In the arms of her lover Michael, Cin Craven has found satisfaction for her most primal longings, reaching heights of pleasure no mere human could ever imagine. She has also found a purpose for her unearthly powers. Cin is a member of The Righteous, a band of slayers that hunts down vampires who inflict evil upon the world. With Michael by her side, Cin's latest mission brings her face-to-face with Marrakesh, a beautiful, half-mad vampire queen charged with slaughtering humans. If she's found guilty, Marrakesh will pay with her life. But Cin is convinced that someone —or something—far more ruthless is trying to steal the queen's throne.. It's a mission that will pit Michael and Cin against each other for the first time, awakening their darkest instincts and testing their love like never before…
Jenna Maclaine's Grave Sins is a dazzling follow-up to Wages of Sin, which New York Times bestselling author Gena Showalter called "A wonderful blend of fantasy, romance, and intoxicating adventure, wickedly spiced with danger."
About the Author
Jenna Maclaine is the author of Wages of Sin, Grave Sins and Bound by Sin (available from St. Martin’s Paperbacks). She has a degree in history from North Georgia College&State University. When she isn’t writing she spends her time caring for the eighty-plus animals that share her family farm in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Read an Excerpt
By Jenna Maclaine
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2009 Jenna Maclaine
All rights reserved.
Love. Such a small word, really. Four little letters. And yet it is the axis upon which our lives revolve. We live for it, die for it ... kill for it. It is the impetus that propels us to do extraordinary, or terrible, things. It has created and destroyed lives, kingdoms, empires. It is the light and the darkness within us all. It is the best of us, and the worst of us.
Love is, in short, the most powerful magic in the world. And I know a little something about magic ...
Ravenworth Hall, near London
I looked down at the child, her face flushed in sleep, and smiled. Reaching out, I ran the backs of my fingers over the old gray cat sleeping next to her. The cat meowed softly and scowled at me before tucking her nose back into the fluff of her tail and closing her eyes.
"Grumpy old lady," I whispered. "Don't worry, Prissy, I won't disturb your girl."
Bending down, I kissed Janet's forehead. I was tucking the covers more snugly under her chin when I heard a soft laugh from the doorway.
"Any other mother would die of fright to see a vampire leaning over her sleeping child," Fiona said, settling her shoulder against the doorframe.
"I would sooner stake myself in the heart than harm a child, especially your child, Fi, and well you know it," I scoffed.
I crossed the room and looked down at eight-year-old Ian, shaking my head. "By the gods, he even sleeps like a boy."
Ian's covers were in a wad at the foot of his bed. His arms were flung over his head, and one leg was trailing off the edge of the mattress. I gently moved his leg back onto the bed as Fiona straightened the blankets. When her son was tucked tightly back into bed, Fiona walked over and slid her arm around my waist. I returned the gesture and leaned against her.
"You've done well for yourself, Fi," I said. "You have a lovely family and a good life."
"Yes, well, I can thank my cousin Dulcie for dying and leaving me this estate and a substantial income."
"You're welcome," I said with a laugh, "but I didn't have anything to do with these babies."
Fiona shrugged. "No, but thanks to your legacy I was no longer the housekeeper's daughter and I was considered a proper enough wife for Lord Bascombe's youngest boy."
I snorted. "John Bascombe could have married any girl he chose, be she a duke's daughter or a scullery maid. It's not as if he needed to worry about his father disowning him."
Fiona smiled wickedly. "Yes, who would have thought that scrawny John Bascombe would return home from years in India, all grown up and handsome as the devil," she said, holding up her hand so that the candlelight flickered and danced off the huge sapphire in her wedding ring, "and rich as Croesus to boot."
"Ah, so now we know the truth! You married him for his money, did you?"
"Ha. John has qualities much more ... compelling ... than his money."
"Oh, stop," I said. "I'm getting very naughty mental images of the rising young star of the House of Commons."
Fiona elbowed me in the ribs. "Be naughty with your own husband."
"Oh, I am," I said with a wink. "Frequently."
We giggled and walked arm in arm to the door. It was as if we were children again, as if I'd never left. As if I'd never ... I stopped and looked back at the children. Fiona smiled and squeezed my hand.
"Do you ever regret it?" she asked.
Did I? Even in the quiet moments when I couldn't lie to myself?
"No," I said, honestly. "I did what I had to do or Kali and Sebastian would have killed us all. You have a good life, Fiona. You have the life I was supposed to have. But this isn't my world anymore and I'm happy with the path I chose. I have an incredible man who loves me. I have adventure and purpose. And every year I get to come home for two weeks and see my family."
I didn't add that every year it killed something inside me to see them grow up and age when I would never grow old, would never die. I didn't add that it worried me that someday we would get caught sneaking off to Ravenworth for two weeks of solitude — that one year John or someone else who knew that I was "dead" would find me here. I didn't add that sometimes I missed being plain Dulcinea Macgregor Craven, only child of Viscount Ravenworth, instead of being Cin Craven, the Red Witch of The Righteous, judge, jury, and executioner for the Dark Council of Vampires.
"You've never wished you had children?" Fiona asked.
I snapped my head around, pulling myself out of my reverie, and smiled. "Not really," I replied, cocking my head to one side. "Especially when your youngest screams his head off day and night."
"I don't hear him," Fiona said, frowning.
"You don't have a vampire's sense of hearing," I replied. "I can hear him all over this house."
"I'm sorry, Dulcie. I'd better go see what the problem is. I swear he is the neediest child I have. He's such a boy, just like his brother. Janet slept through the night from the beginning, but not my boys. He wears me out, that one," she said, but she smiled as she said it. "Apparently no one told Mackenzie Bascombe that thirty-five was entirely too old for his mother to be having more babies."
"He was something of a surprise," I agreed.
"We have another surprise," Fiona's mother said as she came down the hall. "And I'm not sure it's one you're going to like, dear."
Fiona's mother, Jane Mackenzie, had been my nanny and, later, Ravenworth's housekeeper. She had been there for everything in my life. She had been at my mother's bedside when I was born and she'd been at my bedside that night, thirteen years ago, when I had risen as a vampire. I'd left Ravenworth Hall and a sizable annuity to Fiona in my will, and now Mrs. Mackenzie was no longer a housekeeper. She still ruled Ravenworth as she always had, but money bought her the respect due to a dowager.
Mrs. Mackenzie was still a beautiful woman at fifty-two. Her chestnut hair was graying at the temples, and her face was softly lined around her eyes and mouth. Those lips that had kissed me good night every evening of my twenty-two human years were now pursed in consternation.
"What's wrong?" I asked.
"There's a man at the door."
"A vampire. Well, I'm practically positive he's a vampire. He's asking for Devlin."
My whole body stiffened. "You didn't invite him in, did you?"
Mrs. Mac snorted. "Of course not."
I relaxed somewhat. Devlin and Justine were out hunting with Michael, but they should be back soon.
"Fiona, go check on the baby. Mrs. Mac, stay here with the children. I'll handle this."
I strode down the hallway, my temper rising with every step. By the gods, I got two weeks of peace and quiet a year. I wondered what sort of suicidal idiot would be foolish enough to show up at my door, uninvited, with my family in residence. He would be lucky to leave Ravenworth with his head still attached to his body.
The idiot was definitely a vampire; I could sense that within moments of opening the door. He was old, too, even older than Devlin, perhaps. He had dark hair and his skin looked tanned, which meant that he was originally from somewhere far more exotic than En gland. He was of average height and build. In fact, there was nothing about him that wasn't average. He wasn't beautiful like Michael or overwhelmingly masculine like Devlin. He wasn't anything out of the ordinary ... until he turned his pale eyes to mine and smiled.
"Miss Craven," he practically purred as he raised my hand to his mouth. "A pleasure to make your acquaintance."
He brushed his lips across my knuckles and I breathed a soft, involuntary "oh." No, he was not classically handsome, but there was something so raw and earthy about him that you didn't really notice. Watching his lips linger on my fingers made me think of those lips moving across other, more intimate places. So this is what it feels like to be bespelled, I thought. No. No, that wasn't right. One of the good things about being a vampire is that another vampire, no matter how old he might be, cannot use mind tricks against you.
I jerked my hand from his, frowning, and narrowed my eyes. "Who the bloody hell are you?"
"I am Drake, Sentinel of the Dark Council." His voice was rich with an exotic accent, eastern European perhaps. It gave me mental pictures of shadowy castles and dark, misty mountains. "I've come to speak with Devlin, indeed with all four of you. I have a personal request from the High King himself."
"You'll have to wait. The others are out at the moment." My voice sounded hollow even to my own ears.
"Then I shall wait. May I ... come in?"
The inflection of his voice when he said come in sounded almost like a proposition, and I had no doubt that he'd meant me to take it that way. For a moment it was tempting, but the faraway sound of Fiona's baby crying brought me sharply back to my senses.
"Actually, no," I said with an icy smile, and then I shut the door in his face. I leaned back against the wood and rubbed the chill bumps from my arms. Lord and lady, what was that all about?
"Who was it, dear?" Mrs. Mac asked from the landing of the stairway.
"Trouble," I said, simply. When she frowned in confusion, I elaborated. "He says he's from the Council. Let Devlin and Michael take care of it when they return."
"You're just going to leave him out there?"
"I am. You and Fiona go on to bed. You're the only ones who can invite him in, and I don't want him in this house under any circumstance. He may very well be a good man but he ... disturbs me."
I passed her on the stairs and leaned over to give her a kiss on the cheek.
"Oh, and Mrs. Mac? When are you going to marry that man?"
She flushed and stammered, "What? What are you —"
"Don't bother to deny it. I've smelled him on you for the last eight summers. Lord Bascombe's been a widower for ten years now. Don't you think it's time you made an honest man of him?"
I smiled wickedly and floated up the stairs, leaving Mrs. Mackenzie on the landing with her mouth open and her face a charming shade of pink.CHAPTER 2
I stood at the window of the empty guest room across the hall from my bedroom and watched as Michael, Devlin, and Justine came from the woods and approached the house. Devlin, the leader of our group, had his arm around his consort and was whispering something in her ear, her blonde hair caressing his face. Michael was laughing with them until his gaze snapped toward the house and his hand came to rest lightly on the sword strapped to his hip.
Good man, I thought.
Drake walked from the shadows and was greeted by Devlin and Justine as if he were an old friend. Drake and Michael simply exchanged respectful nods. Well, that was interesting. Perhaps I wasn't the only one disturbed by our unexpected guest.
As they talked, Drake motioned toward the house and Devlin frowned. Michael's head came up and his eyes scanned the windows of the second floor. Even though I was standing in a darkened room on a moonless night, I knew he could see me. He arched a brow at me, and I crossed my arms over my chest and shook my head slowly from side to side. Michael gave an imperceptible nod and turned back to Drake, putting one arm around his shoulders in a brotherly gesture. I watched as he steered Drake toward the kitchen garden, Devlin and Justine following in their wake. There was a comfortable little gazebo out there that would do nicely for what ever business they had to conduct.
I breathed a sigh of relief as I returned to my room. Michael was my consort, my lover, my partner. He would respect my wishes in this, but eventually I would have to explain myself. That, I did not look forward to. I flopped down on my bed and stared at the ceiling.
What was it that disturbed me so much about Drake? That I found him attractive? While a rare thing, it was hardly a crime. I could barely remember the faces of the two men I had been physically attracted to before I'd met Michael, one a lord and the other a footman in my father's house. Each of them had once made my heart race, but now they were both no more than a blurry watercolor in my memory. Michael fired my blood now, and only Michael. Feeling an attraction to Drake, even if I had no interest in doing anything about it, somehow seemed like a betrayal. Justine would tell me that I was being ridiculous, that there was no harm in looking as long as your lips didn't follow your eyes. Since she was a 150-year-old vampire and former courtesan, I tended to take her word in such matters. I had nothing to feel ashamed of, truly, but there it was all the same.
What should have concerned me more was what kind of power Drake wielded. I knew he couldn't bespell me. Certainly Drake was old but even Kali, who had been well over two thousand, hadn't had that power. It just wasn't possible, which meant that what ever magnetism Drake possessed had little or nothing to do with being a vampire. It made me wonder what Drake had been as a human.
Everyone has some sort of innate talent, and there is something in the magic that makes a vampire that amplifies what we were when we were human. I'd been a witch and my magic was stronger now, though different in some ways, than it had been when I was alive. Michael had been a swordsman, and his proficiency with a blade was legendary among our kind. Devlin had been a soldier, a knight and a champion, and few in the undead world could claim to equal his skill and leadership, on or off the field of battle. Justine had been an opera singer and courtesan to kings. I'd often wondered if her incredible voice had been made more perfect by the transformation when Devlin had turned her, but it had always seemed too rude a question to ask. It was her past as a courtesan, however, that put me in mind of Drake. I'd seen the way men, and women for that matter, looked at Justine when she walked into a room. She was sex incarnate. Drake had that same appeal, in a masculine form, vibrating off him in waves.
Yes, it definitely made me wonder how our Sentinel had made his living when he'd been human.
When Michael walked in I was sitting in the middle of my bed, wearing only my green satin nightgown, my knees tucked under my chin and my arms wrapped around my legs. I was staring at the painting on the wall. I hated it, though I'd never tell Michael that. He had painted it for me the first year after he'd made me a vampire. It was a nearly life-sized portrait of me and so expertly crafted that it seemed as though I could have walked right off the canvas. I was wearing the scandalously cut red courtesan's dress I'd had on when we first met — which was why it was hanging in here and not in one of the public rooms. My hair was pulled up in an artful array of curls the color of fine rubies. When I was a child my mother had said that my hair was beautiful, but that it was an unnatural color, and she had taught me to use glamour to make it appear a normal copper. I rarely used the glamour anymore, unless I was out among humans and needed to blend into the crowd. Michael loved my hair and had painted it in all of its blood-red glory. The technique was flawless. He had once told me that given ninety years to practice, one could become accomplished at almost anything. I had yet to master the piano so I assume that, unlike me, he'd had some talent to begin with.
It wasn't his skill with a brush that I'd taken exception to; it was the cold, arrogant look he'd given me. The set of my chin, the arch of my brows, the look in my eyes, all screamed Bitch. Michael and I had had a huge fight about it. He had never quite come to terms with the fact that he was a poor crofter's son and I was a viscount's daughter. From the beginning he had not felt himself worthy of me. When our relationship was new the subject had come up frequently, but in the intervening years it had become less of an issue between us. I'd been horrified when I'd first seen the painting and asked him if this haughty creature was truly how he saw me. He had been genuinely shocked at my dismay, and to this day we've agreed to disagree about that painting. He once told me that it was my strength he had painted and that one day, when I was ready, I would see it, too. I'm still waiting for that to happen.
Excerpted from Grave Sins by Jenna Maclaine. Copyright © 2009 Jenna Maclaine. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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