September 2003
ISBN 0758204752

Dark and sexy vampire romances are now all the rage, and this trade paperback collection of four novellas features a wide array of styles and historical settings. Veteran writer Howells's "The Yearning" takes readers to 15th-century Scotland with a tale of vengeance, a witch's curse, and a heroine brave enough to set things right; in Lynsay Sands's "Bitten," a young woman is rescued from a shipwreck only to learn that her savior is not quite human; Sara Blayne's "Stranger in the Night" tells of a young antiquarian searching through the ruins of an ancient manor and finding more than the treasure she seeks; and in Kate Huntington's "The Awakening," an orphan rushing to the estate of her ailing aunt learns that the mysterious stranger she encounters along the way is not only her aunt's longtime companion but also something far more ominous.

This short, historical vampire story was the first anthology… well, the first anything, actually, that I wrote for a publisher other than Dorchester. What a nerve wracking experience! It was like the first day at a new school. Especially when I was told that Kensington did not want laugh out loud funny. You will never know how many funny scenes I had to erase and write over. Who knew that non-funny would be hard? But I've always been a fan of Hannah Howell and the chance to share a book with her was too good to pass up.


The room was nearly pitch black. The weak glow of moonlight coming through the only window gave little illumination, but that didn’t matter. Darkness was their friend for this trap.

Keeran crouched behind the chest that had been positioned to block him from the view of anyone entering the room. Hand clenched around his sword, muscles tense, he stared with fixed attention at the crack of light coming in under the bed chamber door.

A rustle reached his ears as his father shifted in his own hiding place on the other side of the chamber. Keeran turned his eyes in that direction, but while he could see the dark shape of the bed between them, he could see no sign of his father in the gloomy corner beyond it. Keeran knew he was equally invisible to the older man.

Another rustle. It was the barest of sounds, but he recognized it for a sign that the older warrior was restless. They hadn’t been standing there long, but Keeran was restless as well, eager to claim vengeance for the deaths of his mother and sister.

His gaze returned to the dark corner and Keeran silently cursed his father for refusing to remain at his side as he had wished it. After losing both his mother and sister in quick succession, he’d wanted to keep his sire close as they awaited the beast they were sure would strike again this night.

His mother and sister. Keeran felt grief try to claim and weaken him, but staved it off. He needed anger now to strengthen him so deliberately reflected on the events that had lead up to this night.

Keeran had returned from more than a year fighting the King’s battles to find castle MacKay in an uproar and his mother dead. It was his father who had told him the tale of what had come to pass. Some weeks past young village girls and boys had begun to die, found pale and bloodless, two marks on their throat as if bitten. Panic had been quick to set in among the MacKay clan. Since the attacks had all taken place at night, so parents began locking their children away the moment the sun went down, but this did little to slow the deaths. Two more young girls turned up dead in their beds, both only feet from their sleeping parents.

As clan chief, Keeran’s father was expected to stop and avenge these deaths. He immediately set up a night watch to patrol the village, then gathered a group of men to hunt the source of the attacks. It was the third night of the hunt that Keeran’s father came across what appeared to be a man feasting on the neck of one of the warriors assigned to patrol the village.

Geordan MacKay had told Keeran that for a brief moment, he had been so overwhelmed by the horrible realization that the ancient myths of night-walking beasts who fed on the blood of men were true that he had been unable to move. Vampires existed. But he had soon shaken off his temporary paralysis and attacked, taking the creature by surprise and hacking off his head before the Vampire could straighten from his last victim.

News of the kill had spread quickly and the clan had gathered to greet him as Keeran’s father had made his triumphant ride into the bailey, the headless vampire across his horse before him. They had all cheered when he held up the head; jaws open, deadly teeth exposed. A huge bonfire had been started and the body and head unceremoniously dumped on it to be sure the creature could not return to life again. Then they had celebrated his death and the return of safety to the MacKays well into the morning.

Keeran’s father had thought his troubles over then. He had killed the vampire plaguing his people. They were safe now. And they had been. At least the people in the village were. But the very next night his wife had fallen victim to the bloodless death. Geordan MacKay had awakened in the morning to find her lying pale and still beside him. Obviously, there was a second vampire, and this one had possessed the gall to kill Lady MacKay while she lay sleeping beside her husband. The horror was not over.

Keeran had arrived home the afternoon of his mother’s death and joined the hunt for this new beast that night. That hunt proved fruitless as did the next night’s hunt, and the next. In the dawn after the third night, the men had returned to the news that Keeran’s sister was dead. This new vampire had got past the patrols and guards that had been set everywhere and had killed her in her sleep as had happened with their mother.

It had been obvious at that point that this second creature knew that Geordan MacKay had personally killed the first vampire and was now seeking vengeance. That being the case, Keeran had been the next logical victim. Father and son, both furious and grief stricken, had redoubled their efforts to hunt down this new threat, but after nearly a week of fruitless searching, the laird of the MacKay clan had decided they should change their approach. They would lay a trap.

His plan had been simple. They would stuff straw under Keeran’s bed clothes, hoping the creature would think him asleep there. Then each would take position on either side of the bed so that no matter which side he approached from, one or the other would be positioned to come up from behind and tackle him.

His father’s plan had seemed a good one at first, but that was before they had doused the fire in the hearth and then the candles and been plunged into stygian darkness. Suddenly blind, Keeran had feared they wouldn’t be able to see the vampire to attack him when he came. But his father had insisted they would see him enter by the torchlight in the hall spilling into the room when he eased the door open.

With no better plan to take this one’s place, Keeran had acquiesced and backed into his assigned corner. It was a relief to find that his eyes did adjust to the darkness and that, aided by the weak moonlight coming in through the window on the opposite wall, he could make out the dark shape of his bed.

Realizing all at once that this was no longer true and that the room seemed even darker than before, Keeran turned his gaze toward the window. It appeared that a cloud had been passing over the moon. Even as he looked, it moved away, allowing the faintest light back in. Keeran was just relaxing when another sound reached his ears.

Stiffening, he shot his gaze to the corner where his father stood invisible in darkness. Had that been a moan? He held his breath, straining to hear until his head ached with the effort. Keeran heard no other sound, but icy cold was creeping over him and he had the sudden uncomfortable sense of being the hunted rather than the hunter.

“Father?” he called in a bare whisper of sound.

Silence so thick it seemed to have a life of its own was his only answer. Keeran felt the hair on the back of his neck prickle. Had the beast got in? Nay. Light would have spilled into the room from the door had anyone entered. Still, his senses were on alert and his instincts were shrieking that there was trouble.

Father?” He said louder to combat the sudden eerie sensation of being alone and exposed.

When there was no answer this time, Keeran eased up from his crouching position and moved carefully around the chest toward the door. They had removed all the rushes from the floor except for a foot wide space around the bed. This had been to ensure they would be betrayed by no foot fall as they crept up on the vampire when he appeared. Keeran was grateful for this forethought as he made his silent way to the door.

Relief coursed through him when he felt the wood of the door beneath his seeking fingers. Pausing just to the side of it, he listened for a moment, then pulled it open and thrust it wide.

Light immediately spilled into the room. Blinking as his eyes tried to adjust, Keeran turned to the corner his father had taken, prepared to apologize for the skittishness that had made him open the door, only to freeze as the man’s crumpled figure came into view. For a moment,Keeran was bewildered as to what the older man was doing lying there slumped against the chest he should have been crouched behind, but then he saw the blood dribbling from two small puncture wounds on his neck. He also noted that - while pale as death - Geordan MacKay was breathing, taking in short gasping breaths.

Instinct sent Keeran hurrying across the room toward his father. He had just reached the foot of the bed when movement out of the corner of his eye made him stop his forward motion and turn. In his concern, he had forgotten the monster they had been lying in wait for. It was a fatal mistake.

Keeran’s sword was raised by the time he completed the turn, but the sight of the woman who stepped calmly out of the shadows stunned him so that he froze to gape.

She was slender, pale and petite. She was also one of the loveliest women Keeran had ever seen. Her face was a pale oval, with perfect features framed by midnight hair that cascaded over her shoulders and out of sight down her back. His gaze stopped briefly on her large, lovely eyes then dipped down to her sweet, blood red lips and stayed there. Keeran might have stared at her all night had a sound not drawn his attention to his father again.

“‘Tis her. She is Vampyre. Kill her!”

Keeran felt as if he had been punched in the stomach at these words. He turned back to the woman, expecting a denial. Surely this beautiful creature could not be the monster they sought? But he found her smiling an unholy smile. A shudder ran through him as she licked her lips and he realized the crimson color had been his father’s blood. This was the beast who had killed his mother and sister and had now felled his father.

Red hot rage immediately coursed through Keeran. He started to bring his sword down, but found she suddenly held the razor sharp blade in a grip as hard as the steel she gripped. Keeran could neither raise nor lower it. Without hesitation, he drew the sword toward him as if her hand were a sheath. She didn’t even flinch as it sliced into her flesh. Neither did she bleed, he realized. Only the dead don’t bleed.

Before he could attempt to hack at her again, the woman’s open hand shot out at him. He barely had time to note the move, let alone block it. Her cold palm slammed into his throat with incredible force, then closed her fingers with a strength no human could possibly muster. She followed that with a lightning swift blow to his chest that sent him to his knees as the air was punched out of him. The woman then stepped forward, dragging him around by the throat at the same time so that she stood behind him and they both faced his father.

The sword had dropped from his hand when she punched him. Now weaponless, Keeran could only grab at her hand, trying desperately to tear it away. His shock at his inability to do so had his eyes bulging as he attempted to suck air down the throat her vicelike grip seemed to have sealed closed. He was a warrior; strong, hard and twice her size and yet she was stronger.

“Hell bound creature!” Geordan MacKay gasped and the woman holding Keeran as easily as if he were a rag doll laughed. It was a tinkle of amusement, more suited to a ballroom than this tense moment.

“Undoubtedly.” She sounded amused, but her voice turned cold as she added, “But you shall go to your maker knowing that I am taking your son and heir there with me. ’Tis a fitting punishment for your killing my mate, would you not say?”

Keeran saw his father try to rise from his slumped position at this claim, even as he himself attempted to break the grip on his throat. Neither of them succeeded. His father fell back with a weak moan of despair even as Keeran felt the sting of the beast’s death kiss on his neck. That first nip was all the pain there was to his death. Then ecstasy exploded where the sting had been, spreading from that spot through his whole body. Much to his shame, Keeran felt his body respond as if to a lover. Then cold began to creep over him and his vision began to narrow. His last sight before the encroaching darkness claimed him was of the tears leaking from his father’s regret-filled eyes and rolling down his pale cheeks.


When awareness returned to him, Keeran found himself lying abed and not knowing how he’d got there. He rolled weakly onto his side, then stilled at the sight of his father lying dead in the corner, a stake through his heart.

“He is dead. It is done.”

Keeran’s eyes shot to the window where the woman stood, shrouded in the grey light of pre-dawn. She had awaited his regaining awareness before making her next move and he suspected it would be to stake him too.

“Nay. I’ll not put you to rest,” she announced, apparently able to read his mind. “Your father shall suffer more in his heaven knowing that you walk the earth, taking life to sustain your own as I do.”

“Never,” Keeran spat, repulsed by the very idea.

“We shall see.” Her smile was cold and cruel. “You will find you will do much to end the pain of hunger when it strikes.”

Realizing now that she did not have the mercy to kill him, Keeran turned his gaze away, wishing she would go just away. He wished to be left to his misery and mourning. But while he could avoid looking on her monstrous beauty, he couldn’t shut out her voice.

“The dawn comes. You should seek shelter ere it arrives and sends you to hell in a blazing glory. A most unpleasant experience I am sure.”

Keeran jerked his gaze back to her, prepared to spit out that he would rather die than live this walking death as she did, but he was just in time to see her slip through the window and out of sight. Now he understood how she had entered without alerting them and realized that they hadn’t had a chance. Neither of them had even considered she might enter through the window. Keeran’s room was in the tower, too high for any mortal being to reach. They had underestimated the creature.

At least now she was gone.

Keeran relaxed on the bed with every intention of staying right where he was and allowing the sun to show him the mercy she would not, but when the first rays of light began to creep through the window and touched his feet, it felt as if someone had set a torch to his boots. It affected him even through his clothing. Jerking his foot out of that finger of light, he tried to sit up, but found he was yet too weak.

Cursing himself for not staying where he was even as he did it, Keeran managed to roll off the bed, hitting the floor with a body jolting thump. This gave him some respite from the sun’s rays, but he knew it would not be for long. Unshuttered, the window would soon allow the light in to fill the room. Yet he was too weak to gain his feet, let alone walk somewhere that the light could not reach him and he refused to call out for help. He would not have his people see him this way. As far as they were concerned, their clan chief Geordan MacKay and his son and only remaining heir Keeran MacKay had died this night. He would have it so. He would not remain among them to sully them with his presence.

His gaze slid to the side and landed on the chest he had hidden behind. Mustering the little strength he had left, Keeran managed to crawl inside it. Relief flowed through him when the lid dropped closed, enclosing him in a cocoon of darkness. It was quickly followed by shame that he had not had the courage to stay where he had been and allow the sun to destroy the monster he had become.

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