Born to Biteby Hannah Howell, Erica Ridley, Diana J. Cosby
Darkly handsome and dangerously sexy, these voracious vampires are out for bloodand bound for eternal love. . .
Dark Secret by Hannah Howell
Alone in the world and on a desperate search, Murdina Dunbar finds an ally in mysterious Sir Gillanders Baldwin. Something about her sexy protector stirs her blood. Soon, not even/b>/b>… See more details below
Darkly handsome and dangerously sexy, these voracious vampires are out for bloodand bound for eternal love. . .
Dark Secret by Hannah Howell
Alone in the world and on a desperate search, Murdina Dunbar finds an ally in mysterious Sir Gillanders Baldwin. Something about her sexy protector stirs her blood. Soon, not even whispers that he's a dangerous demon can keep her from his bed. . .
Highland Vampire by Diana Cosby
As King of the Highland Coven, vampire Aedan MacGregor knows that falling for the fey Rowan Campbell could destroy her. But one taste of her healing blood and he craves her like no other. Dare he claim her, knowing he might lose her forever?. . .
Never Been Bitten by Erica Ridley
Rumored to be a vampire, rakish Mr. Macane is ravishing all the ladies of the ton! Yet, Miss Elspeth Ramsay cannot bring herself to tremble in his presence. But once Ellie feels the thrill of his teeth at her throat, she finds herself biting him back!. . .
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Born to Bite
By HANNAH HOWELL DIANA COSBY ERICA RIDLEY
KENSINGTON BOOKSCopyright © 2012 Kensington Publishing Corp.
All right reserved.
Chapter One"We have an important guest, and ye have been chosen to be his maid."
Murdina glanced up from the linen she had been scrubbing clean to the plump Mistress McKee and then back down at her work. "Ye told me I was to be the laundry maid only this morn."
"Weel, Jeanne will be the laundry maid now. She isnae the sort of lass we want to be maid to such a fine gentlemon. Too dirtya, too rough, ye ken."
And too quick to lift her skirts, thought Murdina as she dried her hands, stepping away from the laundry tub so that a flushed, scowling Jeanne could take her place. "Ye say he is an important mon?"
"Aye." Mistress McKee grabbed Murdina by the arm and pulled her out of the laundry room that also served as the bathing room for men of lesser rank. "Ye also speak far finer than our Jeanne does."
It was strange to be chosen for something that would only rouse spite or suspicion amongst the other servants of Dunnantinny. Murdina made no complaint, however. Acting the maid for some fine gentleman guest had to be easier than scrubbing pots or washing linen. Unless, she mused, he was the sort of man to think all maids working in a keep were his for the taking. Since she would never tolerate being treated that way, there was a chance that this new position within the keep could land her in enough trouble to be thrown out. The laird would not take it kindly if she insulted or injured his guest. Being tossed out would actually be the most merciful of the punishments she could face for such actions, and the laird of Dunnantinny was not known for his merciful nature.
Accepting the heavy bucket of heated water Mistress McKee thrust at her, Murdina wished she had traveled a little farther before stopping. The bucket was heavy enough that the rope handle cut into her palm, but it was better than having Mistress McKee still touching her. The cold rigidity of the woman had begun to seep into Murdina. Unfortunately, she could not tell the woman not to touch her, so she simply braced for that chill every time it happened.
Being close to so many people all the time was a strain as her curse often made her all too aware of the feelings of those around her, especially when they touched her. She had learned almost nothing about her cousin Adeline, either, despite how close the keep was to the village where Adeline had been the healer. Nor had she collected much coin with which to continue her journey. In truth, all she had collected were bruises, blisters, and backaches as well as far too much knowledge of the venality of some of the keep's residents. She was no stranger to hard work, but being a maid in a crowded keep was a lot different than being a blacksmith's daughter. If she had learned more than just evil gossip about her cousin, she might have considered it all worthwhile, but she still had little more than what that filthy man had said as she had stood over the graves of her aunt and uncle. Only a need for coin kept her at Dunnantinny now.
"Greetings, Sir Baldwin," said Mistress McKee, pulling Murdina free of her dark thoughts and aching disappointment. "I had the maid bring ye up some hot water. I suspicion ye would like a wash after your long journey." She pulled Murdina into the room. "Fill up the ewer and bowl, lass."
Smothering the urge to push back, Murdina went to do as she had been told. She only half-listened to Mistress McKee and Sir Baldwin talk. The man had a very attractive deep voice, she thought as she checked the drying cloth near the washing bowl to be sure it was clean and dry. Listening to him speak made her belly tense in the oddest way. There was a soothing calm about him that eased the chill Mistress McKee had infected her with, but beneath that calm was a shadow, and she suspected he had a few secrets.
"Murdina will be your maid during your stay here," Mistress McKee said. "Lass, make your curtsey to the mon."
Murdina turned and curtsied, careful to keep her gaze respectfully lowered. It was as she began to rise up out of her curtsey that she chanced a look at Sir Baldwin and nearly stumbled. It took all of her willpower to keep her expression one of calm and respect and not rudely gape at the man.
Men were not supposed to be beautiful, she told herself. Yet, beautiful was the first word that came to mind. No wonder Mistress McKee had sounded close to cooing sweetly when she talked to the man, a touch of warmth actually invading that rigid chill the woman carried. He was more than handsome. He had to be at least two hands taller than her. His body had the long, powerful lines of the finest of stallions that had passed through her father's shop. Thick, gleaming black hair hung to the middle of his broad back, two warrior braids framing his face.
And such a face, Murdina mused, unable to look away. A strong jaw, well-defined cheekbones, and a sharp blade of a nose with no hint of the bump so many men had, the remnant of a nose too often broken. He was smiling at her, his slightly full lips parted just enough to reveal a glimpse of strong, healthy teeth. Yet, she knew deep in her heart that his heartbreakingly beautiful face could harden into a look any predator would be proud of. A look that even that enticing mouth would not soften.
His eyes, however, were what firmly caught her attention. The color of pure amber, they were nicely spaced, neither too large nor too small, set beneath tidy, arched brows, and encircled with lashes so thick and long they would cause every woman who saw them to suffer sharp spasms of envy. Those eyes beckoned, tempted, enthralled. Murdina knew that one heated look from them would be enough to seduce even the most pious of women. When his smile widened a little, Murdina knew he had detected her fascination. She fought against blushing like some tiresome girl and looked to Mistress McKee as if awaiting the woman's next command. It would be one she would obey immediately, especially if it got her out of Sir Baldwin's bedchamber. The way the man made her feel, an odd mixture of nervous and excited, made her anxious to get far away from him. She considered asking to be relieved of her duties as his maid, but only briefly. Not only did she not wish to try and explain why she asked for such a thing, she refused to allow one too handsome man to make her a coward.
"The evening meal willnae be set out for a few hours yet, sir," said Mistress McKee. "Would ye like a wee bite of something to take the edge off your hunger until then?"
Murdina wondered why that perfectly reasonable question should make the man look so amused.
"That would be most kind of ye, Mistress McKee," he replied.
"Go, lass, and fetch the mon a tray of food and drink."
It took more effort than Murdina liked to simply walk away. She wanted to run. There was something in the way the man looked at her, the way that look made her feel, that urged her to run. Run like a deer scenting a pack of wolves, she thought as she made her way down to the kitchens.
Foolishness, she scolded herself. The man offered her no threat. She would have sensed it if he had, one of the few good things that came of the gift she had been cursed with. It was not his fault her heart pounded when she looked at him. He had done nothing, said nothing, to entice her. The proof of that was in the calm respect Mistress McKee treated him with, that faint wisp of warmth she revealed. If the man had tried to immediately seduce the maid Mistress McKee had chosen for him, the woman's mood would definitely have soured. Mistress McKee had a very rigid set of morals that often amazed Murdina, considering the somewhat widespread lack of morals within the keep.
What astonished Murdina even more was how one look at Sir Baldwin had slashed at the foundations of her own morals. She reluctantly admitted to herself that she had wanted to touch, to taste, that far too tempting mouth of his. She had wanted to rouse the heat of passion in those mysterious eyes. That was so unlike her, so against her vow to touch people as little as possible, for she truly did not want to know what they felt, that she decided it was why she had become so anxious to get away from him. With that admission, however, she grew calm. Now that she knew what her weakness was, had recognized it as no more than a woman's response to a far too attractive man, she could control it. As she collected the food to bring to him, she strengthened her resolve and reminded herself that she was not at the keep to find herself a man but to learn what she could about the MacNachtons and then find her cousin.
Gillanders smiled as he stripped to his braes and began to wash the dust of travel from his body. Mistress McKee was a rigid woman, proud of her high place in the keep and undoubtedly fighting a losing battle with her attempts to keep the maids under her rule as pious as she so obviously was. Most maids in a keep like this were eager to earn an extra coin or two now and then by warming a man's bed, especially if that man was young, hale, and reasonably handsome. Of course, if dear Mistress McKee found out he was no Baldwin but one of the much whispered about MacNachtons, she would be worried about far more than the fact that her maids had few morals when it came to bedding a man who looked as if he had that coin or two to spare for them.
The thought that the young maid Murdina was of that ilk made him frown. He was not sure why it troubled him to think she was one to give her favors to any man who tempted her with a coin or a smile. That made no sense at all, for he was hungry for a woman. It had been far too long since he had lost himself in the soft heat of a woman. All that should concern him was how much she might think she was worth.
He could already feel the silk of that thick, blood red hair against his skin. He ached to see those beautiful eyes, a strange blend of blue and green, turn hot and liquid with passion. Small, long-fingered hands were undoubtedly calloused and a little rough from work, but he was certain that her fair skin would be soft elsewhere and as sweet as the cream it resembled.
His body grew hot and hard as images of Murdina beneath him, naked and flushed with desire, filled his head. Gillanders tried to shake the images from his mind but was not surprised when he failed. Even in her ill-fitted gown he could see that she was all he desired. The faded wool could not hide the fullness of her breasts or the sweet, womanly curve of her hips. She also had height enough to offer him the delight of long legs, limbs perfect for wrapping around him as they sought their pleasure in each other.
She was trouble, Gillanders decided. The need she roused was too strong, clutched at him too swiftly, and was difficult to shake free of. It would be wise to stay away from her, but he knew he would not do so. Since the first time he had rolled about in the heather with the butcher's daughter, a greedy, buxom wench who had gleefully rid him of his virginity, he had not known such a hunger for a woman. There had been a spark of interest in Murdina's lovely eyes, and he knew he would not be able to resist the temptation to use it to draw her into his bed.
There was a soft rap at the door, and he heard her husky voice announcing that she had brought him his food. Gillanders glanced down at his near naked body and grinned. His desire was no longer blatantly visible through his braes, so he bid her to enter and waited.
Murdina entered the bedchamber and nearly dropped the tray she held. The man was as good as naked. It took all of her willpower not to slam the tray down on the table near the fireplace and bolt from the room. With what she prayed looked like calm disinterest, she walked to the table and set the tray down on it. It was not easy, for she could feel both his amusement and his interest in her as a woman.
It was an effort to keep her gaze firmly on the food she set out. She did not understand why she so badly wished to look at him. Despite being the only child of a very protective father, she was not a complete stranger to the sight of a man's body, yet none had held more than a passing interest for her.
Then again, she mused ruefully, none of those men had been quite so fine to look at. She had been right about the long, lean, powerful lines of his body. There was no softness to the man, his strength clear to see beneath the taut skin, skin that held the light, golden tone much like one can get from the sun. That smooth, unmarred flesh made her palms actually itch with the need to touch him.
"Ah, just what I needed."
That deep voice sounded right in her ear, his warm breath caressing the sensitive skin there. Murdina bit the inside of her cheek to stop herself from squeaking in alarm. Her eyes widened as he reached around her, his strong, elegant hand picking up a thick chunk of cheese. She could feel the heat of his body all along her back. When the urge to lean back a little, to brush against his tall body struck her, Murdina grabbed the now empty tray and quickly sidestepped away from him. She fought against blushing when he looked at the tray she held up before her like a shield and quirked one dark brow at her. The amusement in his eyes made her want to hit him with the heavy wooden tray. They had not actually touched, but she had been close enough to catch the want that afflicted him, a desire for her that she found all too tempting.
"If that will be all, sir?" she asked, pleased with how calm and serious she sounded.
"I suppose it must be. For now."
"Then I will leave ye to dine. Please send for me if ye need anything else."
"Oh, I most certainly will. And my name is Gillanders."
I did not run, Murdina told herself as she shut the door behind her and hurried back to the kitchen. I but left the room with swift efficiency. She was not surprised when a small part of her heartily scoffed, but she ignored the tiny mocking voice in her head.
The man affected her like the most potent of wines. She had heard such subtle flirtatious remarks before, as well as many that were not so subtle. Not one had made her insides clench with the temptation to reply in kind. His amusement tickled her anger to life, but everything else about him left her as breathless as some cow-eyed maiden with little sense of the danger she was in, a maid too foolish to see beyond a handsome face, playful words, and a fine, strong form. When he drew close his desire had warmed her, and she knew it would be a mistake to touch him, to open herself up to the full strength of such a feeling.
His name was Gillanders. It should be Dangerous. He should wear some marking to tell women to beware, she thought crossly. It would be best if she found as many ways as possible to avoid the man.
Murdina was so lost in her thoughts she almost walked into the laird. She stumbled to a halt and looked up at the tall Sir Ranald Dumfries. He was so thin she often wondered if the man was ill. What she was certain of, however, was that he was a man it would be wise to avoid. He made her skin crawl with the way his too pale eyes fixed on her. She did all she could not to even brush against the man.
"How is our guest?" he asked.
"Weel, m'laird. He has been given the water to wash away the dust of travel, and I have just taken him some food to tide him o'er until the evening meal is served."
"Good. Keep a close eye on the mon."
"M'laird?" She could not hide her uncertainty, wondering exactly what the man meant. There was a lot of lewd and violent behavior at Dunnantinny, but she had not seen that any of the maids were actually ordered to service anyone. Most were more than willing to do so without being asked. Murdina could think of no other reason the laird would ask her to watch Sir Baldwin, and she wondered what could happen to her if she refused.
"I wish for ye to tell me all he says or does. How he acts or any odd habits he might have. Do ye understand me?"
"Aye, m'laird," she replied, praying he would not press her to openly swear that she would do as he asked.
"Good lass. And if ye cannae find me, tell all to Egan or Donald."
The moment the laird was gone, Murdina softly muttered every curse she knew and then heartily wished she knew more. Her laird wished her to spy for him. If that was not appalling enough, he wanted her to keep a close eye on the very man she had just decided she would be wise to avoid as much as possible. Perhaps, she thought, it was past time to continue her search for her cousin
Excerpted from Born to Bite by HANNAH HOWELL DIANA COSBY ERICA RIDLEY Copyright © 2012 by Kensington Publishing Corp.. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON BOOKS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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