paranormal vampire romance book
genre: paranormal vampire romance book
length: 100000 words / long novel
released: December 2009
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Blood and Snow
A lance corporal in her territory's vampire army, Scarlet is no stranger to the violence and bloodshed of war, but in the midst of it, she discovers something that makes it all worthwhile--love.
Her kind are at war with the humans, a long running feud that has claimed countless lives, and Scarlet is all too aware that vampires are no longer guaranteed a long life after they're turned. Time seems to be of the essence, but she can't bring herself to admit her feelings to the man who had claimed them so wholly--her captain, Corazon.
Corazon has lived through two centuries of war. Tired, disenchanted, and with only his sense of duty to sustain him, he is garnering a reputation for having a heart of ice. But there is one woman at his garrison that can melt the frost within him--Scarlet. Torn between duty as her commanding officer, and his growing love for her, he fights his own personal battle while all around him fight the war.
When things take a turn for the worse, can their love for each other sustain them, and can they find a way to end the war and live in peace together at last?
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The world was cold this winter, and especially so tonight. The thick grey stones of the fort glittered like diamonds, sparkling beneath a frost-ringed moon. The land was dark, the forest forbidding, but all was still, as though frozen in time itself.
The chill breeze worked slender icy fingers through the threads of Scarlet’s thick wool cape but the cold didn’t bother her. With no body heat to lose, she was only worried about getting too stiff to fight should there be an attack.
She reached the end of the long wall and paused, listening to the eerie silence, waiting.
“Quiet tonight,” a deep familiar voice stirred her senses but she didn’t turn to look at him. He came to a halt beside her and she could feel his eyes on her, studying her as they always did. “You should go down to be with the others. The humans won’t attack tonight.”
“They won’t?” Scarlet said, now turning to look at him. He was wearing the same graven expression that she always saw on his slim face and his brown eyes held the same darkness as they did each time she looked into them.
“They fear the wolves.” He pointed to the full moon. “And us, of course.”
There was a twitch of his lips that indicated an intention to smile, but it never came out. She stared at his mouth, at the beautiful bow of it, and wished he would smile at least once so she could see it before she died. Each night was a constant battle for survival, even for those off duty, and she was under no illusion that she was going to lead a long life.
“It’s too bright so we’d see them too easily? They’d never get close enough to attack?” Scarlet said, hopeful that he would see her questions more as an observance and would be pleased that she had been learning. She was still new to fighting, but these past six months had been a steep learning curve and she’d done well to survive this long. She had gone up a rank since her arrival, and was now one step closer to becoming like him.
“Captain Corazon.” A brusque voice snapped her out of her perusal of him. She looked at the newcomer. It was a messenger and she recognised him as being one of the many who had arrived with her.
“What is it?” The man at her elbow turned sharply to face the messenger and again drew her eye to him. She had never seen a man like him.
“The relief have passed the last marker. All is quiet. The watchmen from the fifth garrison have reported that no human has left their fortress recently.”
“Good. See to it that this report reaches the generals. Make ready for the relief’s arrival.”
The messenger saluted and then left. Scarlet didn’t stop looking at Captain Corazon when he turned to face her.
“More troops?” she said.
He nodded. “We have been sent fifty new soldiers for the day watch.”
“As many as fifty?” She was astounded by how quickly the werewolves worked. As the day watch, their numbers needed to be kept high as it was the favoured time of attack by the humans. The werewolves were weaker than her kind, and were easier to kill, but they were a necessary protection against the humans.
Scarlet looked down at the forest below her and then up at the moon. It was a quiet night. She liked nights like this. She liked it when her commander stopped by as he was now. She’d watched him on many occasions when it was quiet, and he always stayed longest with her.
“I hear you have leave coming to you,” she said as casual as anything as she tried to get an answer to the question that had been buzzing around her head since she’d heard someone mention it last week.
“I do,” he said in the same graven tone he always used. “But I do not intend to leave.”
“Would you take leave if you were offered it?” he said.
She thought about it. Would she leave the fort for the safety of the villages? Would she leave her commander’s side? She would dearly love to see her home again.
“No,” she replied and he raised a brow. Clearly, he had expected her to say yes, to convince him to take some leave. “But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take a day or two off. It must have been a long time since you’ve seen your family.”
Corazon’s expression darkened. “I have no desire to see them again, not when I came here to get away. Here is my home now. I have no reason to leave it.”
“But will you at least take leave here then? You must be tired from the fighting. You’ve been here many years.”
His look softened and she swore there was a flicker of a smile on his lips. “Many years... probably a long time before you were turned. Do you remember your human life?”
Scarlet frowned at the question. It wasn’t like him to be so conversational and easy around her. She’d seen him like this with other soldiers, with other men, but never with her or a woman.
“No, not really. Only little details,” she said, and then frowned again when one of the other guards called him away.
She watched him go with regret in her heart. She hoped he would stay longer next time.
She didn’t really remember her human life. It was only fragments of memories of her time as one that remained now.
But she did remember the night she had met Corazon.
* * * *
“Private Scarlet, keep your bloody head down or lose it!” The first lieutenant’s voice was loud in her ear, drowning out the shouts of the humans and the whizzing of weapons fire.
He moved away before she could respond and she crouched low, trapped in a corner of what used to be a stone hut in the forest. The low crumbling walls offered little protection. They had been on routine scouting manoeuvres when the humans had ambushed them. With no weapon and no formal training, she didn’t know what she was supposed to be doing. She couldn’t fight these people, not when they were firing at them so quickly it was almost raining arrows.
She’d already seen one of her comrades disintegrate in front of her eyes.
She didn’t want to end up like that, not when she’d only been here for two days.
She’d not even met the captain of her company yet. He’d been away at the third garrison and wasn’t due back until tomorrow.
“Move it,” someone said close to her ear and she watched the woman run to the next safe place to join the others. They all moved again, leaving her alone.
Scarlet stared at the distance, unsure if she could make it before the next volley. Her gut twisted with fear and she closed her eyes and pushed herself forwards, running blind into the gap between the two walls.
The arrow burned as it pierced her upper arm and she stumbled on a branch as the pain raced through her. She gritted her teeth as a jolt ran up her arms and through her knees as she hit the dirt. There was a cheer from the humans and she tried to push herself forwards, desperately wanting to avoid the next volley and fearing this would be her last moment on Earth.
She squeezed her eyes shut as her arm began to throb and felt as though it was on fire. There was a cry from the humans as they unleashed the volley. The world came to a standstill.
And then she was moving again only she didn’t know how because her feet weren’t touching the floor. Her senses swam with pain, so much so that they were useless. Tiredness engulfed her, calling her to sleep, and she was more than willing to follow it into the silent dark.
She roared as new pain ripped through her and her whole body burned with an inferno.
Someone slapped her cheek and the quiet lure of sleep disappeared, replaced with a harsh world that she wanted no part in. It was noisy, and painful, and nothing like the peace that had enshrouded her just seconds before.
There was a sound of tearing material.
Firm fingers gripped her arm and wrapped something tightly around it. Scarlet opened her eyes and watched steady unfamiliar hands work to bandage her wound. There was so much blood that the pale material was soon dark with it. She frowned as she saw the insignia on it.
She’d seen material like it somewhere before.
It clicked in her drowsy mind.
The captain’s shirts bore the mark of their company on the arms.
She steadily raised her eyes to his face as he tightened the makeshift bandage around her right arm.
His dark brows were knit tight, the black helmet partially obscuring them. It dipped to a point above his nose and drew her eyes down to it. It was slender, straight, with flared nostrils that spoke of irritation. Her gaze fell to his lips but then shot to his eyes when he spoke.
“That should do it,” he said, voice silken in her ears but rough at the same time. He wore the look of someone whose patience had snapped but was being restrained. “Listen to your orders next time. I might not be here to save you.”
He hauled her onto her feet and Scarlet realised they were alone. The rest of her company was gone, nowhere to be seen or even heard. How long had she been out for? It had felt like only seconds. She’d been ready for the volley to hit her.
Her arm throbbed, dull and painful, right down to her bones. It made them ache. She picked at the bandage, wishing it were looser because it was hurting her.
Her eyes shifted to where the humans had been and she swallowed at the sight of so many butchered men. Something caught the moonlight and glinted, drawing her attention to it. It was a sword hanging at the captain’s side.
And it was drenched in blood.
Had he killed all those humans?
Had he done that to save her?
“What’s your name?” he said, looking her over.
“Private Scarlet,” she responded, saluting him. “Member of the seventh company.”
He frowned. “Then you owe your captain a great debt already, but I will overlook it if you are more careful in the future.”
Scarlet stared at him. He was her captain? She’d heard great things about him, about how he was one of the best captains in the twenty one companies, but they hadn’t prepared her for this. He’d killed so many so quickly. She could sense he was strong, and old in vampire years. Age had given him the strength and skill to survive, to kill in ways that she could only dream of learning.
He looked at their surroundings and she frowned when she saw the thin silver streak of a scar running across his cheek towards his ear. There was a nick taken out of it, causing a tiny V in the top curve.
How long had he been fighting here? The war had been raging for over two hundred years. Was he that old? In appearance, he was young, probably barely ten years her superior in human terms. And he was handsome.
“Are you able to walk?” he said and she shifted her eyes across to meet his again. There was no concern in them, nothing that could give feeling to his words. He didn’t care if she was in pain, he only cared that a soldier was injured.
He wanted to know if she was strong enough to continue.
She took a deep breath and raised her chin high. She was strong enough, or at least she could be if he gave her a chance. This was a terrible first impression when she’d come here to prove herself. Only here a matter of days and her captain had been forced to rescue her.
“Well?” he said, mild irritation showing in his voice.
“I’m fine.” She picked up his jacket and held it out to him.
Her gaze fell to his bare arm where he’d torn his shirtsleeve off to bandage her. There were strange black symbols against his skin, following the curve of his muscles. He took the jacket and slipped it on, but hiding the symbols from her eyes didn’t make her forget they were there and didn’t stop her wondering what they were.
He walked a short distance and then looked back at her.
“Their relief will come soon. We must move.” He turned away from her again and she frowned when she saw what he was walking towards.
It was laden with pack bags. He’d been on his way back to the fort when he’d rescued her.
He mounted it in one smooth fluid motion and then held his hand out to her.
“Come,” he said and flexed his fingers. “I will not be late back with my report because of you. If you do not move, I will leave you here, regrettable as that may be.”
She hurried over to him, wondering if it would be regrettable because he’d lose a soldier or because he’d lose her.
Her hand slipped into his and a jolt ran through her. She looked into his eyes to see whether he’d felt it too but there was only emptiness in them. He hauled her onto the horse, settling her not behind him like she’d expected, but in front of him. She slid down the arch of the saddle and her eyes widened when her back and buttocks pressed against him.
His arms came to rest either side of her and she noticed how he was careful to keep his right one lower so he didn’t brush against her wound.
“It still hurts,” she muttered to herself.
“They poisoned you. It’s common practice around here. It’s a natural poison from plants they grow. They mix it with salt to get it into our blood.” His voice was quiet and soothing by her ear and she could feel his breath against her.
She stared at his hands as he held the reins, gripping them tightly as he turned the horse about and began back towards the fort.
“They thought you were dead. You would have been if I hadn’t shown up,” he said.
“Dead,” she repeated the word, trying to get it to sink in. They’d poisoned her. It was a clever tactic. If their aim wasn’t true and they missed her heart with the wooden bolt, she’d die anyway from the poison. She’d felt as though her blood had been turning to ashes. She needed to know more about this land and the humans’ tactics if she was going to survive. “Removing the bolt stopped the poison?”
He snapped the reins and the horse began to trot.
“No,” he said.
She wondered why he was giving her such a short reply all of a sudden. Before he’d been positively chatty; now he felt cold again.
“So I’m still dying?”
“No.” There was a pause. She brushed her fingers against the wound and could feel his eyes on her. “I removed the poison. That is why you owe me a great debt.”
Her eyes widened as it dawned on her. “You sucked it out. You poisoned yourself?”
She tried to turn around but her arm knocked against his and pain shot through her. The momentary distraction made her slide sideways on the saddle but before she could fall, his arm was around her waist, holding her steady. She shifted back onto the saddle again and kept her face forwards as she thought about what he’d said.
“You should’ve let me die. It was my mistake. I should’ve paid for it, not you. I cannot repay that kind of debt.”
“The debt is not that great,” he said, confidence and a hint of amusement radiating off him. “Years of exposure to the poison has rendered me immune enough that I won’t die.”
“But you’ll be sick?”
“There will be a mild side effect such as that. It is better than a dead soldier.”
She could see the fort in the distance now but suddenly she wished it was still miles away. Being here in the arms of this man, her captain and commander, gave her a feeling that she’d never experienced before. She’d never felt safer.
“How long did I have?” she said to her hands.
“You would have lived until sunrise. If the sun hadn’t killed you, you would’ve died by nightfall. A few minutes more of exposure to the poison and it would have been too late.” There was a note in his voice, a hint of something that sounded like concern, but she didn’t fool herself into believing it.
“Captain Corazon,” she whispered, her chest aching and throat tightening as her eyes filled with tears.
She didn’t want to die. She’d barely lived, was shipped here to be a soldier before she’d even had a taste of love, or happiness, or anything that made life worth living. Her world was dark, full of death and the empty graves of soldiers killed on the front. She choked back her tears, not wanting them to come.
When she’d first arrived, she’d wanted to be strong so she could return to her village and live a long life in safety, away from the war, as far removed as she could get. Now she wasn’t so sure. Now she wanted to be strong for a different reason, and the idea of returning home was as bitter as the poison still tainting her blood. She looked over her shoulder at her commander, right into his eyes.
She wanted to be strong for him.