The Crimson and the Black (Hidden Empire Book 2)
Beware of dragons…
Being a beautiful bon vivant vampire isn’t all it’s cracked up to be—in fact, it can get lonely, not to mention boring. So when Countess Fyodora Korelev is asked to help find a group of kidnapped selkie girls, she jumps at the chance … only to get the shock of her undead life when a huge, gorgeous Scottish dragon shifter shows up and announces that she’s his fated mate.
Dragon shifter Callum Brown has been alone for centuries, so he’s in a foul mood as he’s tracking down the Sassenachs who stole his selkie niece. But when he runs into a stunning vampiress who sets his blood on fire, he knows he has to claim her even though she refuses to admit she’s his mate. Now Callum must use all of his skills to find his niece and seduce his stubborn, beautiful countess.
- Paranormal Romance, Historical Romance
- Word Count: 90,000
- Heat Level: 4
- Published By: Belaurient Press
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With a gracious nod, Fyodora swept the disguised Richardson through the casino’s door to a lushly appointed foyer decorated in maroon and gold. The room was awash with the scents of furniture polish, cologne, and assorted liquors, and underneath that was the musk of male sweat, greed, and desperation. Chatting men stood in groups of two and three, most of them turning to give her the familiar assessing look that she had received since she first became a woman.
She lifted her chin and beamed at Richardson. “What would you like to do first, my pet?”
“I want a proper drink, Fee,” he slurred, perfectly in character. “Then I want to find some fun. And not one of those dull card games, either.” They had planned it out earlier; once she gained them entry into Lievesley’s they would make a circuit of the gaming rooms, then separate as Richardson sought out the selkie kidnappers. He would then try to buy himself a place in the marriage auction, casting a secondary spell that would allow him to track any of the ringleaders present. Either method would help them find the location where the selkie girls were due to be auctioned off.
“Well, then, let’s get some drinks.” Familiar with the layout of the casino, she guided him through the increasingly crowded hallway to a large circular room that featured a mahogany bar with a marble top. Behind it, two men in white coats were working hard to fill the drink orders of their clientele. “Be a darling and fetch me a glass of red wine.”
“All right.” Richardson waded into the scrum in front of the bar while she drifted to one of the wide doorways that overlooked a gaming room. It looked much like it had the last time she’d been to Lievesley’s, with men (and a few ladies) gathered around the various tables playing baccarat, vingt et un, and faro. Another doorway opened into a smaller room decorated with hunter green wallpaper over polished oak wainscoting and furnished with clusters of upholstered chairs. The gaslights had been turned low here, and string quartet in the corner played softly while weary gamblers sipped at champagne, wine, or spirits in order to revivify themselves for another round at the gaming tables. A few daring couples had even taken possession of a small dance floor in the far corner and waltzed in contracted circles along the parquet.
The hair at the nape of her neck rose and she felt a presence behind her that was most definitely not Richardson. A comment about rudeness at the ready, she spun and looked into a wide expanse of starched shirtfront. She continued looking up. And up. Bozhe moi. I didn’t know they had giants in London.
The man who stood before her made the guard at the door look positively diminutive. His face was bluffly handsome with a strong nose and chin, a sensual mouth, and deep-set mahogany eyes that were a few shades lighter than his curly brown hair. But it wasn’t his face or height, attractive as they were, that made every nerve in her body spark to life.
It was his scent. Rich, dark, with notes of musk and magic, it was the scent of Folk. And it was absolutely irresistible. A powerful rush of desire hardened her nipples under her bodice and caused the muscles between her thighs to throb greedily. Even her palms itched with the need to climb the tall, handsome stranger like a tree and feast on those firm, full lips, then drag him off to the nearest bed and ravish him until they were both panting and spent.
Worse, the unexpected craving was matched by a wild need to taste his blood. Her fangs positively ached to slide out and pierce that fair, strong skin, let the hot, smoky liquid roll over her tongue and down her throat.
Clenching her jaws together, she belatedly recognized another note in his scent. He was a shifter of some sort, but she couldn’t recognize his beast. “What are you?”
He seemed as taken aback as she was, thick eyebrows lowering in wariness. “I could ask the same of you, madam.”
His burr was distinct from the drawling London accent. “You’re a Scot.”
Those brows lowered a bit more. “Aye. Is that a problem?”
“Not at all.” She liked the Scots—they were a strong, determined people who had survived invasion after invasion over the centuries, and still managed to thrive both in their native land and abroad. Any other time, she would have added a purr to her voice and suggested that they find somewhere private to continue their discussion.
But tonight she was there on ministry business and didn’t have time for a seduction, damn it all. “I’m afraid I must rejoin my companion. If you’ll excuse me?”
Before she could leave his hand shot out and touched her upper arm, halting her without restraining her. A new note had entered his scent—desire, hot and utterly masculine. “Might I have the honor of a dance first?”
The heat from his hand felt like a brand against her skin, and she could hear the hunger under his polite words. Richardson was still trapped in the crowd around the bar. He’s inside now—he doesn’t really need me. Surely a single dance with this scrumptious shifter wouldn’t hurt.
Especially as he turned her very insides to liquid. “All right,” she murmured, allowing him to take her hand and guide her onto the tiny dance floor. The string quartet began a waltz and she glided into the familiar steps of the dance. “Might I know your name, sir?”
Whiskey eyes lit with amusement. “Callum Brown. And yours?”
“Countess Fyodora Julianova Korelev.”
He gave a soft grunt. “I didn’t expect to see someone of your type here.”
She couldn’t resist a smile. “Are you referring to my nationality, my nobility, or my nature?”
“All three, to be frank. Your accent says you’re Ukrainian, at least originally.”
That pleased her. Most Europeans assumed that she was Russian. “You have an excellent ear.”
Another soft grunt, and he glanced around the room. “As for nobles, I suspect the occasional one shows up here when they’re in the mood to slum. But I’ve never seen a countess before.”
“We’re more common on the Continent than we are in England, as I understand it.” She took in a breath as he spun her expertly. “What about vampires?”
His mouth curved at that. “I should have expected one here, now that I think of it. All those gamblers with their heated blood. It must smell delicious to you.”
Not nearly as delicious as you do. “It has its appeal,” she admitted. “But I didn’t expect to run into a Highlander here.”
That seemed to surprise him. “Ye ken I’m a Highlander?”
Her smile widened. “You’re not the only one with an excellent ear. The Scottish Highland accent is quite distinct from that of the Lowlanders.”
Judging from his now-respectful expression, she’d impressed him. “Not many Sassenachs can hear the difference.”
Sassenach—the Gaelic term for the Saxons. “Since I’m not a Saxon, that would explain much,” she said, dimpling. “Besides, vampiric hearing is highly sensitive.” She allowed the rhythm of the dance to carry her scandalously close to him. “I can hear your heart beat, the creak of your lungs as you inhale, and the slight click your eyelids make when you blink. We won’t discuss the volcanic rumbling coming from your belly, but I would suggest you eat fairly soon.”
He chuckled. “D’you know what I am, then?”
“I can tell that you’re a shifter, but I don’t recognize your beast. It’s really rather annoying. I know it’s not canine, feline, or ursine, although there is the faintest hint of something with wings.”
He smiled again, and she had to will herself not to go up on tiptoe and kiss him. “What do you think I am?”
Distracted by his smile, the strength in his arms, and his entrancing scent, she fumbled through her knowledge of shifters. “You don’t smell like any bird shifters I’ve met, and you’re far too large to be a bat.”
He threw his head back and laughed, a full-bodied, joyous sound that caused other dancers to stare at them. “That I am, my lady. But you’re edging towards the truth of it, at least in the wing shape.”
“I can’t think of a creature that has wings like those of a bat,” she said somewhat crossly. “Unless you mean a flying fox.”
“I’m not a flying fox. Nor am I a bird, or a bee, or even a flying fish.” His voice lowered until only a vampire could have heard it under the music. “Try again.”
Damn him for purring at her like that. Doing her best to ignore the desire moving through her veins like molten gold, she forced herself to think. A shifter’s human size and shape didn’t always reflect their beast, but there was a marked tendency for larger shifters to transform into larger animals. Whatever this Callum Brown could turn into, she imagined it was enormous indeed. But there are no large birds with membraneous wings, are there? In fact, the only thing that even comes close is—
The realization caused her to stumble over her own feet. He caught her instantly, carrying her along until she’d regained her balance. “You worked it out, then?”
She bit her lip, desire tempered now with shock. “I thought your kind were extinct.”
The amusement vanished from his eyes, and he shook his head soberly. “Hunted almost to extinction during the Dark Ages, aye, but enough of us survived.”
After a life as long as hers, she didn’t think that anything could surprise her anymore. Clearly she had been wrong. “What in the world is a dragon shifter doing in London?”
The muscles along his jaw tightened. “I’m looking for someone close to me, a young selkie lass. She’s been kidnapped.”