While a stand-alone, this novel is best enjoyed when read with Crimson Thrall and Crimson Prey.
Chantel Demarko is about to embark on a journey of self-discovery. Driven by instinct and soul-deep hunger, Chantel will experience glamorous balls, pagan rituals and the uninhibited decadence of ancient Rome.
Two men await her surrender. Dark, demanding Thorne. And adventurous Jaron. Each appeals to her in their own way, but together they create a balance, an unshakable symmetry she has only imagined in her wildest fantasies.
As she abandons herself to the wonder, she discovers the true potential of pleasure and finds reality itself is far more expansive than she ever dreamed. Boundaries crumble and time itself is redefined. But with new awareness comes new danger. Mysteries must be unraveled and Chantel must make painful choices before she can secure a future with the men she loves.
Reader Advisory: If you're looking for the gentleman vampire, this is not the book for you. Blood is their life. It is very much a part of who and what they are.
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Ellora's Cave Publishing, Incorporated
November 13, 2009
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Excerpt from Crimson Awakening by Aubrey Ross
"That dress is absolutely amazing."
Chantel Demarko understood the hushed wonder in Eden Keller's voice. The same emotion washed over Chantel as she gazed at her reflection in the full-length mirror. Black lace overlay emerald silk, creating an effect both elegant and sensual. The strapless bodice hugged her torso and supported her breasts while the skirt flared gently as it flowed toward her slippered feet.
"At least the dress will look wonderful." She turned from the mirror with a nervous smile. "I'm still a little unsure of the steps."
Eden shook her head and scowled with feigned disapproval. "What kind of a tutor would I be if my best student couldn't waltz gracefully after four weeks of private lessons? You danced with Chad this morning and looked beautiful. It's doubtful any of your partners will try any fancy turns. Just feel the music and look into their eyes."
"I don't know why I'm letting this tie me in knots." An abrupt chuckle squeezed past the lump in her throat. "We both know it's not like me." An odd tension had gathered inside her over the past few nights. Not trepidation, exactly, more an undefined sense of import. Every detail needed to be perfect and she couldn't explain why. "I thought I was going to have to lock you and Chad in a room together just to get things started. I'm glad you're finally making up for lost time. Chad was miserable without you."
"I was miserable without him too." Eden's smile turned dreamy and a pang of envy twisted Chantel's heart. She didn't begrudge them their happiness, far from it. She loved her brother dearly and wanted nothing but the best for him and his mate. Still, she couldn't help wondering what fate had in store for her. Would she ever find someone who looked at her with a need bordering on obsession? And was that really what she wanted out of love?
"Has he seen you yet?" Eden's question drew her wandering thoughts back to the present.
She shook her head and smoothed the skirt over her hips. "He's been hoping I'll change my mind and return to the city."
"After all my hard work? You better not!"
Eden's vehemence made Chantel smile. "I have no intention of chickening out, but Chad is my big brother and the Crimson Serenade has a mixed reputation."
"Really?" Interest lit Eden's expressive eyes and she pushed to her feet. "I thought it was an overblown prom."
Chantel laughed. Only a human could dismiss an ancient custom with such blithe indifference. "It's a bit more complicated than that. You must be a full-blooded organic vampire to attend. Has Chad explained what that means?"
"Organic vampires are born, not made and they guard their bloodlines judiciously. You are the source from which the others flow, the elite, vampire aristocracy."
"Now you're mocking me."
Eden tried to look contrite and failed. "I wouldn't dare." She came up behind Chantel and adjusted one of the pins securing her upswept hair. "You're the closest thing America will ever have to a princess. Of course most Americans know nothing about you."
Chad's mate was intelligent and spirited. Chantel had liked her even before Chad developed romantic feelings for her. Ignoring the momentary tangent, Chantel returned to the crux of the issue. "Thousands register, but only two hundred and fifty are chosen to attend. It's an honor just to be invited."
"Chad tried to explain it to me, but all I could think of was Cinderella and Prince Charming." Moving to her side, Eden met her gaze as she waited for her reply.
"The analogy wouldn't usually work, but this year's host makes it appropriate. Kenton Thorne is the heir of the oldest bloodline and he is currently without a mate."
Eden's brows arched dramatically. "Do you think you're Cinderella? Is that why you're driving yourself crazy?"
"Thorne has nothing to do with this. I know who he is, but I've never even spoken with the man. He's Antonio's best friend. They've known each other forever and I do mean forever." She gave a mock shudder, pretending to be put off. "I just turned thirty. Talk about robbing the cradle. He's closer to Father's generation than mine." The older a vampire grew the more powerful they became. Still, most humans associated age with frailty.
"Okay, so you're not in this for a husband," Eden mused. "Why do you want to go to this party so badly?"
"Damn good question, little sister," Chad said from the doorway. "I'd love to hear the answer." He smiled at his mate then looked at Chantel, his gaze gleaming with a mixture of fraternal pride and apprehension. "If Antonio hadn't agreed to chaperone you, I wouldn't let you out of my sight. You look...amazing."
"Antonio is my escort, not my chaperone, but thank you."
He crossed his arms over his chest and leaned his shoulder against the doorframe. With wavy brown hair and bright green eyes, even Chantel could see why females were attracted to him. "So answer the question, Chantel. You've mocked the brainless lemmings who march off to this 'antiquated ceremony' every year. If bagging Prince Charming isn't the goal, why are you risking Father's wrath?"
Frustrated by his persistence, she finally threw up her hands. "I don't know! I can't explain it. I just know I have to be there. Something important is going to happen and I have to be ready when it does."
"Really?" he drawled. "If you don't know what it is, how can you be ready?"
Eden crossed the room as she came to Chantel's defense. "You're going to harass her about instinct? You told me a vampire's instincts are highly sensitive and finely tuned. You were convinced I was your mate after just one kiss. Why are her instincts less significant than yours?"
"We're instinctual beings, I'll give you that. But I would feel better if her feelings were a little more specific." He turned back to his sister as he went on. "Do you sense danger? More than one blood feud has been launched at the Crimson Serenade."
"I don't think this is a warning of danger. It feels more like..." She shrugged helplessly. "I can't explain it any better than that. Tonight is important to me. I must be there or my life will be irreversibly changed."
A warm current of air swished her skirts and teased her bare ankles. Chantel looked toward the French doors. Eden had opened them earlier to let in the fresh mountain air. Tall and elegant, clad in a black tuxedo, Antonio waited on the balcony outside the master bedroom.
"Are you ready, sweetheart?" He bent one hand behind his back and extended the other with a dashing smile. "I can see you are. There will be no rest for me tonight."
She straightened her spine and glided toward him, keeping her steps smooth and even. "As I reminded my bossy brother earlier, you are my escort, not my chaperone."
"I am your protector, sciocca ragazza, and no one will convince me otherwise."
"I am occasionally silly, but I am no longer a girl."
"A fact that will keep me busy for the rest of the night, I'm sure."
He was too damn charming for his own good. "How's Serafina?"
"She's having two of her granddaughters over for 'chick flicks'."
"Good for them."
Her pulse raced, yet her feet felt weighted. This was just a stupid dance! Why couldn't she calm down? "Promise you won't mess up my hair." She was frequently accused of vanity, so she used the fault to hide her apprehension. "Eden worked on it for hours."
"I did not." Eden motioned her on. "Your hair is disgustingly well-behaved, unlike the rest of you. Now get out of here. We want the house to ourselves for a few hours."
No other motivation would have worked as well. Chantel was thrilled that her brother had found his mate, but the few glimpses she'd received of their sexual antics had left her restless and uncomfortable. Sliding open the screen door, she joined Antonio on the balcony.
"I haven't done this for years," she told him, "so be gentle with me."
Many vampires could dematerialize and travel as streams of energy. The distance they could cover was determined by their age and the control they had garnered through the years. Antonio was also able to capture another's essence and transport them along with him, but this took far more power and control than most vampires ever attained.
Antonio took her hand and led her away from the French doors, giving Chad and Eden their privacy. "Your father still has no idea you're attending?"
"I wouldn't need you if he did, now would I?" Antonio's animosity toward Lorcan was the longest-running feud on record with the Council of Ancients. Despite their best efforts to destroy each other, their bloodlines kept intersecting, so they reluctantly agreed to end the bloodshed. Even so, the bitterness remained. Neither one missed an opportunity to provoke the other. A fact Chantel was exploiting tonight.
Antonio heaved a sigh and placed his hand at the small of her back. "I can't help feeling I'm about to toss a very tasty morsel to a pack of hungry hyenas."
She laughed. "You don't think very highly of your friends."
"Few of those Kenton invited are my friends."
"What about Mr. Thorne? Don't you consider him your friend?"
His dark gaze ignited with enough intensity to make her blink. "You will dance with Thorne once because it's expected, and then you will stay away."
A slow, rebellious smile parted her lips. "Is he really that bad?"
"It was not always so." His tone softened and memories clouded his expression. "Tragic events changed him, made him less trusting, less forgiving."
Antonio shook his head and flashed his potent smile. "It's not my story to tell. Kenton is my friend. I would sacrifice my life for him, but he is ruthless when it comes to women. This warning is not given lightly, Chantel. Stay away from Kenton Thorne."