Terje’s apartment were all on. The sleeping cell and industrial fridges were both still locked, but I couldn’t stop a surge of anxiety.

By the time I reached the bottom of the second, longer flight of stairs, it was pitch black. The air smelled like stillness and rock. I flicked on the head torch and the echoing emptiness of the Gateway sprang into existence. This high, dry cavern had been cleared of debris hundreds of years before and had been used for everything from sheltering Catholic priests to smuggling illicit whiskey. The rock arched overhead in a series of sharp, black shoulders and the walls were scratched with generations of sacred marks and not-so-sacred graffiti. I hurried past all this to the narrow, black fissure in the wall.

The fissure had been artificially widened at some point in the distant past for some unguessable reason and was the last mark man had made on the Glenroe caverns. It was just wide enough for me to pass through stooped, then I was standing on the lip of a sheer cliff that disappeared into blackness below.

I held my breath and listened. All was silent.

“MacCarthy, you mad bastard,” McGregor grumbled, squeezing through after me, his voice echoing in the cavernous chamber, “get yerself back here or so help me—”

“What’s the man’s name?”

“Doug. Doug Bliss. But we should wait—”

Bliss?” I called, pitching my voice to carry. The sound bounced off the walls and ceiling then faded away. I called again, then once more. After the third echo faded to nothing, I heard a very faint, plaintive call, so weak that the echo barely reached us.

“That’s him,” McGregor said. “Jesus, Mary and Joseph… Where’s the daft prick got to?”

“He’s somewhere in the east cave system,” I said, scrambling over the edge. “I’ll go find him. When the rescue team get here, have them set up ropes and ladders here.”

“I still think—”

“It would take them hours to get to him,” I cut in as I started to climb, finding the foot and handholds with practiced ease. “I want everyone out of here quickly. Just do as I say.”

McGregor’s muttered reply was lost in the echo of my boots scraping rock. My arms started to burn, a feeling I hadn’t had since my last real climb, years ago. I allowed myself a moment enjoying the pleasant memories it stirred. But then I remembered David Carlisle had been with me and hurriedly shook the thoughts away.

Soon my boots connected with a boulder slide. I scrambled to more level ground then began the arduous clamber across the slanting chamber. Dripping water echoed somewhere to the right. I heaved myself over a rockfall and took a moment to catch my breath. I wasn’t as fit as I used to be, and a stitch was starting in my side.

Bliss’ pained cries were louder now. I stamped down another flare of anger. The man had just risked his own life climbing down this far, and I couldn’t think of a single legitimate reason for him doing so. The events of Blood Winter were now almost two years past, but the memory of Jon Ogdell’s, and other corporations’ before his, desperation to get ownership of this cave system still made my distrust flare. I climbed on, knowing that the sooner this was over, the sooner I could get the strangers out of Terje’s apartment.

Graeme Byrnes Architects were a haemo-friendly company, recommended personally by Ivor Novák, the haemophiles’ head lobbyist and parliamentary representative. They’d installed the apartment, complete with a lightproof sleeping cell and fridges, no questions asked. But the need for Terje’s survival of Blood Winter to remain secret was imperative, and despite Novák’s assurances, I didn’t want anyone poking around anymore than they had to.

I could hear Bliss clearly now. I stretched, preparing to tackle the last scramble, but froze with my hands on the rock. I strained my ears, resisting the urge to shush the whimpering man, trying to decide if I had heard the scrape of something solid moving across the rock overhead. But that was impossible… Those chambers were only accessible with ropes. I’d done it once before, against my father’s express orders, mainly because he’d told me not to. It had been exhilarating, and the cave beyond, known as the Ballroom, was a thing of such ragged, wild and dangerous beauty that I had been dumbstruck and dreamed about revisiting it many times. But my father had confiscated my rock-climbing gear directly after I’d returned, and by the time he was dead, I’d lost interest in the sport—along with a lot of other things.

No one had laid eyes on the Ballroom since.

I stood, listening, holding my breath, but there was only me, Bliss’ labored breathing and the vast, cold silence.

I clambered on. Finally, I spotted the contractor, propped at an awkward angle against a boulder. He squinted up into my light and his expression flattened with relief. He tried to raise an arm but grimaced and clutched his ribs.

“Bliss?” I said, dropping down next to him.

The man nodded, his face screwed up with pain. “Thank Christ,” he panted.

“You hurt?”

He nodded, wincing. “Think…think I busted a rib. That’s…that’s why I couldn’t shout.”

“What the hell were you doing down here?”

The man’s face shifted under its coating of dirt. “Checking…foundations…”

“The foundations are under the house,” I muttered, kneeling and checking his legs for broken bones.

“Thought…thought I heard…something.”

A prickle went up my spine. “What?”

The man shook his head. “Someone moving around. Thought someone was stuck…wanted to check…” He made a pained noise and I let out an impatient one.

“Okay, okay. Stop trying to speak. Can you stand?”

The man took a couple of moments to catch his breath then tried to get his feet under him. I took hold of the arm opposite the injured ribs and, slowly, he stood. He paled under his coating of dirt.

“Broken rib all right,” I said. “Maybe two. Not bloody surprised. This climb’s tricky if you don’t know where to put your feet.”

Bliss nodded. “Yeah, I was fucking dumb. But…but I swear there was someone…”

“Stop talking,” I said, not acknowledging the crawling sensation across my skin. “We need to get you as close to the entrance as we can for the rescue team. You ready?”

Bliss set his jaw and nodded. I steadied my footing then pulled the man’s arm over my shoulders, dug my foot into the first foothold and eased us up.

It was a slow, painful and sweaty scramble, taking over twice as long as the journey in. Bliss was a capable climber and used his feet and legs well, but with one arm over my shoulders and the other clutching his hurt side, it was awkward and labored, and we had to stop frequently for him to catch his breath. By the time we were within sight of the cliff, I was sweating and aching—and not in a way that generated pleasant memories.

Four Mountain Rescue volunteers were ready with ropes and a stretcher. They hurried forward to take charge of Bliss. I spent the time it took to strap him to a stretcher scanning the caves and listening, but nothing moved or made a sound.

I followed the rescue team back into the house, locking all the doors as I went and making a mental note to change the codes. Bliss was loaded into an ambulance as his colleagues watched in grim silence.

I breathed a sigh of relief and was just about to make my way to the workshop when McGregor, having seen Bliss safely on his way, stopped me. His forehead was tightly furrowed. When he spoke, his voice was low.

“Bliss says he heard someone down there.”

“He’s mistaken.”

McGregor frowned harder. “He seems pretty sure.”

“There’s no access apart from through the house.”

“For a human, maybe.”

I kept my face blank. McGregor lowered his voice further. “We’ve installed apartments like yours for lots of clients. It’s our job. But it’s my contractual obligation to remind ye of the law against harboring unregistered haemophiles.”

I took a moment to ensure my voice was steady before speaking. “We provided you with all the registration documentation before the work started.”

“Aye, that I know—or we wouldn’t be here. So why is your friend roaming the caves during the day instead of secured in the cell?”

“The resident of the cellar is currently away. But his whereabouts are, frankly, none of your business.”

McGregor’s lined face shifted. “We’ll leave it there then, sir. You understand it’s my job to check.”

“I understand. Now, if you don’t mind, I have my own work to do.”

I felt McGregor’s eyes on me all the way down the hill.

Clem straightened with a wince from the engine of a ruby-red 1972 VW Beetle at the sound of the workshop door.

“Didn’t think I’d see you today,” Clem said as I pulled on overalls and a mask.

“Thought I’d get ahead on the Triumph,” I said, grabbing the sander and making for the silver Triumph Herald, the only other car in the workshop.

“Phone’s been buzzing.”

I paused. Clem was wiping his hands on a rag and glaring at the Beetle engine like it had just insulted his mother. I retrieved my phone from where it was sitting on the workshop windowsill.

“This fancy company not sorting a new phone mast?” Clem grumbled as I brushed the thin layer of dust off the phone screen.

“I thought you liked being out of phone range?” I said, noting three emails, two text messages and a missed call notification.

“Aye. But it’s distracting, having that thing buzzing away in here all the time.”

“I’ve had all of four calls all year.”

“Yeah…and most of them today.”

My throat tightened. The emails, missed call and one of the text messages were all from Ivor Novák.

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About the Author

S. J. Coles

S. J. Coles is a Romance writer originally from Shropshire, UK. She has been writing stories for as long as she has been able to read them. Her biggest passion is exploring narratives through character relationships.

She finds writing LGBT/paranormal romance provides many unique and fulfilling opportunities to explore many (often neglected or under-represented) aspects of human experience, expectation, emotion and sexuality.

Among her biggest influences are LGBT Romance authors K J Charles and Josh Lanyon and Vampire Chronicles author Anne Rice.

Find S. J. Coles at her website and follow her on Instagram.

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Book Blitz & Excerpt: Revealed + Giveaway

revealed zoe allison

Revealed, by Zoe Allison

Word Count: 84,315
Book Length: SUPER NOVEL
Pages: 324

Genres:

ACTION AND ADVENTURE
CONTEMPORARY
EROTIC ROMANCE
MYSTERY
PARANORMAL
VAMPIRES

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Book Description

Valentino has a secret—but he’s not the only one.

Valentino Bianco is the leader of a covert league named The Organization. Made up of benevolent vampires, its objective is to thwart and destroy the malevolent of their kind and protect humanity. Operating under the anonymous guise of Mr. X, Valentino’s identity as leader is shrouded in secrecy, as is the very existence of vampires.

Victoria Black has her own secrets, one of which is that she’s in love with Valentino. However, that isn’t the only matter she must keep from him at all costs.

Valentino and Victoria, along with their allies, must investigate a devastating malevolent campaign that is destroying humankind on a massive scale. But can they unravel the mystery of who is behind it in time to prevent the fall of both humanity and The Organization? And in the end, will all the secrets be revealed?

Reader advisory: This book contains scenes of murder and bloodletting, acts of terrorism, coercive control and emotional abuse.

Publisher’s note: This book is a sequel to Impervious and is best read in order.

Excerpt

Valentino studied the data that Priyanka was displaying on the virtual screen.

“We now have the last of Glassmarsh’s allies in custody,” she said, as a list of names

accompanied by pictures flashed up. “But none of them has yielded any information regarding the background of his sibling.”

“Therefore,” Vale said, “we are no further forward than when we captured him over ten years ago. The only advance is that we now know he is Glassmarsh’s brother.”

“Correct,” Priyanka said.

Victoria examined the details. “We don’t know where they came from?”

“No,” Priyanka confirmed.

“How can we find out,” Victoria asked, “if none of these guys knew anything?”

The three sat in silence for a moment. Vale stole a glance at Vic as she frowned and bit her lower lip. Her blue-green gaze seemed troubled. Priyanka tapped the keyboard and the screen changed to display intelligence from other agencies around the world. “We need to cast the net back out again,” she said.

The door opened and Lorenzo entered, followed by Gareth.

Lorenzo took his place next to Priyanka, leaning across the table to shake Vic’s hand. “Hi, we’ve not met in person yet. I’m Lorenzo, Priyanka’s deputy.”

Vic smiled. “Great to meet you. Victoria Black.”

Lorenzo smiled back. “I know. We’ve been very impressed with your work on this case so far.”

Vic flushed. Gareth approached her from the other side and kissed her cheek as he sat next to her. Vale blinked and looked away.

Priyanka frowned, glancing at Gareth and Vic as she moved some images around on the screen. “We’re checking to see if there’s anything here that could help us.”

Vale scanned the information, but it all pertained to human issues…mainly the latest spate of terrorist attacks that were sweeping Europe. He read through the details of the most recent bombing, in Berlin. Why do humans do it to each other? Their life spans were short enough without these atrocities.

There were no particulars that might aid them in their own cause, however.

“What’s that?” Vic asked.

“What’s what?” Vale said. “I cannot see anything here that would help us.”

“No,” she said. “It’s not something I see. It’s something I hear…outside.”

Vale tuned into his sensitive vampire hearing, detecting a subtle noise. He pressed a button on the desk and the tint of the glass wall morphed from opaque to transparent. He moved over to the window. The noise was a low-pitched rumbling, too low for the human ear to pick up. It was coming from the tallest building in London.

“What’s happening at The Shard?” Lorenzo said. He typed a few things into the keyboard but nothing of value appeared on the screen.

Vale peered more closely, trying to zoom in on any slight giveaway as to the source of the noise.

Just then, a boom emitted from The Shard, loud enough this time for the human ear to detect. Shattering glass sprayed out from the top floors. Everyone froze for a split second. Vale looked at Vic and the two of them broke into a sprint toward the stairs, Priyanka, Lorenzo and Gareth hot on their heels. Within seconds, they’d made it to the lobby of HQ.

“Get to the main entrance of The Shard,” Vale told them. “We can sneak in while everyone is running scared, then divide up to search for survivors and pull them out.”

They ran onto the sidewalk and toward the damaged building. The panic on the street was palpable as people ran past them in the opposite direction. No wonder they call it terrorism.

It didn’t take long to get there. They couldn’t go flat out and alert the public to their superhuman speed, but they could go faster than usual because the petrified humans were too focused on escaping danger to realize the velocity of their group.

They entered the building. Something didn’t sit right with Vale. “Why is no one exiting?” he asked the others. “This lobby is deserted and there was no one coming out of the main doors.”

“There were a lot of people on the street running away,” Vic said. “Maybe whoever could get away is out already?”

He shook his head. “They didn’t look as if they had come out of the building—more like passers-by on the street who were fleeing.”

“Let’s stick with Vale’s plan,” Lorenzo said, determination in his dark eyes. “Divide and conquer.”

The others made noises of agreement.

Vale adjusted his earpiece. They all carried them to stay in contact during such situations. “Take a section each and start searching.”

Priyanka gestured to the rear of the lobby. “Use the stairs, because the elevators will be out of commission.”

Gareth smiled. “We’re faster than the elevators anyway.”

Priyanka glanced at him and he gave her a wink.

“Fall out,” Vale said. “I will take the top.”

They entered the stairs and Vale streaked ahead, arriving on the highest habitable floor within seconds. A smoky atmosphere greeted him, but it impaired neither his enhanced vision nor his breathing. He listened for the sound of injured humans but could only hear silence, and it increased his unease.

He walked into one of the bars and scanned the room. Bodies were apparent, lying on the floor and the chairs, yet none of them made a sound or any movements. The blast cannot have immediately killed everybody in here. Someone must still be alive.

Vale checked the lifeless form of the nearest person. Nothing…and not the next. He rubbed his forehead as he scanned the area and something occurred to him. None of these people had a mark on them. For all intents and purposes, they appeared to be sleeping. A gut feeling told him to check their necks. As he moved the nearest person’s head to the side, two small puncture wounds on the neckline became apparent—very neat, with no laceration of the flesh.

His insides turned to ice. “Guys,” he said, speaking to the others via their earpieces.

“I know,” came Vic’s reply. “I see it too.”

“So do I,” Priyanka said. “This is the work of the malevolent.”

“Everyone,” Lorenzo said. “They’re all drained. But how?”

Vale exited the bar. “So what was the meaning of the explosion?”

“A cover-up,” Gareth said.

“But it isn’t covered up,” Priyanka replied. “The authorities will find these bodies once the search and rescue get here, which could be any minute.”

The true meaning behind it hit Vale, just as another rumbling started deep below them. “Get out!” he said. “The building is coming down!”

He dashed to the stairs and joined the group zipping down and out onto the street, where they accelerated into a sprint. Another huge explosion ripped through the building as they traveled flat-out along the road, a huge cloud of dust and debris overtaking them.

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About the Author

Zoe Allison

Growing up, Zoe Allison loved stories about falling in love. But rather than being rescued by a knight in shining armour, she imagined herself fighting dragons alongside him, battling supervillains as heroic allies, or teaming up to dive into perilous waters in order to save a loved one from drowning. Once Zoe did grow up, she became a doctor. But as time went on, she craved a creative outlet to counter the soul sapping burnout that her career inflicted upon her, and also to achieve those happy endings that were so often lacking in the real world. She wanted heroes who truly love and value women, who find their true love inspiring, are fascinated by her, want to connect with her as a soulmate and fully open themselves to her on an emotional level. And so, Zoe began to write her romances.

A Zoe Allison novel promises a heroine who is not only her hero’s equal in ability and intellect, but whose hero equals her in emotional intelligence. Her characters overcome conflict infused with spine tingling sexual tension to forge a deep connection as soul mates as well as lovers, and ultimately, they both rescue each other emotionally. Even if they might begin their journey as enemies…

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