Dark Realm 1: Into The Darkness
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HarperCollins Avon Red
Format: Mass Market Paperback
On Sale: June 26, 2007
HarperCollins Avon Red
Format: Trade Paperback
On Sale: March 27, 2007
Natalie Lambert’s life has changed in the space of weeks — and she has no idea why. Her parents were murdered, she has her first taste of sexual desire — and she feels out of control, afraid, desperate to understand her changing world. She flees to New Orleans , hoping to lure the murderer out of the dark and bring to an end the trail of dead loved ones. Instead, she’s attacked by crazed birds, swarmed by locusts, and saved by a Cajun cop who awakens all her latent desires.
When Rene Broussard rescues a virgin vampire, he ends up in her bed and becomes hers for life in one lusty bite. Rene awakens the vampire within Natalie, and she awakes the passion within him. Together, they fight the evil threatening to destroy The Born vampires amidst the horror of Hurricane Katrina while they discover a treasure of love they can share for all eternity.
Note for Readers: You must be of legal age in your country of origin to read this excerpt.
Natalie couldn’t sleep.
Not because she was afraid. For the first time in weeks, her stalker was the least of her worries.
Instead, her present danger lay in her own body’s betrayal.
Heat simmered beneath the surface of her skin — a flush of warmth that spread across her chest and belly. The air around her felt close and heavy despite the fan circling above the bed.
Her heart beat too quickly. Her breasts grew heavy. Her nipples peaked against the thin silk of her nightgown. Then blood rushed to the juncture of her thighs, plumping her slick folds.
She might be inexperienced, but Natalie recognized the signs of desire.
The cause of her misery paced restlessly around the house. The creaking hinges of the doors he checked and rechecked gave away his unrest. The muffled thud of footsteps as he walked around the living room below, and the slap of his bare feet on the wooden steps when he came up to patrol the hall pinpointed his location.
He passed outside her bedroom now, his shadow darkening the space beneath the door. Natalie ached to call out to him. Was Rene exercising extreme caution or suffering like she was?
Reaching beyond the moment, Natalie wondered, why him? Why now?
An instinct–some kernel of inborn knowledge — told her this new hunger was related to the current moon cycle. Just as the changes to her body began with the first sliver of pale light from the new moon, her need unfurled like a heron’s wings with the coming full moon.
This past month, she’d been steadily shedding the baby fat that plagued her adolescence although her appetite, especially for blood-enriched meats, had increased. Her first period ever had come and gone. Then sensual awareness dominated her waking and sleeping thoughts.
For days, she’d dreamed of an anonymous lover in her bed. The things he’d done to her had left her breathless and blushing. If she managed to sleep tonight, she knew she’d find Rene’s face, his jaw taut with desire, his shoulders bunched as he hovered above her, supplanting the hazy man of her dreams.
Why him? Although handsome, he wasn’t the first good-looking man she’d ever encountered. But from the moment he’d pulled her from the park bench into his arms, her body recognized his claim. He’d held her close, his thickly muscled torso sheltering her from further harm. His strength and distinctive scent, a spicy heated musk, imprinted on her mind. If she closed her eyes, she was there once more, draped across his lap in the back seat of the sedan, awakening to desire for the first time.
Everything else–the horror of the attacks, the pain of her many little wounds — faded. She felt only his hard, muscled thighs beneath her bottom and the steely embrace that crushed the air from her lungs while he struggled for control.
She wanted to know those sensations again — and so much more.
Frustration humming inside her, she tossed back the bed covers and padded to the French doors, flinging them open. She stepped into a wind that whipped her hair away from her face and the nightgown tight against her body. Infrequent drops of rain pelted her uplifted cheeks, cooling her skin.
A click sounded from the door further down the balcony. Clad only in jeans, Rene stepped out.
He was pure temptation, from brawny chest to bare toes.
“You shouldn’t be out here,” he said, his voice a grumpy, sexy rumble. “You set off the silent alarm.”
With her heart thudding in her chest, she turned away. “I couldn’t sleep.”
“Well, how ’bout not sleepin’ inside ?”
His growling irritation made her smile. She felt the same way — bitchy, edgy, wonderfully horny.
She noted the tight set of his jaw, the rapid rise and fall of his chest, and felt an overwhelming urge to seduce him. And why shouldn’t she?
The way she figured it, her days were numbered. The menace dogging her steps would eventually catch up. Why not grab for all the joy she could find in what was left of her life?
She leaned back against the balustrade on her elbows, making sure the silky gown pulled tight across her breasts.
His gaze lowered, lingering for a moment on her beaded nipples. “Cold?” he asked, his voice a rumbling, silky slide.
“Not really.” She decided to make sure he didn’t misinterpret the invitation. She sauntered toward him, stopping inches away from his rigid body. This close, she breathed in his musky male scent. The breadth of his solid chest and his height overwhelmed her, made her feel small, vulnerable–and intensely feminine.
He sucked in a deep breath. “Look, chère , whatever you’re thinkin’ — it’s not gonna happen.”
She cast him a challenging stare. “Because I’m not what you want?”
He shook his head. “Damn, you’ve got to know that’s not it,” he said, his voice raw. “This just isn’t the right time.”
She met his gaze, hoping she didn’t look too needy, but wanting him to know she could be his — if he’d just reach out. “What if there never is a right time?”
His hands fisted at his sides. “I’m not lettin’ anything happen to you.”
She lifted her chin. “You can guarantee that?”
He glanced beyond her to the midnight sky, and he stayed silent.
Stubborn man. He thought he could withstand this chemistry of hormones and waxing moonlight by sheer will. “Tell you what,” she said. “How about a kiss? And I’ll let it drop. It’ll be enough, I swear.” At his suspicious glare, she added, “Just a kiss.”
He blew out a deep breath and rubbed the back of his neck. “Will you come inside then?”
“Yes,” she said quickly. She’d promise anything just to draw him nearer. If he felt even a fraction of her need, he wouldn’t be able to resist for long.
The muscles in his throat rippled, and he nodded. “All right. A kiss.”
Shivering with excitement, she forced herself to keep her expression impassive.
When she stepped closer, he wagged his finger in front of her face. “Inside.”
Even better. She turned to head toward her bedroom.
“Uh uh.” A crooked smile curved one corner of his mouth and he snagged her wrist. “I guess that’s not a good idea.”
“Then here?” she asked, breathless at his first touch.
The heavens opened, and the rain fell harder.
He dropped her hand, shaking his head. “This is nuts.”
As rain flattened her hair against her head, Natalie wanted to scream her frustration at his hesitation. Knowing her nightgown was soaked to transparency and hugged her curves, she leaned back against the iron balustrade on her elbows and stared, hoping he would make the first move to save her from making a worse fool of herself.
He muttered a soft curse and brought up his hand to cup her cheek. His thumb wiped at the moisture gathering there. His palm was warm and a little rough.
She shivered at the delicious thought of that hand smoothing the soft, cooling rain down her naked skin.
“Maybe this isn’t the smartest thing for us to do,” he whispered.
Natalie tilted her head to press her cheek against his palm. “Who wants smart? I’m only asking for a kiss.”
His eyes narrowed, then his gaze dropped to her lips. When he leaned down, she guessed his intent — a quick peck and then he’d disappear downstairs again.
As he closed the distance between them, she grasped the back of his head, winding her fingers into his dampening, thick hair, and tugged him closer.
Rene groaned a moment before their lips met. Then he held himself still, not moving his mouth over hers.
Natalie sighed and opened her mouth to lick at his closed lips. The rain pelted their heads, the moisture on their bodies acted like a conductor for the electric, arcing charge that leapt between them.
Already, her body flowered. Her nipples tightened. Dew gathered at the juncture of her thighs. She leaned forward and rubbed her silk-covered breasts against his broad, wet chest, reveling in the spark of sensual heat that shot from her breasts to coil around her womb.
His breath hitched and his hands gripped the iron behind her, but he leaned into her, his chest pressing closer.
Not close enough. More! She tugged his hair hard and licked at the seam of his mouth, following her instinctive need to taste and tempt.
He gasped, his mouth opening — but not pressing deeper.
She surged inside, stroking his tongue with hers, slanting her mouth to softly encourage him to increase the pressure. Then she smoothed her hands down his neck to cup his shoulders, and down again, to scrape her fingernails along his spine.
His body trembled and a growl erupted from his mouth, filling hers with his sweet breath, while his tongue crowded past her lips to lap along her tongue, darting inside, then withdrawing and stroking back.
She hooked one leg over his hip, ignoring his initial, rigid resistance, to pull his lower body against hers, close enough now to rub the part of her that ached and swelled against the hard knot burgeoning at the front of his jeans. The hem of her nightgown bunched between their bodies, rising to bare her bottom and her moist sex as she rubbed harder against him.
Natalie lost herself in the kiss, writhing against him — her whole world narrowing as his kiss changed subtly, until he sucked on her tongue and the ridge of his cock ground against her swollen folds. She dug her fingers into the hard muscle of his back and strained closer, needing more, aching for him to fill the empty place inside her body and her heart.
Suddenly, he thrust himself away, stepping back.
Dismayed, Natalie opened her eyes and stared.
His hands were clenched at his sides. Ruddy color stained his cheeks. His lips thinned into a snarl. “This isn’t gonna happen, chère.”
“Why not?” she asked, surprised her voice didn’t crack beneath the strain of her need and disappointment. “You can’t say you don’t want me. I felt how much you do.”
He shook his head. “You’re a pretty fille, sweetheart, but I don’t mix business and pleasure. And I can’t keep watch when you distract me.”
Her legs trembled and she sank back against the balustrade. Her body ached with unfulfilled desire. Tears filled her eyes as she sensed him withdrawing, steeling himself against their powerful attraction. “I’ve never felt this way before, Rene,” she whispered. “And I’m afraid I’ll never feel this way again. I ache–inside.” Her voice broke and she turned her head, ashamed at the naked emotion she’d let him see.
“Don’t do this. Let me walk away,” he said, his voice hoarse. “I’m not the man for you. Not now.”
Her next breath was more a ragged sob, but she held herself rigid to keep from letting him see how much she needed him. She whirled and grasped the door latch to escape inside the room.
She’d almost made it, almost gotten past him without crumbling, but a shiver racked her body as her hand closed around the knob. The soft sob caught her by surprise.
His hands settled on her shoulders, and he drew her back against his chest. “It’s not that I don’t want you,” he whispered into her ear.
She tore from his hold and pushed open the French door. “Just leave me alone.”
“Natalie — ”
Grasping the edge of the door, she faced him, letting him see the tears falling on her cheeks to mingle with raindrops. “I’ve never made love with a man — hardly ever kissed before.” She drew a jagged breath and the words spilled from her. “Now, I’m being hunted by someone who wants me dead. And you can’t protect me. Not really. He can reach me anywhere. I just wanted something beautiful…just once. Something just for me.”
Blinded by tears, she started to shut the door, but he pushed back and entered the room. Then his arms closed around her.
She sagged against him, hating her tears, and the weakness that made her grateful for the warmth beneath her cheek and the strength of the arms supporting her trembling body. She clung to him, pressing her wet face against his skin.
“It’s all right. Don’t cry.”
Silence closed around them, a watchful, pregnant quiet that grew while he stroked her hair and back.
His fingers lifted her chin. Their gazes met for a long moment. Natalie noted a pulse throbbing at his temple and felt the tightening of his arms around her. Her breath caught.
“These jeans stay on,” he said, his whisper harsh.