Scorched: the Dark Forgotten

Scorched: the Dark Forgotten
Editions:Paperback
ISBN: 978-0451228642

Romantic Times Top Pick!

Romantic Times Reviewers’ Choice Award Finalist, Vampire Romance

Write Touch Contest Finalist

Welcome to the Castle. The price of admission is your soul.

Ex-detective Macmillan always had a taste for bad girls, but his last lover really took the cake—and his humanity. Now half-demon, Mac’s lost his friends, his family and his job.

But Constance, a strangely innocent vampire trapped in the supernatural Castle prison, needs his help. Her son has been kidnapped, so suddenly Mac has a case to work—one that embroils him with a mad sorcerer, an even madder city council, and a winged love god. The trail leads deep into the supernatural prison, and Mac soon learns that cracking the case will cost him his last scrap of his humanity.

Fiery, vulnerable Constance will do anything for those she loves, including Mac. He’ll be damned if he turns his back on her… and a demon forever if he doesn’t.

Published:
Publisher: Signet Eclipse
Genres:
Tags:
Excerpt:

Back in the Castle five friggin’ minutes and I’m in the middle of an ass-kicking. Mac wiped a sudden sweat from his face. Same old Club Dread.

Mac circled his opponent, who mirrored his low, watchful crouch. Bran was a huge, bare-armed hulk covered with spiraling blue tattoos. He stank like old leather shut up in an attic trunk for far too long. A black braid swung past the man’s hips as he moved, a dark slash against the scarlet and gold silk of his tunic.

Guardsman Bran was one scary, ugly mother.

Shadows ate at the ceiling and surrounding passageways, giving the illusion there was no reality beyond the circle of their combat. The solitary sound in the corridor was the shuffling of their feet on the stone floor. Torchlight played along Bran’s short sword, reminding Mac the guardsman was armed and he wasn’t.

READ MORE

Sharp objects mattered, but Mac’s pulse roared in his head, drowning out fear with every heartbeat. He felt drunk, high, complete, even relieved. He was ready to pound this grunt and love every minute of it. Kill or die. The shredded remainder of his demon side had finally slipped its leash.

Mac lunged. Bran was quick, blocking him, slashing at Mac’s ribs—but Mac was supernaturally fast, dancing aside before the blade could land.

They sprang apart, circling again.

“Nice to see you, too,” Mac said with a taunting grin. Without warning, he changed direction, but Bran followed the sudden shift with the poise of a gymnast. Mac licked his lips, his mouth dry from breathing hard. “Interesting tatts. Still working the Bronze Age look?”

“Be silent.” Bran curled his lip, his white teeth and pale skin making him look more like a vampire than a guardsman. “I found you, fugitive. No one escapes twice.”

“C’mon, saying that’s just tempting fate.”

They closed again, grappling and snarling. Bran swept Mac’s feet from under him, but they both fell, Mac on top. Mac’s vision turned white, then red with bloodlust and rage. With his knee on Bran’s throat, Mac smashed the guardsman’s sword hand into the stone floor, pounding until Bran’s fingers let go of the hilt.

Bran surged, tossing Mac off. Rolling to his back, Mac brought his feet up just in time to catch Bran in the chest with a satisfying thump. The guardsman stumbled, air whooshing from his lungs. Mac flipped to his feet, running two steps to sink a hard, knuckle-bruising shot to Bran’s midriff. The man was solid as granite, but no match. Bran doubled over. Mac grabbed the sword and brought the hilt down with a smack, catching the guardsman behind his left ear. Bran dropped like a stone in a face-flat sprawl at Mac’s feet.

The thump of his fall, like so much dirty laundry, echoed in the cavernous dark. Mac bent, feeling for a pulse. The guardsman was still alive but would be out for a good long time.

As he rose, Mac felt the surge of his own blood, the tingle and rush of human life in every limb. Behind it pulsed the demon, gleeful—lustful—at the prospect of even more violence. Hunger. The weight of the sword was a suggestion, the hilt hard and perfect in his greedy palm. There were so many ways to kill. A quick blade in the spine. The slow agony of a gut wound.

Gritting his teeth, Mac backed away. I’m still too much a cop to kill a man when he’s down. Even this one. He clutched at that thought, holding it like a talisman that would preserve his slipping humanity.

But in the Castle, every moment was fight or die. Here, he needed his demon side to survive. Staying human would be a losing battle. I have to get out of here, or lose my soul again.

A flicker at the edge of his vision made him look up, reflexes poised.

Mac glimpsed a face, all wide eyes and pointed chin. It was a woman, barely more than a girl, with a thick fall of midnight hair long past her waist. Every line of her thin body looked startled.

All was silent but for the sound of Bran’s faint, slow breathing. The woman just stared, her mouth pulled down at the corners.

She’s afraid. He stepped over Bran and toward the woman. With a bird-like hop, she whisked around the corner. After a second’s hesitation, Mac sprinted after her. Until he knew whether she was running from simple fear or running to get Bran’s friends, he couldn’t let her get away.

By the time he got to the corner, she was already out of sight, but he could smell a trace of sweet perfume. He followed it, mapping this new direction in his mind so he could retrace his steps.

She hadn’t gone far, only down another turning. There she hovered, her back to Mac, peering anxiously around the far corner. He came up behind her, his movements utterly silent. He hadn’t realized how much noise a human made—breathing, rustling, swallowing—until, as a demon, he’d stopped. He’d made no sound, no scent, moved no air when he passed by. Now, partially human again, he could switch the ability on or off. Going stealth mode freaked him out a bit, but it came in handy.

He was close enough now to see the woman clearly. Her dress fell to the floor and was made of a heavy indigo fabric worn threadbare along the hem. She was small—barely five feet, small-boned, and almost frail. He could have picked her up in one hand. Most of her weight was surely in that thick, straight hair.

Just when he was close enough to notice a strip of dusty lace peeking out from beneath her skirt, her shoulders stiffened. She’d made him. Soundless or not, even demons couldn’t hide from that sixth-sense survival instinct that makes a deer run before the cougar breaks cover. She whipped around to face him, eyes wide with fear, white edging their deep blue centers. With the jerking motion of a cartoon character, she looked around the corner again, then back to him. Caught between two bad choices.

“What’s there?” Mac asked in a quiet voice, wondering if she spoke English. The Castle didn’t have a universal language, unless one counted despair.

“More guardsmen,” she answered, almost whispering.

Not going to warn Bran’s friends, then.

“Three of them, heading toward their quarters.” Her words lilted. Irish, perhaps? She searched his face, clearly measuring the level of threat he presented. “Who are you?”

“Conall Macmillan, ma’am.” Somehow it seemed right to use his best manners, as if the shade of his great-grandmother was cuffing him on the ear. “At your service.”

“At my service, now is it?” There was a flash of irony in her eyes. “And how is it that anyone who defeats a guardsman would serve the likes of me? Guardsmen are made stronger than us. We can’t beat them, and yet there you were looming over Bran’s broken body.”

Uncertainty squeezed Mac’s chest. He didn’t want to hear from a pretty woman how he wasn’t quite normal, much less that he loomed. “I’m just passing through. Maybe the rules don’t apply to me.”

Her gaze caught his, deadly serious. “No one just passes through here.”

“I’ve done it before.”

“You have a key, then.” She said it naturally, as if it was no great marvel.

There’s a key? Maybe more than one? Mac didn’t answer, wondering what else she might reveal.

“Well, then.” She was calming down, but still looked like she was expecting a dirty trick. “That would answer why I’ve never seen you before.”

“I hope that means you wouldn’t forget me if you had.” He sneaked a glance at the neckline of her dress. Her low-cut gown was laced up the front, the tight crisscross of ribbons making the most of her slender shape. Besides a pendant on a leather lace, she wore a scarf of thin white fabric around her shoulders, the ends tucked modestly down her front and foiling any clear views of cleavage. Damn.

She caught the look. “And if I remembered you, would that be on account of your smooth tongue and practiced smile?”

“I have better souvenirs.” Careful, the last woman you thought was cute turned you into a demon.

But she ignored his comment and looked around the corner instead, this time letting her spine sag with relief. “They’re gone.”

“Good.” The sword, once so important, now felt cumbersome in his hand. He wanted an excuse to touch this woman. It was pure instinct. She was beautiful and achingly young. The fact that she was hiding from the guardsmen only added a protective urge to the mix. “What’s your name?”

“Constance,” she said, then added, “Moore,” as if it was a piece of information she rarely needed.

“Were the guardsmen chasing you?” he asked.

“It’s a long story.”

“I’m a patient man.”

“I’ve heard that one before.” She gave him a bold look that almost contradicted her earlier caution. “You men never make it to the climax of a tale.”

Mac raised an eyebrow. “You must be one helluva storyteller.”

She gave a sly, close-lipped smile that would have shamed the Mona Lisa. Her eyes dared him right up until they shifted away, a nervous tell. “I am. Ask any warm-blooded man.”

Mac folded his arms, an awkward process when holding a sword. “Oh, yeah?”

She leaned against the stone wall, all fair skin, black hair, and cherry lips. Snow White in a reckless mood. “Indeed.”

“But are you Scheherazade or Jane Austen?”

“I don’t know those names. Which would I like to be?”

Despite the taunting jut of her chin, he could see the tremor in her fingers, the quick pant of her breath. His demon side licked up her fear like a cat lapped cream. He reached out with his free hand and cupped her jaw, tilting her face up to him. “What do you know about a key?”

Her eyes narrowed. “I know they exist. This place isn’t as air-tight as one might think.”

He dropped his hand, but didn’t move away. “You got one?”

“No.” She tried to hold his gaze, but failed. “You can trust my word on that.”

“Worried that I might search you?”

“You’d probably like that.”

“You think so, eh?”

“You’re male, aren’t you?” The words were more defeated than bitter, and somehow that made them worse.

“Yeah, but I’m not a ravening beast.” Not the human part, anyway. “Trust me, undressing a woman is more fun when you’re invited.”

She laughed, but it wasn’t mirthful. “And you’re an expert, I suppose.”

“Practice makes perfect.”

“I’m sure it does.” Again, the Mona Lisa smile. There was a history that went with that sweet, self-mocking sadness.

Definitely more temptation than he could handle. He bent and pressed his lips to hers, perhaps to taste that puzzling smile, perhaps to kiss it away. Or maybe just to prove his expertise.

Constance inhaled, a quick, light gasp ended by his capture of her mouth. Her lips were cool and soft, returning his kiss with surprised hesitation. That perfume he had smelled earlier, something flowery and old-fashioned, wafted up from her silken skin. He felt the tentative brush of her fingers in his hair, light as a moth’s wings. Finally, her hand settled on his cheek, a girlish, uncertain touch so gentle that it tickled.

She was no practiced flirt, and he’d just called her bluff.

At a twinge from his conscience, he drew back. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean…”

She used both hands to pull his head down, bringing his mouth back to hers.

Okay. Mac wasn’t about to argue. Heat surged through him, thick and electric. He drew his hand up her spine, over her ribs, up the side of her breast. Constance flinched, as if he’d touched a bruise, but then murmured in pleasure, rising onto her toes. Her body brushed against his. Oh, yeah. Unexpected, but oh, yeah.

He felt the tip of her tongue meet his, a shy inquiry. Constance tasted as sweet and wild as blackberries still hot from the sun. He couldn’t drink down her soul as he could have in his demon days, but he could savor it, sad and pure, like her smile.

He already ached in his body, but that taste of her spirit made him ache in his heart. He caught the salty tang of loneliness. That’s just not right. Was there no one to look after her? A tiny creature like Constance shouldn’t be out wandering the halls of the Castle by herself. She was so small, he could nearly span her waist with his hands. The fabric of her dress felt rough, too coarse for such tiny perfection. And there was far, far too much clothing for satisfactory exploration.

Okay, whoa, buddy. In five seconds flat, you’ve gone from sneaking a kiss to planning to get naked with someone you’ve just met. Get a grip.

Heedless, Mac’s fingers slid beneath the flimsy fabric of her scarf, finding soft, cool skin and the gently rounded tops of her breasts. He kept his touch feather-light and was rewarded with a delicate shiver. Tracing his thumb over her collarbone, he caressed the satin flesh of her shoulder. Nice.

He deepened the kiss, but kept his beast tightly leashed. Whoever this girl was, she wasn’t ready for his demon side. Hell, most of the time, neither was he.

So sweet. She knew about a key, a way for Mac to escape. It was almost a shame. This moment, so full of new promise, almost justified an eternity in the Castle.

And yet…

Yeah, okay, Macmillan, what’s with the hearts and flowers? This isn’t you.

Something was not right.

No shit, Sherlock. Nothing’s been right for over a year. Was it the soul-sucking demon shtick or the eternal prison of darkness that tipped you off? As for the girl…

Mac winced, suddenly going very still. Women. There’s always something.

Yeah, Constance was sweet. The teeth, however, were a surprise.

Gently, he pulled away. Her eyes were closed, her lips flushed and slightly parted to reveal tiny, perfect fangs. A vampire. But an innocent one that sent off none of the usual vampiric vibes. There was only one way that happened.

Constance had never tasted blood.

Pheromones. That answered why she had fascinated him so completely, sent him head over heels in less time than it took your average speed date.

But it raised still another interesting question.

A really good one.

Am I meant to be her first kiss or her first kill?

COLLAPSE
Reviews:on Bitten by Books:

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.

on Romantic Times Book Reviews Top Pick!:

This is a splendid way to spend your precious leisure time!

on CK2S Kwips and Kritiques (5 clover review):

Yet another stunning hit from this fabulous author!… Sharon Ashwood succeeded at adding more twists and turns to her already fascinating world while creating characters one couldn’t help but love.

on Wicked Little Pixie:

Simply incredible.

on Bitten by Books (5 tombstone review):

Mac is a born comedian and can’t help but say and even think thoughts of pure comedic gold, like his musings about werebacon that sent me rolling on the floor.

on Reader to Reader.com:

Ingenious. Pull up a chair at Baba Yaga’s Restaurant and dig in!

on Digigirl’s Library:

Ashwood’s writing style is a perfect blend of action and romance with just the right amount of lighthearted tongue-in-cheek and her descriptive phrases are a delight.

on The Romance Studio:

Ms. Ashwood’s stories are multidimensional and it is hard to second guess this author. I can’t wait for a third adventure in Ms. Ashwood’s unique and twisted version of the world!

on Romance Junkies (Blue Ribbon Favorite):

SCORCHED, THE DARK FORGOTTEN is a dark labyrinth of mystery, romance, deceit and paranormal entities with a shining bright light at the end of the corridor. The hope is what will have you cheering for Mac and Constance even if their outlook appears dim. SCORCHED, THE DARK FORGOTTEN is a fast-paced urban fantasy that will keep you up long into the night. Hanging with the supernatural never felt so good!

on Darque Reviews:

With the darkness and danger lurking on every page it will keep readers engaged until the very end.