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Authors: Rosalie Stanton

MidnightSolace

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Midnight Solace

Rosalie
Stanton

 

Three hundred years can change many things, but love is not
among them.

Forbidden to claim the woman he loves as his mate, Gabriel
established a yearly meet with Jael to satisfy their hunger for each other.
Time has not diminished the vampires’ need, nor made the pain of every other
day more bearable. Christmas Eve together might not be much, but pretending for
one night that they can belong together is the only way either knows how to
survive.

Except this Christmas, Gabriel can't go on pretending.
Living for one night is no way to live, and he is determined that he and Jael
will see the new day together. The only question is whether after all this time
she’s prepared for the consequences of saying yes.

 

A
Romantica®
paranormal erotic romance
from Ellora’s Cave

 

Midnight Solace
Rosalie Stanton

 

Chapter One

 

It was a testament to time how much the same tavern could
flash a thousand different faces over the course of three hundred years. While
the drunken barflies never seemed to leave, the atmosphere itself was on a
nonstop course to full evolution. It had been a pub for half a century before
it was bought and turned into a diner. There was a six-month stint in which it
was a ladies’ hat store, but the lingering scent of alcohol could not help but
reemerge every three years or so.

No matter what facelift the tavern received, it was the
place Jael visited every December. Every December since 1697.

Here she would wait, as she did every year on the night
known commonly as Christmas Eve. She would wait until he came in and her year
met fruition.

Even in the life prior to her nocturnal rebirth, Jael could
not fathom living without the thrill of the winter season pushing her through
the common twelve-month cycle of every insufferable year. Gabriel met her here
every December 24, just as the old grandfather clock that had somehow survived
the years struck the hour of midnight. They would spend the holiday in each
other’s arms and wake up in separate beds in the morning.

As walkers of the night, they could chance nothing more.
Such was the way of things between all vampire lovers. One night of the year,
maybe two. No connection beyond that. Nothing that anyone in either their dark
existence or the other world bathed in sunlight would ever call a relationship.

Vampires couldn’t have relationships. It was as simple as
that.

Gabriel was her maker. He had been in her corner from the
very beginning. Her protector since childhood. In the absence of vampiric
relations, most vampires turned to humans to satisfy carnal desires. Claiming
humans as mates for eternity was not taboo, not like turning to other vampires
was. Human mates would live for eternity, tied to the lifeline of their mate.
Still, the connection did not run as deeply. When a human female was sad, her
vampire mate did not cry. When a human male was cut, his vampire mate did not
bleed. They were different. Separate. One could die and the other would live.

It was not like that between walkers of the night.

Among vampires, those tied together beyond the blood of
sires felt everything. Shared everything. Their fate was the same. Always the
same.

Every society had its great tragedies. Romeo and Juliet.
Napoleon and Josephine. Vampires had a tragedy as well. Well-known to them, a
well-kept secret among the humans they protected. Unlike the tale of Dracula,
the one among them that had established the grisly stereotype of their kind,
the story of Lazarus and Anna remained shrouded from the world of humans, a
cautionary tale that kept all those who belonged to the night in line. For the
sake of a species. For the sake of an entire way of life.

As with many cautionary tales, Lazarus and Anna’s story had
several assumed points of origin. In some tellings, they lived in Ancient Rome.
Others had their first meeting documented in Greece. Jerusalem, India, even
parts of North and Central America all claimed to be the homeland of
vampirekind’s most infamous lovers, as well as the most boasted tragedians of a
culture. In any event, where Lazarus and Anna had first met remained
unimportant compared to their impact on their kind. The story of a passionate
love affair, during which, overcome with zeal, Lazarus and Anna sealed their
lifelines together in blood. Once mated, they had but a few weeks together
before angry villagers fingered Anna for the death of a beloved elderly man.
This was back in the day when vampires and humans lived side by side, when
vampires were accepted as the guardians of the human race. In that time,
vampires were more likely to feed from cattle to acquire what they needed, and
they did so while humans rested. When the monstrosity of their dependence on
blood could be hidden in the shadow of night.

They were careful, but ultimately accidents did happen. One
cow would die. Then another, then another. Respect for the Nightly Ones turned
into fear. Fear turned into blame. And when the elderly man died of anemia,
fear manifested fully into violence. Anna was seized from Lazarus’ loving arms,
imprisoned in a local church and tortured.

At night she was beaten for information. On occasion, she
was bled and burned, and every time her skin was marred, inhuman howls ripped
through the ground, shattering the quiet of night as her mate endured the agony
of her pain. Some said he died crawling in the sunlight to reach his beloved,
others said the pain he suffered was too much, and he drew his last breath the
second the villagers burned Anna at the stake. Others said his moniker of
Lazarus guaranteed that he would return, and those who still lived in the
village swore he haunted the grounds he died upon.

The tale had evolved dramatically over the last several
centuries.

The tragedy of Lazarus and Anna had established the law.
Never could vampires mate. Never could vampires claim each other, only to
become subject to that sort of torment. If vampires mated they became
liabilities, even to each other. Such had been the law for centuries. Such was
the reason Jael came to the same tavern every year and waited for Gabriel to
arrive. Tonight was the only night they had because they were both vampires,
and that was simply the way of things.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way. Her death had been
sudden, at a time when her town was overwhelmed by an epidemic of scarlet
fever. She and Gabriel had been planning to mate for two years when she became
ill. As he sobbed over her on what she was sure would have been her last day,
she begged him to turn her.

He had. Through his tears, he had given her new life.

She hadn’t known becoming what he was meant that she
couldn’t have the life they’d planned together. She hadn’t known until she
breathed life for the first time as something other than human.

Jael shuddered, her eyes falling shut. No matter how hard
she tried, she couldn’t repress the memory of the night she had clawed to
freedom. The first night she had opened her eyes swimming in the soft glow of
starlight. Gabriel was waiting for her, his eyes heavy with sorrow, his skin
bathed in the scent of tears. His soft blue gaze had found hers and he had
taken her into his arms, murmured his love and begged her forgiveness.

Then he had told her the story. The reason vampires couldn’t
be together, even as casual lovers. The urge to claim each other, he said,
would grow unbearable. There were several who succumbed to the temptation, and
they were expelled from the Vampire Order. And expulsion wasn’t as nice as it
sounded. Rather, it pretty much guaranteed a death certificate. The Order would
track down dissenters and destroy them. Weakness was not tolerated among their
kind—survival of the race came above earthly concerns or desires. Above love.

Gabriel had taught her everything about being a vampire
before setting her loose into the world. They had attempted to stop seeing each
other altogether but that proved disastrous. If she didn’t follow him, he
followed her. They would meet in a tearful passion and make love until the sun
came up. Ultimately, Gabriel suggested that this place—this tavern—would mark
their reunion every Christmas Eve. They could be together the one night of the
year that the world had decided loved ones should spend with each other.

One night though. Only one.

It ate her up. For more than three hundred years, she had
survived simply to get to Christmas Eve. She went to movies, she occasionally
worked with authorities on cases as a visiting detective with forged
credentials and she read more books than writers could produce in a year. She
adopted the last name Winter in silent homage to the single night for which she
spent the entire year waiting. She did anything she could think of to lose
herself to time, to ignore the nagging in her gut that Gabriel wasn’t with her,
that he didn’t belong to her for three hundred and sixty-four days of every
year. That for every night of the year, save one, he could find solace in the
arms of any woman who crossed his path. That he was not hers. He could never be
hers.

Tonight, that didn’t matter. Tonight, he belonged to her.

The door to the pub swung open and a familiar scent washed
over her. Instantly, her body softened into warm compliance. It was okay again.
For a few hours, everything would be okay. Gabriel was here now.

Her body positively hummed.

Gabriel.

He took a seat next to her, looking much the same as always.
Shaggy brown hair, warm eyes, strong shoulders that accompanied strong arms and
hands. He shrugged off his leather duster—a new addition to his wardrobe. It
was longer than the coats he’d previously donned, more becoming. Almost royal.
It was worthy of her Gabriel.

“Whisky,” he told the bar hand, lighting a cigarette. There
was a thick silence as his glass slid across the bar. Auburn liquid pooled in a
clear tumbler. It was a vile drink, but it suited Gabriel. Vampire drunkenness
wasn’t unheard of, but it took well more than a few drinks to get a nightwalker
inebriated. He took a long sip of his drink, exhaled a puff of smoke, then
turned to her with a small smile. “You wouldn’t happen to be a Kenite, would
you?”

Jael shifted slightly, a grin tugging at her lips. “Worthy
of recognition, even though I am no woman of Israel?”

He curled his arm around her and nuzzled her hair with
familiar affection that made her heart flutter and ache in the same instance.
“God, I’ve missed you.”

“It’s only been a year.”

“Longest year yet.”

“You say that every year.”

“And every year I mean it more.” Gabriel shuddered violently
and downed the rest of his drink. “You look gorgeous.”

She flushed. “Thank you.”

“How has your year been?”

Terrible.
“Fabulous.”

“Really?”

“Oh yeah.”

A long pause. “Any new men in your life?”

“I keep my eyes open.”

Lie.
She shunned every man who attempted to touch
her. Her body—heart and soul included—belonged solely to Gabriel.

Her eyes fluttered shut as he edged closer, his lips finding
her throat. “You smell divine.”

“Gabe…”

“Need you now.” He reeled back, his eyes flashing
apologetically. “I’m sorry, sweetling. I just… Can we go now?”

That gave her pause. He was acting strange. Gabriel always
enjoyed the pretense that they were strangers instead of what they were. She
supposed it was easier for him if it seemed like a chance encounter rather than
the most important date of the year. If they pretended they didn’t mean what
they did to each other.

If they pretended it was random, so as not to stir trouble
in the Order.

“Gabriel?”

His lips swept over hers. “Please.”

She needed no persuasion. No reason. The less time they
spent here, the more time they had together. All she needed was him.

“All right,” she whispered.

“Your place still—”

“Around the corner.”

Gabriel tossed a few bills onto the counter and nodded to
the bartender, tugging Jael to her feet. “Never change, do you?”

“You want me to?”

“Not in a million years.”

She smiled sadly. A million years. Would they still be
playing this game a million years from now? Three hundred had been unbearable;
she didn’t know if she could suffer through a million.

But she supposed that didn’t matter. Gabriel was with her
now.

And until the sun came up, that was all that mattered.

Chapter Two

 

Tonight was going to be different. He felt it.

Hell, he’d known it the second he stepped into the pub.
Seeing her under the soft glow of lights much too cheap to capture her glory.
The woman he loved. The woman he lived to see for just a few hours. Every
second apart from her constructed another level in his personal hell. He felt
cheap for being so easily defined, for being strung along for so many years by
the promise of the one woman he could never have, but love knew no reasoning.
No boundaries. The rules of the Order didn’t apply to love, and love certainly
didn’t listen to them.

Time had not healed him. Time had only made his feelings
grow almost unbearable. And being so close to her now… Something was going to change.
Something was going to change tonight.

They were at the door now. Her apartment. Her bedroom. Her
refuge. The place where he was welcomed once every year to forget his
loneliness in the sanctuary of her body. Her body flush against his. His cock
so hard he was sure the flimsy zipper on his slacks would pop. Had it been
anyone else, he would have been surprised at the depth of his reaction. But it
wasn’t anyone else; it was her. Jael. His golden goddess. She could smite him
with a look if she wanted. So much power in her small, capable hands. It
unnerved him to think himself so easily rattled.

There had been no such thing as love in his life before he
met her. Before he found her three hundred years ago and was forced to let her
go. Forced to forfeit their promised eternity because she could no longer be
human. It had been no fault of hers. No fault of anyone’s really, though he
would have loved to lay blame on someone’s shoulders. Illness was a culprit
without a body, and hers had nearly killed her. He’d had no choice if he wanted
to keep her in this world, regardless of the consequences. His act of saving
her, turning her into a nightwalker, had taken away the only woman to whom he
could see himself mated for the rest of time.

A bittersweet pang struck his heart at that. He thought of
it sometimes still. Of losing himself and claiming her, to hell with the rest.
He longed for the taste of her blood, the feel of her fangs, the promise of her
arms. The thought alone was enough to inspire anyone to tears. Anyone who knew
the agony of what he felt. Of having everything he had ever wanted right
beneath his fingertips and forcing himself to let her go. Every year, he let
her go all over again. Every year, he relived that horrible night when she had
died in his arms. And every year, he fought the temptation to claim her. To
make her his forever.

Of course, any sort of ceremony was impossible, and he felt
like a fool for even entertaining the notion. Still, the thought of spending
eternity with her was too rich to cast aside, even if such aspirations only
filled him with sorrow. He was still so terrified of scaring her off with the
intensity of his regard. He felt if she ever knew just how much he still loved
her, there would be no more of this. No more tempting fate, no more tempting
desire, no more challenging the decree of the Order to have their night
together. No more sharing this stolen holiday with her. No more tasting each
other for hours and pretending it was enough for a year. No more pretending his
heart didn’t break when he left her before the sun rose and he returned to his
cold, empty existence.

No more of her guiding him into their bedroom and closing
the door behind them.

“Jael…”

Her hands were already busy at her top, revealing the satin
of her black bra to his hungry eyes. The cream of her skin contrasted against
the material was surprising in its effect. Gabriel liked fancy lingerie and
scantily clad women as well as the next hormone-infused male, but he had never
truly envisioned himself being so turned-on by something that simple.
Logically, he knew Jael wore bras. Hell, he had snapped her out of practically
every style past generations had fed to impressionable women, always eager to
feel the weight of her breasts in his hands. He had never known her to wear
black. Never known her to go out of her way to look so delectable in her
undergarments. Seeing her so bare fogged his eyes with lust to the point that
she could be wearing a doormat and he wouldn’t notice.

His thoughts must have run away with him, for when he
blinked, Jael was wearing nothing but that black bra and a pair of matching
panties. And he was still fully clothed, unable to do anything but gawk at how
gorgeous she was.

Jael shifted uncomfortably. “I-I wanted to try something
new…for us tonight.”

“You’re beautiful.”

Her blush enchanted him. She was his seductress, his only
temptation, and she somehow didn’t know it. “I was hoping you’d like.”

Gabriel released a deep breath, fighting his desire to growl
something primitive and throw her on the bed. Instead, his eyes glazed over and
he stepped toward her predatorily, a lump forming in his throat. “Beautiful,”
he murmured again, fingers entertaining themselves at her left strap. Then his
mouth couldn’t stand the torment of being parted from her flesh and his lips
descended once more upon her neck, tasting her sweet skin as his arms curled
under her shoulders and pulled her against him. “You’re killing me.”

“I didn’t—”

A heady gasp tumbled through her throat as his nimble
fingers worked the front clasp of her bra, trembling with the knowledge that
she wouldn’t like it if he ripped something she had just bought. Then he was
tugging at her nipples, mouth sweeping her mouth, exploring her face with soft,
sweet kisses. “I wasn’t doing anything.”

“You unmake me with a look,” he growled, encouraging her
hands to the buttons of his top. He hadn’t gone with a suit, rather a dressier
shirt and dark slacks. They had looked tonight, in his opinion, as though they
were fashioned for the purpose of being together. More poetic whims that
brought out the traditionalist in him, but the notion was warming nonetheless.

Gabriel seized her mouth in another kiss as his shirt fell
to the floor. He turned her in his arms so that her back was to the bed and
walked her to it slowly, his hands massaging circles into her hips. She sat
when her legs met the mattress, looking up at him as he gazed down at her, his
touch moving to her hair as she lifted nervous fingers to the clasp of his
trousers and slowly drew him out.

God, he nearly melted then. Her small hand cradled his cock
with veneration, stroking him to further hardness as his pants pooled at his
ankles before joining his shoes on the floor.

“Jael,” he gasped, releasing her hair. As much as he wanted
to hold her in place, there was something about the gesture that struck him as
wrong, wholly disrespectful, and miles apart from the place that his love for
her began. He had told her lifetimes ago that he never expected anything, and
it remained true. Whatever she gave him was enough. “God.”

She dropped her other hand to his balls and squeezed him
lightly. “You like?”

Did she actually expect him to talk?

Her tongue flicked over the head of his cock, and a murmur
of approval rumbled through her throat. As though she actually enjoyed this. He
never wanted her to feel she had to do this for him…though he was not such a
putz that he would tell her to stop if she didn’t want to.

“J-Jael—”

Her tongue took to the underside of his cock, laving him in
long, wet laps. She lifted her hand just slightly so she could taste his sac
with her tongue, sucking gently and just barely teasing him with her teeth.

“God!” Gabriel snarled something unintelligible and shoved
her back on the bed. “Drive me outta my mind, you know that?”

“Well, you drive me out of mine more.”

“Don’t think so, sweetheart.” His mouth surrounded one rosy
nipple, his right hand caressing her neglected breast as his other skated down
the length of her. Stroking her gently through the satin of her sodden panties.
“So wet.”

“Uhh…”

“So sweet.”

“Gabriel, please.”

He scraped the tip of her nipple with his teeth before
pulling back to draw her panties down her legs. His gaze was transfixed on her
dewy center, which glistened at him even through the darkness. “So fucking
gorgeous,” he murmured reverently, skimming a hand up her leg to tease her soft
curls. “You have any idea how delicious you are?”

“You have any idea how often you’ve asked me that over the
years?”

A smirk quirked his lips. “Sassy.”

“No.” She lifted her hips in offering, eyes wide with need.
“Horny.”

“Well, at least you’re honest.” He edged a finger into her
slowly, eyes twinkling when her own went wide, her pelvis leaping into his
touch. He carefully avoided her clit, even as his other fingers took to
exploring her, rubbing her folds, edging into her warmth, feeling her warm
juices run onto his skin. Tempting him with her taste. “Honesty’s a quality I
love in a woman.”

“Gah.”

“You disagree?”

“No—other women. Can we pretend there are no other women in
your life?”

Gabriel’s brow perked teasingly. He read her so well. “Well,
I’m sure you’re not the
only
woman who exhibits honesty.”

“Gabriel!”

He smiled, his eyes lowering with remorse as a shudder raced
through his body. “Baby, I promise you. You’re the only one I see here. You
have nothing to worry about.”

Nothing?

He heard the question as plainly as if she’d spoken it
aloud. The indecision in her eyes, the uncertainty and revulsion at the thought
she couldn’t keep him from sampling other women in their time apart. Just as
surely as he couldn’t keep her from seeking her pleasures elsewhere when he
wasn’t there to proclaim her his. No, he wasn’t that dense. Jael was gorgeous,
and he had her for only one night. The rest of the year belonged to her other
lovers. He couldn’t believe or even expect her to remain celibate when they
were apart, even if his love for her prevented him from doing anything but,
regardless of what she thought or what he let her think. The lie was cruel but
the truth was crueler, and he’d never wanted her to picture him as bitter and
lonely, craving what he couldn’t have. Knowledge couldn’t change the truth of
what reality had given them.

Gabriel withdrew his fingers from her carefully, ignoring
her whimper of complaint. He licked her taste off his skin, then lowered his
hand to her mouth so she might have a sample herself.

“Samson spoke of the honey in the lion,” he told her softly.
“Think he had it wrong though.”

“Oh?”

He couldn’t tell if she was just dizzy with lust or
oblivious as to the reference. By the look in her gaze, hazed with desire
though clouded by confusion, he decided it was a combination of both.

“You’re the bloody honey, honey,” he replied, prowling up
her body slowly. “Thank God I’m not a Nazirite. Can I drink you all I like
without fear of punishment?”

Her eyes flickered as though inspired by some distant memory
and her cheeks flushed. “
Ah
, Gabe.”

The head of his cock teased her folds, slipping over her wet
skin. He shivered with the promise of the haven that awaited him. He loved looking
at her like this. Loved watching her pant with need, aroused beyond words at
the touch of his hand. Sweat rolled down her forehead. Her warm, pliant body
welcomed his. Needed his. Her nails dug into his forearms, her head lifting to
steal a kiss from his lips. He grasped his cock, rubbed himself against her
until the sensations were too much for both of them, and sank into her with a
blissful groan.

“Shit,” he gasped. “Feels so good.”

Jael whimpered, her eyes falling shut. “I’ve missed this,”
she said softly, her muscles clenching around him. “It’s been too long.”

Gabriel smiled tenderly as he began to move within her, eyes
on her face. Drowning in the feel of her around him. The warmth she offered
scorched him alive and quenched his thirst for her in the same beat.

“Too long,” he agreed, pebbling a nipple between his
fingers, watching her hungrily as she panted and squeezed him again. “God, I’ve
missed this too. Every second apart. Been starved for you.”

“I’ve…
ah
…”

His thrusts were gaining momentum. Her hands were at his
shoulders, nails embedding in his skin as he moved to strike that perfect angle
within her.

“Gabriel, God, I…”

He chuckled, dropping kisses along her throat as he edged a
hand between their entangled bodies. His fingers danced over her slippery skin,
fingering her teasingly before capturing her clit. He loved the way her voice
melted into a pleasured, throaty gasp. Her nails dug into his skin. Hurting him
sweetly. Propelling his cock deeper within her. He needed as much as she would
give, gave as much as he could despite his knowledge that it would never be
enough.


Oh God!
” she screamed, her muscles clenching him so
tight he was genuinely surprised when he didn’t pop. “So good.”

“Fuck yeah.” The feel of the air was too familiar, too bittersweet.
The atmosphere of the night was too restrained, too heavy with the weight of
what could come crashing down around them at any moment. They had evaded fate
for years now. Had captured brief moments of intimacy, stolen hours of what had
once been so close to being theirs. He needed her so much. Was so entrenched in
his love for her that the hint this small haven, this period of stolen hours,
could be taken away from him sent his urgency to catastrophic levels. This
connection, feeling her beneath him, losing himself inside her… It was all too
much. Too much for just one night, when the rest were left empty.

And Christ, he needed to send her over that edge before he
found his release. His body warred as he forced himself to pull out of her,
ignoring the sharp gasp of complaint that tumbled through her lips. He pressed
a quick kiss to the corner of her mouth, then slid down her body, lips
caressing her sweat-laced skin until his mouth was level with her sopping
pussy. Her scent flooded his senses.

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