Frostbound: the Dark Forgotten

Frostbound: The Dark Forgotten
Editions:Paperback
ISBN: 978-0451231956

Nominated for Romance Reviews Today Best Book of the Year 2011

Every dog might have his day, but the hellhound guards the night . . .

As a snowstorm locks down the city, more than the roads are getting iced. Someone’s beheaded the wrong girl, and vampire-on-the-lam Talia Rostova thinks it was meant to be her. Now she’s the prime suspect in her own botched murder—and the prisoner of her smoking-hot neighbor.

Lore is a hellhound, bred to serve and protect, so he’s not freeing Talia until he’s sure that she’s the prey and not the hunter. You’d think a beautiful woman in his bedroom would be a good thing, but trouble-prone Talia has run afoul of someone more sinister than your average lunatic killer. An ancient Undead is wreaking vengeance on the city—and on her—and Lore will have to go far beyond a stake to put him back in his grave . . .

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Publisher: Signet Eclipse
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Excerpt:

Tuesday, December 28, 10:30 p.m.
Talia’s condo

Talia might be dead, but she still had a bad case of the creeps.

The scent of blood swamped her brain, swallowing sight and sound. She hesitated where she stood, her vampire senses screaming that something was wrong. That much blood was far too much of a good thing. The elevator doors whooshed shut behind her, stirring a gust of recycled air. Stirring up that maddening, tantalizing, revolting smell.

And there was something oddly familiar about it, a specific top note stirring the memory like a complex perfume.

Talia blinked the hallway back into focus. This was her floor of the condo building, and home and Michelle were at the end of the hall. She fished her door keys out of her purse and started walking, the glossy pink bag from Howard’s banging against her leg as she walked.

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Now her stomach hurt, her jaws ached to bite, but more from panic than hunger. That much blood meant someone was hurt. There were a lot of elderly people in the building. Many lived alone. One of them might have slipped and fallen, or maybe cut themselves in the kitchen. Or maybe someone had broken in?

Talia quickened her stride, following the scent. She pulled her phone out of her shoulder bag, the rhinestones on its bright blue case winking in the dim overhead light. She flipped it open, ready to dial Emergency as soon as she figured out who was in trouble. She was no superhero, but she could force open a door and control her hunger long enough for basic first aid. If there were bad guys, oh well. She’d had a light dinner.

She passed units fifteen-oh-eight, fifteen-ten, and fifteen-twelve, her high-heeled ankle boots silent on the soft green carpet. Fifteen-fourteen, fifteen-sixteen. She paused at each door, listening for clues. A television muttered here and there. No sounds of a predator attacking its prey.

Fifteen-twenty, fifteen-twenty-two. The smell was coming from fifteen-twenty-four at the end of the hall. Oh. Oh!

Fifteen twenty-four was her place. Michelle!

She grasped the cool metal of the door handle and turned it. It was unlocked. The door swung open, and the smell of death rushed into the hall like the surf, drowning Talia all over again. That familiar note in the scent pounded at her, but she pushed it out of her mind, refusing to acknowledge that it reminded her of her cousin.

Instinct froze her where she stood, listening. There was no heartbeat, but that didn’t mean much. Lots of things, herself included, didn’t have a pulse. Reaching out her left hand, she pushed the door all the way open. The entry looked straight through to the living room, where a big picture window let in the glow of city lights. It was plenty of light for a vampire to see by.

“Michelle?” she said softly. There’s no one here. She must have left.

Talia couldn’t, wouldn’t, believe anything else. She slid her phone back into her purse and set it down along with her shopping bag. Get a grip. But her hands shook so hard, she had to make fists to stop them.

She left the door open behind her as she tiptoed inside. She’d lived there for two months, but suddenly the place felt alien. Lamps, tables, the so-ugly-it-was-cute pink china poodle with the bobble head. They might as well have been rock formations on another planet. Nothing felt right.

Her boot bumped against something. Talia sprang backward, her dead heart giving a thump of fright. She stared, organizing the shape into meaning. A suitcase. One of those with the pull-out handle and wheels. Big and bright red.

It was Michelle’s.

“Michelle?” Talia meant to shout this time, but it came out as a whisper. “What the hell, girl?”

She groped on the wall for the light switch, suddenly needing the comfort of brightness. The twin lamps that framed the couch bloomed with warm light.

Oh, God.

Her stomach heaved. Now she could see all that red, red blood. Scarlet sprayed in arcs across the wall, splattering the furniture like a painter gone all Jackson Pollock on the decor. Talia shuddered as the carpet squished with wetness.

The smell could have gagged a werewolf.

She dimly realized one of the bookshelves was knocked over. There had been a fight.

“Michelle?” Her voice sounded tiny, childlike. Talia took one more step, and that gave her a full view of the living room. Oh, God!

Suddenly standing was hard. She grabbed the wall before she could fall down.

Her cousin, tall and trim in her navy blue cruise hostess uniform, lay on her side between the couch and the coffee table. Drops of drying blood made her skin look luminously pale. Beneath the tangle of dark hair, Talia’s gaze sought the features she knew as well as her own: high forehead, freckled nose, the mouth that turned up at one corner, always ready to smile. Born a year apart, they’d always looked more like twins than plain old cousins.

They still looked almost identical, except Michelle’s head was a yard away from the rest of her body.

Talia’s eyes drifted closed as the room closed in, darkness spiraling down to a pinpoint.

Beheaded.

Talia’s grip on the wall failed, and she started to sink to the floor. The wet, red floor. Sudden nausea wrenched her. She scrambled for the kitchen, retching into the sink. She’d fed earlier, but not much. Nothing came up but a thin trickle of fluid.

Beheaded.

She heaved again, the strength of her vampire body making it painful. Talia leaned over the stainless steel sink, shaking. The image of her cousin’s body burned in her mind’s eye. Whoever had done it had meant to kill her. Taking the head was the usual way to execute vampires—a lot more certain than a wooden stake.

She died because of me. They thought she was me.

Talia’s breath caught, and caught again, dragging into her lungs in tiny gasps that finally dissolved into sobs. She pushed away from the sink, grabbing a paper towel to mop her eyes. There was no time to fall apart.

But she did. She pressed the wadded towel to her mouth, stifling her sobs. The tears were turning to a burning ache that ran all down her throat, through her body and out the soles of her feet.

This was no good. She had to get out of there.

Before whoever murdered Michelle came back.

Before someone called the cops and they blamed her, because she was the monster found next to the body.

Talia braced herself against the counter and stared into the sink until her eyes blurred and she squeezed them shut. This was the moment when the movie hero swore revenge, made a plan, and went after the bad guy.

All she felt was gut-wrenching grief.

A rustling sound came from the hallway, as if something had brushed against the shopping bag she’d abandoned by the door.

Talia spun around, terror rippling over her skin. So much for her earlier quip of bad guys, oh well. Macabre images flashed one after the other through her mind. Sheer willpower pinned her to the floor, making her think before she bolted straight into danger.

Normally, she would worry about hiding her scent from another predator, but the place stank so badly that wasn’t an issue. Plus, whoever had killed Michelle had to be human. Nothing else would have confused one of their own with a vampire.

Slowly, she peered around the edge of the kitchen doorway. A figure hulked in the doorway to the condo, backlit by the lights from the hall.

Oh, God! It’s—he’s—coming this way.

Talia shrank back into the galley kitchen, squeezing into the corner between the refrigerator and the wall. She shrank down, making herself small, bending her head forward to hide her pale skin with the dark fall of her hair. There was no need for her to breathe, nothing to disturb the absolute stillness of the dead.

Except terror. She wanted to run so badly her muscles cramped.

The fridge hummed, the hard surface vibrating against her arm. Trapped! Through the curtain of her hair, she could see the stranger’s wide shoulders blocking the hallway between her and the door. Her heart gave a single, painful beat, jolted back to life by the adrenaline rushing into her blood.

Tears of outrage stung Talia’s eyes. She was frightened, absolutely, but she was also furious. Someone had killed Michelle, and now they’d come back. Realized you screwed up? she thought bitterly. Figured out that was human blood all over your hands?

It galled her to be so helpless. Talia had weapons, but they were stuffed in the top of the hallway closet, gathering dust. She’d thought she’d never have to use them again. Prayed for it.

Apparently no one listened to a vampire’s prayers.

You’re hiding in a kitchen filled with knives. Maybe she wasn’t so helpless after all.

She could see the figure’s shadow slide over the wall, stark against the bright patch of hallway light. His silhouette showed he was tall and big-boned, moving with surprising grace for such a large man. She caught a sharp tang of smoke and chemicals, as if he’d been near an industrial fire. The smell drowned her vampire senses, choking out anything else his scent might have told her. He was coming closer, pausing after each step, his feet all but silent on the carpeting.

Just a few yards more and he would be past the kitchen door. Then she could make a break for it. Even a fledgling like her could move faster than a mortal.

Closer, closer. The hiding place where she crouched was just inside the kitchen entrance. If she reached out, she could brush the toes of his heavy work boots with her fingers. Her fingertips itched, as if they had already grazed the dirty leather. He was so close she dared not lift her head to look at him. All she got was a good view of jean-clad shins.

And then he was past. She rose in a single, smooth gesture, balancing on her toes. One careful step forward, and she reached the counter opposite the fridge. Silently, she slid a kitchen knife out of the block. Just in case. It was smarter to run than to fight, but he might corner her yet.

She heard his intake of breath as he reached the living room. She froze, the cool handle of the knife heavy and hard against her palm.

The urge to vomit washed over her again, but she didn’t dare make a noise. Not even to swallow. She could hear him, just a few yards to the right, the brush of cloth on cloth as he moved around the gory, glistening carnage in the next room.

Three, two, one.

Talia darted toward the hall, inhumanly fast.

He was faster.

Huge hands grabbed her upper arms, hauling her into the air. She kicked, hearing a snarl of pain as the sharp heel of her ankle boot dug into his thigh. She tried to turn and slash, but the angle was wrong. Wriggling like a ferret, Talia twisted, using Undead strength to turn within that big-knuckled grasp.

She flipped over, dropping through the air as her attacker lost his hold. With an upward slash, she scored the knife along the flesh of his hand.

Ha!

His other hand came down like a hammer, aiming for the weapon. Talia spun and kicked, wobbling in the heels but still forcing him back. She used the motion of the kick to fall into a crouch, sweeping the blade in a whispering arc, claiming the space around her body.

Force the enemy to keep his distance. One useful thing her father had taught her. One of the few.

But as she came out of the turn, he grabbed her by the scruff of the neck—how long was his reach, anyway?—and heaved her to the ground like a bag of laundry. Before Talia could move, she felt a heavy knee in the small of her back. She tried to arch up, but he was at least twice her weight. Rage shot through her, riding on a cold slick of terror. She hissed, baring fang.

His hand was pinning her wrist to the carpet, immobilizing the knife. Gripping it hard, she twisted her hand, snaking the point toward his flesh. His other hand clamped down, peeling her fingers off the hilt one by one.

She did her best to scratch. A female vampire’s nails were sharp as talons.

“Give it up,” he growled.

She made a sound like a cat poked with a fork, half hiss, half yowl. The knife came loose. He sent it spinning across the floor, out of reach. Then she felt something cold and metal click shut around her wrist. The chill sensation made her flail, the motion jerking her elbow up to connect with solid flesh. His jaw? For a glorious moment, she felt him flinch.

Only to shove her back down and snap the handcuffs around her other wrist.

“There’s silver in the alloy.” His voice was hard and low. “You can’t break them.”

Talia rolled over, baring her fangs. The slide of metal against leather told her a gun had left its holster. She next thing she saw was a freaking .44 Magnum Ruger Blackhawk aimed between her eyes—loaded, no doubt with silver-coated hollow point bullets.

Their fight had brought them closer to the living room. The glow of the table lamps cast a wash of light over the attacker’s face, at last giving her a good look at the man. Or, what she could see of him around the muzzle of the mini-cannon in his hand.

Shaggy dark hair, thick and straight and a bit too long. Dark eyes. Swarthy skin. Killer cheekbones. Young, maybe late twenties. Not classically handsome, but there was something heart-stopping in that face. Something wild. And he was big.

She’d seen him before. What was his name? Lorne? No, Lore. He lived somewhere on the sixth floor.

“Great,” Talia ground out through clenched teeth. Everything was catching up to her, emotions fighting their way through shock. She was starting to cry, tears sliding from beneath her lashes and trickling down her temples. Oh, Michelle, what happened? “Just great. I’m about to be blown to smithereens by the boy next door.”

He leaned forward, pressing the muzzle of the gun into her flesh. “Be silent.”

Talia hissed.

The corner of his mouth pulled down. “Did the smell of her get to be too much? You needed a taste?”

“Oh, God, no.” Talia caught her breath, feeling beads of cold, clammy sweat trickle between her breasts. Fear. Guilt. She’d been so afraid of hurting Michelle, been so careful. Accusing her now wasn’t fair. “How can you say that? She’s right there. Right over there.”

“Then tell the truth.”

Talia gulped, tasting death on her tongue. “I didn’t do this.”

“All the vampires say that.”

“Wasn’t this your doing?”

“I don’t hunt humans. I go for bigger game.”

The statement made her shiver. His hand was bloody where she’d cut him, but he didn’t smell like food. Not human, but nothing she recognized. The realization came like an extra jolt of electricity. What the hell is he?

“Then why are you here? Who are you?” She struggled to sit up, awkward because her arms were pinned behind her back. He pressed the Ruger hard against her skin, but she barely noticed.

“Who is your sire?” he demanded.

Talia clamped her mouth shut. His dark, angry gaze locked with hers. It wasn’t the cold stare of so many killers she’d known. His eyes were hot with emotion, a righteous, remorseless fury.

“Who made you?” His voice grated with anger.

Talia blinked hard, her heart giving another jerking thump of fright. “No, please, if you send me back to my sire, I’ll be lucky if he only kills me.”

“That’s what happens when a vampire goes rogue.”

Now she was starting to sob, ugly little gasps that caught in her throat. “You can’t send me back. I didn’t kill her. I loved Michelle.” She was begging, and put every ounce of her soul into it, holding his dark, burning stare.

A crease formed between his eyebrows. “Damn you.”

The wail of a police siren ripped the night. Were they coming for Michelle’s murder, or was there another tragedy tonight?

Lore pressed the muzzle of the gun like a cold kiss against her forehead. “I don’t trust you. I can’t tell if you’re the killer or not. But I believe you’re afraid of your sire.”

Her mouth had gone paper-dry. “What are you going to do?”

His mouth thinned as if he didn’t like the question. He looked her up and down, all that anger turning to a smoldering frustration. Talia could almost feel it heating her skin.

“The human police will assume you’re guilty and look no further. I’ll give you a choice. Take your chances with them, or . . .” He trailed off, clearly mulling over his next words.

“Or?” The single syllable came out in a croak.

“Or you’re my prisoner. Take your pick.”

COLLAPSE
Reviews:Jackie on Bitten by Books wrote:

Sharon Ashwood is all that is good and right in the paranormal romance genre.

on Publishers Weekly:

Fast paced and captivating… chemistry is immediate and undeniable, and the love scenes are scorching hot.

Single Titles on Single Titles wrote:

Readers be warned, there is no turning back once you begin the spellbinding journey through FROSTBOUND

Romance Reviews Today on Romance Reviews Today wrote:

FROSTBOUND is well deserving of a Perfect 10.

Night Owl Reviews Top Pick on Night Owl Reviews Top Pick wrote:

Not only is the love story topnotch, but the rest of the plot is tight. Frostbound is magic.

on Bitten by Books:

Sharon Ashwood is all that is good and right in the paranormal romance genre.

on All Things Urban Fantasy:

Overall, FROSTBOUND is the perfect blend of urban fantasy and paranormal romance. Rich and complex magical worldbuilding, characters with equal strength and depth, and a romance that creates as much heat as it does emotional intensity.

on Patricia’s Vampire Notes:

Frostbound is a wonderful blend of adventure, mystery and romance.

on Amberkatze’s Book Blog:

A brilliant read.

on Publishers Weekly:

Fast paced and captivating… chemistry is immediate and undeniable, and the love scenes are scorching hot.

on Romantic Times Book Reviews, 4 1/2 stars:

Make sure you make room on your keeper shelf for this one!

on Las Vegas Review-Journal:

Filled with paranormal mayhem, a gruesome murder, thrilling intrigue and a bit of sexy romance.

on The Best Reviews:

Finely plotted, sensitive, fierce, tender, and complex, Frostbound is… a must read for those who love the supernatural fantasy genre.

on LoveVampires:

There is certainly no shortage of danger and excitement anywhere in the story.