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LARA ADRIAN is the New York Times and #1 internationally best-selling author of the Midnight Breed vampire romance series, with more than 2 million books in print in the United States and translations licensed to more than 17 countries. Her books regularly appear in the top spots of all the major bestseller lists including the New York Times, USA Today, Publishers Weekly, Indiebound, Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, etc. Her debut title, Kiss of Midnight, was named Borders Books bestselling debut romance of 2007. Later that year, her third title, Midnight Awakening, was named one of Amazon.com's Top Ten Romances of the Year. Reviewers have called Lara's books "addictively readable" (Chicago Tribune), "extraordinary" (Fresh Fiction), and "one of the best vampire series on the market" (Romantic Times).
Writing as TINA ST. JOHN, her historical romances have won numerous awards including the National Readers Choice; Romantic Times Magazine Reviewer's Choice; Booksellers Best; and many others. She was twice named a Finalist in Romance Writers of America's RITA Awards, for Best Historical Romance (White Lion's Lady) and Best Paranormal Romance (Heart of the Hunter). More recently, the 2011 German translation of Heart of the Hunter debuted on Der Spiegel bestseller list.
With an ancestry stretching back to the Mayflower and the court of King Henry VIII, the author lives with her husband in New England, surrounded by centuries-old graveyards, hip urban comforts, and the endless inspiration of the broody Atlantic Ocean.
The Irish Sea, off the coast of England
A huge wave gathered under coal black skies and rolled with deadly menace toward the side of the ship. It hit much as the dozens that had come before, a fist of crushing force that exploded against the wooden hull, rocking the vessel and spewing a sheet of drenching water over the already sodden deck. The cog lurched heavily under the pummel of the storm, the protesting strain of its joints screeching over the steady clap and roar of thunder.
Randwulf of Greycliff sat apart from the rest of the ship’s few passengers on deck, his back pressed against the sheltering wall of the sterncastle, knees drawn up, boot heels braced apart to help steady him for the hurling pitch and swoon of the storm. It had only worsened since their departure from Liverpool’s harbor, and showed no sign of reprieve. Three travelers had joined them in the port town when they docked for supplies that morning, two men and a young woman. At first Rand thought they were together, but the man and his wife had since moved off to share the cover of a moth-eaten blanket with five other passengers, all of them shivering, their gazes anxious and wide, holding similar looks of concern for their safe passage.
The man who also boarded in Liverpool seemed no more inclined to mingle with the others than Rand himself. One arm lashed around the railing, he sat less than a dozen paces from Rand on the same side of the deck. Rain pelted his uncovered head and beard, wetting shaggy dark hair to spiky bristles in the sudden flashes of lightning that illuminated the somber community of the vessel.
“You look as miserable as I feel,” the man called to him, chuckling wryly. With his free hand, he held something out to Rand. A hammered metal flask glinted in the brief arc of light that broke as another bolt ripped jaggedly overhead. “Irish whiskey. Have some, friend. It will warm you.”
Although he had done nothing to warrant mistrust, Rand decided he did not like the man’s look. Ignoring the offer, soaked to the marrow of his aching bones, he pulled the dripping hood of his mantle down a bit lower on his forehead and steeled himself to ride out the churning squall.
The weather had been unseasonably harsh since he had set out on this journey more than a fortnight past. His destination, Scotland, was still several days north—easily more if the conditions of the sea did not clear up. And judging from the furious roil of the thick, sooty clouds overhead, he doubted there would be any mercy forthcoming.
In truth, it seemed the farther north he sailed, the more ferocious the ocean’s turbulence became. As though God Himself knew of the unholy purpose that drove him, and sought to dissuade him with the unrelenting lash of the elements.
Let Him rage, Rand thought with grim savagery as another gale shouldered the side of the vessel and sent it groaning into a listing starboard plunge. The women on board screamed as the prow dipped sharply and took on more water.
Rand did not so much as flinch where he sat. He refused to cow to the vicious tumble of the waves. Biting rain needled his face as the storm spat and hissed all around him. Let the ocean swell and the winds tear him apart. Not even godly fury would be enough to turn him away from his goal.
It was his sole intent now, all of his hatred focused on one man . . . if that’s what the villain he sought truly was. Rand doubted it. Born of flesh and blood, perhaps, but there could be no shred of humanity left in the one called Silas de Mortaine. Not when he commanded a small army of changeling beasts from another world, sentries conjured by some manner of sorcery to aid him in his quest for wealth and power. De Mortaine would stop at nothing, and woe betide any who stood in his way.
Even innocents, for on his order two months past had come the brutal deaths of a woman and child.
Rand’s wife and son.
They had been everything to him—life, love, more blessings than were deserving of him, he was certain of that. But they were gone now. With the slayings of fragile, sweet Elspeth and little Tod, Randwulf of Greycliff no longer had anything to live for.
Save to avenge them.
And he would, justice delivered with the slow and ago-nizing death of the one who took them away from him in a hellish night of fire and screams, and the waking nightmare of their blood spilling before his very eyes.
Rand carried the tool of his vengeance with him on the ship. Its weight knocked against his hip with the roll of the deck, an artifact secured within a leather satchel and concealed beneath the wide fall of his cloak. There was nothing Silas de Mortaine wanted more than the treasure that Rand and his brother-in-arms, Kenrick of Clairmont, had claimed from an abbey church at the crest of Glastonbury Tor three weeks ago.
That treasure—coupled with the final piece Rand was headed for Scotland to find—would be all the lure he would need. De Mortaine was certain to rise to the bait, and when he did, Rand’s retribution would be dispatched by ruthless, savaging steel.
He did not expect he would survive to savor his victory. Nor did he delude himself with the notion that he might join his family in the hereafter when his heart was blackened with hatred, his hands soon to be willingly stained with the cold-blooded murder of his enemy. But it mattered naught. Elspeth’s and Tod’s deaths would not go unmet, even at the price of his very soul.
“For them,” he muttered under his breath, the words misting in the rain before the rising howl of the storm swept them away.
The crash of another wave slammed the side of the cog, spraying briny water into his eyes. With the answering lurch of the deck, the young woman from Liverpool gave a sharp cry of distress. She flung her arm out to reach for a small purse that had come loose from her belongings. The tide washed across the deck, carrying the little pouch swiftly toward the edge. Too late to retrieve it, the errant purse rode the pull of the retreating wave right into the sea.
“My mother’s brooch was in that bag!” the woman wailed to her husband as he gathered her close to comfort and protect her.
“Best keep a tighter hold on your treasures. Wouldn’t you say, friend?”
Above the din of the storm, Rand heard the voice of the man seated down the deck from him. The query—and the oddly phrased advice—was directed at Rand, rather than the couple huddled across the deck. Rand lifted his head to peer at the stranger through the pelting rain. Dark eyes stared back at him from under the fall of a thick forelock, their narrowed, unflinching look too focused to be mistaken for anything less than cunning.
And now that he considered it, Rand noted with a degree of cool foreboding that the man had at some point moved closer to him. No longer a dozen paces, but less than half that distance. Just out of arm’s reach.
“I am not your friend,” Rand growled in warning, “and I’ve a blade at my hip that’s itching to convince you of that fact. I don’t like your look, sirrah. I’d advise you to back off.”
The man gave an abrupt shout of laughter. “You advise me, do you?”
“That’s right.” Beneath his mantle, Rand wrapped his fingers around the hilt of a dagger sheathed on his belt. “I won’t tell you again.”
There was something peculiar about the stranger’s face. Indeed, something peculiar in his very being. The sheeting rain seemed to distort his features, sharpening the man’s bearded jaw, bulking his dark brow. The eyes that stared at Rand with such boldness seemed lifeless and devoid of color now, coldly black. In the scant light, they took on a feral glint.
Battle instinct clamored an alarm in Rand’s gut. He pressed his spine against the sterncastle wall, feet planted firmly apart as he prepared to spring into combat mode in an instant, heedless of the raging weather.
The stranger grabbed the railing of the deck and hauled himself to his feet. The man chuckled now, his mouth filled with sharp, bared teeth. “You arrogant, stupid . . . human.”
He spat the word, as much a curse as the one Rand hissed when he realized what faced him now.
A bolt of light cut across the blackened sky. Thunder cracked and rolled in ominous fury. Rand ignored the tempest, sluicing water out of his eyes as he rose to confront one of Silas de Mortaine’s deadly minions.
“Give me the satchel,” the man snarled, his lips curling against the bright slash of his teeth.
“I’ll see you dead first—and gladly,” Rand told him. He did not wait for the attack to come to him. Preferring to be on the offensive, he made the first move, drawing a dagger from his baldric as he took a step forward.
One of the other passengers across the deck shouted through the driving force of another shuddering, spitting gale. “Sit down, fools! The storm will sweep you over!”
The warning went unheeded, wholly insignificant when one understood the truth of what was at stake here. The storm was brutal, to be sure, but there was a deadlier force at work on the rain-slickened deck of the ship. Rand was not about to let that threat go unmet.
He surged forward, lunging for de Mortaine’s man and locking him in a punishing choke hold. The dagger found vulnerable flesh and sank in, tearing a roar of pain and anger from the man’s throat. Blood flowed at once, tainting the briny darkness with the stench of rising dea...
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