The Beast Withinby Bianca D'Arc
The Howling by Erin McCarthy
When Liv Lugaru's boyfriend Sebastian disappears, she finds comfort in his brother's arms. But Sebastian is much closer than Liv realizes. . .and he'll stop at nothing to protect her/b>
Meet three men without boundaries, hell-bent on satisfying their deepest desires--and those of the women who drive them wild. . .
The Howling by Erin McCarthy
When Liv Lugaru's boyfriend Sebastian disappears, she finds comfort in his brother's arms. But Sebastian is much closer than Liv realizes. . .and he'll stop at nothing to protect her from the feral danger that comes alive only when she sleeps. . .
Smoke On The Water by Bianca D'Arc
In the misty fog of a lakefront village, zombies are roaming wild--and zombie hunter John Petit must stop the carnage. John is also fighting a different kind of battle: a forbidden passion for his new partner, Donna. With her help, killing zombies is a walk in the park, but keeping his desire in check is making him sweat. . .
Redeeming The Wizard by Jennifer Lyon
Gage Remington was once a powerful wizard; now he's a recluse who keeps the world at bay. But when Mira Tate arrives at Gage's door, she stirs in him an attraction he can't deny. Soon, Gage will risk everything to keep Mira close--even the secret that may be his ruin. . .
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The Beast Within
By Erin McCarthy Bianca D'Arc Jennifer Lyon
BRAVA BOOKSCopyright © 2010 Kensington Publishing Corp.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe first howl off in the distance barely registered to the bride, since she was so filled with joy and flushed anticipation as the sleigh sailed forth over the light dusting of snow.
The second mournful cry was closer, causing a small pause in the laughter of the six people crammed in together among the furs and robes.
The third voice, a response to the first two, was more feral than sorrowful, more aggressive than beautiful, and the bride reached for the arm of her new husband as the horses threw back their heads nervously and pranced, disrupting the sleigh's rhythm.
Uneasiness crept over the party as the driver whipped the horses, and the sleigh leapt forward, the crisp wind tossing the ribbons in the bride's hair and sending an unpleasant shiver through her. The groom squeezed her hand in reassurance, but the group had quieted as the sound reached all of their ears, the unmistakable bounding footsteps of the wolves falling into line behind them in pursuit.
Her fingers dug into the lace of her wedding dress beneath the fur laid so tenderly across her lap by the groom, as the faces in front of her reflected unease, fear. They all knew how fierce the wolves were, they all knew the stories of those who traveled these woods and disappeared, their sleighs overturned, bodies mutilated beyond recognition. She pressed her eyes closed and swallowed hard, trying to gauge how far the pack was from them.
Close. So close that she could hear the snarls and snaps of at least three wolves, maybe more, and she opened her eyes again in panic, head whirling around.
She wished she hadn't.
Under the harvest moon, the same lustrous white orb she had just been dancing beneath an hour earlier, giddy with love and happiness and the well-wishes of all those around her, she saw them.
Great beasts, wild wolves, snow flying behind them as their paws ate up the ground, narrowing the distance between them and the sleigh. They were enormous, snouts long, eyes pale and intelligent, teeth gleaming in the moonlight, fur thick and rich. There were six of them, the number of the devil, all running together as one, working in tandem to capture their prey.
Her groom let go of her hand and ducked down, then sprang back up. Startled, she watched him hurl the stones overboard from the bottom of the sleigh, stones that earlier had been heated and placed at their feet to warm them for the ride home. The first two thrown missed their mark, and a third barely clipped one wolf on the shoulder. The animal growled and snapped angrily, his eyes locking onto the bride's as she gripped her lace dress tighter.
The wedding party was all yelling now, moving around, dumping the stones, the furs, unceremoniously ripping the one the bride was wrapped in off her shoulders and lap and tossing it over the side as they tried to lighten the load. The horses snorted, the driver cracked his whip and yelled for them to go faster, and the sleigh jostled unsteadily as they picked up speed.
And still the wolves came.
She couldn't look away, mesmerized by their terrifying beauty, by their rhythm and speed and determination. There were better creatures, meatier, to feast on than humans, yet for survival the wolves would take down what they could. And maybe, just maybe, they did it for the challenge, for the right to know they had bested another animal of intelligence. The pack was so close now that the angry snapping of their jaws was like gunfire in the quiet night, their fur so near she could stretch down and slide her fingers through its soft thickness.
When rough hands grabbed her shoulders and her legs, she didn't realize what was happening. She turned and saw a fist plow into her husband's face, saw him struggling, a body pinning him down, and then she knew.
There was barely time for a kick, a shove, a scream, before they had her petite body up and in the air, their panicked eyes looking not at her, but behind the sleigh.
And as the bride grabbed desperately onto their fancy dress jackets, the moon casting a perfect shadow over the sleigh on her wedding night, they threw her to the wolves.
Liv Lugaru sat up in bed, sucking in on a silent scream as she tore herself out of the nightmare. As she clutched the thousand-thread-count sheet, her eyes raced around the dark room, reassuring her she was in her bedroom, not in the cold sleigh in the ominous forest.
Wiping the sweat off her upper lip, she swallowed hard and waited for her heart rate to slow down. That was the fourth time in as many nights she'd dreamt of wolves, a nocturnal theme that had first appeared six months ago very sporadically, and now seemed to have taken over her sleeping thoughts completely. The dancing glow from the doorway and the mumbled voices told her the TV was still on in the living room. She knew Scarborough would be up working, doing mysterious things on his computer that somehow turned his vast amounts of money into more money. He was a financial genius and, unlike her, he only needed four hours of sleep a night.
He appeared in the doorway, still wearing his blue shirt and black dress pants. "You okay?" he asked, his face in shadow. "I heard you call out again."
"Just a nightmare," she said, voice scratchy, lips dry. "Sorry to disturb you."
Moving forward, he brushed the damp hair off her forehead. "You've had a lot of bad dreams lately."
Fighting the urge to pull away from his touch, she shrugged. "I'm fine."
Grateful the room was dark, she stared at him, dredging up a reassuring smile. She owed so much to him, she didn't want him to know that the thought of marrying him was terrifying her.
"Are they about him?" he asked, his voice even, curious, but with an underlying edge to it.
Liv didn't pretend not to know who he was referring to. He meant Sebastian, his brother, her former lover. "No," she told him honestly. Nothing in her recurring nightmare reminded her of the man she'd loved so deeply, so wholly, the man who had refused to marry her, the man who had disappeared six months ago, leaving her destitute and heartbroken. "They're running dreams. You know, where you run and don't go anywhere."
A lie, but she didn't want to describe the wolves, the chase, the fear out loud to him, and she didn't want him to think she was hiding something about Sebastian. She didn't want to hurt Scarborough.
Plus the nightmares were so intense, raw, disturbing.
To describe them out loud would only remind her of their intensity.
"Do you want me to come to bed?" he asked, dropping a light kiss on the top of her forehead.
Shaking her head, she touched his chest briefly. "No, I'm fine. I know you have work to do." She gave a small smile. "Besides, you'll just wind up sitting here wide awake and I'll be out in five minutes."
"That's true. And then my tossing and turning will wake you up." The corner of his mouth went up. "We're not exactly perfect bed partners, are we?"
She wasn't sure if he meant that to sound as loaded as it did, considering they'd yet to have sex. She just hadn't been able to let go, to relax, to feel passion again, and he had been very understanding of that.
It was wrong and she knew it, but she had agreed to marry him out of devastation and gratitude. He'd picked up the shattered pieces of her heart and life, offered her a real future, and she'd said yes.
Now she knew he fully expected they would finally have sex on their wedding night, that their marriage would be real.
And she did care about him. Loved him.
Just not quite in the way she was supposed to, and God help her, their wedding was only ten days away.
"We muddle through," she told him, hoping it would sound lighthearted, afraid it was their truth for the foreseeable future.
They were supposed to exchange vows in a week and a half and she was dreaming she was a bride who had literally been thrown to the wolves.
"Remember I'm leaving tomorrow for a business trip. Four days in New York."
"Oh, I forgot." But it was the best news she'd had in days. "Make sure you wake me up when you leave so I can say goodbye."
And maybe when he walked out the door she'd finally feel like she could breathe again.
Chapter Two"Do you believe in past lives?" Liv asked Mary Fran as she shoved lettuce around on her plate at lunch the next day. The cafeteria at the University of Wisconsin wasn't the reason for her lack of appetite. Nursing school and the food they served were both fine. It was everything else in her life that made her stomach churn.
"Excuse me?" Mary Fran raised an eyebrow, her glass of iced tea on pause halfway to her lips. "What is going on with you?"
Liv didn't know. That was the frightening problem. "It's just a question. I keep having these dreams ... they're very realistic. The clothing everyone is wearing looks nineteenth century and they're not here in Madison. The setting seems ... European to me for some reason." She shrugged. "I don't know, I just thought maybe there is such a thing as past lives."
Plunking her iced tea glass down, amber droplets splashing onto the pristine tablecloth, Mary Fran eyed her. "Why are they different than any other dreams? What happens in them?"
"The woman falls off a sleigh and, well, gets eaten by wolves." Liv jabbed a cherry tomato and studied it. "It's her wedding night."
"Oh, my God."
When Liv glanced up at her best friend, she saw the concern she could already hear in her voice.
"Liv. You've got to call this wedding off."
She sat silent, unable to tell even her best friend that she wanted to do just that. But she couldn't. How could she? Scarborough had been there for her. Been there in that terrible dark hysterical time when she had learned that Sebastian had betrayed her, disappearing with the little money she had accumulated. Gone. All their nights together, all those words of love, nothing.
"I know you feel grateful to him, but you can't build a marriage on gratitude. He can't possibly want that. Won't want that if you're honest with him."
The little food she'd eaten burned in her stomach. "I care about him."
"And you're dreaming about being eaten by wolves on your wedding night. Look, if you can't call it off altogether, just postpone it. Indefinitely. Tell him you're not ready. Just go on dating or whatever and give yourself time to figure it out."
"Do you think he'll be okay with that?" Liv asked, grasping on to hope. That seemed possible. Workable. It would buy her a reprieve.
But not from sex.
She should want to have sex. It had been six months since she had, and her body should be eager, primed, on fire, yet she chilled out and dried up every time she contemplated it.
"I honestly don't know. Scarborough doesn't exactly seem like a patient kind of guy to me. He's ... brisk." Mary Fran made a face, her hand checking the back of her gold hoop earring. "But it's worth a shot when the alternative is a marriage you don't want."
Liv wanted to protest, but she couldn't even dredge up a convincing enough voice, so she let her silence speak for her.
Then Mary Fran spoke the words she couldn't stand to hear. "Just because you don't have family doesn't mean you're alone. Remember that. You have friends who love you. You're not alone."
Yes, she was. She knew Mary Fran meant well, and she knew her friends cared about her. But it wasn't the same. Since that horrible night twenty years ago when her parents had been murdered, she was alone. Growing up, some of her teachers, one couple out of the many foster parents, and a few close friends had all cared about her, but she didn't have family. Someone who was biologically or legally tied to her.
"Orphan" was a word she'd hated growing up, and Sebastian and Scarborough understood that, owning the lonely label themselves.
"Are you sleeping with him yet? How is that going?"
Looking uneasily around the crowded room, Liv pulled her dove-gray crew sweater closer around her. "No, we haven't."
"Why does he even want to marry you?"
The words were like a slap. "Probably guilt because his brother not only wouldn't commit to me, he stole what little money I had and left without a word. I mean, why else would anyone marry me? I don't bring a lot to the table, dead broke and emotionally stunted. It's pity, that's why he proposed. Hello." Saying it out loud was like taking a bullet, even as she hid behind sarcasm, but it was the truth. It wasn't like Scarborough was marrying her for true love either.
God, what a mess.
Mary Fran's voice softened. "That's not what I meant. Of course you bring a lot to the table. You're generous and smart and compassionate, and you're beautiful. Any man would be lucky to have you. But with everything that's happened, I don't understand the push for marriage ... if Scar has feelings for you it would make more sense for the two of you to explore that slowly."
"I think we both want security."
For that reason, maybe more than any other, Liv would marry him.
He was giving her a home, a family, the possibility of children, a life she craved to the very marrow of her bones, and had since she was eight years old and had lost her parents in one swift brutal act of violence.
Scarborough was loyal and stable and motivated.
And he was the one man alive she trusted to keep her safe during her frightening all-night blackouts.
The October night was crisp and quiet as Sebastian raced through the woods, enjoying the freedom of his wolf form as he approached his brother's house from the south side, downwind. He had followed Scarborough to the airport that morning to be sure he really was flying to New York on business and not retreating into the woods north of his house to join the pack. Having been reassured his brother really was en route to the Big Apple, Sebastian couldn't resist the opportunity to check on Liv, to peer through the windows and engage in the sadistic self-torture of seeing the woman he loved, alive and well, yet living in his brother's house as his brother's girlfriend.
As he reached the property, he slowed down, cautiously picking his way over the perfectly manicured front lawn, listening, smelling, for any signs of the others or of danger. Sebastian couldn't chance being spotted by any of the four remaining werewolves of the pack, even with his brother gone.
He wasn't ready to fight, not yet, not until he knew Liv was safe.
And there would be a fight if he encountered Scarborough or the others, a fight to the death. They thought he was already dead, having left him bleeding out and caught in the rushing downstream river on the edge of their territory. But Sebastian had lived and had spent the last six months recovering from his wounds, struggling to survive and not be discovered, the whole time planning his return, his takeover.
He had never cared about being pack leader, had never appreciated his heritage as werewolf, had never wanted to make decisions and guide the others, or mate for the health of the pack. His leadership had been errant, his attitude nonchalant, his relationship with Liv solely for selfish reasons, because he loved her and wanted to be with her. He had wanted to protect her and shield her from the truth about who they both were. She'd known nothing of werewolves, and he'd wanted to keep it that way, knowing that for whatever reason, Liv had never shifted, despite the heritage Sebastian knew she possessed. It had been selfish, and naïve, but he had just wanted to live in quiet normalcy in love with a sweet beautiful woman.
It was different now. It was time to take his place, be the leader he should have been, but it would take careful planning and patience.
The house was a mini-mansion, a great, hulking, contemporary glass structure of concrete and steel, on the cusp of the thick forest behind it. There had been changes since he had last risked cruising by the house to check on Liv. Now there were giant pots filled with yellow and purple flowers and four pumpkins resting on the stoop in front of a bale of straw. A cheerful scarecrow sat on the straw, holding up a sign that read TRICK OR TREAT STOP. If Sebastian could have laughed in wolf form he would have.
There had been nothing funny at all about the fact that his brother had tried to kill him, then had stolen his girlfriend, yet seeing that goofy grinning scarecrow in front of his brother's expensive, architecturally award-winning contemporary house struck him as hilarious. Big bad wolf goes suburban. For a man as determined to control everything and everyone as Scarborough was, it was good to see he'd let Liv express her own decorative opinion.
Then the amusement was gone as quickly as it had arrived.
The thought of his brother with the woman he loved was infuriating, sickening.
Excerpted from The Beast Within by Erin McCarthy Bianca D'Arc Jennifer Lyon Copyright © 2010 by Kensington Publishing Corp.. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author
Erin McCarthy, the author of A Date with the Other Side, Bad Boys Online, Smart Mouth, Houston, We Have a Problem, and Mouth to Mouth.
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"The Howling" by Erin McCarthy. Liv wonders whether she should delay her marriage to Scarborough as she still loves his brother Sebastian, who obviously rejected her having vanished with her money six months ago. While Scarborough flies to New York on business, Sebastian runs as a wolf while healing from when his sibling tried to kill him. He vows to return to lead his pack, but is angry with Liv for moving in with his brother.--------- "Smoke on the Water" by Bianca D'Arc. Donna is immune to the zombie contagion so has been partnered with veteran CIA operative John. They head to Tennessee to conduct undercover surveillance of Elizabeth who allegedly created the disease. John and Donna pretend to be newlyweds on a fishing vacation as the lodge next door makes observation easier. They begin to fall in love but neither knows where Elizabeth conceals her horde. ----------- "Redeeming the Wizard" by Jennifer Lyon. Mira hates Gage the wizard who she blames him for the deaths of her parents, killed by trolls while visiting him seventeen years ago. Still she needs his help when a wizard kidnapped her matchmaking Gram. He asks what she offers in payment and she responds with anything he desires. Seventeen years ago Gage trusted his apprentice Jillian who seduced him and stole some of his power when she tried to bring over a demon, but lost control. The demon killed Mira's parents. Gage killed Jillian and banished the demon, but his power overloaded and fried to unusable. As they fall in love he remains her enemy.---------------- The male leads know what they want and go after the women they want while the fantasy elements are cleverly designed to feel genuine although the story lines are thin.-------------- Harriet Klausner