They are the Guardians of Eternity, strong, skilled, seductive vampires chosen to protect—and to destroy. And they will risk anything to fulfill their duty, and satisfy their desires…
The daughter of a witch, Juliet Lawrence has inherited magical powers—powers that could be quite useful to Victor, Marquess DeRosa, London’s most powerful vampire. But that’s not all Victor desires of Juliet. He wants the unpredictable beauty in his bed—and he is accustomed to getting what he wants…
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Taken by Darkness
By Alexandra Ivy
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2010 Debbie Raleigh
All rights reserved.
Regency England London
The townhouse situated in the heart of Mayfair was predictably beautiful.
Located close to Hyde Park, it boasted a columned portico, as well as a large terrace that overlooked a tidy garden with a gazebo. The windows were high and arched, spilling light onto the cobbled street that was clogged with expensive carriages. Along the roof a row of marble statues peered down at the arriving guests, impervious to the chill in the late April breeze.
The interior was equally elegant.
There were acres of marble with gilt molding and crimson wall panels. And the furnishings offered a hint of the Egyptian influence (an unfortunate fashion introduced by the Prince Regent). There was also a profusion of artwork chosen more to impress society than with any genuine appreciation.
Upstairs the ballroom was a blaze of color as the guests twirled beneath the glowing chandeliers, the room so crowded that it seemed as if all of England was in attendance.
In truth, Lord Treadwell's spring ball was the unofficial beginning to the London Season, and one of the most sought-after invitations of the entire year. Mothers threatened to toss themselves into the Thames if their daughters were not among the fortunate debutantes on the guest list, and politically ambitious gentlemen had been known to offer discreet bribes just to step over the threshold.
It was a collection of the most stylish and powerful bluebloods in all England, but as one they came to a breathless halt as the latest guest swept through the double doors and regarded the crowd with a bored gaze.
Victor, Marquis DeRosa, was worthy of their attention.
Although not a large gentleman, he possessed the sort of sleek, chiseled muscles that were shown to perfection in his tailored black coat and white satin knee breeches.
His countenance was carved along noble lines with a wide brow, an aquiline nose, and a full mouth that could harden with cruelty or soften with a sensuous promise. His hair was as dark and glossy as a raven's wing, and allowed to fall to his shoulders rather than being cut à la Titus as many of the young bucks, contrasting sharply with his pale skin.
But it was his eyes that caught and held the attention of most.
Pure silver in color, they were rimmed with a circle of black and so piercing that few would dare to meet his gaze. They were the eyes of a predator. A ruthless hunter that considered humans prey. And a mere glance was enough to make poor mortals tremble.
Some in fear.
Some in desire.
All in respect.
They might not have comprehended why they reacted so strongly to the sophisticated Marquis DeRosa, but they instinctively bowed to his will.
A small, mocking smile curved Victor's lips as he prowled toward his host and hostess, who were fluttering with a panicked delight at his unexpected arrival.
After all, Victor had been in Venice for the past six months, returning to London only the evening before. No one was aware of his presence in the city. Besides, he rarely condescended to attend such tedious human parties even before leaving London.
Why would he?
As the clan chief of the London vampires, he was the most powerful demon in England. He had only to lift his finger to have an entire harem of beautiful females, human or demon, to sate his hungers. For blood or sex.
And as for entertainment ...
After ten centuries of indulging in the most exotic and rare pleasure to be discovered throughout the world (from being the only male on an island filled with female wood sprites, to pitting his strength against the lethal Yegni demon), a mundane society ball was laughably dull.
Or at least it should be.
He disguised his rueful grimace as his gaze covertly skimmed the crowd until he discovered the one female in London, perhaps in all the world, who could have lured him to the stuffy, overcrowded townhouse.
She was here. He'd already caught the scent of ripe peaches. Yes. There she was. Miss Juliet Lawrence.
His unbeating heart jerked with an excitement that he didn't entirely appreciate.
The female was beautiful enough. From her imp father she had inherited delicate features and a long mane of curls the vibrant color of autumn leaves. She had also been blessed with faintly slanted eyes that were the palest shade of green. But, unlike most imps, she was slender rather than lush, with an innate grace that had first captured his attention when she had arrived in London two years before.
Beauty, however, was not enough to explain his ruthless fascination for the woman. Especially considering her mother was a witch.
He hated witches.
Not only because his one weakness as a vampire was magic, but because his brother, Dante, had been abducted by a coven of witches and chained with their spells for all eternity.
And worse, Juliet was currently under the protection of a powerful mage, Justin, Lord Hawthorne.
He hated mages as thoroughly as he hated witches. Especially arrogant, pompous mages who didn't possess the sense to defer to their betters.
So why was he growing consumed with the savage need to claim Miss Lawrence as his own?
Victor had tried to accept that it was nothing more than the fact that Juliet stubbornly refused to succumb to his seduction. It had been centuries since a woman had pretended indifference to his charms. What was more enticing than a prey that was clever enough to put up a struggle?
He had even traveled to Venice to prove that his enthrallment with the female was nothing more than a passing bit of insanity that was easily dismissed.
Unfortunately, all he had managed to prove was that Miss Juliet Lawrence was destined to plague him regardless of the distance between them.
He had filled his nights with the most alluring females and lavish amusements, but he could not rid himself of the aching need to return to London.
His lips twisted as he watched her stiffen and slowly turn in his direction, belatedly sensing his presence. A predictable expression of dismay rippled over her beautiful features before she was covertly edging through the crowd, clearly preparing to bolt.
He moved forward, a flare of anticipation jolting through him. The chase was on and she was not going to escape.
Beginning tonight, Juliet was going to pay for reducing him to little more than a eunuch.
"My lord ..." Unaware how close he came to a swift, bloody death, Lord Treadwell stepped directly in Victor's path and grasped his arm. "We never expected ... such a delight ..."
Victor leashed his violent urge to rip out the throat of his host. Even if Juliet managed to slip away, there was nowhere she could hide.
Instead, he peered down at the pudgy fingers that were crushing the fall of Brussels lace that peeked from the hem of his jacket sleeve.
"So I perceive," he drawled, his voice cold. "My dear Charles, have a care for my lace if not for my poor, abused arm."
Treadwell jerked back his hand, reaching beneath his puce jacket for a handkerchief to mop the sweat from his flushed face.
"A thousand apologies." The nobleman nervously cleared his throat, his customary air of smug superiority notably absent. "Please, allow me to introduce my wife." He waved an absent hand toward the plump blonde less than half his age who stood behind him. "Letty, this is Marquis DeRosa. DeRosa, my wife, Lady Treadwell."
Victor offered a graceful bow. "Enchanted."
"Oh." The woman rapidly waved her fan, her eyes wide and her lips parted in feminine awe. "Oh."
Treadwell gave a bluff laugh, clapping Victor on the shoulder as if he had every right to touch the most powerful demon in England.
"I say, you quite overwhelmed the poor gal." He winked at Victor, indifferent to his wife's sudden embarrassment. "Let me escort you round the back way to the card room. That way, you won't be bothered with the giggling petticoats. Give a man an ache in the head. Always best to avoid 'em when you can, eh?"
"Which only proves just how little you know me, Treadwell." Victor's tone was edged with a warning that made the fat idiot pale in fear. "Remain with your wife. I am capable of determining my own destination."
"Oh ..., I say. Of course. Certainly."
Dismissing the idiot from his mind, Victor turned toward the dance floor, parting the thick crowd with a wave of his slender hand. Distantly, he was aware of the avid gazes following his slow, elegant stride and the whispers of excitement that rippled through the room, but his attention was focused on the scent of sweet peaches.
At last leaving behind the gawking crowd, Victor made his way along the dimly lit corridor, bypassing the various salons and antechambers until he reached the narrow door leading onto the back terrace.
Stepping into the chilled night air, Victor paused, his senses instinctively searching the garden and shadowed mews for any hint of danger. At the same moment his gaze was busily savoring the sight of Juliet leaning against the stone railing.
As a vampire, Victor had no need for the moonlight to reveal the pure, delicate lines of her profile or the fire in her curls that were currently pulled into a knot at the back of her head. He did, however, fully appreciate the wash of silver light that shimmered over alabaster skin and added a hint of mystery to the pale emerald eyes.
His gaze lowered to her gown, which was a delicate white lace over a gold sheath and cut in Grecian lines to emphasize the tempting mounds of her breasts. Then slowly his gaze lifted, lingering on the long, bare curve of her throat.
Victor's fangs ached with a swift, brutal hunger.
Bloody hell. He had been too long without a woman.
With an effort, Victor resisted the urge to charge across the terrace and crush the female into his arms. Although she was not a practicing witch, and her imp blood was diluted, she did possess her own share of powers. Including the ability to resist his attempts to glamour her.
If he was going to lure her to his bed, it was going to take skill and patience.
For some ridiculous reason the knowledge sent a tingle of anticipation down his spine.
Strolling forward, Victor allowed his gaze to boldly travel over her tense body, a faint smile curving his lips.
"Did you think you could hide from me, sweet Juliet?" he murmured.
The emerald eyes flashed with annoyance, but she couldn't disguise the fluttering beat of her heart or the potent scent of her awareness.
Miss Juliet Lawrence might wish him in hell, but she desired him.
"Actually, I was attempting to avoid the sudden influx of vermin, my lord," she drawled in overly sweet tones.
"Victor," he corrected, not halting until he had her firmly trapped against the stone railing, his fierce gaze sweeping over her flushed face.
"I thought you were in Venice." She tilted her chin, her expression defiant. "What are you doing here?"
"At the moment I am enjoying the very fine view," he husked, his gaze never wavering from her wide eyes.
"I mean, what are you doing in London?"
"I should think it obvious. 'Tis hunting season."
Her brows pulled together. "You are mistaken, my lord, hunting season ended weeks ago."
His fingers lifted to trace the tender curve of her neck, his mouth watering.
"That all depends on the prey."
She shivered, pressing against the railing in a futile attempt to escape his lingering touch.
"So you are here for the Marriage Mart?"
"You have developed a taste for tender young debutantes?" she mocked. "I thought you preferred a more well-seasoned meal."
His lips twitched at the bite in her tone. "There is no need for you to be jealous of my ..."
"Companions." His fingers lingered at the pulse fluttering at the base of her throat, his senses drowning in the scent of peaches. "You need only say the word and there would be no others."
"How many times must I tell you that I will never be a vampire's blood-whore?" she rasped, her eyes flashing with fury.
Victor laughed. "Such crude language from such beautiful lips. Does it help you to deny your body's hunger for my touch to pretend I am a monster?"
"There is no pretense. You are a monster."
His lips twisted. He could hardly deny her claim.
He was a ruthless predator who killed without mercy and was willing to use whatever violence necessary to maintain control of his clan.
That did not mean, however, that he was incapable of appreciating a woman who stirred his most primitive needs. His gaze lowered to the soft thrust of her breasts, a shudder shaking through his body as the heat of her wrapped around him.
No. It was more than mere appreciation.
Having her in his bed, tasting the potent power of her blood ... it was rapidly becoming a necessity.
He groaned, his fingers following the enticing line of her bodice, his body hard with need.
"And yet your heart thunders and your knees tremble when I am near," he husked. "You cannot hide your reaction to me."
She trembled. "Disgust."
"Desire." He lowered his head, his lips brushing over her bare shoulder. "It perfumes the very air."
"My lord, stop this at once," she demanded, even as her hands lifted to clutch at his shoulders.
It had been like this from the beginning.
Two years ago Juliet had walked into a London ballroom on the arm of Lord Hawthorne and every other woman had faded to meaningless shadows. Victor had known in that moment he had to have her. And it had not taken his heightened senses to know she was equally aroused.
Not that she was willing to admit as much.
No, for her own inexplicable reason, she was determined to keep him at a distance.
He growled as his arms wrapped around her tiny waist, hauling her hard against his body.
"Come into the gardens with me."
"If it is time for your dinner then I suggest you find one of your concubines to slake your hunger."
"I do not hunger for my dinner." His lips traced a path down her collarbone before skimming up the curve of her throat. "Such exquisite skin."
He felt her tremble in need, her hands pressed against his shoulders. "And I do not share my body any more readily than my blood."
Pulling back, Victor regarded her with a brooding gaze. "I traveled to Venice to put you from my mind, but it was an impossible task. You haunt me, little one, and that is unacceptable."
"What is unacceptable? The fact that I am the one woman capable of resisting your seduction, or the knowledge that you could make a fortune if only I would cooperate?"
It was a familiar accusation.
Juliet's ability to sense the magical properties of objects, as well as people, was a rare talent that would be priceless to any vampire, and Victor had never hidden his desire for such a power. Why should he? Never again would he have to fear an enemy attempting to plot his early demise with a hidden spell. Or even accidentally stumbling into a trap. Juliet would always be able to warn him of the looming danger.
And, of course, there was the indisputable knowledge that her talent was worth a fortune.
The black-market trade for magical artifacts was a profitable, cutthroat business that kept any number of demons and humans living in luxury. Including the mage, Lord Hawthorne.
He caught and held her accusing gaze. "My wealth is more than sufficient, although I have never made it a secret that I covet your talent. A vampire's one weakness has always been magic. With you at my side I would be all but invincible."
Her chin tilted. "Which is only one of many reasons that I will never allow myself to be bound to you."
He narrowed his gaze in sudden annoyance. "And yet you willingly offer yourself to Hawthorne. An arrogant ass —"
"You should recognize an arrogant ass easily enough. You need only look in a mirror," she rudely interrupted, her chin stuck at a stubborn angle. "Ah, but wait. You have no reflection, do you, vampire?"
"And a mage," Victor hissed, ignoring her insult.
"My mother was a witch."
"An unfortunate circumstance I am willing to overlook."
The emerald eyes flashed with fury as Juliet thrust her way past him, headed across the terrace.
"How vastly considerate of you, my lord."
With blinding speed he was behind her, wrapping his arms around her waist and jerking her back against his chest. Growling deep in his throat, Victor buried his face in the curve of her neck.
"I can be much more than merely considerate, sweet Juliet. I will give you whatever you desire ..." His body stiffened in shock. "Bloody hell, why do you smell of gargoyle?"
Excerpted from Taken by Darkness by Alexandra Ivy. Copyright © 2010 Debbie Raleigh. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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