Darkness Dawnsby Dianne Duvall
In this dazzling, sensual novel, Dianne Duvall beckons readers into a world of vampires, immortals, and humans with extraordinary gifts. . .where passion can last forever, if you're willing to pay the price. . .Once, Sarah Bingham's biggest challenge was making her students pay attention in class. Now, after rescuing a wounded stranger, she's landed in the middle… See more details below
In this dazzling, sensual novel, Dianne Duvall beckons readers into a world of vampires, immortals, and humans with extraordinary gifts. . .where passion can last forever, if you're willing to pay the price. . .Once, Sarah Bingham's biggest challenge was making her students pay attention in class. Now, after rescuing a wounded stranger, she's landed in the middle of a battle between corrupt vampires and powerful immortals who also need blood to survive. Roland Warbrook is the most compelling man Sarah has ever laid hands on. But his desire for her is mingled with a hunger he can barely control. . .In his nine centuries of immortal existence, no woman has tempted Roland as much as Sarah. But asking her to love him is impossiblewhen it means forfeiting the world she's always known, and the life he would do anything to protect. . . "These dark, kick-ass guardians can protect me any day!"Alexandra Ivy
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By Leslie Duvall
ZEBRA BOOKSCopyright © 2008 Leslie Duvall
All right reserved.
Chapter OneA strident screech pierced the predawn quiet.
The hair on the back of her neck rising, Sarah Bingham surveyed the meadow around her. The sky had gone from black to charcoal gray, a harbinger of sunrise that did little to alleviate the gloom. In the nine months North Carolina had been her home, she had heard some creepy animal calls, but that one had sounded downright human.
Couldn't have been. She lived way out in the boonies with no nearby neighbors.
Struggling to shake off her unease, she impaled the soil with a shovel, turned it over, then repeated the process that would ultimately culminate in a vegetable garden. The unseasonable heat she had hoped to avoid by starting early added a glimmer of moisture to her skin as she grappled with the drought-hardened ground.
Oh yeah. A few hours of this and she would definitely collapse into an exhausted slumber. Screw you, insomnia! The spring semester was over. Her students were gone. She was going to sleep tonight if it killed her.
Loud snarling, growling sounds abruptly split the air, accompanied by cracks and thumps and the snap of branches.
Starting violently, Sarah gripped the wooden handle of the shovel and stared at the heavy undergrowth in front of her with wide, unblinking eyes.
The foliage began to thrash and sway. Her heart slammed against her ribs.
Oh crap! Weren't there bears in North Carolina?
Branches and leaves exploded outward as a massive dark form, moving so fast she couldn't see it clearly, charged toward her.
Too panicked to even scream, she dropped the wooden handle and raised her arms to protect her face, head, and neck.
A heavy weight crashed into her left side. Feet flying up, she hit the ground hard on her back two or three yards away. Dry soil and twigs abraded her hands as she threw them out to the sides. Something tore through her right shirtsleeve and cut her elbow. A painful throbbing invaded her ribs.
Rolling onto her stomach, Sarah jerked her head up and looked around wildly in time to see the trees that bisected this end of the meadow envelop ... whatever had barreled into her.
Quiet settled upon the clearing.
Wincing, she pressed a hand to her aching side and scrambled to her feet.
The growls and thrashing resumed, even louder than before.
Adrenaline surging through her veins, shortening her breath, speeding her pulse, she grabbed the shovel with shaking hands, turned it upside down, and held it like a baseball bat.
She didn't know what that thing was, but if it came back, she was going to knock it six ways from Sunday.
"Where'd they go?" a voice called out breathlessly.
Sarah jumped and glanced at the trees that bordered the meadow on her right.
"That way! Straight ahead! Don't lose 'em!"
Two figures, mere shadows amid the dense, dark brush, moved as quickly as they could in the same direction as the ... thing. Only visible for a brief moment before the trees swallowed them again, they didn't appear to have noticed her. The long-sleeved green shirt she wore over a black tank top and sweat pants must have made her blend into the dim scenery.
The growling ceased. So did the thumps and thrashing.
Sarah took a cautious step backward. Then another.
"Ah man!" the first voice blurted. "I think I'm gonna puke!"
"Don't be such a wuss."
What the hell was going on? Had those guys been chasing a bear?
It had to have been a bear, right?
"Aren't you gonna kill him?" the second voice asked.
"Let the sun finish him," sneered a new voice, deep and full of malice.
"What do you want us to do?" the second countered.
"Stay until it's over," the third instructed, his words softened by a British accent, "then bring me whatever is left of him."
Sarah continued to inch toward the wall of greenery that separated the meadow from her backyard, trying not to make any sound that might alert them to her presence.
Who were you supposed to call when you thought someone was torturing wild animals? 911? Animal Control?
"Is he gone?" the first voice asked uneasily.
"Yeah," the second responded.
"Are you sure?"
"Yeah-yeah. He's gone. He's gone."
"Dude! That was the most awesome thing I've ever seen in my life!"
"Didn't I tell ya?"
Wasn't torturing animals the first step toward becoming a serial killer?
"Hey, what are you doin'?" the first asked.
"Cuttin' his clothes off."
Sarah froze, ice filling her veins. His clothes?
"Dude, that's so gay."
"I'm not gay, asswipe. I wanna see what the sun's gonna do to him."
"Get his boots."
A man? That couldn't have been a man that had knocked her down. It had been huge, had growled, and had crossed the clearing way too fast to have been human.
Yet, it sounded as if their victim was a man, not an animal.
And, apparently, they weren't through with him.
Spinning around, she took three quick steps, intending to hurry home and call 911.
"Hey, Bobby," the second said, "you ever stabbed anyone before?"
"Check this out."
Crap! Reversing direction, she crossed the clearing as quickly and quietly as she could. Her stinging hands tightened around the shovel handle. Sweat beaded on her skin. The bitter taste of fear invading her mouth, she entered the trees and crept forward.
This is crazy. This is crazy.
She was a music professor, not a police officer!
But it would take too long for the police to arrive. She lived so far from town....
"You wanna try it?"
"Won't they be pissed if we cut him up?"
"Not as long as he's still breathin' when the sun hits him. And if he's not, who cares? How're they gonna know?"
The trees weren't as thick here as she had thought. After just a few steps, Sarah stood at the edge (with any luck, still concealed by their branches) and peered anxiously into the next field.
A whiff of rank body odor struck her.
There were three men. One, whose face was hidden from view, lay on the ground on his back, what she could see of him bare. His arms had been pulled away from his sides and appeared to be held down by something she couldn't glimpse through the tall grasses. Closer to her, his ankles had been lashed together with ... rope? The weeds obscured them too much to tell. But they, too, were held down, judging by the way his thigh muscles continually flexed and strained.
A blond in faded jeans and a yellow T-shirt straddled the man's thighs, his back to Sarah. A second with brown hair stood beside him, mostly turned away, gaping down at the naked man.
Though she only caught a quick impression of their faces, Sarah guessed the assailants were around twenty years old.
The blond suddenly raised both hands above his head, his fingers curled around the grip of a pocketknife, then slammed them down.
The naked man jerked and grunted with pain.
The brunet yelled, "Dude! Awesome!"
Sickened, terrified, trembling uncontrollably, Sarah stepped out of the trees, skulked forward, and swung the shovel.
The blond looked up at his accomplice. "You wanna—"
Yellow Shirt slumped sideways, hit the ground, and lay still.
The second man gaped at his friend in stupefaction, then spun toward Sarah ... just as she swung again.
Right between the eyes.
Staggering back a step, he swore profusely, blinked hard several times, then frowned.
That did it. His pale eyes rolled back in his head as he sank bonelessly to the ground.
When Sarah turned her attention to the naked man, her stomach lurched and she thought for a moment she might be sick.
He had indeed been restrained. Thick, rough rope stained with blood bound his ankles and had rubbed his skin raw. A T-shaped metal spike as thick as her thumb had been driven into the ground between them, immobilizing him and cutting deep grooves into his flesh. Identical spikes had been driven through the palm of each hand, pinning his arms to the ground.
It was as if they had wanted to crucify him but, lacking the necessary lumber, had staked him to the ground instead.
"Oh shit." The whisper escaped her involuntarily.
If the stakes weren't enough, two stab wounds marred his abdomen, courtesy of the blond. Deep gashes, weeping copious amounts of blood, scored the man's muscled arms, chest, and legs.
As she fought back nausea, Sarah directed her gaze to his face.
He was perhaps in his mid-thirties and handsome, despite the clenched jaw and lines of pain that bracketed his mouth and eyes. Short, jet black hair. Matching brows. Straight nose. Piercing, dark brown eyes that caught and held hers as she unlocked her stiff limbs and forced herself to move forward.
Gritting his teeth, Roland watched the woman kneel beside him and set the shovel down within easy reach.
He had heard someone approaching while the damned blond plunged his blade into him and had expected yet another of the vampires' minions to join them. Gathering what little energy was left in him, he had been preparing to make an unlikely attempt to telekinetically force the bastard to stab himself on the next go-round when the kid had suddenly stiffened, then keeled over, revealing a woman in a Bugs Bunny baseball cap.
She couldn't be more than five feet tall and wouldn't weigh a hundred pounds dripping wet. As she grabbed pieces of his discarded shirt and put pressure on his wounds, Roland could feel her violent trembling.
Who was she?
She had risked her life to save him. Why?
"Thank you," he managed to bite out past the increased pain she unintentionally caused him in her attempt to staunch the flow of blood.
She nodded, wide hazel eyes meeting his. "I—I have to call 911," she said, her voice soft and shaky. "Do you have a cell phone?"
"No." The vamps who had ambushed him—those who had survived, anyway—had nabbed it.
She looked at the unconscious men. "Maybe one of them has one. If they don't, I can run to my house, call, and be back in—"
"There isn't time," he interrupted, sensing the rapidly approaching dawn. "I suffer from a condition that causes extreme photosensitivity."
Her brow furrowed. "Is that like an allergy to bright light?"
"Yes. If I'm still here when the sun rises, the pain I'm experiencing now will multiply a hundredfold."
She glanced past him at the brightening horizon, her pretty face filling with dismay. "Please tell me you're joking."
She met his gaze. "You're serious?"
"Very much so. Already weakened as I am, the sun will probably kill me."
"But I ... I mean, you're ... What should I do?" "Free me."
"How? There are metal spikes in your hands!"
"Pull them up."
Her face blanched. "What?"
He couldn't blame her for hesitating. He didn't relish the idea himself but would really prefer it to roasting. "Please. I tried to do it myself and couldn't."
She looked at the hand closest to her with obvious dread.
"There's no other way."
Swallowing hard, she scooted over and placed a knee on the ground on either side of his hand.
Roland braced himself as she gripped the horizontal bar at the top of the spike, squeezing her fingers between it and his palm. Flames shot through his hand and up his arm at the slight jostling. He thought he hid it well until she apologized.
"I'm sorry. I'm sorry."
He gave his head a swift shake. Even that hurt. "Just pull."
Nodding gamely, looking a bit green about the gills, she pulled.
The stake didn't move.
Lips compressing, she tried again. The spike shifted, lifted perhaps an inch, then stopped.
She paused, tossing a panicked glance at the treetops that were beginning to acquire a golden glow. "It's in too deep!"
"Keep trying," he encouraged, imbuing the words with a calm he didn't feel. In peak condition, he could withstand brief contact with the less harsh light of dawn without sustaining any damage. However, with so many injuries currently sapping his strength and much of his life's blood soaking into the thirsty ground beneath him, even minor exposure would prove disastrous and, in all likelihood, fatal.
Drawing her feet up under her in a squat, she pulled on the spike again, this time aided by the muscles in her thighs.
Agony sliced through him like razor blades as it moved, slowly ascending. Roland helped as much as he could, biceps bunching as he pressed upward, trapping her fingers between the horizontal bar and his slick, ravaged skin.
At last, the spike released its hold on the earth and leapt free, nearly robbing the woman of her balance.
Withdrawing her hands, she stared at it with disbelieving eyes. Still lodged in his palm, it was roughly a foot and a half long and covered with clumps of dirt and roots.
He motioned to his legs. "I'll remove the other one while you go to work on my ankles."
Nodding, she turned toward the blond and nervously searched the ground around him.
"It's by my hip," Roland told her, assuming she sought the knife.
Her gaze moved to Roland's hip, skipped to his groin, then back again. Pale face flushing, she retrieved the knife and hastily moved to his feet.
Did he not suffer so much, Roland would have smiled. Instead, he was just glad he still had something that could make her blush. For a moment there, when the kid had cut away Roland's clothes and crouched over him with the knife, he had feared the boy intended to geld him.
As the woman started sawing through the heavy rope at his ankles, Roland rolled his upper body toward the restrained arm until his hands touched. Though bone, muscle, and tendon had been damaged, he forced the fingers of his free hand to link with those of his other and began the excruciating task of pulling the second spike free.
"I saw a thing on the news once," the woman said, her voice taut with tension, "about these kids who had an illness like yours. And once a week they gathered at a park after it closed so they could socialize and play on the equipment in the dark."
Roland struggled to pay attention while he steadily forced the spike out of the ground. He hadn't felt this weak since ... well, since before he had been transformed over nine centuries ago.
"In the car on the way there," she continued, "the children had to wear protective suits and helmets because even the headlights of passing cars would hurt them. Is your skin that sensitive?"
"Yes," he growled as the spike came loose.
Panting, he lay still for a moment, trying to shut out the pain. The knife she wielded slipped and sank into his flesh.
"I'm sorry," she said quickly.
He shook his head. It wasn't her fault. The rope was so tight he doubted even he could cut it off without giving himself a few nicks.
The pressure on his ankles loosened, then fell away. The woman dropped the knife and began to tug on the spike, raising it enough for him to slip his feet free.
Sitting up set the stab wounds in Roland's abdomen ablaze.
While he caught his breath, the woman moved to his side. Every few seconds she cast the horizon an apprehensive glance.
Seizing the bar lodged against one palm, he started to pull.
She grabbed his wrist. "Don't. If you remove it now, you'll drag dirt, bacteria, bugs, and who knows what else into the wound. And the spike might be curbing the flow of blood. Let the paramedics do it later."
Leaning forward, she pressed her face to his chest and slid her arms around him.
Roland was so shocked it took him a minute to realize she was trying to haul him to his feet.
She couldn't, of course. He weighed twice what she did. But he appreciated the effort.
His ankles (and most of the rest of him) screamed in protest as he dragged himself upright. As soon as he stood, the woman shifted to his side and carefully drew one of his arms across her narrow shoulders. The top of her cap barely reached his chin.
"Can you walk?"
He nodded wearily and let her steer him toward the trees.
The cool shade there provided welcome relief from the burning that already lashed his skin. Despite their hurry, his petite rescuer took great pains to protect him, holding back branches that would have otherwise brushed his wounds or jostled the spikes in his hands. She even warned him of sharp twigs and other hazards on the ground that might harm his bare feet.
Excerpted from Darkness Dawns by Leslie Duvall Copyright © 2008 by Leslie Duvall. Excerpted by permission of ZEBRA 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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