Some end of the year housecleaning

tenderbitescoverHey kittens, guess what?  We survived the end of the world!  And with any luck, we’ll survive the end of 2012 altogether.  Just a few things before we do . . . .

First of all, thanks again SO MUCH to everybody who entered our Ho-Ho-Holiday Giveaway.  (Check out the text box to the right if you still don’t know who won.)  We had such a blast putting it together and such a good response, we’re already planning the sequel.  (Watch this space!)

Secondly, if you want to read my free-here-on-the-blog Christmas story, “Kissing Noel,” but you haven’t gotten around to it yet, hie thee hence, my darlings.  Come January 2, 2013, it’s gone . . . for-EV-AAAAAHHHHH.  Well, okay, gone until I put together another anthology at some point, but right now it’s free.  (Kindle & Nook & iPad lovers, if you really really really need a pdf, drop me a line at lucybluecastle@gmail.com before New Year’s Day, and I’ll see if I can hook you up.)

And finally, my vampire romance anthology, Tender Bites, is still very much available from Amazon for the shockingly low price of $2.49 – if you know somebody who got a Kindle for Christmas, my vamps will be more than happy to help them warm it up.

And unless there’s something somebody else wants to talk about, I think that’s it.  Thanks so much for reading this year; you guys know you all rock out.  I can’t wait to see what’s coming up for all of us in 2013!

If one is good . . . .

HolidayGiveaway . . . then five must be better, right?  Specifically five naughty romance writers banded together to make your season bright.  Me, Alexandra Christian, Crymsyn Hart, Selah Janel, and Siobhan Kinkade have gotten the Christmas spirit and put together a happy little holiday gift box to give away to one of our darling readers.  From December 2 to December 21, enter to win a USB Flash Drive full of sexy read-y goodness:

Under the Mistletoe by Siobhan Kinkade

Marked by Siobhan Kinkade

Jingle Balls by Crymsyn Hart

Hairy and Hung by Crymsyn Hart 

Masquerade by Alexandra Christian

Second Skin by Alexandra Christian

In the Red by Selah Janel

And of course my own Tender Bites.  Light or dark, beastie hot or vampire cool, there’s something here for every holiday craving.  Plus, knowing us, I suspect there’ll be a couple of surprises tucked in the corners, just to be festive.  Second prize will be a $10 digital Amazon gift certificate, and third prize will be a $5 digital Amazon gift certificate.

Check out the full details and enter to win here at the widget on Crymsyn Hart’s blog.  And feel free to ask me anything in the comments below.  xoxoxo Lucy 

Tender Bites Contest Running All Month Long

Don’t forget, kittens, I’m doing a contest!  The rules are simple – review Tender Bites somewhere on the interwebs, email me the link at lucybluecastle@gmail.com, and you’re entered to win.  At the end of the contest I will literally put everybody’s email address into a literal hat and draw out a winner.  And the winner will get autographed paperback copies of all three books in the Bound in Darkness medieval vampire romance series, written, obviously, by me.  (To get a peek at what those are exactly, click this link:  https://lucybluecastle.wordpress.com/bound-in-darkness/)

The Details:

1 – Reviews do NOT need to be positive to be considered contest entries.  One review = one entry, regardless. 

2 – If you do more than one review or post your one review more than one place, send me each link separately – every link counts as its own review and its own entry in the contest. 

3 – You don’t have to buy your own copy of the e-book to review it – how would I even know?- but I do insist that you actually read it.  If it’s obvious from your review that you haven’t read it yet, that you’re reviewing the promo materials or me as a writer in general or life its own self, I won’t enter it, and you can’t make me.  I can’t imagine anybody doing that, but gurus tell me that stuff I can’t imagine happens online every day of the week, so I figured I’d just mention it.

4- The contest is open as of right now, and closes at midnight on December 1, 2012.  I’ll do the drawing later that day and post the results here.  Obviously make sure I have a good email address for you with your entry so I can email you if you win. 

And that’s it.  Or at least I think that’s it – if you have any questions or I’ve left anything out, tell me so in the comments so I can address it.  Thanks, kittens!  Tell me what you think!

Tender Bites Contest – I’m suppressing the urge to use yet another exclamation point . . .

Don’t forget, kittens, I’m doing a contest!  The rules are simple – review Tender Bites somewhere on the interwebs, email me the link at lucybluecastle@gmail.com, and you’re entered to win.  At the end of the contest I will literally put everybody’s email address into a literal hat and draw out a winner.  And the winner will get autographed paperback copies of all three books in the Bound in Darkness medieval vampire romance series, written, obviously, by me.  (To get a peek at what those are exactly, click this link:  https://lucybluecastle.wordpress.com/bound-in-darkness/)

The Details:

1 – Reviews do NOT need to be positive to be considered contest entries.  One review = one entry, regardless. 

2 – If you do more than one review or post your one review more than one place, send me each link separately – every link counts as its own review and its own entry in the contest. 

3 – You don’t have to buy your own copy of the e-book to review it – how would I even know?- but I do insist that you actually read it.  If it’s obvious from your review that you haven’t read it yet, that you’re reviewing the promo materials or me as a writer in general or life its own self, I won’t enter it, and you can’t make me.  I can’t imagine anybody doing that, but gurus tell me that stuff I can’t imagine happens online every day of the week, so I figured I’d just mention it.

4- The contest is open as of right now, and closes at midnight on December 1, 2012.  I’ll do the drawing later that day and post the results here.  Obviously make sure I have a good email address for you with your entry so I can email you if you win. 

And that’s it.  Or at least I think that’s it – if you have any questions or I’ve left anything out, tell me so in the comments so I can address it.  Thanks, kittens!  Tell me what you think!

Budapest

 Okay, kittens, here it is – the last preview tidbit from Tender Bites before it goes live on Amazon tomorrow. 

“Budapest” is the most contemporary story in the collection; I envision it happening pretty much right now.  In every vampire story I’ve done before, the vampires have either been isolated predators or, as in the case of the Bound in Darkness series, all connected to one another through a single quest or event.  In “Budapest,” I’ve played with the idea of a vampire society that isn’t exactly open but isn’t isolated, either, a system of connection between vamps and how that would affect their relationships with one another and the mortal world.  It’s one thing to say “I’ll love you forever” to someone whose body at least is going to eventually die; it’s something else when you and your beloved one are literally, physically immortal.  It’s not a new idea, obviously – I may be the only vampire writer on the planet who hasn’t gone here yet.  But this is my take. 

Budapest

Last Tuesday

Cat climbed out of her lead-lined coffin, stumbled, and nearly fell flat on her face.  It was barely sunset; she was still mostly asleep.  The pounding on the door started again, louder this time.  “Who is it?” she demanded, her eyes darting around the barely-familiar hotel room.  Where the hell had she put her sword?  She grabbed the gun with blessed bullets from the nightstand instead—less reliable, particularly against atheist vampires, but hopefully in Budapest, that wouldn’t be an issue. 

“Richard,” the door replied.  “Catriona, let me in.”

“Oh for pity’s sake . . .”  She fumbled the deadbolt open and reached for the handle.  “What are you doing here?”

“You’re not an easy girl to find,” he muttered, pushing past her.

“That was rather the idea,” she retorted. 

Richard was the oldest friend of her momentarily estranged lover, Indo.  In fact, rumor had it Richard was the oldest friend any vampire had, that he was the oldest vampire left roaming the earth.  She had never thought he looked the part.  Tall, thin, and blond with a patrician nose and the perpetual squint of a perpetual scholar, he always looked like an unmade bed.  Tonight he was even more rumpled than usual, his wrinkled coat far too thin for the chill winds of Eastern Europe in November.  Her nostrils flared, picking up the smell of blood, faded faint but still distinct, the smell of a powerful death – vampire blood, not human.  His black coat was covered with it.  This was not normal.  She had known Richard for three hundred years, and she had never once seen him take a living victim.  He had been the first vampire of her acquaintance to attempt to live on cow’s blood, and he was rumored to be one of the so-called “Blessed Nine” scientists and alchemists who had been working for decades on creating a synthetic.  If he were stained with vampire blood, something bad had happened.  “Richard, where is Indo?”

“I haven’t the faintest idea.”  Indo had left her six months before, swearing once again she was too wicked, too savage for bearing.  She had accidentally taken too much from a perfectly willing thrall and put the stupid girl in the hospital where she had recovered completely in the space of a day.  But Indo, Enforcer that he was, had completely overreacted, as he always did, and had taken off in a huff.  He always went to Richard when they had these fights.  Richard was his sanctuary, his monastery, his ashram, his calm.  But now Richard was covered in vampire blood, and he looked anything but calm.   He was prowling the room like a cat, peering into the bathroom, the closet.  “I suppose he could have gone back home to Tokyo.”  He yanked back the drapes, exposing her impressive view of the city.  “I honestly don’t know.”

“But he is alive.”  She put her hand on his shoulder.  “Richard?”

“Of course Indo is alive,” he said bitterly, his eyes searching the dark as if for predators or prey.  “If anyone ever truly threatened to kill Indo, I have no doubt some sort of samurai angel with a golden katana and a thousand tongues of fire would rush immediately to his defense.”

Cat suppressed an unbecoming snort.  “Did the two of you have a tiff?”

He gave her a look that could have wilted a cactus.  “You could say that.”

“Oh dear . . . . So what do you want me to do about it?”  She started to move away, but he caught hold of her robe, silk clenched in a dirty fist.  “What’s wrong with you?” she asked, worried all over again.

“I’m very tired, Catriona.”  He was looking at her in a way he’d never looked at her before.  Other men had, of course – humans who thought they were predators before they realized they were prey; vampires who mistook her delicacy for weakness.  It was a hungry look, a conqueror’s look.  It looked strange on Richard . . . strange because in the dim light of the hotel room, it fit his face so well. 

She reached down and disengaged his hand from her robe.  “Maybe you should tell me all about it.”

He clamped his hand around her wrist like he was grabbing a sword hilt, hard and sure and painfully tight–none of the adjectives she would ever have associated with being held by Richard.  She had never realized how big he was before, how powerful.  He had always seemed hunched, a spider, a scholar.  Now he was standing up quite straight, and she realized how broad he was at the shoulders, how big his hands were.  “No.”  For once he wasn’t squinting in the slightest.  She had never noticed how blue his eyes were, how intense his gaze could be.  “I don’t want to tell you anything about it.”  He dragged her closer, his free hand going to the draped closure of her robe.  “I don’t want to talk.”

The Artist

The penultimate preview peek at Tender Bites, my new vampire anthology – one more after today, then Saturday, it’s out.  Also, check back here on Saturday for details on a nifty new contest to go along with my first ever self-published e-book launch – it’s kind of like a wedding, something old, something new . . . .

As for this particular story, The Artist, I have a confession to make – I love’em all, but I think this one is the sexiest.  It’s my take on the classic vampire seduction with a slightly harder edge.  Want a taste?

The Artist

San Francisco, 1997

Dante wandered lonely as a cloud down the foggy San Francisco street, a black and brooding wisp of storm cloud that obscured and revealed each moonbeam pool of streetlight as he passed.  A subtle change had come over him lately, an ever-deepening malaise.  The vampire who had made him so many centuries before had warned him this would eventually happen, but he hadn’t believed it.  He had thought he would revel in his power for all eternity.  But lately, he hadn’t so much reveled as endured.  Nothing interested him; nothing excited him; even the taste of blood and the thrill of the kill had lost their spark. 

A happy cackle of feminine laughter danced out of an open doorway to rush to his defense.  Turning to the painted glass, he felt the cloud that surrounded him fading back into the fog . . .

The girl at the bar laughed again, one forearm resting lightly against her lover’s shoulder as he hovered by her stool.  Her clothes were as black and primitive cool as the vampire’s weary mood – black mesh shirt, black lace bra, black jeans so tight his eyes could trace the slit of her sex behind the denim.  But her black leather boots were nestled heel to terrifying heel on the bar at her elbow, leaving her little feet with their blue-polished nails bare to the scrutiny of the world.  And her red hair was as striking and utterly natural as her laugh.  A smile teased the corners of his mouth.  She was a darling, a cheeky little lamb tricked out in the black duds of the contemporary she-wolf.

In other words, just the ticket.

She leaned over to catch her mortal lover’s whisper and caught sight of the vampire watching from the window.  Her eyes widened as she made a droll face at him – waddya lookin’ at? the twist of her mouth demanded.  But her eyes weren’t nearly so tough or so funny.  When Dante continued to stare, unsmiling, unblinking, refusing to be moved, her eyes lost every defense.

“Francesca?” the man at her side asked, looking over his shoulder to see what had captured her attention so completely.  The vampire faded back from the glass, disappearing from their sight.  He watched the girl, Francesca’s expression cloud for a moment, vaguely confused and disappointed.  Then she turned back to her mortal beloved.  Francesca . . . don’t worry, he thought.  I won’t keep you waiting for long.

An hour later, he watched from a darkened doorway across the street as the happy little couple had a happy little argument on the sidewalk in front of the bar as their friends stood a discreet three or four yards away pretending to study the stars they couldn’t see through the San Francisco fog.  With a few well-chosen and deadly verbal assaults, Francesca and her lover negotiated a grudging peace as regards the rest of the evening, never dreaming a depressed and hungry vampire was hanging on every word.  They finally decided that he would go on with their friends and see another band while she took the car home and got some apparently pressing work done – a reasonable and sublimely convenient compromise, the vampire thought.  His smile would have made a strong man shudder had one been close enough to see it.

He closed his eyes and counted slowly, an ancient demon’s version of a mortal baby’s game.  Ninety-seven . . . ninety-eight . . . ninety-nine . . . one hundred.  He opened his eyes.  The sidewalk across the street was now empty except for a kid in an apron sweeping up cigarette butts.  Dante turned his face up to the moon’s caress and sniffed the air until he found her scent . . . crumbles of chocolate scattered amongst the crushed, wet petals of a rose . . .

He smiled again, fangs glittering in the dim, misty light.  Ready or not, sweetheart . . . .

Little Boy Lost

Day 3 of previews for Tender Bites, my anthology of romantic vamp stories officially releasing on Saturday, October 13, 2012, exclusively through Amazon.  This story is a little different from the others in that the romance at its center is between two men, and it doesn’t have a traditional happy ending.  It also has the scariest vampire bite I’ve ever written.  But for me, it is also one of the most affecting tales I’ve ever written.  I really hope you agree.

Little Boy Lost

 

Chicago, 1986

Zack watched with a mixture of fury and relief as the battered muscle car tore away from the broken curb.  As soon as it was far enough up the ramp to make coming back to kick the shit out of him more trouble than he was worth, he tossed the nearly-empty beer bottle he was holding after it.  “Assholes!”

Skating out of Tony’s party with somebody’s cokehead daughter had seemed like such a good idea at the time.  He lit a cigarette then stumbled toward the water’s edge, his slick-bottomed tuxedo flats sliding on the oily sand.  Take in a rave, taste a little forbidden fruit, reminisce about how the other half lived for a few hours.  Shake the dust of queenly good taste from his mane for a little while.  He ran a beautifully manicured hand through the sweat-damp spikes of his hundred-dollar haircut with a snort.  Kick it, Stallion, he thought, flinging the half-smoked stogie into the drink with a hiss of drowning fire.  Time to call Tony and beg forgiveness and a taxi home . . . God bless the calling card and the child who’s got his own.

Picking his way through the trash scattered on the grassy bank, he saw a pair of headlights appear about a quarter of a mile down the shoreline, a double beam that glistened like fairy dust on the water before swinging wide away.  Civilization! he thought with mock-dramatic relief.  Come, sahib –where there be cars, there be phones . . . Staggering a little, he headed for the disappearing lights.

And found exactly nothing.  Wherever the car had come from or gone since Zack saw it, the poor fucker must have been lost.  “Fuck!” he shouted at the seagulls, kicking at the sandy black dirt under his feet.  “Fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck!”

He flung himself down on the ground with reckless disregard for his spiffy new Armani–hell, he it was hardly as if he’d paid for it—and lit another cigarette.  This was just great.  This was poetic justice.  Here he was, everybody’s darling dear, alone at midnight in some derelict’s dream of a cemetery.

And where, pray tell, did that come from? he thought with a start, his eyes going wide.  Not a headstone in sight, all weeds, no flowers.  Still, the cold, damp air had a definite whiff of the crypt to it, and the ground seemed awfully loose, particularly just at his heels.

“Asshole,” he muttered, taking another drag on his cigarette.  The general air of gloom he had meant to escape by going raving had caught up with him, obviously.   Which was hardly surprising—the angel of death spent so much time in his neighborhood lately, somebody should charge the fucker rent.

He needed to get up and head back to the road.  He could hear the traffic in the distance; it couldn’t be that far.  But he was so tired . . . he had been so tired for weeks now, his brain running over and over the same tired track.  He had to get back to the road . . . he could thumb a ride into the city—now that’d be a blast from the past.  Maybe he’d hook up with an outbound trucker instead, climb in a strange rig and leave Chicago and her misery behind him.  The fact that he had maybe ten dollars in his wallet was no more than a minor technicality, right?  God knew he had gotten by on less.  Let somebody else hold Tony’s hand when the angel came calling again.  That was cold, yes—but hell, it wasn’t as if the money wouldn’t draw flies enough to replace him if he left.  Flies to feed on the corpse . . . his sudden tears stung like a son of a bitch.  His eyes were still sore from all the smoke at that fucking rave.  Sorry, love, he thought, dashing them away.  Sorry it happened, sorry I can’t fix it, sorry I’m such a selfish, shitty little prick . . .

This touching unspoken confession was cut off by the ground beginning to boil.  For a moment, he just stared at the tiny volcanoes of dust erupting between his shoes, unable to process the data his eyes were sending to his brain. 

Gotta be the coke, he decided, sliding backward on his ass, his heels digging dimples in the shimmying dirt.  “Oh shit.”  His cigarette burned to ash between his fingers as he watched, frozen, as a beautifully sculpted hand slowly reached up through the earth, white as moonlight against the black.  “What did that little bitch slip me?”  The idea that what he saw could be real, that someone was crawling out of the ground (the grave?) was too bizarre to consider.  He was tripping; stress had been working overtime on him for weeks with the Bolivian army at her back, and he was wigging the fuck out at last. 

“Too many funerals, not enough laughs,” he muttered as the hand became an arm, reaching upward, reaching for him.  Where had he heard that before?  Tony had said it, but when, and in what context?  His errant mind worked the pointless question like a sore tooth as the second hand appeared, clutching at the ground for something to pull the rest of what was still down there free.  “Oh yeah . . .”  His fingers were burning now, but he couldn’t blink, much less fling the butt away.  “I remember . . . I asked Tony why he came north, why he left Miss-Sippy—that’s the way he pronounces it even after thirty years in Chicago.  It’s an affectation if you ask me, but it’s cute, so who complains, right?”  The fingers crept closer, tearing up the grass.  “And that’s what he said home was like . . . too many funerals, not enough laughs—“

The hand clamped around his ankle, and his babble turned fast to a scream. 

Angelique

Another tasty morsel from Tender Bites, coming this weekend from Amazon.  This is the only first-person story in the batch, told from the point of view of Amadeo, the hunky vampire in question.  He goes to Paris during the Terror to do murder in the streets and ends up discovering his soulmate . . .

Angelique

Paris 1792

 

Chaos breeds vampires as a plague breeds rats; one feeds off the other so efficiently that matters of cause and effect become mere questions of philosophy.  Commit enough mortals to the cause of carnage, and the vampires simply appear; like the rat, we cannot choose but to respond.  And rarely had rats and vampires alike smelled such a feast as could be nosed in the madness of Paris after La Revolution. 

I hadn’t intended to partake.  I had entered one of those tiresome stages in a vampire’s eternity when the whole world seemed a pointless cesspool.  Born in the cruel savagery of the ancient world, I had watched the progress of civilization make art of madness, order from chaos, grace from the random superstition of human faith.  But over the course of the last century, I had seen this beautiful new world ripped apart brick by brick by its so-called great minds.  I was not a fan of revolution, even in the name of justice.  What is justice to a predator?  Paris had once been the jewel of the world, the center of learning and culture, my favorite spot on earth, more dear to me even than Venice or Rome.  Now the streets ran with offal, and great stinking apes more thirsty for blood than any vampire held sway.  But my friends insisted the hunting was too good to resist, and so I came.  And it was there that I met my Angelique.

Angelique Dumont was the daughter of two of the most pinched-nose blue bloods in France.  On the night I first saw her, she already wore a red ribbon at her throat in bitter remembrance of a father and two brothers sent to the guillotine.  She, her mother, and a single plump cherub of a sister were defiantly established in a flat within sight of the palace of Tuileries.  Like most of what remained of the aristocracy, she passed her days making desperate plans to escape to England with the family fortune and her nights in desperate gaiety, pretending flight was the furthest thing from her mind.

The ballroom at the city palace was not so grand as the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles, but it was dazzling nonetheless, lit by hundreds of flickering candles and packed from wall to wall.  So when the painted doll of a girl stumbled out into the midnight garden, her green eyes were as blind as an infant’s.  “Merde,” she swore, tripping on the hem of her gold-embroidered skirt as she dove gracelessly for the support of a nearby column.  Glancing back over her shoulder toward the ball, she didn’t see me in the shadows.  I watched in amusement, arms folded on my chest, as this delicate blossom of the uppermost crust vomited into a hedge.

“Too much wine, mam’selle?” I inquired politely, offering her my handkerchief.

She screamed another oath and straightened up so quickly her heavy powdered wig slipped precariously to one side.  But she collected herself quickly, giving her head a slight jerk that caused the wig to right itself as if by magic.  “Pardonnez-moi, monsieur,” she said as she turned around, smiling prettily. 

Then she saw my less-than-glittering attire.  The men she was accustomed to meeting in gardens wore jewel-encrusted silks and gold-embroidered velvet.  I would sooner have had a stake carved from the True Cross driven through my heart.  I was wearing leather and a servant’s broadcloth coat with my own hair pulled back in a simple ribbon.  I wouldn’t even pass for a footman.  “How did you get in here?” she grumbled, snatching the handkerchief from my hand and spitting the last of the sourness from her mouth into its plain linen folds.  “Go back to the stables where you belong.”

“Your gratitude warms my heart.”  Truth be told, her snobbery made me adore her at first sight.  She was all I could wish in a quarry, sleek and impudent as a vixen.  “No wonder votre famille is beloved by all in Paris.”

The color rose in her cheeks luridly enough to show pink through the heavy powder.  She raised her little hand to slap me, and I smiled, knowing when she struck me, I would take her.

But she did not strike.  “A thousand apologies, Monsieur Stableman,” she said, making a deep, graceful curtsey that must have been the envy of every royal ass-licker at court.  “I thank you for your kindness.”  She rose and turned away, leading me deeper into the garden, the last thing I expected.  And the one thing I have never been able to resist is a surprise. 

The Haunting of Goody Crum

So later this week, I’m releasing my first ever self-published e-book, Tender Bites.  It’s an anthology of vampire romance stories, some historical, some contemporary – kind of my private stock of vamp swoon.  As I’m doing the last little tweaks of pulling it together, I thought it might be fun to feature a snack-size nibble of each story here on the blogness, a sneaky-peek for my nears & dears. 

“The Haunting of Goody Crum” is probably the sweetest vampire story I’ve ever written.  Since it begins with the gruesome aftermath of a Native American raid on a Puritan settler’s cabin, that might sound kind of strange, but those of you who know me probably won’t be surprised.  Trust me, this vampire, Wil, has a soft, mushy center that shows up in a big way before the end.

North American Wilderness, 1757

The vampire smelled the fire as soon as he came out of the ground, cured pine logs  burned down to smoky embers under the unmistakable pig-stench of cooked or cooking human flesh.  He turned his face up to the wind like a wolf, his senses honing in on the smell as he moved silently through the trees.  The last tribe he had seen had been days ago – Pawnee, he thought, though he had chosen not to approach their fires.  Since returning to the forest from the more subtle wilds of Europe, this death spirit had preferred to do his talking in the dark.

He saw the clearing well before he entered it, but the sheer size of it made him stumble in amazement.  For more than half a mile ahead, every tree was gone, cut down to ankle-high stumps.  The fire smell was stronger, and even in the dark he could see a thick column of gray smoke rising from the other side of the blank space in the woods.

Then he smelled the living blood.  The scent called to him; the heartbeat pounded in his ears like a war drum, dancing through the frozen marrow of his bones.  He broke into a run.  This had become his favorite way to hunt this endless wilderness, running through the dark, scooping up his prey with no words passed, no pause for breath or prayer.  Sometimes he even took them into the sky in a hawk-like swoop, dropping their empty bodies back into the black woods far below as he flew, never looking into their faces.  Sometimes he stayed on the earth, praying over the dead in the native fashion, thanking them for the lives they had given up as if they’d had a choice.  It had begun as a joke, a mockery of his prey, the silent warriors who prided themselves on running as swift and silent as the deer they hunted.  But since his return from so-called civilization, he had begun to take it seriously, to crave the wild ceremony of the hunt almost as much as he did its crimson fruit.

The heartbeat was coming from the center of the burning stench.  As he drew closer, the smell of rot turned his stomach.  He stopped at the glowing embers that represented all that was left of what had been a fair-sized cabin, English or Français.  That explained the stumps, he thought.  The Europeans encroached further into the woods every year, but he had never encountered settlers so far inland before.  He was running out of places to hide.

But whoever had lived here wouldn’t be writing home for reinforcements any time soon.  The war party had made certain of that.  He found no sign of bodies in the wreck of the cabin itself, but the smell could not be denied.  Maybe they ate the settlers, he thought, dropping gracefully to a crouch as he moved around the edge of the fire, moving closer to the source of the rotten smell and the ever-beckoning heartbeat.  Some tribes had been known to turn cannibal for a good cause, and so much the better for him.  Demon he might be, but not even God could fault him for feeding himself on a cannibal left behind.

But the heart wasn’t native, and it wasn’t the heart of a warrior.  Another fire was burning itself out just at the edge of the trees behind the ruined cabin.  Strung over it was a gruesome bit of native art the vampire didn’t need to see any more closely to recognize.  As a human, he had been a Viking marauder; he had been a vampire for centuries since.   But what the red men could think of to do to the corpses of their enemies still never ceased to amaze him.  This man had been flayed and gutted, probably alive, before being strung up to roast.  Nothing was left of his hair or his face, but a few burned rags of clothing still clung to his half-consumed flesh and bloody bones. 

A living, breathing, sobbing woman was crouched on the ground nearby.  She was praying in English, snatches of the Our Father and bits of rubbish he didn’t recognize, the guttural singsong of the Puritans.  She seemed to be trying to tear up the sod with her fingers as she prayed.  Her back was turned to the horror over the fire, but the stench must have made her stomach roll.  Just take her, the vampire scolded himself.  What do you care if she’s praying?  She’s crazy, run mad with shock—to end her misery would be a kindness.  He lunged toward her without a sound, the wolf springing out of the darkness—

Then she looked up.