Annie Nicholas is back again today to give us a glimpse of her latest paranormal read, Release. Keep reading to get a tantalizing taste of this book with its steamy romantic triangle and then add it to your wish list!
Nosferatu rule from the shadow and keep order over their blood-thirsty people. Bald with pointed ears, they give vampires something to fear. If a law is broken, they have only one punishment. Death. They are the most powerful clan in the Vampire Nation and the most monstrous. Only a male vampire can be transformed into a Nosferatu, but not all survive.
Connie Bence is on the run with her two lovers, Rurik and Tane. As leader of the Nosferatu, Tane’s only threat is his own clansmen, and they want all three of them dead. When Rurik began to lose his hair, rumors spread, and the Nosferatu accuse Tane of trying to transform Rurik into one of them illegally.
With the Nosferatu on their heels, Connie tries to figure out what’s changing Rurik and cure him before she loses him to blood lust.
With the Nosferatu on their heels, Connie tries to figure out what’s changing Rurik and cure him before she loses him to blood lust.
Like music playing in the background, nobody in the meeting paid any real attention to me. I was just a human caught in vampire society, their king’s blood slave. His plaything, which meant if Tane decided to crucify me in his yard, no one would bat an eyelash. Good thing Tane seemed to love me in his own sadistic way; otherwise my pampered existence would truly suck.
Well, almost no one would care. Rurik would give a shit what happened to me. We’d been lovers for years. He was also Tane’s right-hand vampire since we’d become a threesome and his presence in court kept most of the predators off my tail.
So I couldn’t comprehend why Tane had dragged me to an emergency Nosferatu clan meeting and insisted Rurik stay at our hotel room across town. The sudden role reversal did horrid things to my stomach. A room full of Nosferatu warriors would make any regular vampire toss their cookies. Let alone little human me. Antacids didn’t cover this kind of stress.
Sweat trickled along the crease of my spine. Silk and moisture didn’t mix. I controlled the urge to pluck at my curve-clinging dress. Why did I let Tane pick it? I’d been leaning toward buying a business suit when he’d intervened. Something about needing me to be a distraction…
Tane sat at the head of the conference table. Board shoulders straight yet his posture molded into his chair in a relaxed manner much like tiger watching his prey. The artificial light gleamed of the surface of his bald head and the tips of his pointed ears. They curled around his head in a pretty fashion but I doubt anyone ever used that adjective to describe him. Words like hard, intimidating, and sensual came more to mind when I thought of him.
He faced five of the most powerful vampires in the world across the table. Their bald-headed and pointed-ear appearance made them seem more like Tane’s brothers than just clan. I stood behind his chair, where a good little blood slave should, and clutched his shoulder. That last bit wasn’t required, but touching him gave me the balance I required since my stilettos sank into the thick white wall-to-wall carpet making my stance unstable. I already felt like I stood on a tight wire. Any of these vampires could kill me with a thought. Only Tane’s favor kept me safe so when he launched into action, ordering his private jet prepared when they summoned us, my Richter scale of oh-shit registered a 9.0 on a scale of one to ten. I wish his clan had chosen another city to meet in though.
Monte Carlo was Las Vegas’s prettier sister. Gilded, it appeared more welcoming than its American sibling but under all the rich tapestry laid the same shit: drugs, sex, and rock and roll. Each shadow held a ghost of my past. The city sparked memories of empty liquor bottles and cheap motels. A time I wished I could permanently erase from my mind. Welcome to the adult version of Disneyland, where all your dreams could come true…for the right price. Even with the glitter, Monte Carlo was a tragic kingdom.
I could think of so many other things I’d rather be doing than attending a secret Nosferatu clan meeting. Tane might be king of the Vampire Nation, but the Nation didn’t include his nasty clan. They apparently ran things differently among themselves.
On the drive here from our hotel, he briefed me to stay quiet and follow his every order. If I gave him my usual attitude, he’d be forced to punish me in ways I’d rather not think about again. His clan didn’t take shit from anyone, which meant publically neither could he. I wore my good girl panties, crossed my fingers, and hoped I could keep my tongue in check. I’d like to keep my dignity intact thank you very much.
His clan brothers lined the wooden table, staring at us in silence. Not unnerving at all. I didn’t know the total number of members, but I was sure it took more than five to police all the vampires in the world. Two of them had humans hovering behind their chairs. Other blood slaves? Nosferatu weren’t known for herding, let alone bonding to someone forever—these types of vampires were predators, the things that kept regular vampire population in check. Had Tane started a new trend?
Being a blood slave was a two-edged sword. Our bond would last until death-do-us-part. His death, not mine. I would never age or get sick. However, Tane held my life and sanity in his hands.
With his hand resting upon his crossed knee, Tane assessed the others. “Why have you summoned me?” Straight to the point for a change. Tane’s whole existence revolved around subterfuge. I would have felt better if he’d started the meeting with a lie or started a rumor. This made me more nervous than the garrison of guards standing outside the room. Apparently, the brothers thought they should bring a small army with them, where we only brought Kam, the sole wolf shifter of the group. I chewed on my bottom lip. Poor planning on Tane’s part? I couldn’t believe that. He’d kept our group small for a reason. Inwardly, I cringed. That didn’t reassure me either.
Kam stood with the guards in the hall outside the meeting room. Hopefully behaving. His alpha personality could rub a person the wrong way. I knew this from firsthand experience. Maybe I should have asked for him to be present inside the room.
“Stop fidgeting.” Tane’s voice gonged inside my head.
A squeak escaped my lips. Allowing my mental shields to part, I reached out to Tane. “I’m very ready to leave. Let’s saddle this show pony and get the hell out of Dodge.” I sensed the muscles of his shoulders tense under my hand.
“Why haven’t you brought Rurik?” the brother with a strong chin sitting farthest from Tane asked. He was one of the two with a blood slave. The young Asian man stood at attention and stared forward as if in the military. Show-off. Tane hadn’t bothered with introductions when we’d arrived so I didn’t know how to address anyone in the room.
Tane folded his arms on the table. “I wasn’t aware Rurik had joined our clan, brother. Why would I bring him to one of our meetings?”
“This isn’t the time to play games, Tane. We’re your strongest supporters.” Chinny gestured to the others at the table. “Rumors are spreading, and we’ve gathered to warn you. Possibly to keep you from being executed.”
Tane’s shoulders jerked. It was so subtle that if I hadn’t had a death grip on them I wouldn’t have known. “What are you talking about, Damius?”
Sucking in my stomach, I stepped closer to his chair. The only exit out of this room was behind me if I didn’t count the window on the other side of the table. Leaping out that would only end with a Connie Bence-shaped pancake on the sidewalk thirty floors below. I’d choose the door guarded by the garrison if this became a fight. I wasn’t a fool. If fighting broke out among vampires, I ran. These weren’t regular vampires. All Nosferatu were warriors, born and trained. One glancing blow and I was toast.
“We know Rurik is losing hair.” Chinny, AKA Damius, tossed a set of pictures on the table.
I controlled the urge to gasp and almost suffered an aneurysm. “How do they know about him?” I sent this question to Tane. What the fuck? We’d been so careful to hide Rurik’s mysterious affliction but we hadn’t been able to find the reason for his slow hair loss. His blood lust had grown stronger as well these last few months. We could only assume a poison at this point, yet all our efforts to find a source or a cure had turned up nothing.
My first love, Laurent, had died of cancer. I couldn’t lose Rurik. No matter the cost. My heart had been beaten to hell all my life, and there was only so much duct tape in the world to keep it together.
Slowly, Tane inspected each picture. They were of the three of us in Mexico last month in our private rooms. A blush flashed across my cheeks. I wouldn’t prance around naked ever again. Thankfully, Rurik was the focus of each shot though. “All this trouble because my companion shaved his head. He still has stubble over most of it. Obviously, not naturally smooth.” He ran his hand over his own scalp. “He’s insanely jealous for Connie’s attention and thought to copy my appearance. Should we shackle him for it?” Tane chuckled and tossed me the best fake amused glance I’d ever seen.
I tried my best to return it. All the while I was trying not to shit bricks. Some men went bald. Vampires didn’t. Not unless they were Nosferatu, but Rurik never would have volunteered for that gig. Way too much drama in that clan.
The brother to Tane’s left set a small clear bag with black hairs on the table. “My sources within your home sent me these from your bed a few months ago. Before these pictures were taken.” He pointedly stared at my blond hair. “Don’t tell me they are from her.”
Tane raised his eyebrow. “Is this why you called this meeting? Pulled hair found in my bed? Who knows what these two are up to when I am away.”
The one on the right set his hand on Tane’s arm. “I understand your attachment to Rurik, but you can’t turn someone without a clan vote.”
Tane yanked his arm from his brother’s grasp. “You are making a grave accusation with very little proof.” He poked at the bag. “This…” He shook his head. “This is ridiculous.”
The vampires grew still like their kind could. Only the sound of my and the other human’s breathing broke the heavy silence.
“Either way, I doubt the rest of our clan will be pleased by this change.” Damius gathered the pictures. “We have also heard that Rurik’s blood requirements have tripled. Send for him. Let us examine Rurik for ourselves before the others learn of his hair loss.”
If they didn’t already know. Tane had told me his brothers would have spies in our home, just like he’d had them in theirs, so chances were his whole clan knew, even with all our precautions. All that work for nothing: Wigs, checking his suits for loose hairs before meetings, youtube videos on comb overs. When he arrived at the meeting how would we explain the smoother sections of his scalp that didn’t show in the pictures? The stubble would eventually fade. Then what?
Tane leaned back in his chair. “Connie, send Kam for Rurik and make me something to drink. There’s a bar in the room off the hallway.”
I startled at the mention of my name. Instinct cried for me to tell him to get his own drink but I was glad for the excuse to escape the room, even for a few minutes.
Shit. Rurik was on the Nosferatu radar. Vampires didn’t like change, and the unknown reason for Rurik’s hair loss might cause a panic. We used wigs to hide Rurik’s affliction but in Mexico, the humidity had made Rurik’s head itch. Within the confines of our apartment he had removed it. His brothers must have been spying on us for a long time to catch those pictures and find those hairs.
Maybe one of the other Nosferatu would have an idea of what was wrong with Rurik. His blood lust grew worse every night, and we needed help. Tane had been researching cures day and night since it had started, to no avail.I exited the meeting room to come face-to-face a group of armed regular vampire guards. Kam, my personal shifter bodyguard, stood apart from them. He leaned against the wall, appearing both relaxed and alert at the same time. His dark chestnut hair reached his shoulders but he kept it back in ponytail at the nape of his neck. Easily the tallest person in the hall, he spotted me and met my glare. I’d seen many a woman and female vampire throw themselves at the muscular shifter’s feet. I couldn’t blame them. He had that rugged mountain man look that some women loved. I like my men less furry.
I approached him. Before I could open my mouth, I sensed Tane slip inside my head.
“Run.” The order was whispered yet sharp like a strike of a whip. “Get Rurik out of the city. This is worse than I suspected. They’ll kill him. I’ll give you as much time as I can.”
I stumbled at his sudden retreat from my head and landed against Kam. With wide eyes, I met his golden gaze.
He gripped my arms and his nostrils flared. Quickly, his gaze shifted to the other guards in the hall. He knew something was wrong but neither of us could verbalize anything in front of these warriors.
“I don’t feel well, Kam. Take me home. Tane will meet us there later.” Swooning against him, I did my best impression of a fainting southern belle. We needed to vamoose from this building. Tane had insisted on staying in a separate hotel across town. He must have suspected something, or maybe it was from past experience with his clan. Either reason, he did well by keeping Rurik out of easy reach.
Kam scooped me in his arms and strode to the elevator, hitting the button with his elbow. The muscles in his arms tensed as if prepared to attack at a moment’s notice. With my mind, I tried to touch Tane, but he shielded against me. The mental walls he could build blew away anything I’d ever encountered. Being king meant he kicked ass on high levels of vampire abilities. His brothers were strong, but he was stronger.
The door slid open with a ding, and Kam carried me inside. None of the guards questioned us. What damage could a small human woman and a hulking wolf shifter do? As soon as the doors closed, Kam set me back on my high-heeled feet. “What’s going on?” He took up most of the space in the small area.
“They want to kill Rurik. We have to get out of the city.” Pressing my hand to my stomach, I fought rolling nausea. “I’m a blank. I don’t know this area and I haven’t an idea how the fuck to hide from Nosferatu. I mean, they only have to scan the minds of surrounding humans to find us, right?” They’d done this in Rio last year when hunting Colby, my old slayer boss. We had barely survived that fiasco and we only had to deal with one rogue Nosferatu at that time.
Kam’s face paled. “What about our Master?” His pack served Tane and, by proxy, me. Kam’s sister, Gwen, used to be my bodyguard but she was on a personal mission to kick a certain stubborn vampire slayer’s ass otherwise known as Colby. I wished her luck and hoped she didn’t kill him. Since then, Kam took her place, my oversized shadow who against his will knew too much about me and my past.
“I think he can handle himself. They want Rurik dead, not Tane.” I slapped his rock-hard abs. “Focus. Where can we go?”
“The marina. Master Tane had his yacht brought here. He’d thought to surprise both of you with a cruise of the Mediterranean.”
My heart fluttered at the kind gesture. Since we’d become a three-way couple, he’d been non-stop romancing us. Damn his stupid brothers for wrecking that trip.
“Give me your cell.” My dress didn’t have enough material for pockets.
Kam pulled out his phone.
I dialed Rurik’s number from heart. My pulse hammered in my ears as I listened to the ring. I disliked speaking mind to mind but at the moment I would have been thrilled for Rurik’s velvety presence in my thoughts. We didn’t share a blood bond, so such a link was difficult. Distance made it even tougher.
Annie Nicholas writes paranormal romance with a twist. She has courted vampires, hunted with shifters, and slain a dragon’s ego all with the might of her pen. Riding the wind of her imagination, she travels beyond the restraints of reality and shares them with anyone wanting to read her stories. Mother, daughter, and wife are some of the other hats she wears while hiking through the hills and dales of her adopted state of Vermont. Annie writes for Samhain Publishing, Carina Press, and Lyrical Press.