I’m really excited to announce that my stand alone vampire romance novel, Heart of Darkness, has been chosen as a finalist in the Paranormal Romance category at the EPIC Ebook Awards 2013! I’m totally thrilled about this as I have a soft spot for Heart of Darkness and the rakish yet damaged hero Aleksandr. I won’t know until next year whether the book has won the category, but I’m just excited that it was selected as a finalist.
If you haven’t read the book yet, then here’s a little excerpt from it and the blurb so you can see what it’s all about… you can also download an extended excerpt from the book in PDF format: http://www.felicityheaton.co.uk/long-excerpts/heartofdarkness-heatonF.pdf
Heart of Darkness
A vampire prince on a four hundred year old mission to avenge his murdered sister…
Aleksandr Nemov won’t stop until the last of the vampire hunter’s progeny is wiped from the Earth. Each kill has stolen a piece of his humanity, pushing him towards the black abyss all vampires hold within their hearts. Now he is teetering on the edge, close to devolving into a beast, and time is running out as he tracks the last hunter to Prague. There he finds a beautiful woman who could be his one chance for salvation, but is it already too late for him?
A vampire guard who will do whatever it takes to protect those she loves…
Elise is dedicated to her duty. It’s the only thing she has left. All that changes when she meets Aleksandr in Prague and her master grants him permission to stay at her bloodline’s mansion. She knows all about Aleksandr but none of it prepares her for how she feels when the legendary prince’s hunt becomes one for her heart. Elise battles him with all of her strength but can she stop herself from falling for the handsome hunter? When he reveals the depth of the corruption in his soul, will she have the strength to face the pain in her past and do whatever it takes to save him?
Available in e-book from:
Heart of Darkness – Excerpt
It had been an easy kill.
Aleksandr Nemov stood over the body of the vampire hunter, their blood splattered across his black shirt and saturating the leather and metal vambraces that protected his forearms. It coated his fingers and the curved dagger they gripped, and the sweet scent of it heavily tainted the crisp night air. Strong moonlight caressed his back, throwing his shadow out long in front of him, across the hunter’s corpse.
She hadn’t been strong enough to fight his kind. Too young and inexperienced to best him. It had been foolish of her to try.
Aleksandr raised his hand and swallowed at the sight of the blood glistening on his fingers. It tempted him to taste it.
He dragged his eyes away and settled them back on the female laying on the grass of the small public space, her blood warming the frozen earth. He hadn’t fought a woman in a long time and hadn’t expected to find a hunter so soon after arriving in Prague.
The fountain nearby bubbled regardless of the frigid temperature, defiant of the frost that caused the grass around it to glitter.
Aleksandr glanced at his bloodied hands again and then closed his eyes against the temptation. He took no thrill in the hunt. Yet he found no calm in its aftermath. There was only the threat of unending darkness that beat within his chest and encroached upon his soul. It bled into his eyes. He could feel the jagged points of black that speared the red. He had too much blood on his hands but he couldn’t give up now, not when he was so close to attaining his vengeance.
With great effort, Aleksandr sheathed his dagger against his left hip and wiped the blood away.
The smell of it still permeated the air, taunting and filling him with the dark urge to feast on the hunter’s remains. He refused to obey the voice within that commanded him. His kind had fought hard against it and no Nemov had turned to the darkness. They were stronger than that, and he would die before it happened to him.
“You… what are you doing here?” A light female voice shattered the darkness within him.
Aleksandr glanced at her out of the corner of his eye. She stood with the fountain at her back, the cascade of water providing wings that completed the vision of beauty. Moonlight bathed her skin, turning her round eyes dark and her hair as black as the uniform she wore.
The red bled from his eyes, returning his irises to grey, and he straightened to his full height, desiring to look his best even when he looked his worst.
She brought her right hand up to reveal the blade clutched tightly in her fingers, held backwards with the blunt edge tucked against her forearm, ready to slash at him if he made a wrong move.
“I won’t ask you twice.” Her strength surprised him.
Such a beautiful creature.
Before Aleksandr could find his voice, she was gone. He turned, blocked her attack with the metal covering his left vambrace around his forearm, and attempted to disarm her. She dodged his counter-attack with ease and came around behind him. He spun and blocked her again, and this time managed to get a hand on her before she leapt backwards, out of his reach, and bared her fangs.
His heart beat harder.
She attacked again, her cry piercing the silent wintry night, and brought her blade down hard. It was difficult to block it. She was strong and skilled for a female. He strafed left and right to avoid her knife, trying to find an opening that he didn’t really want to take. She was fascinating. Beautiful and deadly. Everything a vampire should be, yet there was something more to her. She turned and brought her leg around in a swift kick. The heel of her black knee-high boot smashed into the side of his head, sending him down.
Aleksandr rolled onto his feet and blocked her again. Why couldn’t he bring himself to fight her? He could barely bring himself to defend.
Her red eyes narrowed on him and she growled, exposing her extended canines again. His cheek throbbed where she’d caught him. He would bear a bruise there before the hour had passed. She lunged at him and he barely avoided her blade. If he survived the fight that was. He ducked when she swung at him and swept his leg around to take hers out. She jumped it and rewarded his effort with another hard kick to the head, sending his brain spinning out of control. The darkness threatened to return, goading him into attacking. He didn’t want to. He would not attack another vampire, especially not a female.
Definitely not her.
She huffed as though disappointed. Was it because he wasn’t fighting or wasn’t falling? Aleksandr kept his arms in front of him, blocking her swift attacks with his vambraces, and staring at her face the whole time. Fascination wasn’t the right word for what she did to him.
The warmth he felt, the intense attraction, the abject desire to look into her eyes forever, even when they only promised him a slow death. It was more than fascination.
He wanted her.
“I do not wish to fight you.” Aleksandr leapt backwards, away from her, and raised his hands.
Her grip on her blade tightened and she attacked.
He left himself open to see what she would do. Her clothing was formal—a black military-style jacket that only reached her waist and tight black trousers coupled with polished riding boots. She looked like a guard. If she were, she surely wouldn’t kill him.
If she weren’t, he was making a terrible mistake.
The moment she neared him, she sheathed the blade, threw herself forwards so her hands pressed into the dirt, twisted and launched herself at him feet first. Had he wanted to defend himself, it would have been impossible. The speed at which she locked her knees around his neck, sending him falling backwards with her momentum, and slammed him into the icy earth knocked the breath from him.
Aleksandr stared at her where she perched on his chest, straddling it with his arms trapped in the crook of her knees and her blade against his throat.
He laid beneath her, sprawled out, his back aching and freezing.
Utterly in love.
She leaned forwards. A single strand of her dark hair had fallen out of the tight bun at the back of her head and grazed her cheek. Her soft breath against his face carried the enticing scent of her blood. Her eyes went from darkness to a lighter colour that the moon stole from him. Beautiful.
Aleksandr swallowed, causing the knife to grate his Adam’s apple through his thick beard. He wished that he had cleaned up now before coming to Prague. She wasn’t exactly catching him at his best.
“You will answer for entering my bloodline’s territory.” She pressed the blade harder against his throat. “I’m taking you in.”
“No need to be rough.” Aleksandr smiled slowly. “Unless you like it that way, of course.”
She was off him in an instant, her weapon still held at the ready.
Clearly, she wasn’t into the rough stuff like so many of his kind. With the thrill of hunting denied them, they had to find excitement elsewhere. Dancing with death through sharing blood was the most intoxicating thing a vampire could do without risking their humanity and many of them did it often. He had never been into that sort of thing.
Aleksandr sat up, grazed his fingers over the silvery scars on his wrist, a reminder of why he was tracking and killing vampire hunters, risking his humanity, and then got to his feet.
The female backed off a step, but remained close enough that she could easily attack him if he tried to leave. He didn’t want to, but if he did, she wouldn’t be able to stop him. A woman was no match for him.
First a female hunter and then a female guard. Prague was a modern progressive city, or the world was changing faster than he realised. He had noticed it for a few years now and had been struggling to adjust ever since. He hadn’t expected the change to happen within vampire society too. The males had always been the ones to take care of the females. His gaze settled on her. Now there were females capable of taking care of themselves. It was both disturbing and intriguing.
Aleksandr went to move but she was in front of him before he could take a step.
“Can I at least gather my belongings?” He motioned towards the coat and bag that waited near the fountain.
She looked at them and her gaze tracked back and settled on the corpse. Her pupils narrowed and then she frowned. Had she only just noticed that he had killed someone? She sniffed and then looked at him, her pale eyes falling to his shirt and then his hands, carefully taking all of him in. He liked the assessing edge to her gaze, and the way it lingered on his body a moment before coming up to meet his. She stared into his eyes, long enough that he felt as though she was renewing the spell she had cast on him, and then nodded.
“I desire an audience with your master.” Aleksandr crossed her path and picked up his long heavy black coat. Her gaze remained on him, intent and focused.
He put his coat on, picked up his black bag and slung it over his shoulder. When he turned to face her, she was looking at the dead hunter again. The way she stared at it, studying it closely, made it clear that she hadn’t seen a fresh kill in a long time.
Or she hadn’t seen anything quite like the butchery that had happened tonight.
Aleksandr clenched his fists and reined in the dark hunger that the memory evoked. He was in control now, not his instincts. The hunt would continue until he had avenged her and had rid the world of her murderer’s progeny.
He would not surrender until then.
For four centuries, he had tracked and killed them, his anger still fresh in his heart, the pain of losing her still raw. He would not surrender until he had killed the last of the hunter’s line and protected his people.
The woman stepped forwards and his attention was back with her. The second his gaze locked with hers, the darkness inside him receded, washed away by the light in her eyes and her beauty. He had thought of nothing but the hunt for four hundred years, had closed himself off to society and focused on his duty, but the woman before him stole his attention away from it so easily. It drifted to the back of his mind with the darkness, unknown to him in this moment while her eyes held his. She wasn’t afraid of him. She had fought him without fear, and with strength and skill that he had never expected to find in a female. She enthralled him.
Looking into her eyes, Aleksandr realised something dreadful. He was too close to the edge. The feelings she evoked in him were ones he had long forgotten existed. It was strange to feel warmed inside by happiness to have met her, desire to make her belong to him, and hunger for the feel of her bare body against his. He had not felt such positive emotions in decades.
He was losing himself.
“Follow me,” the woman said and he did, using her as a distraction from his dark thoughts.
She was young. He placed her at barely over two hundred years old, her appearance somewhat of a human in their mid-twenties. She was at least six inches shorter than him, and slender. Her strength had surprised him because of those facts alone. Young females were often weak and needed protection. She had strong blood in her veins.
Aleksandr ran a hand over his matted long dark hair and then rubbed the several months’ worth of beard on his face. What did he look like? He felt like a mess now, both inside and out. She had definitely caught him at his worst. If he had looked as he had back in his days at court, he was sure she would be looking at him differently.
He was sure that she would recognise him for who he was.
She walked swiftly ahead of him, not once looking back to check if he was still there. She had mastered her senses then. He could feel them fixed on him. How strong were they? He had honed his to perfection through years of training and hunting, but he hadn’t sensed her approach. He had been too lost in the darkness.
His gaze slid down to her small backside and the way it moved as she walked mesmerised him.
He hadn’t really wanted to meet her master, but saying that he did seemed like the easiest way of remaining near to her.
Aleksandr lost track of how long they had been walking. He looked up when he sensed the presence of more vampires. Black wrought iron gates punctuated an endless grey stone wall ahead. Beyond them stood the extensive bleak façade of a mansion. Light emanated from many of the rectangular windows marking the three storeys, at least on the left side. On the right, they were mostly dark hollows. Two male guards at the gate saluted the woman and then eyed him with suspicion as he passed through.
Who was his escort? She was strong, spirited, and these men ranked lower. If she weren’t dressed as a guard, Aleksandr would have placed her as a lady of the bloodline. A female guard. He still couldn’t quite comprehend it.
He followed her up the gravel drive to the house, walking on the left side of the wide expanse of frosty grass that stretched into the distance in both directions. It was a habit of his to mask his footfalls. It had saved his life more than once. The long grey stone front of the mansion was imposing and cold even in the moonlight. The size of it told Aleksandr that this bloodline held the power in the city, or they were the only one resident.
They crossed the large parking area in front of the house, passing a fleet of identical black Mercedes-Benz limousines. This bloodline was definitely doing well for itself. Judging by the fact that the woman had been in the city whilst wearing her uniform, it had to be masquerading as a military school of some sort. Many bloodlines bought privacy from the local government by donating large sums of money and setting up such a front. The humans never questioned them. It had been the easiest way to keep their species secret for many centuries. At least some things hadn’t changed since he had left society.
The moment she entered the house, Aleksandr’s attention was back with her. She hurriedly smoothed her warm chestnut hair back into the tight knot, fixing her appearance. In his opinion, she didn’t need to fix it at all. The slight wanton edge her messy hair gave her was alluring to say the least. His gaze drifted to her throat and he frowned when he spotted her bloodline’s mark on the back of her neck. It was an elaborate black ink crest with a stag incorporated into the design.
They passed another pair of male guards and Aleksandr glanced at the back of their necks. The mark was visible above the collar of their short black jackets. A strong bloodline.
He had forgotten who ruled Prague. Perhaps they would be able to help him after all and his coming to their master would prove beneficial in more than one way.
His grey eyes slid back to the woman. She looked over her shoulder at him, her aquamarine eyes briefly fixing on his before she turned away again.
Aleksandr quickened his pace and fell into step beside her. She glanced at him again and then looked forwards. His gaze remained on her as they walked along the elegant gallery at the front of the house, heading towards the lit area he had seen on the left of the building. She had soft features—youthful and graceful. Her oval face, pale skin, and rosy lips set his heart racing again, quick enough that it almost matched a human heart rate. A flicker of a frown wrinkled her brow and her eyes darted to him and then away. He steadied his heart, aware that she could hear the effect she had on him. Her heart was beating at a restful pace, a soothing patter in his mind.
She moved ahead, entering a large red drawing room. The vampires relaxing in it were powerful but none of them were stronger than he was. He carried on without glancing in any of their directions, following his temptress. She turned right in the room, heading towards a guarded set of dark wooden doors. When she reached them, she faced him, her expression stern.
“Wait here,” she said and the guards stationed on either side of the doors opened them for her.
Aleksandr lowered his black holdall from his shoulder. The two dark-haired male guards eyed him. He smiled but it didn’t relieve the tension. It only made it worse. The one on his left cast a glance over him and Aleksandr was thankful that his long coat hid his dagger from view. The female’s voice drifted through the open doors to him and he looked at her. She stood in the middle of a dark green room, the back of a gilt-framed green velvet couch in front of her. A male spoke to her in Czech, his voice a lazy drawl.
Tired of waiting, Aleksandr walked into the room, his knee-high boots heavy on the polished wooden floor. The woman’s blade was at his throat again in the space of a breath. Aleksandr halted and looked at the man her body had shielded from view.
He was young to be leading a bloodline, only in his late twenties in terms of appearance, meaning he was little more than four hundred. He would have been born around the time that Aleksandr had begun his hunt.
The man leaned back into the green couch opposite the one near to Aleksandr and the woman and crossed his long black-clad legs. He smiled without any trace of charm or meaning and preened his short sandy hair back.
“This man desires an audience with you, Master,” the woman said and Aleksandr glanced down into her clear blue eyes. She looked away, towards the leader of her bloodline.
“Then allow him to introduce himself so I may know with whom I speak,” the master said in English.
Aleksandr was familiar with both English and Czech. He had understood everything the master had said to the woman. He wasn’t interested in guests and wanted him gone. His opinion would change once he knew who Aleksandr was. It always did.
Aleksandr’s gaze met the guard’s again, holding it for long minutes. Whenever he set eyes on her, he was struck by her beauty as though it was the first time he had witnessed it. He willingly accepted her blade against his throat because it meant she was near him. Soon she would be this close to him without a weapon. He was sure of it. He would ask for sanctuary and the master would grant it. It would give him time to clean up his appearance and then he would start a new hunt. One for this woman.
His gaze slid across to the master and locked with his hazel one, silently showing the younger vampire that he wasn’t the most powerful in the room by a long shot.
“I am Aleksandr Nemov,” he said in a calm measured tone.
The female’s shock rippled through the knife at his throat, which was gone an instant later. She stepped back.
“You will not mind me requesting proof of that claim,” the master said.
Aleksandr smiled behind his beard. It was to be expected. He had been absent from society so long that many probably thought him dead.
With a flourish, he unsheathed and presented his bloodstained dagger. The curved silver blade caught the warm light of the fireplace to the left of the couches. That same light made the gold handle shine brightly. Only a Nemov carried such a weapon, and it had been given to him at birth, inscribed with his name so those who died by it knew who had taken their life. When the man nodded, he sheathed the blade and took hold of his black shirt above his right hip. He pulled it free of his trousers and revealed the mark he bore there on his pale skin.
The mark of royalty.
The woman’s eyes widened, fixed on the crescent moon on the shield of his bloodline.
Aleksandr lowered his shirt and she slowly raised her eyes to his. She blinked, fumbled with her own knife, and then looked away. The shy sparkle in her blue eyes added to her beauty and his desire for her, momentarily stealing his attention away from the other occupant in the room.
“You will stay a while with my bloodline. It would do us great honour.” The master stood and crossed the room to Aleksandr.
The woman stepped to one side, her eyes still downcast.
The master grinned and held his hand out. “I am Ladislav Černý, and I welcome you to my home. I hope you will be able to enjoy our hospitality for a long time.”
Aleksandr shook his hand. Ladislav was young but wise enough to see a way to gain more power when it was standing in front of him. Being favourable to a royal would grant him more leeway with the law and more privileges in court. It was a shame then that Aleksandr had long since surrendered such authority. No matter how many times he reminded society that he was no longer royalty, it still insisted on treating him that way. In this sort of situation, he usually reminded them that he had given up his title, but this time he couldn’t bring himself to mention it. He wanted to remain here and pursue the woman, and for that reason alone, he would tolerate Ladislav’s mistake.
“We will hold a ball tonight to celebrate,” Ladislav said, his English thickly accented.
This man was no fool. He would serve Aleksandr well. His gaze slid back to the woman. Her eyes were on him again but darted away when his met them. How well would she serve him?
“Then I will need to freshen up.” Aleksandr removed his hand from Ladislav’s grip.
“Any room in the guest wing you desire, and I will arrange whatever you need.” Ladislav motioned to the woman. Her expression blackened for a moment, as though escorting a guest was beneath her, and then she saluted.
Aleksandr picked up his bag and smiled at the woman. She answered it with a frown and then walked out of the room. His smile widened and his gaze raked over her.
She was going to be an interesting hunt.
But he would be the victor.
I hope you enjoyed the excerpt and fingers crossed that it wins! I would be over the moon if that happened.