Highland Beastby Hannah Howell, Heather Grothaus, Victoria Dahl
Forbidden Love Is Eternal. . .
"The Beast Within" by Hannah Howell
Gybbon MacNachton spends his days searching for the Lost Onesdemons with the powerful MacNachton bloodline who are being hunted. When he stumbles upon Alice Boyd, living like a wild animal in the forest, she stirs a primitive lust deep within hima lust that/b>/b>… See more details below
Forbidden Love Is Eternal. . .
"The Beast Within" by Hannah Howell
Gybbon MacNachton spends his days searching for the Lost Onesdemons with the powerful MacNachton bloodline who are being hunted. When he stumbles upon Alice Boyd, living like a wild animal in the forest, she stirs a primitive lust deep within hima lust that can only be sated by their explosive union. . .
"The Vampire Hunter" by Heather Grothaus
As the last survivor of her family of witches, Beatrix Levenach must protect the townspeople from vampires. But when her life is in danger, she is forced to accept help from Alder the Whitea vampire from the clan who wiped out her ancestors. And when they discover an all-consuming passion, they must make the ultimate sacrifice for eternal love. . .
"Laird of Midnight" by Victoria Dahl
For fifty years, Finlay Maclain has hunted the vampire clan who murdered his family and made him one of them. Now, he's sitting in a tavern, waiting for the last vampire he must kill. But a beautiful wench is distracting him beyond reasonand all he can think of is teasing her until she begs him to take her again and again. . .
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By Hannah Howell Heather Grothaus Victoria Dahl
ZEBRA BOOKSCopyright © 2009 Kensington Publishing Corp.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneScotland-spring, 1513
Silence descended upon the forest like a shroud. It was as if all of nature had just drawn its breath in, holding it in fearful anticipation. But of what? thought Gybbon MacNachton. He looked at his two cousins and saw that Lachann and Martyn had gone as tense as he had. They gripped the hilts of their swords just as he did.
"Hunters?" he asked as they dismounted, in a whisper so soft only a MacNachton could hear him.
Lachann opened his mouth but had no chance to reply. A cry as chilling and feral as any MacNachton could make tore through the woods. The heavy silence was shattered. Some animals echoed the fury in that cry while others revealed little caution as they scrambled to flee from whatever made the sound, filling the air with their cries of alarm.
"I believe that was one of the Hunted," Lachann drawled. "Which way?"
Gybbon knew his cousins had a good idea of where the cry had come from; they only sought confirmation. One of the gifts he had gained from the blending of Callan and MacNachton blood was superior hearing, one even few MacNachtons could equal. A gift that could all too often be a curse, he thought idly as he concentrated. It was a struggle to push aside all the other noises crowding his ears, but he finally caught the sounds he sought. The soft but heavy breathing of hard-run horses, the sharp sound of armor, and even the clear, sleek sound of swords being unsheathed.
"Straight ahead. A short run and we will reach a clearing at the foot of the hills ye can see rising above the trees," he replied. "There are at least six armed men. The noise the horses are making makes it difficult to be certain. And one other," he added softly as he heard a soft, low growl. "I believe we have just found one of the Lost Ones."
"Then we had best hurry," said Martyn even as he secured their horses deep in the shadows of several old beeches. "I have no wish to have come so close to the prize we have sought only to bury it."
"Agreed," said Gybbon. "I go straight. Martyn, ye go to the right, and Lachann, ye go to the left. We halt when we sight our prey and then ye wait for my signal."
They moved swiftly, and silently, through the trees. Gybbon was not surprised to hear the sounds of animals moving out of their way. Animals recognized predators. The beasts kept at Cambrun had to be carefully raised from birth to accept a MacNachton or a Callan. The MacNachtons' human allies cared for the animals that were bred for the table.
The scent of blood stained the air as they drew closer to their target. Gybbon had to swiftly cage the beast that stirred within him, its dark hunger awakened by the smell. Every instinct he had told him they had found one of the Lost Ones their clan searched for. If he was wrong, however, the last thing he and his cousins needed was to approach a group of Outsiders with their MacNachton blood running hot and hungry. The whispers about their clan were already too loud. Attacking a few Outsiders who were doing no more than fighting each other with fangs bared and the bloodlust running high would only add to the rumors that got them hunted down and decried as demons.
Gybbon felt anger grow within his heart, an anger aimed at the carelessness of his ancestors. Not only had the MacNachtons of the past done little to hide their dark nature, becoming the Nightriders of people's worst nightmares, but they had also bred outside the clan. They left behind living proof of their existence but, far worse and unforgivable, they had deserted their offspring, leaving children behind to grow up with gifts they did not understand and that, all too often, got them killed.
The moment the MacNachton laird Cathal had become aware of the problem, he had sent out as many of his men as he could. Dozens of MacNachtons were on a hunt for the ones they now all called the Lost Ones. Not only did their clan need the new blood the Lost Ones would bring to Cambrun, but the MacNachtons' greatest enemy now hunted the Lost Ones as well. An ever-growing number of Hunters were on the trail of anyone with MacNachton blood and it had become a hard-run race to see who would find all the Lost Ones first.
As soon as the trees began to thin out, Gybbon signaled his cousins to go down on their bellies. The three of them crept along, barely rustling a single leaf, until they reached the edge of a clearing. Gybbon was idly thinking of how good they were at sneaking up on Outsiders when the clouds suddenly slid away from the full moon and he got a good look at the person facing down eight well-armed men.
They had definitely found a Lost One, was the only clear thought he had for a moment. She was small and looked as if she badly needed sustenance. She was also dressed in rags and needed a bath. Crouched as if prepared to spring at her enemy, she had her small, long-fingered hands held up, long nails that Gybbon knew could easily rip out a throat readied for attack. A snarl twisted her full mouth and exposed her fangs. One man already lay sprawled on the ground between her and the other men. Her ragged gown and pale face were spattered with the wounded man's blood.
A man of fastidious tastes and habits, Gybbon was shocked by the abrupt, fierce attraction he felt. She was a feral creature, as unlike the women he favored as a thistle was to a rose. Even the Pureblood women of his clan had never looked this feral, this dangerous. The fact that he could not even see her eyes or face very clearly due to the tangled mess of her long, thick hair did nothing to dim the attraction suddenly knotting his innards. He felt his fangs fill his mouth and he knew it was not just because of the strong scent of blood. He wanted to sink them into the woman standing there covered in blood and mud.
Forcing aside his confusion, he signaled to his cousins. They needed to slip into the clearing at her side and her back. They also needed to show the Hunters that they faced not one, but four MacNachtons. Gybbon hoped that would be enough to cause the men to flee. Although he ached to rid the world of this pack of Hunters, a battle now could lose him the girl, and returning a Lost One to the nest was of greater importance. Women with Outsider blood were fertile and his clan was in desperate need of those. When the thought of her bearing a child for some other MacNachton nearly made him growl, he pushed all thought of the woman from his mind. He had an enemy to rout.
"Ye killed Donald!" cried a short, stocky man.
"Nay, but I will if ye take even one step closer," said the woman, her voice clear and sweet despite her battle-ready stance.
Gybbon nearly shook his head as he used the shadows to get as close to her as possible before he was seen. He did not understand why she did not just run. Why would she face so many armed men when she could outrun them or disappear into the shadows? They had not cornered her. She still had routes of escape opened to her.
"Ye will die here, demon bitch, and we will sniff out your stinking spawn and kill him, too."
It was hard not to curse aloud at the words "stinking spawn." Now Gybbon knew why she did not run. Somewhere, close at hand, was a child. A child that might also have MacNachton blood. He signaled his cousins and, one by one, each of them stepped out of the shadows. Martyn moved to the woman's right, Lachann to her left, and Gybbon stepped up behind her. He wanted to stand in front of her but he had to make sure she did not try to flee from them once the Hunters were gone. When she spun around, Gybbon smiled, revealing his fangs. It was the quickest way he knew of letting her know they were allies.
Alice Boyd stared at the man who had crept up behind her. The fact that he had been able to get so close to her without her hearing a sound stunned her. It had been a mistake to turn around, however, exposing her back to the men who had been hunting her for far too long, but she had responded to a presence at her back with blind instinct. The fact that the men now flanking her and the one behind her all had fangs did little to comfort her. Just because they appeared to be as cursed as she was did not mean they were allies.
The man behind her grabbed her by the wrist and yanked her to his side. Still reeling from seeing that there were others like her, Alice did not fight his hold. She told herself that if these men sent her enemies running, at the end of the battle she would have only three men to deal with. It gave her a slightly better chance of coming out of this confrontation alive. She forced herself not to think of the fact that if they were like her, they would be a lot harder to beat or flee from than the Hunters. She could not let fear weaken her now.
For a moment all the men did was stare at each other. Alice was tempted to tell them to all cease posturing and get on with the fight. Then the man she had injured moaned, rolled onto his belly, and started to crawl toward his companions. She pushed aside the pinch of guilt and horror over the fact that she had so badly injured him. He had been trying to kill her, she reminded herself sternly.
She waited for the three men with her to do something but they only closed ranks around her. They were protecting her but she had no idea why. She did not know them. She was sure they did not know her. Even though they appeared to be like her, she had no knowledge of any kinsmen, either.
"There are only four of them," protested the short, stocky man as two of the Hunters grabbed the wounded man and hefted him onto the back of a horse. "We should stand and fight."
"Nay, not this time," said a tall, muscular man as he mounted, never once taking his gaze off the woman and the men standing at her side. "Mount, Geordie. Now."
"They will return," said Alice the moment the last of her tormentors had disappeared into the night.
"Aye," agreed the man still holding her wrist. "They will try to creep up on us and take us down one by one."
"Then, mayhap, ye best hie right back to where ye came from."
"Not without ye."
Fear was a sharp pain in her heart but Alice fought to hide it from the men watching her so closely. "Why should I go with ye? I dinnae ken who ye are."
"I am Gybbon MacNachton," said the man holding her. He nodded toward the man on her left. "My cousin Lachann." He nodded toward the other man. "My cousin Martyn. We have been searching for ye."
MacNachton was but one of the names her tormentors had called her. It meant nothing to her. It did, however, add weight to what her instincts told her. These men were like her. Either the curse that plagued her was more widespread than she thought or they all shared a kinship. Yet, if there was a kinship, why had her mother or father never mentioned it?
Alice studied all three men before fixing her gaze on the one who still held her wrist. She beat down a surge of embarrassment, of humiliation, over being found in such a ragged state by three such handsome men. That was of no consequence. All that mattered was if she could trust them. It was not only her life that was at risk.
Her captor was achingly handsome, more so than his dark cousins, which made her feel even more ragged and filthy. She did not need her keen nose to know that he was clean. His skin and his clothes proclaimed it. He was tall, lean, and obviously strong. His face was all elegant lines and fair, unmarked skin. As close as she was to him, aided by both the bright moonlight and her own keen eyesight, she could even see the color of his eyes. They were a brilliant green and the look in them was one of wariness. Set beneath straight, dark brows and rimmed with thick, dark lashes, they were beautiful eyes, too beautiful for such a strong warrior. His long hair was so black the moonlight caused it to gleam with a slight blue sheen. Monsters should not be so handsome.
"Why have ye searched for me?" She tried to pull free of his grasp when she caught herself thinking his slightly full lips looked soft, and tempting, but he held fast to her.
"Weel, nay for ye exactly. We were sent out by our laird to find people we call the Lost Ones."
"The Lost Ones?"
"Aye," said the man called Lachann. "Kin born outside our lands, ones lost to us."
Martyn nodded. "Our ancestors were nay verra good men. They raided villages and towns for miles about. They were called Nightriders. It wasnae until recently that we became aware of the fact that they left behind children, ones born of rape or seduction. First there was a man called Simon, then a lass and her wee brother running from the Hunters just as ye are, came to us."
"Hunters," she hissed, her fury at her tormentors rising up to choke her. " 'Tis too fine a name for them."
"Aye," agreed Gybbon, "yet 'tis what they do. They hunt down MacNachtons."
"I am a Boyd. Alice Boyd."
"Ye hold MacNachton blood, lass. That makes ye one of us. As ye now ken, we have an enemy, one that wishes to see every MacNachton dead."
"Because we are demons, cursed and damned."
"Nay, we are but different." He ignored the soft, derisive noise she made. "We can talk of this later. Tell me why ye faced these men, why ye didnae use the gifts I ken ye have to just run and hide."
Gifts? Alice nearly laughed but knew her bitterness would make it a harsh, unpleasant noise. Her family had not been slaughtered because she had gifts. She had not been beaten and raped because she had some God-blessed gift. It was fear of the darkness in her that caused such tragedy. If she had gifts she would not be filthy, ragged, hungry, and huddling in caves.
Quickly looking over the three men again, she frowned. They were clean, well dressed, and did not look hungry at all. Yet they knew what she was and, after seeing their fangs, she could not dispute their claim that they were like her. Did they have some safe haven or had they escaped true suffering because they were strong, well-armed men who had banded together?
She thought over their talk of Lost Ones, of children bred by their ancestors and deserted, or ignored because the men never considered the possibility that their widely cast seed had taken root somewhere. Her mother had once told her that, years ago, Grandmere had taken a lover, a dark man who had visited her only at night. Her mother had been the result of that union and had said that she was certain that was where the darkness inside of them had come from. Once her grandmother had spoken of that lover, calling him her dark knight, her sinful Nightrider. Everything these men told her matched what little she knew or could remember. Alice was not sure that meant she should trust them, however. She had too much to protect to trust too easily.
And yet, these men obviously knew how to stay safe, warm, and well fed. She desperately wanted to stop running, stop crouching in caves like a cornered animal. Neither could she ignore the fact that she was changing, was becoming more animal than woman. Alice also knew that all she had done, all she could do, was not enough to gain what these men had.
She was facing defeat and death and she knew it. She was not the only one, either. Once she was gone, the ones she fought so hard to save would be lost as well. Alice had to admit that she was also tired, so very tired, of carrying all that weight alone.
"Lass, we mean ye nay harm," Gybbon said quietly, knowing that she was trying to decide if she could trust them or not. "Ye are nay alone, are ye. There is a child, aye? Let us help ye. Let us take ye to your people, to Cambrun. Ye will be safe there, far safer than ye are now. Ye and the child."
"Ah, aye, my stinking spawn." Alice felt his hand briefly clench and saw anger tighten his handsome face. Oddly, that sign of the anger he felt over the insult to her child helped decide her course. "I have to trust in what ye say. There is no other choice for me. If these bastards hunting me dinnae succeed, hunger, cold, and exhaustion will. So, I believe ye had best follow me."
Gybbon released her and then found that he and his cousins had to move quickly to keep pace with her. She scrambled over rocks with ease despite her unshod feet and climbed the rocky hill with a speed and agility he and his cousins were hard-pressed to match. Either she had a natural skill or she had lived like this for a long time.
When she slipped into a crevice between two huge boulders, he followed. The soft curses from his cousins told Gybbon they were finding it as tight a squeeze as he was. He stopped inside a small cave and was about to complain a little when he looked toward the small fire in the center of the cave. The sight that met his eyes trapped his petty grumblings in his throat.
Excerpted from Highland Beast by Hannah Howell Heather Grothaus Victoria Dahl Copyright © 2009 by Kensington Publishing Corp.. Excerpted by permission.
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