His Dark Embraceby Amanda Ashley
A Vampire's Kiss. A Woman's Surrender.
Tall, dark, mysterious--and with a faint scar on his cheek that only makes him more gorgeous--Kaiden Thorne is one schoolgirl obsession Skylynn never forgot. Now, returning to her childhood home after eight years, she can't believe her reclusive neighbor is still living across the street--and hotter than ever./b>… See more details below
A Vampire's Kiss. A Woman's Surrender.
Tall, dark, mysterious--and with a faint scar on his cheek that only makes him more gorgeous--Kaiden Thorne is one schoolgirl obsession Skylynn never forgot. Now, returning to her childhood home after eight years, she can't believe her reclusive neighbor is still living across the street--and hotter than ever. Skylynn doesn't know how Kaiden manages to stay so young, virile, and impossibly attractive. But she knows she wants him. . .even if he harbors a fearful secret he refuses to tell her.
When Kaiden sees the beautiful young woman Skylynn has become, he can no longer control the bloodlust that is his true nature. Once he pulls Skylynn into his arms, presses his lips against hers--and accidentally draws blood--he longs for more. Only she possesses what he wants and what he needs. Only she can save him or destroy him. But once Skylynn agrees to help Kaiden battle his darkest desires, there is no turning back. . .
"Ashley is a master storyteller." --Romantic Times
"A classic vampire tale of sensual, spine-tingling suspense." --Christine Feehan on Desire After Dark
"A master of her craft." --Maggie Shayne
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His Dark Embrace
By Amanda Ashley
ZEBRA BOOKSCopyright © 2012 Madeline Baker
All right reserved.
Chapter OneSkylynn sat on the front porch swing, staring blankly into the distance. Yesterday, she had buried her grandfather in the family plot, alongside her grandmother and her parents. Now, sitting in Granda's creaky old two-seater swing and listening to the clock inside strike midnight, she wondered if she carried some kind of curse. How else to explain that everyone she cared for left her? Her parents had been killed in a traffic accident when she was only three. Her grandmother had passed on a few years later, leaving Granda to raise Sky and her brother, Sam.
Sam had been sent to Iraq nine months ago, shortly before her divorce. For the last four months, he had been missing in action, presumed dead. When he had first gone missing, she hadn't slept for days. She had written to several of the men in his unit, asking for information, but they had all said the same thing. Their unit had been in a firefight. Sam had been with them one minute and gone the next. They had searched for him until enemy fire had driven them out of the area. Since then, there had been no word of Sam's whereabouts. Not a day went by that she didn't think of him, worry about him. Knowing there was little else she could do to help him, she sent fervent prayers to heaven each night, praying for his safe return home.
And now she was back in Vista Verde, California, with a failed marriage to her credit, a brother who was missing, and no family to lean on.
In an effort to shake off her melancholy mood, she studied the three-story monstrosity across the street. They didn't build houses like that anymore. Heck, they hadn't built houses like that in over a hundred years. She had always wanted to see the inside, but she had never been invited past the entry hall. As far as she knew, no one else in the neighborhood had ever even gotten that far. The owner, Mr. Thorne, had been willing to let the kids on the block swim in his pool during the day, but neither the kids nor their parents had been welcome on the property after dark, and none had ever been allowed inside the house. She had often wondered what he was hiding in there. Maybe Sam had been right. Maybe Mr. Thorne really had been a drug dealer. That seemed far more probable than his being a Mafia hit man.
Thunder rumbled across the darkening sky, promising rain before morning. She shivered as a cold breeze rustled the leaves of the trees alongside the house. She should go inside, she thought, make a cup of hot chocolate while she tried to decide what to do with Granda's house, what to do about Harry, what to do about the rest of her life.
Harry wanted to marry her, but after one failed marriage, Sky just wasn't ready to try again, nor was she certain she loved Harry Poteet the way he deserved. He had wanted to come to Vista Verde with her, but she had told him she needed some time alone. He hadn't argued, just told her he loved her and would be waiting for her when she returned to Chicago.
Sitting on the porch, wrapped in layers of nostalgia, Sky wasn't sure she would ever be ready to return to Illinois. Like it or not, Vista Verde would always be home. Stay or go back to Chicago? That was the question. But she didn't have to decide tonight. She had three weeks vacation from work to make up her mind.
Wrapping her arms around her middle for warmth, she gazed at the house across the way again, blinked in surprise when the front door opened, and a tall man stepped out onto the covered veranda.
Sky leaned forward, squinting into the darkness. Could it be ...? A shiver ran down her spine as the man descended the stairs and crossed the street toward her. Dressed in black from head to foot, he almost disappeared into the night that surrounded him.
"Mr. Thorne." His name whispered past her lips as he approached her.
He inclined his head. "Good evening, Miss McNamara."
"You used to call me Sky Blue."
"You were much younger then," he murmured with a faint smile.
Skylynn studied him in the glow of the porch light. She hadn't seen him in eight years and he hadn't changed a bit. He had appeared to be in his early to mid-thirties when she went away to college, and he still looked that way. His face remained unlined, his eyes were the same shade of dark, dark brown, his hair was still shaggy and black, his body long and lean and muscular. The faint scar on his right cheek, which should have detracted from his devastating good looks, only served to make him appear more mysterious. Standing there, with his arms folded across his chest, he exuded an aura of raw sensuality and masculine confidence.
"I was sorry to hear about your grandfather," he said quietly.
"His passing came as a shock," Sky murmured. "Or as much of a shock as it can be, I guess, considering his age." Still, Granda had been in good health when she had seen him at Christmas only last year.
"I'm sorry I didn't get here in time for the funeral."
Sky nodded. "Please, sit down."
She had expected him to take the chair across from her. Instead, he sat beside her on the swing, his thigh scant inches from her own. His nearness prickled along her spine.
"Are you planning to stay in Vista Verde?" he asked.
"I don't know. I don't think I can. I have a good job in Chicago. Friends." And Harry was there. She blew out a sigh. "I hate to sell the old house, though." Realistically, she knew she didn't have much choice. She couldn't afford to live in Chicago and pay the taxes and the upkeep on this place, too.
"Too many memories," Thorne remarked. It wasn't a question, but a statement of fact.
"Yes." She laughed softly. "And too many goldfish and hamsters and birds buried under the palm tree in the backyard."
His laughter, rich and deep and decidedly masculine, joined hers.
It felt good to laugh. "I guess you think it's silly."
"No." He draped his arm over the back of the swing. "I keep that old house across the street for the same reason."
"Don't tell me your backyard is a burial ground for deceased pets, too."
"In a way." He gazed into the distance for a moment. "Did your grandfather leave anything for me?"
"Not that I know of. There was nothing mentioned in the will. Were you expecting something?"
"No, not exactly."
She looked at him askance. "What, exactly?"
"Paddy had developed a rather unique vitamin drink for me that I found most beneficial. I'm very nearly out of it and I was hoping he'd left the recipe for me."
"A vitamin drink?" she asked, frowning.
"More like a tonic," he replied smoothly. "Something to thicken the blood."
"Really?" Was that why Thorne and her grandfather had spent so much time in the basement? "I'm sorry, Granda never said anything about that."
"Perhaps you'd be good enough to look around in his lab when you have a chance?"
"Sure. Granda told me you moved away shortly after I left for college."
"Quite a coincidence, your coming back here at the same time I did," she remarked, though, in truth, she didn't believe in coincidence.
"Sometimes life is funny that way."
Sky nodded, although there was nothing funny about the way he was looking at her, or the way her whole body vibrated at his nearness. It was an oddly sensual experience, as if every cell in her body had suddenly awakened from a deep sleep.
Unsettled by the intensity of his gaze, she looked away. What wasn't he telling her? She thought it odd that Granda had never mentioned the mysterious tonic. And odder still that Kaiden Thorne, who looked as fit and healthy as a young stud horse, needed a tonic in the first place.
"I should let you go," Thorne remarked, glancing at the dark clouds overhead. "It's going to rain. And you're cold."
"What? Oh, yes, it's a little chilly," she said, and then frowned. She had stopped shivering as soon as he sat beside her. "Are you here to stay?" she asked, and held her breath, waiting for his answer.
"I'm not sure." His gaze moved over her, as warm as a summer day. "Good night, Skylynn."
"Good night." She stared after him as he descended the stairs and crossed the street to his house. She felt oddly bereft when he disappeared inside.
It started raining as soon as he closed the door.
After turning off the inside lights, Thorne stood at the front window, his gaze focused on the woman across the street. In spite of the distance and the darkness, he was able to see her clearly. She had always been a pretty girl but now, in her early twenties, she was exquisite. Her hair was a deep reddish-brown; her eyes, beneath delicately arched brows, were the rich warm blue of a midsummer sky. She wore a long-sleeved, square-necked lavender sweater that emphasized the swell of her breasts. A pair of white jeans hugged her legs. He was sure he could span her narrow waist with his hands.
Thorne had felt protective of Skylynn ever since she had been a little girl. Having no children of his own, he had enjoyed watching her grow up. She had been a sweet, chubbycheeked child, a leggy adolescent, a truly beautiful teen. By the time she was seventeen, he started to feel like a dirty old man lusting after an innocent young girl, although it hadn't been her body he lusted for. And even though he was still old, she was no longer young. Or innocent. She had been married and divorced and was now dating an investment banker in Chicago who would never be good enough for her.
It had been coincidence that brought Thorne back to Vista Verde shortly after Paddy McNamara passed away. Paddy had asked Thorne to keep an eye on Skylynn while she was away from home. Thorne never knew why. Skylynn had always been a level-headed girl, able to take care of herself. Perhaps Paddy's concern had merely been worry for a granddaughter about to be away from home and on her own for the first time in her life. At any rate, Thorne would have looked after Sky without being asked. And he had done so, without her being the wiser, until the day she married Nick O'Brien.
Of course, Paddy's granddaughter hadn't been the only reason he had stayed in touch with the old man. Thanks to Paddy McNamara's remarkable potion, Thorne had been able to live a relatively normal life for the last eight years. But the sun would soon be lost to him again if Skylynn couldn't find her grandfather's notes.
In the morning, shortly after breakfast, Sky went downstairs to the basement that housed Granda's lab. The basement was divided into three rooms. There was also a half-bath to the left of the staircase.
The largest room was Granda's workroom. It held every conceivable medical book known to man, as well as metal shelves crammed with beakers and test tubes and a plethora of other instruments. A small wooden table and chair were shoved into one corner.
A door connected his workroom to his office. A state-of-the-art computer, a twenty-four-inch monitor, and a printer took up space on an oversized desk. A small TV was mounted in one corner. A bank of gray metal file cabinets lined one wall.
The last room was the smallest. Located to the right of the staircase, it held a number of wire cages in a variety of sizes. All were empty now. One of the first things Skylynn had done after she got home was drive out to the country where she had released half a dozen mice and a handful of baby rats. In retrospect, she wondered if that had been a smart thing to do, but it was too late to worry about it now.
Sky stood at the foot of the stairs for a moment, Granda's keys in hand; then, heaving a sigh, she unlocked the door to the room that held the filing cabinets and stepped inside. The basement had always been off-limits to Sky and she had never been down here except with Granda. It seemed wrong, somehow, to be there now, without him.
The drawers to the filing cabinets were all color-coded, labeled, and locked. The first cabinet held folders labeled Invoices, Current Files, Old Files, Research Notes, and Tax Records. The next three filing cabinets contained Granda's journals, with the first drawer labeled 1957–1962, the next 1963–1968, and so on.
The top drawer in the last filing cabinet was labeled Experiments. Did that cabinet hold the mysterious recipe Kaiden Thorne was hoping to find?
Sky glanced at the keys in her hand. Each key was color-coded to match a particular filing cabinet.
She was about to unlock the drawer marked Experiments when the doorbell rang. Wondering who would possibly be calling so early, she pocketed the keys and ran up the stairs, her slippers flapping.
"Mr. Thorne!" she exclaimed when she opened the door. She felt a flush heat her cheeks. Had she known he was going to show up so early, she would have changed out of her pj's.
"I know it's early," he said, somewhat sheepishly. "I just wondered if you'd had a chance to look around for that formula."
"Not really." She slipped a hand into her pocket, her fingers curling around the keys. "It must be important."
"Only to me."
She tilted her head to one side. "It must work. You look great."
His gaze moved over her with undisguised admiration. "Thanks, so do you." He rocked back on his heels. "I should go."
"Would you like to come over later for lunch?"
"I'd like that."
He nodded. "I'll be here."
Sky watched him cross the street, admiring the way his jeans hugged his taut backside, his easy, long-legged stride, the way the sun cast silver highlights in his black hair.
Murmuring, "Oh, my," she made her way back down to Granda's lab.
She spent the next three hours going through his filing cabinets, sorting out old receipts and purchase orders for a variety of medical supplies, perusing copious memos written in her grandfather's spidery hand, most of which she couldn't decipher. The drawer labeled Experiments held a number of spiral-bound journals, the pages covered with notes, diagrams, and scientific jargon that made no sense to her.
Sitting cross-legged on the floor, she thumbed through his most recent entries, but found nothing that looked like a recipe for a vitamin drink.
At twelve-thirty, she stood and stretched her aching back and shoulders. If there was a formula hiding in any of Granda's notes, it would have to wait until tomorrow. She was going cross-eyed, trying to decipher his handwriting.
After locking the basement door, she went upstairs, found her cell phone, and ordered two large pizzas—one pepperoni, one sausage—two orders of spicy chicken wings, and breadsticks. While waiting for the pizzas, she made a fruit salad and a pitcher of iced tea, then set two plates, two glasses, two cloth napkins, and a pair of forks on a tray. She kept glancing at the clock, her stomach fluttering with anticipation at the thought of having lunch with a handsome man. A man who hadn't changed at all in eight years.
How was that possible?
* * *
Thorne prowled through the big old house, his thoughts chaotic. He shouldn't have waited so long to come back to visit Paddy McNamara. It had been coincidence that brought him back to Vista Verde after such a long absence. Had he kept closer tabs on the old man, he would have known McNamara didn't have long to live.
Thorne raked his fingers through his hair. Dammit! If he had come back sooner, he would have had time to speak to the old man and obtain the formula that had so drastically changed his life.
Striding down to the wine cellar, he bypassed the coffin that rested in the center of the floor and moved to the wall safe on the far side of the room. After unlocking the safe, he withdrew a round cobalt blue bottle that was about five inches tall. It held the last of Paddy McNamara's unique tonic.
Thorne rubbed the bottle against his cheek. The glass felt cold against his skin. He had attempted to get his hands on the formula before, but McNamara had refused to part with it. Thorne had tried coaxing the formula out of the stubborn old man, but that, too, had failed. One night Thorne had offered to bring Paddy across in exchange for the formula, but despite Paddy's research into aging and longevity, he had no interest in living forever.
"'Tis against nature, what you're offering," Paddy had said. "And though I've no wish to leave me darlin' Skylynn, me wife and son are waiting for me on the other side."
As a last resort, Thorne had tried reading Paddy's mind, but the wily old fox had blocked him at every turn. And now it was too late. Eternally too late. Dammit.
Excerpted from His Dark Embrace by Amanda Ashley Copyright © 2012 by Madeline Baker. 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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