Friday, 1 March 2019

Two-Natured London returns

It’s been over a year since I published a Two-Natured London paranormal romance. That was a collection of Christmas themed short stories called Moonlight, Magic and Mistletoes that came out for Christmas 2017. And it’s been much longer that I published a full-length Two-Natured London romance. So it’s high time I wrote one.

Crimson Warrior is the sixth book in the series, if you don’t count the shorter romance, Magic under the Witching Moon, and the short story collection. This one is about Gabriel Hamilton, the First Son and vampire warrior of the Crimson Circle. His book has been a long time in gestating. I began writing it almost two years ago. But I couldn’t quite finish it. I needed to write other books first, which put it into backburner. And then the story didn’t quite go where I wanted it to go. I needed to put it aside and let it simmer. For quite a long time, as it turned out.

The book is finally here, after a lot of wrangling that caused me to delete and reorganise full chapters even during what I thought was the last read-through before sending it to the editor. And I think it’s better for all that delay and rewriting. Some books simply take more time to turn out as best as they can be. Still, I’m sorry it has taken this long, if you’ve been desperately waiting for a new book. And I’ll try to write the next one faster. I make no promises though. Occasionally these things are out of my hands.

Here is the first chapter of the book. You can read the second one on my webpage. And the book comes out March 3. You can preorder it here.

“Why are you following me?”
He cocked one of his strong brows slightly. “Who says I’m following you? It’s a popular shortcut.”
“Then why did you stop when you saw me here?”
“I didn’t expect you. I was startled.”
Allegra sneered. “You’ve never been startled in your life.” 

Allegra Emery has protected her family for decades, but when they are targeted by foul, unnatural men, she finds herself out of her depth. So she turns to the first person who seems ruthless enough to help her: a huge man who has a strange ability to make her feel utterly safe. If only he weren’t a human, they might have a future together.

Gabriel Hamilton, a vampire warrior of the Crimson Circle, is definitely ruthless. Everything to achieve a goal: ridding the world of renegades, demon vampires, even if it means using a vulnerable vampire woman as bait. But pretending to be a human to gain her trust is new even for him. What will happen when she finds out the truth? For the first time in forever, the answer actually matters to him.

Allegra is willing to sacrifice everything to save her siblings, even herself. But what will it mean to the emerging bond between her and Gabriel. Will she save her brother and sister, only to lose forever with her warrior?

Chapter One
Gabriel Hamilton leaned deeper into the shadows of the portico that was shielding him from the rain. Getting wet wasn’t an issue; being detected was. It was mid-morning in central London after all, even if this was one of its more quiet corners. Fifty metres from his hiding place was an elegant dark green door. It led to a lawyer’s chambers where his target had entered into moments earlier.

He was on Clerkenwell Close, a winding one-lane street with low yellow-brick buildings on each side that gave it Old London charm despite some of them being new. The businesses here were lawyers, architects, and PR agencies that didn’t generate much traffic. It wasn’t often that he went out among the general population during the daylight hours, and he felt odd out of his fighting leathers, unshielded by the darkness. The well-loved black jeans he was wearing didn’t have quite the same feel, nor did the black trench coat over his black T-shirt. He didn’t need the coat for warmth, even though it was November, and not a very balmy November at that. He wore it to hide the long knife at the small of his back he never left home without. Just because he didn’t anticipate trouble didn’t mean he wouldn’t prepare for it.

It wasn’t the woman he had followed here that worried him; it was who might be after her. Renegades. Demon vampires. Gabe almost spat when the name brought a foul taste of rotten eggs to his mouth.

He called up a bit of magic to create a camouflage around him and blended into the background. He didn’t sense any renegades nearby, but there was no need to scare the few passers-by with his presence either. He was large and frightening—even to humans who couldn’t sense his immense impact in Might—and he was so by birth and by design. He was a vampire warrior of the Crimson Circle, and the First Son of their leader, Alexander Hamilton. He had a legacy to live up to, and he did it well. He’d had over five centuries of practice.

Renegades were a fairly new enemy in the long history of their organisation, but they had proven difficult to conquer. Not impossible though, and the Crimson Circle were determined to put an end to their practice of turning humans with promise, the vampire gene, to their unnatural kind.

The enemy had become overly ambitious lately, and that would be their downfall. They had targeted one Ryan Warner, a member of a high-ranking vampire family, and made him one of their own. The warriors had meticulously tracked all Ryan’s contacts, humans and two-natured alike, and had kept an eye on them even after the bastard had been killed. Then they’d built a round-the-clock operation around the most promising target, Beau Emery.

The Emeries were an old and respected vampire family, if diminished in power during the past century. The current generation in charge was young, the older generations having died during the Blitz. They were still well connected, but without its strongest and oldest members they were more vulnerable, and therefore could be more susceptible to renegades’ lures.

There were three siblings. The eldest was Allegra Emery. At two centuries old, she had already won the sun when her parents perished, and she had taken charge of her two younger siblings, Adeline and Beaumont. Of the two, Adeline’s promise had been fulfilled a couple of decades before the parents died, and at a hundred and eighteen she should emerge within a decade if she was strong, maybe another century if she wasn’t. But Beaumont—Beau, as he was called—had been only a child during the war and still human. He was now into the sixtieth year of his fulfilment, and would live in the night for at least another four decades more.

Young in vampire terms, he’d formed a friendship with Ryan Warner. And it was this friendship that worried the warriors. Though Ryan was gone now, the seeds of their friendship might have a lasting impact. One lure that the renegades had for enticing vampires was the ability to face the sun right away. What if Beau was tired of waiting and wanted a fast way out? Ryan had.

But it wasn’t Beau that Gabe was after today. After all, the man couldn’t leave his house during the day, if he was even awake. It was Allegra. She wasn’t their main target, because renegades generally left women alone, but she had been behaving strangely lately, slipping out of her place of work at odd hours, visiting the chambers of a lawyer who didn’t handle her family’s affairs—a human lawyer, as far as they’d been able to determine.

“Maybe she’s having an affair with the lawyer?” Marcus Hamilton, Gabe’s right hand man and cousin, had suggested when Gabe brought her behaviour up during a meeting with him and Zach, his younger brother, earlier that week. “The world’s changed and vampires and humans are pairing up.”

A foul taste had risen to Gabe’s mouth at the suggestion, and he had shaken his head. “She doesn’t look like a woman in love.”

“What do you know about women in love?” Zach had sneered, amused. And while Gabe would be the first to admit that his brother had the greater experience in women—in love or out—he hadn’t budged. He had kept an eye on her for days already, and had come to recognise her moods.

“She’s not smiling when she goes to meet him, like she’d be happy to see her lover. And … I don’t know, there’s no spring in her step. She looks worried and drawn. Reluctant to see him.” She had been quiet and drawn in general, but the meetings with the lawyer truly upset her.

“Maybe she’s having financial trouble she doesn’t want to tell her own lawyer.”

Gabe nodded. “That’s possible. But what if we’re wrong and she’s been targeted by renegades?”

“Why would renegades target her?” Marcus had asked in his reasonable manner. “She’s a woman. They can’t turn her, not without killing her.” They’d all grimaced, remembering the series of dead women that had been left in the wake of renegades’ experiments the previous spring. “Besides, the lawyer’s a human.”

“For now he is. He could be an unwitting accomplish to renegades.”

Zach lifted a quizzical brow. “We’re already keeping an eye on Beau. Why are you so hung up on Allegra?”

Gabe hadn’t been able to explain his need to keep an eye on her, or his uneasiness when he saw her so troubled. “What better way for renegades to hide than behind a respectable vampire woman?”

That argument had finally won his brothers over to his way of thinking, and they had let him handle this any way he saw fit: by himself. He would follow Allegra and he would find answers. If it turned out to be a lover, he’d leave her be; if it was financial trouble, well, he was here to help, wasn’t he. But if it turned out his worst fears were confirmed, he would act, swiftly.

His eyes trained at the lawyer’s door, secure in his knowledge that he was well hidden, he was outwardly relaxed. But he never let his guard down; wasn’t even sure he knew how. After centuries of keeping a constant eye on the enemy, it was as natural as breathing for him to be aware of his surroundings at all times. He knew well in advance when someone was about to walk past his hiding place, even though humans barely made an impact in Might, his vampire senses fine-tuned to even the slightest change in the energy surrounding all living beings.

Or, rather, his rider was always vigilant.

Most vampires barely acknowledged their second nature, the entity inside them that gave them all their abilities, once they grew strong enough to keep it in rein. And he couldn’t really blame them. The rider was difficult to live with even in optimal conditions. Suppressing it was the best most vampires could achieve. That it made them weaker in magic as a result was no concern of his, although it made it imperative that the Crimson Circle watched over them and kept them safe.

But his rider was as essential to him as a shifter’s animal nature was to a shifter, the two of them working in tandem. It was never off duty, always there to provide him with a constant feed of what was beyond his already superior senses. Not even his fellow warriors relied on their riders as much as he did. He had come to an agreement with his second nature ages ago. Together they were stronger, better.

There was no stronger vampire in the country, bar his father, but then again, Alexander Hamilton, Lord Foley, was in a league of his own. Physically, Gabe could overtake his father if needed—though he couldn’t imagine such need emerging—but when it came to the ability to wield magic, he didn’t come even close.

Gabe preferred it that way. As the leader of the Crimson Circle, Alexander was supposed to be above them all. As his First Son and heir to the centuries-old organisation, it was Gabe’s duty to make sure his father didn’t have to bother himself with the day-to-day operations anymore. And he did it well, he was proud to say—even if he was currently allowing a surveillance operation to take most of his time.

The door Gabe had been watching opened and he perked when he saw Allegra exit. Like all vampires, she looked sort of ageless, somewhere between twenty-five and thirty-five. She was tall and slender, with the kind of dainty bone structure that made Gabe fear he would break her if he so much as stood too close to her. She was too thin and he studied her with a critical eye, like a fellow warrior. The knee high boots she was wearing had space in them even with the jeans tucked in, and the well-cut mackintosh seemed at least half a size too large. Had she lost weight? Exactly how bad was her situation?

Her delicate face was drawn and there was a deep crease between her brows. If the lawyer was her lover, they were going through a breakup. If it was about money, the news hadn’t been good. She didn’t register the light drizzle, not even to lift the collar of her mackintosh up, and in mere moments her shoulder-length chestnut hair, usually so neatly combed, began to fizz and curl.

To all appearances, she was oblivious to her surroundings, but Gabe wasn’t taking any risks that she’d notice him as she walked past his hiding place. He diminished his impact on Might to almost nothing. It was a neat trick Alexander had taught him that allowed him to pass as human, though the drawback was that it forced his rider to become inoperative, cocooned in Might. It wasn’t easy to make his second nature stop and lie low, the reason why only vampires as strong as his father—and him—were able to pull the trick off, but his rider understood the necessity of it. He let Allegra disappear behind the corner of the lawyer’s building. Then he went after her.

She was halfway down the gravel path through St James’s Church Garden, and he had to walk on the lawn to prevent making noise. The park was empty, but he kept a vigilant eye on the shadows, needing to rely on his sight, smell, and hearing now that he couldn’t reveal his presence by scanning the area. She didn’t look left or right, and he didn’t sense her scan her surroundings at all, but he couldn’t say if it was because she was so absorbed by her worries or because it wasn’t her habit in general. Civilian vampires probably weren’t constantly vigilant.

There were more people on the street on the other side of the park, but Jerusalem Passage, a pedestrian street to the south, was empty, forcing him to keep his distance. She appeared to be heading back to her place of work, a private institute conducting research on genetic diseases, located at the edge of the enclosed Charterhouse area, so he didn’t have to stay close.

But instead of taking Clerkenwell Road east, which would have taken her straight there, she continued south down St John’s Square. She didn’t once look back to indicate she suspected she was being followed, and her steps were steady. Was she not paying attention to where she was going? Or was she heading home?

That wasn’t far either; she lived on the south-side of the Charterhouse area, in a Georgian house her family had owned since it was built in the eighteenth century. Warriors were keeping an eye on it and Gabe wouldn’t be needed once she was at home. She would be safe there, but he found himself hoping she wasn’t headed home. She was his to look after.

He shook his head, baffled. Where did that thought come from? She was a target in an important operation, nothing more.

Past St John’s Gate, an imposing remnant of the Tudor era that arched over St John’s Lane, she dove into Passing Alley. It wasn’t an entirely logical choice, as there was no access to the enclosed Charterhouse area from St John’s Street, where it led.

Gabe didn’t like it. The alley was little more than a low, dark tunnel running through the houses, and so narrow that two people couldn’t pass without turning sideways; at least, they couldn’t if they were his size. Not only was it a perfect place for an ambush, should renegades be targeting her, it would be difficult for him to follow her unnoticed. His steps would echo, perceptible to vampire hearing no matter how silently he tried to tread, on top of which everyone coming towards them would certainly pause when they saw him approach, giving his presence away.

Gritting his teeth in frustration, he allowed her to walk deep into the alley before entering himself, making sure his steps remained as silent as possible. The tunnel was dark and empty, and he couldn’t detect her now that his rider wasn’t helping. Had she run through the alley? It was an eerie place and a lone woman would probably find it scary. Cursing, he hastened his steps.

Through the first house, the alley opened into a small garden, squared in by the tall buildings on all four sides and closed off from passers-by with a tall stone fence. His eyes trained at the tunnel opposite, he hurried past the fence, taking care not to run so as not to alarm her. As he passed the closed iron gate that led into the garden, he glanced there, more out of habit than curiosity—and paused, stupefied.

Allegra Emery was standing in front of the gate, leaning her shoulder against its stone post, facing him squarely. And she looked royally pissed.

* * *

If you liked the sample, you can buy the book on Amazon, iBooks and B&N among others.

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