It’s time for Snippet Saturday! Each week has a theme or is author’s choice. This week the theme is Smooth Operator – Hero with moves.
This week my snippet comes from one of my stand alone vampire romance novels, Heart of Darkness. It’s a bit of a big one today but that’s because I wanted to capture enough of the story to set the scene too, and Aleksandr deserves a nice long excerpt to show just how determined he is to make Elise see beyond his rank of prince and the rumours about him, to the vampire he is beneath.
Elise cursed the name of Aleksandr Nemov for the hundredth time that night, and it was barely two hours after sundown. It transpired that he had only danced with her at the ball. Now everywhere she went the ladies of the house whispered and glared at her. Even the guards were merciless in their teasing. She had gone to see Andrej to find some comfort but he had been so caustic that she had immediately left.
She hurried across the landscaped garden to the grey two storey square building at the back of the estate that acted as the garrison. It was past time to report in for duty. Hopefully, Commander Piotr would forgive her this small fault in exchange for the fact that she had followed his orders and ruined her life by dancing with Aleksandr Nemov.
Elise strode through the building, her focus so fixed on thinking of a way to gain a solo mission so she could patrol the city in glorious solitude and keeping her head down to avoid the snide taunts of her comrades that she didnâ€™t notice the danger until it was too late.
The moment she saw Aleksandr, she turned and tried to escape her commanderâ€™s office.
â€œElise,â€ Commander Piotr said and she froze, cursing Aleksandr again.
â€œReporting for duty, Sir.â€ Elise saluted her commander and then Ladislav where he sat perched on the end of her commanderâ€™s oak desk dressed in a long black winter coat and pinstripe suit. She ignored Aleksandr.
â€œYou are to show me the city tonight.â€
Her gaze shot to Aleksandr. He smiled at her, all charm and sweetness.
She didnâ€™t want to show him the city. He already knew it. He had been to Prague before.
Had he asked for her to be his guide tonight? She shrugged that question away. There was no reason for him to ask for her specifically. Then again, heâ€™d had no reason to be so intent on dancing with her either. The look in his grey eyes unsettled her. Whenever he looked at her, he looked like a raptor eyeing its prey. She didnâ€™t like it, and she hadnâ€™t seen him look at anyone else that way.
Elise bit her tongue to hold in the refusal that tried to spring from her lips and saluted her commander again, stiffly this time and with anger burning in her gut.
She turned on the spot, took a deep breath, and led the way out of the garrison. A quick tour of the city wouldnâ€™t kill her. It was an honour to serve their prince and she was sure that she was imagining everything about Aleksandr. He didnâ€™t know any of the guards besides her and the commander, and he had met her in the city. Perhaps he merely thought her a suitable guide, one who would be able to give him information he needed.
Perhaps he was out to seduce her.
Elise would have laughed at that had she not feared it so much.
Aleksandr was quiet as they walked into the heart of the city. His eyes constantly scanned over the old buildings lining the narrow roads. She brought him to the Old Town quarter first, entering the main square from an alley at the bridge end, away from the open square itself.
â€œItâ€™s a terrible place for hunting,â€ Elise said to break the silence.
Aleksandr glanced at her and then looked at their surroundings. He tensed and turned the second the astronomical clock mounted near the base of the tall stone tower in front of them began to chime the hour. With a frown, he walked forwards, towards the beautiful gold and blue dial that the tourists loved, studying it and the gold and painted circular calendar below. Elise went with him, her gaze seeking the model of death chiming a bell. She loved the clock too. Sometimes when she was here scouting for a suitable source of blood she became distracted by the way the models on the clock came alive on the hour.
The cobbled area in front of the clock was empty save for her and Aleksandr. The city was so cold in winter that few tourists came. Those who did rarely ventured out at night to watch the clock.
â€œItâ€™s a good place for scouting for blood.â€ She hoped for a response this time. â€œWe often come here and then follow a selected tourist to see if they venture somewhere quiet we can deal with them.â€
â€œIt seems like a very inefficient way to hunt.â€ His eyes didnâ€™t leave the clock. â€œWhy not simply lure them away? Or wait for someone to pass a quiet street and kill them?â€
â€œIt is not our way. Taking the occasional tourist is less conspicuous than killing the people of Prague. That way we risk the humans learning of our existence. We do as the Nemov line wishes, to protect our species from discovery.â€ She paused to reflect on his questions. â€œLuring someone could be considered taking pleasure from the hunt.â€
His broad shoulders shifted in a shrug. â€œSome could say that.â€
Elise wanted to ask him if he lured his victims or took any pleasure from what he did when hunting, but the sight of him caught her off guard. The light from the astronomical clock bathed his skin, warming it and making his steely eyes darker. He had a regal profile that matched his classically handsome face. The strong line of his jaw led her gaze down to his throat and the slow steady pulse that ticked there. She dropped it lower, to his waist, hidden behind his long black coat. She had been shocked when he had revealed his bloodlineâ€™s mark, and not only because she had discovered that he was royalty. He had shown no reserve about flashing his body and there had been a pleased look in his eyes when he had caught her staring. Just as she was now. She forced her eyes back up to his face. His bowed lips tugged into a smile.
â€œI like your city.â€ He turned on the spot, scanning the cluster of buildings at this end of the square, and then stopped and faced her, his smile widening. â€œIt has many beauties.â€
Eliseâ€™s cheeks heated at the suggestion in his voice. She walked past him towards the square, ignoring his charm. He caught up with her, walking close beside her, and touched her elbow to make her walk in another direction. He had done that several times now, each one feeling like an intimate caress rather than a mere suggestion of an order.
She moved a step away from him and walked past the tower and into the heart of the expansive square, heading for the tall row of coloured buildings opposite. CafÃ©s and restaurants lined the square, spilling out from the arched walkway beneath the buildings in front and to her right. Behind the buildings in front of her, one of Pragueâ€™s most impressive sights rose. The twin spiked towers of the church and warmly lit faÃ§ade captivated tourists even more than the clock. There were a few gathered in the square, their camera flashes puncturing the darkness.
â€œThis is another good place to scout for tourists in summer,â€ she said and Aleksandr looked towards them. â€œIn winter it is too conspicuous, but in summer there are often a large number of people here. It is easy to blend amongst them.â€
Elise led Aleksandr towards the line of restaurants. The tables set out beneath the large white square umbrellas and heat lamps were mostly unoccupied.
â€œAnother good place to scout?â€ His gaze scanned the people.
â€œSometimes we come here in winter late at night, when the bars are turning out.â€
He moved closer to her again and his voice dropped to a whisper. â€œYou are far more talkative when you are not dancing.â€
Elise looked away from him, towards the other side of the square and the restaurants there. She was thankful when Aleksandrâ€™s attention left her and returned to the square. She needed space to breathe for a moment. She wasnâ€™t used to so much attention, especially not from men, and she was starting to feel suffocated.
She glanced at Aleksandr. His focus was on the people, studying them closely. He seemed like a different person, colder and calculating, as she had expected him to be from the tales that she had heard and read in their societyâ€™s papers.
â€œThe vampire hunters donâ€™t come here.â€ She looked around the square. â€œAt least not often anyway. They know how we work. They know we wonâ€™t kill the humans openly, and that we will follow them away from here. Most hunters gather over the river to wait for us.â€
Aleksandrâ€™s gaze returned to her along with his focus. She could feel his eyes on her, burning into the side of her face. She kept her gaze away from his, not wanting to see how he was looking at her now. He touched her elbow again, his fingers lingering longer this time, almost a caress.
â€œShow me where the hunters are.â€ His voice was low still, a soothing sound that felt like a physical touch over her body.
She nodded and led the way, quickening her pace to gain a little distance from him. Alarm bells were ringing loudly in the back of her mind. Aleksandr was too attentive, too charming, and too close to her. All of it made her feel as though he wanted something and she knew what that something was.
It wasnâ€™t going to happen.
To keep him distracted from her, she talked to him about the city. She gave him all the information he might need about how the police operated, her familyâ€™s methods of disposing of bodies, how they acted as a military academy to avoid rousing suspicion when they were in the city, and the small number of hunters that passed through each month, heading deeper into Europe from Asia or vice versa. With each piece of information, Aleksandr moved closer, until their hands brushed occasionally, sending shivers dancing up her arm. She tried to distance herself again but whenever she moved away, he moved closer. It felt too intimate.
She passed under the arch beneath the dark stone tower that stood at one end of the Charles Bridge and out the other side, stopping a short way onto it. The tall antique lamps that lined the wide pedestrian bridge glowed softly, lighting the stone statues standing on the walls of it in warm sepia hues. The brightly lit gothic cathedral on the hill across the wide black river, and the buildings that clustered around it, cast twinkling lights on the rippling water. It was beautiful, and she hoped it would keep Aleksandrâ€™s attention off her.
Aleksandr moved away from her at last, going to lean on the wall and peer over the edge at the river. He looked along the bridge in the direction of the other gate tower. A couple were walking towards them.
He glanced over his shoulder at her, his eyes almost black in the low light, and then looked back at the couple. She hoped he wasnâ€™t considering killing them. Her family still had enough blood in storage to last them a week and another murder in the city so close to the death of the hunter would rouse too much suspicion amongst the local police.
Aleksandr turned slowly as the couple passed, his eyes tracking them, and relief eased her tension away when they passed her and walked through the gate tower behind her.
He leaned back against the wall at an angle, propping himself up on his elbows. His long black coat fell back to reveal his body and the dagger sheathed at his hip. The black trousers and shirt did nothing to hide the toned planes of his physique. Elise tore her gaze away and looked left, up the dark river towards the fountain and the small park where they had first met. Since then, her entire world had been falling apart. Aleksandr had shaken it to its foundations and she was still spinning, unable to get her head straight.
Aleksandr came over to her, close again, near enough that his breath caressed her face. It felt as though he didnâ€™t want to let her get her head straight, as though he wanted to confuse her and send her mind and heart in circles.
â€œThe hunters favour the other side of the bridge, where the streets are narrow and quieter. It is easier for them to fight us unhindered there. It is also our favoured hunting ground.â€ Elise cast her gaze down when Aleksandrâ€™s arm grazed hers.
When she eventually looked at him, he was staring at the cathedral but his focus wasnâ€™t there. It was on her. He leaned down, bringing his mouth so close to her ear that his lips brushed it as he spoke.
â€œCan we see there?â€ he whispered and she stared wide-eyed at the cathedral across the broad glittering black river. â€œI would like to take you there.â€
Elise sidestepped and cleared her throat, flustered by the connotation in his words. â€œItâ€™s best we donâ€™t. There have been many hunters entering the city recently.â€
His dark eyebrows rose. â€œI can handle them.â€
The smile he gave her was stunning. She looked away and fought for composure. Anger coiled in her stomach, turning her blood to flame. She had been right. He didnâ€™t want a tour guide, just as he hadnâ€™t merely wanted a dance partner last night. That was why he had looked so disappointed.
â€œCome, Elise, show me the other side and the narrow dark streets.â€ He held his hand out to her.
Her eyes jumped to the gate tower at the other end of the bridge near the area he spoke of and then to his, and she tried to look away again but failed. The look in them left her in no doubt of his intentions. He moved closer, his broad frame imposing, and dipped down, lowering his mouth to her ear.
â€œYou will take me there.â€
Elise stared at his ear, the tufts of his dark hair behind it, and the tall, sloped flat-topped dark grey roof of the tower beyond. She couldnâ€™t breathe. His proximity, his persistence, his attention, it all smothered her. She couldnâ€™t take it. She didnâ€™t want it.
â€œYou are a poor dancer, but a skilled fighter,â€ he murmured against her cheek, his breath teasing her skin and her throat. Another shiver cascaded through her, tumbling down her spine and urging her to close her eyes. She refused. He pressed his body against hers, his hands claiming her upper arms. â€œYour strength, your skill in the fight last night, it was astounding and graceful, almost as enthralling as your beauty.â€
Elise broke free of him and backed away. â€œLeave me alone.â€
Aleksandr laughed softly. â€œNo, I cannot do that. Not yet.â€
She glared at him, seeing in his eyes that he intended to pursue her. She wanted to tell him again to leave her alone but couldnâ€™t find her voice or the conviction to refuse his advances.
Elise shook her head and ran away instead, storming through the arch back into the city, intent on returning to the mansion and finding solitude there, away from the madness of Aleksandr.
She didnâ€™t understand why he wanted her.
Or why the thought of becoming nothing more than a conquest to him hurt her.
Elise stared wide-eyed at the pavement. Dismay swept through her.
Her heart said it was true.
She wanted him too.
Did you enjoy the snippet?
More about the book:
Heart of Darkness
A vampire prince on a four hundred year old mission to avenge his murdered sister…
Aleksandr Nemov wonâ€™t stop until the last of the vampire hunterâ€™s progeny is wiped from the Earth. Each kill has stolen a piece of his humanity, pushing him towards the black abyss all vampires hold within their hearts. Now he is teetering on the edge, close to devolving into a beast, and time is running out as he tracks the last hunter to Prague. There he finds a beautiful woman who could be his one chance for salvation, but is it already too late for him?
A vampire guard who will do whatever it takes to protect those she loves…
Elise is dedicated to her duty. Itâ€™s the only thing she has left. All that changes when she meets Aleksandr in Prague and her master grants him permission to stay at her bloodlineâ€™s mansion. She knows all about Aleksandr but none of it prepares her for how she feels when the legendary princeâ€™s hunt becomes one for her heart. Elise battles him with all of her strength but can she stop herself from falling for the handsome hunter? When he reveals the depth of the corruption in his soul, will she have the strength to face the pain in her past and do whatever it takes to save him?
Don’t forget to visit the other authors who are participating to read their snippets…