Authors: Erica Stevens
Copyright © 2015 Erica Stevens
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The Captive Series
Captured (Book 1)
Renegade (Book 2)
Refugee (Book 3)
Salvation (Book 4)
Redemption (Book 5)
Broken (The Captive Series Prequel)
Vengeance (Book 6)
The Fire & Ice Series
Arctic Fire (Coming early 2016)
The Kindred Series
Kindred (Book 1)
Ashes (Book 2)
Kindled (Book 3)
Inferno (Book 4)
Phoenix Rising (Book 5)
The Ravening Series
Ravenous (Book 1)
Taken Over (Book 2)
Reclamation (Book 3)
The Survivor Chronicles
Book 1: The Upheaval
Book 2: The Divide
Book 3: The Forsaken
Book 4: The Risen
Books written under the penname Brenda K. Davies
The Vampire Awakenings Series:
Awakened (Vampire Awakenings, Book 1)
Destined (Vampire Awakenings, Book 2)
Untamed (Vampire Awakenings, Book 3)
Enraptured (Vampire Awakenings, Book 4)
Undone (Vampire Awakenings, Book 5) Coming spring 2016
A Stolen Heart
The wind and snow whipped around him, beating against the exposed skin of his cheeks and nose. He never should have left the cave in this storm, but he’d been cooped up for the past two days and needed to escape the gray stone walls, if only for a little bit. He should have at least left his horse behind, but Achilles had been getting restless too and needed to move around just as much as he did.
Now Achilles had his head bent against the storm, and William could feel the snow building up on his shoulders as they rode forward through drifts that came to Achilles’ knees. After this little trip through the snow, he would not make the mistake of taking the horse out again until the storm finally blew over.
They were almost to the cave when he saw someone trudging through the blowing wind and whipping snow. His eyes honed in on the lone figure struggling through the blizzard. He almost put his head down and continued on. What did he care about someone else in the storm? He wasn’t here to make friends; he had one clear mission, and someone walking through a blizzard, in the middle of nowhere, was not a part of his plan.
As he watched, the person stumbled and fell into the snow. He continued onward at a near diagonal angle from the figure. He turned away when the figure stumbled back to their feet. When they collapsed again, a ragged sigh escaped him. Not part of the mission, he told himself fiercely.
He nudged Achilles onward, forcing himself to keep his eyes focused straight ahead. The lone figure was none of his concern.
He kept telling himself this, but he found his head turning and looking back at the figure still sitting in a heap in the snow. With a disgruntled sound, he turned Achilles and headed toward the figure. When he was fifty feet away from the snow-covered being, the distinct lack of a heartbeat told him he approached a vampire.
The figure’s head remained bowed against the storm, beaten and battered down by the wind. He had no idea where they had come from; it was open, rocky plains from here until the mountains at least fifty miles away. In the distance, the craggy peaks of the mountains rising high into the air were obscured by the storm.
Pulling his horse up before the figure, he stared down at it as the vampire’s eyes rose to look at Achilles's muzzle. Slowly the head tipped back to look at him. He got only a glimpse of silvery blonde hair, and doe brown eyes within a face nearly as pale as the snow falling around them, before she collapsed into the snow.
He should keep going, instead he found himself dismounting and lifting the figure from the snow.
William lifted his bow to take aim at the deer moving through the trees. He waited, every muscle in his body tense and unmoving as the stag took another step forward, completely unaware he was being hunted. With a release of his fingers, he let the arrow go. It whistled through the air before striking its target dead center in the heart. The animal’s legs kicked out before it crashed to the ground.
“Nice shot.” Aria threw her bow over her shoulder as she emerged from the trees to his left.
She had so effectively blended in with the woods around her that he never would have noticed her there if he’d still been human. However, with his senses enhanced and sharper since his recent change into a vampire he had caught her scent as she moved through the brush. He’d also caught a flash of her deep auburn hair amongst the cropping of spruces and pines surrounding them. Aria had always been at home in the woods, but since becoming a vampire, she’d become even more attuned and able to blend in amongst the trees.
He had to admit, now that he was getting used to his newfound abilities, he was learning to feel more comfortable with his surroundings and his stealthy movement through the trees and foliage. The woods around him were alive; he could see a mouse sitting on top of the log a hundred feet away warily looking back at him. The rustling sound of a fox in its den drifted to him from under the snow to his right.
All of the newfound sensations were amazing, and had been difficult to control in the beginning. Hence, why he was hunting deer in order to help him regain some of his control. A bow and arrow used to be at home in his hands. Now he sometimes still sent arrows flying miles through open air if there was nothing around to stop them. He’d lost count of how many bows he’d broken in half, and how many strings he’d snapped over the last five months.
It had taken far more time and patience than he’d expected to understand what he was now capable of and how to control it, but he’d started to get a much better grip on it over the past month. He didn’t like to admit part of it was due to Aria, who suddenly had more patience than he’d ever believed she could possess. Moreover, as the only other human he knew who had survived the change into a vampire, she was the only one who understood exactly what he was going through.
After a month of her asking him to return to the palace, he’d finally relented and agreed to join her and Braith there. He’d spent the following four months with his sister, trying to accept this suddenly more colorful and louder world. Everything about it was different to him; the woods had always been his home, but now the smell of the trees, earth, and musky aroma of animals was more potent when it filled his nostrils.
The color of the leaves, when they’d still been on the trees, was brighter than he’d ever seen before his vision became enhanced by Aria’s vampire blood. He didn’t know how to describe it, didn’t even know what color to call some of the newer shades he’d discovered in the world. It all would have been so much more amazing and breathtaking if he wasn’t in a constant state of pissed off that he’d been murdered by that bastard, Kane.
The woods and caves outside of the palace, that had always been his home, were different now. They were familiar and foreign all at the same time. Places he’d always known and spent so much time in, were far more elaborate than he’d ever realized. He’d become more accustomed to it, but it felt weird trying to adjust to a world that had always been one way, but wasn’t anymore.
It had been worse in the palace; a place he wasn’t familiar with at all. He felt like a fish out of water when inside it. He didn’t know how Aria handled all the people and the walls; the confinement had been the worst part of it all. There was no way to escape when they were constantly pressing against him and keeping him penned in. After a month inside of the palace, he’d moved back to the woods, unable to take the feeling of imprisonment anymore.
He knew it wasn’t the palace, or the walls he couldn’t take, it was the resentment festering within him he couldn’t escape. His newly acquired vampire strength hadn’t been the only reason he’d been destroying bows, boards, and pretty much anything he could get his hands on for the first three months. It was the rage he felt inside that caused him to destroy things around him whenever he recalled his last moments on earth as a human.
His fangs pricked and slid free at the memory of being stabbed through the back. He poked at the edges of them with his tongue, took a deep breath he didn’t need anymore, but sometimes he still fell back into the habit. He forced himself to rein his pointed canines back in.
Aria grabbed hold of her hood and pulled it over her head. The cool air brushed over his face and hands, but he didn’t feel it as acutely as he had when he’d been human. His fingers didn’t tingle; he could still feel his nose, and though his toes were cold, they didn’t hurt when he curled them within his boots.
Walking toward the deer, he pressed his foot against its chest and pulled the arrow free. Daniel and Max emerged from the trees. Years of living and hiding from vampires within the forest had made them exceptionally silent and agile for humans. He barely heard their footfalls on the snow as they walked toward where William stood. Amongst the trees, he spotted Xavier, Aria’s bodyguard and friend, keeping watch.
“Good-sized deer,” Daniel commented.
“Hannah will be happy with it,” Max said.
“She will,” William agreed.
He bent down, lifted the stag, and easily slung it around his shoulders. They’d all recently returned to Chippman to join Jack and Hannah for their upcoming marriage. Everyone else had come for the wedding; he’d come with the purpose of starting his search for Kane.
He’d waited enough time to begin his hunt for Kane, and he’d gotten good enough with a bow and arrow again, better than he’d ever been as a human and certainly faster. As an older vampire, Kane was stronger than he was, but he’d spent the past five months preparing to take on the man who had killed him.
He ran every day, had learned more hand-to-hand combat moves and practiced with his bow and arrows three hours a day. He’d also improved his knife and stake throwing skills considerably. After Aria had been locked within the dungeon of the palace, he’d begun to teach himself how to pick locks. It was something he’d practiced far more often over these past months. He refused not to be prepared for every instance that could come up while on his hunt.
The crossbow he always wore tied to his waist bounced reassuringly against his thigh, as he walked back through the woods with the others. The bolts were strapped to his waist opposite the crossbow. He may not be able to breathe fresh air anymore, but the woods were where he belonged, and he relished the clean air brushing over his face. The snow crunched beneath his feet and slid midway up his fur-lined boots. The subtle breeze carried with it the scent of the nearby lake, ice, and burning wood from the chimneys within the town.
“How do you stand spending so much time inside of that palace?” he asked Aria.
She glanced at him, her dark eyebrows arching up. “Because I have to.” He stared at her, waiting for her to elaborate as they continued through the snow-covered forest. “I can do good there, I am doing good there, and Braith gets me out often enough that I don’t go insane.” The smile at the mention of her husband made William roll his eyes. “We’re not people who do well inside.”
He shifted his hold on the stag. “We’re uncivilized.”
Aria laughed and Daniel snorted. “Speak for yourself,” his older brother said as he ran a hand through his wheat blond hair. His blue eyes sparkled in the sunlight filtering through the trees. “I actually like it in the palace.”
“You like the artwork,” Max replied.
“I do,” Daniel confirmed. “There’s so much of it, who wouldn’t love it all?”
“Me,” William murmured.
Aria pushed against his arm. “You’re such a cranky vampire.” William shot her a disgruntled look. “You don’t have to live there, but you better visit us, often.”
She tried to hide it, but he heard the uneasiness in her voice. Grabbing the deer’s legs, he balanced it on his shoulders as he squeezed her arm. “All the time.”
She gave him a half-hearted smile but her crystalline blue eyes remained troubled. He released her arm and let his own fall back to his side. The small town of Chippman came into view as they emerged from the woods. His eyes went to the freshly rebuilt tavern Hannah owned with her family. They’d finished the construction on the tavern and reopened it before he’d decided to return to the palace.
Hannah and Jack had originally planned to marry as soon as the tavern was rebuilt, but Braith had been called back to the palace before the build was complete and the ceremony could take place. When Hannah decided she didn’t want to have the wedding without Jack’s brother and sister present, William had made the decision to take some advice and training from Aria; no matter how much he hated to admit, he needed it.
Unexpectedly, even given the fact that Aria had no one to help her with her own transition, his twin had been a far better teacher than he’d believed she could be. He hated to have to rely on anyone, but he didn’t know how he would have made it through all of the changes without her. He took hold of her hand and gave it a squeeze. She infuriated him, annoyed him, and terrified him with her ability to be as reckless as he was, but she’d always stood by his side no matter what.
He’d been murdered. He had become one of the creatures he’d spent most of his life hating, and he’d been taking his frustration out on everyone around him. Especially his sister because he knew she would take it and love him anyway.
It would take him a while to fully adjust to his new life, but he often questioned if he would ever completely go back to the man he’d been before. He’d always been ruthless and determined, but the continued anger within him was something new. He welcomed it to help drive him through what had to be done with Kane, but he also didn’t know how to deal with it.
He kept telling himself it would get better; he would laugh and smile again with ease when he finally got his revenge and put Kane in the ground. Just the idea of it caused a smile to curve his mouth. He was going to thoroughly enjoy destroying the man, as soon as he found him. He refused to think there might be a chance he wouldn’t find Kane; he would find him if it was the last thing he ever did.
Max opened the backdoor of the tavern and stepped into the kitchen warmed by the wood burning stove and the fire burning beneath a pot of venison stew. The heat of the kitchen slid over him, warming his chilled skin. He clapped his hands together and blew on them as he stomped his feet on the mat. Ellen looked up from the pot of stew she stirred; her brown eyes widened on the deer wrapped around his shoulders. Her pale blonde hair dangled in a braid over her shoulder.
“Brought dinner,” William said and plopped the deer on the counter.
“So you did,” she replied as she wiped her hands on a dishtowel.
Lucas strolled in through the door leading out to the main part of the tavern; he froze when his russet colored eyes landed on the deer. His light brown hair had grown over the last few months; it hung down around his ears to the collar of his faded green shirt. “It’s usually easier if they’re gutted outside,” Lucas told him.
“I was never one for easy,” William replied.
“That’s not what I heard,” Max retorted.
“Ugh,” Aria groaned, she rolled her eyes before kicking him in the shin.
“Ow!” Max yelped. He hopped up and down as he grabbed hold of his shin. His sandy blond hair flopped around his face with his movements. The laughter around him drowned out his cries of pain. Max’s blue eyes narrowed on Aria. “You used vamp strength on me!”
“You deserved it,” Aria replied and threw back her hood. “And I kept myself restrained.”
Max glowered at her when he stopped hopping around the room. “No one should turn a redhead into a vampire,” he muttered. “Temperamental woman.”
Aria smiled sweetly at him in return, William shook his head as he ran a hand through his own dark auburn hair. “I’ll take it outside,” he offered.
He lifted the deer up again and turned toward the door. Large snowflakes had begun to lazily spiral down from the sky when he reemerged into the early February day. The flakes stuck to his lashes as he glanced up at the slate gray sky. It felt like little beads of ice falling against his hypersensitive skin, but it didn’t cause him to shiver. As a human he would have been covered in furs, now he only wore his flaxen shirt and pants beneath his thick wool coat. The fur-lined hood of the coat bounced against his back as he worked to hang the deer from the hooks in the shed outside.
The smell of its blood pricked his hunger, causing his fangs to lengthen. He’d gotten more adept at controlling his cravings, but he’d have to make a trip to the blood bank later. The blood drinking was still his least favorite part about being a vampire; he couldn’t quite get used to the cloying way it felt sliding down his throat. He disliked that he enjoyed the taste of it so much, that he craved the warmth of it, and now had to have it to survive.
He hadn’t become a monster; he now knew all vampires weren’t monsters. However, he couldn’t help but feel like one when he consumed blood, even if it wasn’t from a person, and he hadn’t harmed anyone in order to get it. It didn’t matter he’d never fed from a person before, and most likely never would, he couldn’t shake the feeling it was wrong to use a human in such a way.