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Authors: Angela Highland

Vengeance of the Hunter

BOOK: Vengeance of the Hunter
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Vengeance of the Hunter
By Angela Highland

The Knight

After nearly being destroyed by a conspiracy within his Order, Kestar faces a crisis. The Knights of the Hawk have always stood against elven magic, but how can he proceed after discovering his own elven heritage? How will his Order react when they discover the truth?

The Healer

Free of the shackles of the Duke of Shalridan, Faanshi sets out to pursue her destiny with the elves—and finds herself at the head of an open rebellion. But her goddess isn’t done with her yet, and controlling her magic turns into the fight of her life. One she cannot win without both Kestar and Julian by her side.

The Hunter

Rattled to his core after Faanshi healed his eye and hand, and haunted by guilt and a growing love for the elven healer, Julian flees. As he seeks retribution against the shadows of his past, convinced of his own unworthiness, he’ll need all of Faanshi’s faith to turn him from the path of vengeance to help save Kestar, and the whole of Adalonia.

Book two of Rebels of Adalonia.

90,000 words

Dear Reader,

I’m jumping right into it this month because
New York Times
bestselling author Shannon Stacey’s next book in the Kowalski series is out in both digital and print at the end of April.
Taken with You
is the story of girlie-girl librarian, Hailey. She’s easy to get along with, is a small-town girl who loves where she lives, but she also loves nice clothes and fine dining and is looking for a guy who will be there when she comes home at night, and who will dress up and take her out to something a little more upscale than the local diner. It’s also the story of Matt, a hunky forest ranger who loves the outdoors, loves his dog, and is looking for a woman who doesn’t mind his erratic hours, will take a muddy ride on an ATV and won’t kick him out of the house when he walks in covered in dirt. Needless to say, these two opposites attract when Matt moves in next door to Hailey, and their story will take you on a wonderful romantic rollercoaster that will leave you with that happy-book sigh at the end.

If you love the TV show
Scandal
, have I got a new series for you. In Emma Barry’s Washington, D.C.-set, politically charged
Special Interests
, a shy labor organizer and an arrogant congressional aide clash over the federal budget but find love the more difficult negotiation.

April also brings a week of sports-related romance releases at Carina Press and we have six fantastic, very different contemporary sports romances being added to our already fantastic sports romance lineup. Allison Parr’s
Imaginary Lines
continues her new adult series. Tamar fell hopelessly in love with Abraham Krasner at age twelve, but knew he’d never see her as more than the girl next door—until years later, she gets a sports journalist position covering the NFL team Abe plays for...

Author Michele Mannon follows up
Knock Out
with
Tap Out
. Underwear model and playboy extraordinaire Caden Kelly will let nothing stop his come-back as an MMA fighter, especially a red-headed busy-bodied reporter hell bent on ruining his shot at a title. Meanwhile, Kat Latham writes the London Legends series about the world’s hottest rugby team. Book two,
Playing It Close
, features the team captain and a scandalous woman with whom he spent one passionate night and never thought he’d see again—until she turns out to be his team’s newest sponsor.

Kate Willoughby brings the on-the-ice action when a hunky hockey player falls helmet over skates for a nurse, but has to convince her he’s not the typical different-puck-bunny-every-day athlete in
On the Surface
. In a much warmer-weather sport, professional tennis player Regan Hunter’s temper is as notorious as her unstoppable serve, but love and ambition will go head-to-head when she meets former player-turned-coach Ben Percy. Check out
Love in Straight Sets
by Rebecca Crowley.

And because we can’t leave out America’s favorite sport, Rhonda Shaw’s
The Ace
brings us a sexy baseball romance in a follow-up to her debut,
The Changeup
. “Love ’em and leave ’em” is real estate agent Karen Bently’s motto—that is until her longtime crush, ace pitcher Jerry Smutton, sets her in his sights and offers her a proposal she can’t resist.

But it’s not all contemporary romance all the time in April. We have an eclectic selection of books from a lineup of talented authors (as always, right?). R.L. Naquin is back with her popular Monster Haven series. If you haven’t checked out this fun, sometimes zany, but always adorable series, look for book one,
Monster in My Closet
, at all of our retail digital partners. This month’s installment,
Golem in My Glovebox
, finds crazy shenanigans mixed with a gruesome, cross-country trail of clues, as Zoey and Riley attempt to save the rest of the country’s Aegises—and ultimately, Zoey’s lost mother.

PJ Schnyder is wrapping up her London Undead trilogy with
Survive to Dawn
, in which werewolf and pack medic, Danny, must choose between his Alpha’s orders and the human witch who might have the cure to the zombie plague. And in the second installment of the Once Upon a Red World science fiction romance saga from Jael Wye, the tale of Jack and the Beanstalk unfolds on a devastated Earth 300 years in the future in
Ladder to the Red Star
.

A.J. Larrieu debuts with her first full-length paranormal romance novel,
Twisted Miracles
. A reluctant telekinetic is drawn back to New Orleans’ supernatural underworld when her friend goes missing, but once she’s there, she finds her powers—and her attraction to the sexy ex-boyfriend who trained her—are stronger than ever. Talented fantasy author Angela Highland is back with Rebels of Adalonia book two in her epic fantasy
Vengeance of the Hunter
. As rebellion ignites across Adalonia, the healer Faanshi must save both the Hawk Kestar Vaarsen and the assassin Julian—the one from magical annihilation at the hands of his Church, and the other from a path of revenge.

For mystery fans, we welcome author Delynn Royer to Carina Press with her book,
It Had to Be You
. An ambitious tabloid reporter stumbles upon the story of her career when she joins up with a jaded homicide detective to solve the Central Park murder of a notorious bootlegger in 1920s Manhattan.

Rounding out the April lineup is a book for all Regency historical romance fans. Wendy Soliman’s Forsters series wraps up with
Romancing the Runaway
. When Miranda and Gabe discover her childhood home has been stripped of all its valuables, Gabe uncovers more to the old house than either of them had imagined. And with Gabe’s safety hanging in the balance, Miranda is prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice...

I’m confident you’ll find something to love among these books and I hope we provide you with many hours of reading enjoyment and escape from the neverending dishes!

Coming next month: Fan favorite male/male author Josh Lanyon, an amazing science fiction lineup, more sexy cowboys and hot moments from Leah Braemel and so much more!

Here’s wishing you a wonderful month of books you love, remember and recommend.

Happy reading!

~Angela James
Executive Editor, Carina Press

Dedication

For Heidi, Julian’s very first fangirl.

Acknowledgments

Vengeance of the Hunter
has the distinction of being the first novel I’ve ever written under contract. As such, it’s the first novel I’ve had to deliver on an actual schedule. This has been a more adventuresome experience than I would have liked, so the biggest and brightest acknowledgment here goes to my editor Deb Nemeth, who is made entirely of patience and awesomeness, and from whom I’ve rapidly learned to step up my game significantly not only for this book, but also for the upcoming
Victory of the Hawk
.

Many thanks need to go out as well to the folks who have begun to find my site or my presence on the social networks. It’s a pretty amazing thing to have complete strangers tell you they’ve read your book, or listened to the audio version. So to those of you who’ve started finding my work because of
Valor of the Healer
, hi! I really hope you’ll like
Vengeance of the Hunter
, as well.

More thanks to the Carina team for delivering a beautiful ebook edition of the first book of my series, and to the team at Audible for delivering a stunning reading by Gia St. Claire. It’s also amazing to hear someone else’s voice read words that came out of my very own fingers. I’m really looking forward to seeing my Rook on the cover of
Vengeance
, and hearing what this new book will sound like too.

Last but not least, a massive thank-you to my very patient Kickstarter backers who supported my other series, the Free Court of Seattle. You guys are all amazing and as always, I appreciate your support!

Chapter One

House Nemea
,
outside Dareli
,
AC 1864

“I know what you’ve been doing. And who you’ve been doing it with.”

The voice was a mellifluous tenor, the tone one of airy conversational grace, yet it struck Dulcinea’s hearing like a knife of ice. It took every last scrap of her will to compose her features into a bland and pleasant mask before she turned from the study window—and even then, she could only pray that she wouldn’t betray herself with too bright a blush. “I beg your pardon?”

The newcomer leaned indolently against the study door. Erasmus. Her new husband’s youngest brother lacked Cleon’s physical bulk, and his flaxen hair and fair complexion at first glance were unimpressive next to the Earl of Nemea’s ruddy, suntanned vigor. Dulcinea had swiftly learned, though, that the two brothers shared a proclivity to temper, and while Cleon’s expressed itself hotly, often crudely, she was fairly sure she could weather what storms he might cause her.

His brother, on the other hand, was a problem.

He sauntered into the study, rangy with his youth, yet carrying himself with a confidence that outstripped his years. For all that Erasmus was only seventeen, three years Dulcinea’s junior, the canny intelligence in his eyes unnerved her. She’d seen it turn cruel, and that cruelty glinted in his gaze even now, despite his charming smile.

“I said I know what you’ve been doing.” Erasmus joined her at the window and casually leaned past her, just enough to cast a measuring glance across the wide snow-covered lawn the window overlooked. Cleon was entertaining a group of his fellow officers from the army on the estate, but that was elsewhere in the house and the only figure in view now was Cleon and Erasmus’s middle brother, playing with one of the family’s dogs in the snow. “But I don’t think I need to finish repeating myself.”

Julian, black-haired where both his brothers were fair, had always caught her eye. Dulcinea couldn’t help but glance down at him now, and Erasmus, damn him, gave her a thin little sneer of triumph. She couldn’t hope to hide her blush from his all-too-cognizant eyes, not now, and so she sought refuge in what she prayed to the Allmother he’d read as indifference. “Your brother is a handsome man, yes. What of it?”

“Ah, but he isn’t
your
handsome man, now is he?” Erasmus leaned in close to her, enough that Dulcinea caught the discreet citrus scent of the cologne he favored, and she had to steel herself against flinching from him. “That little encounter you had with him by the backstairs notwithstanding. Did you truly think you’d gone unobserved?”

Dulcinea went rigid where she stood, just long enough for triumph to kindle in Erasmus’s eyes—and when she sought to slap him for his effrontery, he caught her hand before her palm could strike. Her voice was still free, however, and so she lashed at him with that instead. “Release me, unless you want to explain to my husband why we’ve distracted him from his friends. All of whom, I might add, have guns.”

“Which is of course my point.” Erasmus grinned down at her. “I grew up with my dear eldest brother, so trust me when I tell you he doesn’t like to share his toys. Especially when he discovers they’re no more than common trinkets, and heretical ones at that.”

Fear stirred in Dulcinea’s heart at those last few words. Her mind was already racing, seeking some way she could explain away that tryst with Julian. Oh yes, she’d kissed him. Julian after all was the one bright sun in his entire benighted House, the only one who’d seen fit to aid her in helping what was left of her family once he’d found out who she was. But if one of his brothers had discovered a secret, there was nothing under the heavens that could keep Erasmus from finding it too.

Still, she gave it one last valiant effort. “Whatever it is you think you know—”

His mouth curled, and he cut off her protest before she could finish it. “My dear girl, don’t toy with me. I know the Church put your father to death six years ago. I know you’ve been living under an assumed identity. And I know Julian’s been helping you send funds from
our
House to support your family of disgraced beggars. Would you care to gamble over which will anger Cleon more, that you’re the daughter of a convicted heretic, or that you were whoring yourself out to two brothers at once?”

This time her slap connected, her nails raking his cheek, and Erasmus promptly struck her in return. His blow sent her stumbling backward, giving him time enough to easily overpower her. Dulcinea had no choice but to blink up at him in pained defeat as he laughed. “I’ll let you get away with that once. Try it again and you won’t find me so accommodating. And you’d better accommodate
me
, quickly, if you don’t want Cleon to know everything I know—and if you want that dear sweet old mother and those darling little moppets you’ve been protecting to remain out of Church custody. Not to mention yourself. The heresy laws don’t respect tender years, after all. Or the fairer sex.”

“What do you want of me?” She loathed the quaver she heard in her own voice.

Erasmus gave her his best charming smile, one that reminded her uncannily of Julian’s, for all that she’d never seen that edge of malice in Julian’s face.

“I assure you, I have all sorts of ideas. Starting with how we have one too many brothers in this House.”

* * *

Julian Nemeides didn’t so much regain consciousness as collide with it, all of his senses igniting with simultaneous fiery pain and icy, soaking chill as the bucketful of half-melted snow caught him solidly in the face. He spluttered, coughing violently, but his eyes refused to focus. Forward and backward, back and forth, the world spun and tilted in sickening angles, and his first thought was a dull confusion that he couldn’t seem to lie down and go back to sleep. His limbs felt heavy, sluggish. So did his head, as though he’d drunk half the wine in Dareli.

His second thought was that he could remember drinking with Dulcinea, but surely not enough to make his skull seem on the verge of exploding—and hadn’t he just been doing that, only a few moments ago? What had happened?

He had no time for a third thought, for someone’s voice penetrated the fog roiling through his brain. “I do believe our beloved sibling is waking up.”

Erasmus?

“Good,” a deeper voice said, just before a vicious backhanded slap seemed to Julian to almost knock his head off his neck. Through a blurred veil of disorientation he made out the fair-haired, muscular figure looming over him, hand lifted to strike another blow, and blind panic surged up to overtake the pain. In that instant Julian was a boy again, and the boy who still sometimes lurked beneath his conscious thoughts knew only one person of that size who’d strike him.

“Din’ do it, Father!” His voice came out too high, too slurred, and the sound of it stirred up the beginnings of deeper fright within him. What had he done, if Father was so angry? “I din’ do it, s-swear I din’ do it...”

The figure surged closer, grabbing Julian by his sodden shirt and hauling him up closer to his feet, and then shaking him with enough brutal force to make him almost black out again. But instead his vision finally focused and gave him the face of his brother Cleon, livid with fury and the wintry bite of the air.

“Do not dare to call for Father, you treacherous little worm, you’ve disgraced his name and his House for the last time,” Cleon snarled. “If he were still alive, he’d have your head for what you’ve done.”

“W-what? Wha’d I do? I din’ do it...!”

Why couldn’t he speak? He sounded drunk. He felt drunk, though even in the furthest depths of his cups he’d never lost control of his speech—

His panic growing stronger, Julian struggled to stand—only to discover that more hands than just his brother’s held him fast. Two of the brawniest of the stable boys had iron grips on his arms, and identical grim, furious expressions upon their faces. Behind them Julian glimpsed the bare, leafless trunks of trees, and beyond those, the high shingled gables of a familiar roof. The smell of smoke and burning wood from a fire crackling somewhere nearby cut through the crisp, charged tang of snow that hadn’t yet fallen, but which gave warning of its coming in the leaden sky overhead. They were outside, he realized groggily. Out in the woods, behind the house, and two more figures stood behind his brother. Wrapped in a greatcoat against the cold, his younger brother Erasmus stood two paces behind their oldest sibling, and he smiled thinly at Julian as their gazes crossed.

Next to him stood Dulcinea, the hood of her thick fur-lined cape pulled up to obscure her face, her head turned away so that Julian knew her only by the cape and by the waving, white-gold tresses that escaped the hood’s confines. At the sight of her Julian reeled under a stronger onslaught of panic—and an abrupt heat that tautened his groin and sent waves of reaction shooting through his blood, palpable even through his pain and his fog. “Dul...Dulcie?” he groaned. “Darling, w-w-wha’s happening? I din’ do it...!”

“You will not utter her name!” Cleon struck him again, one fist to his jaw, one to his stomach, and all that kept Julian from collapsing into the snow were the stable boys on either side of him.

The world whirled in slow and nauseating circles, but now Julian strove to see past him to the silent figure of Cleon’s wife. Fragments of memory whirled through his dizzied mind: the contact of her palm against his as she permitted him to hold her soft white hand, the subtle perfume of gardenias that lingered in the glory of her hair, the temptation of feminine curves modestly hidden beneath her velvet gown. With an almost primal intensity the recollections stoked the heat in his blood till the winter chill seemed to vanish entirely. Before he knew what was happening he found himself struggling to reach Dulcinea, barely aware of Cleon’s next blow even as it almost catapulted him out of the grasp of the stable boys.

Then Dulcinea glanced Julian’s way, letting him glimpse just enough of her face within the hood that he could see the bruising and swelling that marred the loveliness of one of her cornflower eyes.

New memory surged. In two distinct but disconnected flashes in the midst of the heat suffusing his aching body, like bolts of summer lightning in a humid night sky, Julian saw his own hand striking that lovely eye. And he saw Dulcinea screaming.

What have I done
?

“Look at him,” Erasmus said, with the elegantly refined disdain that only his younger brother could convey. “Even when caught and receiving his punishment, he can’t control himself. This is no brother of ours, Cleon. He may have the veneer of a gentleman, but underneath he’s a base, lust-ridden animal. No creature of breeding would have dared to try to violate his own brother’s wife.”

To his horror, Julian registered the uncomfortable tightness of his breeches, which remained even as he fought to clear his mind. Nor could he banish the tantalizing, almost mocking visualizations of Dulcinea scattered through his consciousness, or the monstrous reality of the bruise along her eye—or the image of himself striking her. And as Erasmus uttered his final words, more images like the last began to overwhelm him.

He’d seized Dulcinea and pushed her against the study wall, pinning her there with one leg and the weight of his taller frame. Without grace or finesse he’d pawed at the bodice of her velvet gown, breaking laces and tearing the fabric. Oblivious to her cry of protest, he’d thrust his mouth against hers. And when she’d tried to slap his hands away, he’d growled and lashed out with a fist, striking her—

He’d struck Dulcinea.

He’d tried to rape his brother’s wife.

“Father never believed he was truly his son.” Cleon stepped back and gave a sharp nod to the youths who held Julian up. While the one on his left took his weight, the one to his right grabbed his arm, pulling back what was left of the white linen of his sleeve and baring his skin to the cold. “No matter what Mother claimed. It would seem to me Father was right.”

With that, Cleon drew his sword.

Terror and remorse flooded Julian, almost burning away the fog, but he couldn’t find the strength to break free of the hands that held him. “B-brother, please, I didn’t mean—I didn’t mean to hurt her! Dulcinea,
caraedh
, my love, I’m sorry. I’m so sorry...”

Dulcinea lowered her hood, bringing her bruised visage fully into the clouded light, and spit toward Julian into the snow.

“I will have the hand that dared to touch my wife,” Cleon thundered, “and the eye that dared to covet her!”

The unsheathed blade rose and fell—and sliced through flesh and bone to cleave Julian’s hand from his wrist.

Julian’s scream clawed its way out of his throat, and his body went rigid with agony—but consciousness lingered, just long enough for him to see Cleon turn and stride to the fire, plunge his sword into the heart of the flames, then take up a poker in its stead. He turned back to Julian, his eyes smoldering with a wrathful heat to match the glowing tip of the poker.

“N-no...Cleon...please, no...”

He felt one of the stable boys grasping his head and face, forcing him to helplessly watch while the blurred shadow that was his older brother, towering over him with all the menace and hatred of their father, thrust the poker into his left eye.

Through his second scream, he heard the other stable boy ask, “What do you want done with him, sir?”

“Send word to the Dareli watch to take him, but first get him the hell off this estate. I don’t give a damn where. If I see him set foot on Nemeides holdings again, I will shoot him on sight.”

Then the world plunged mercilessly into darkness.

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