Book IV of the Vampire Queen Series
(Can standalone in series, though reader will meet characters from Books 1-3)
Released August 2009
Mason has lived in the Sahara desert for almost 300 years, grieving for a lost love and guarding her tomb. When the tomb is breached, his bloodlust is stirred to raging by the thought of someone disturbing her sanctuary.
What he finds is Jessica, a fugitive from his own world. Jessica was the forced second-mark servant of a cruel vampire master. Through an unexpected turn of events, she was able to kill him when he tried to give her the final mark, which would have made her his full servant, bound to him even in death. Because the third marking was not complete, it left her alive…barely.
Drawn by the historic legend of the tomb, not knowing how it intertwines with the vampire world she is seeking to avoid, Jessica’s only desire is to die there, with her hand on the sarcophagus of the woman who’d had an unyielding faith in love.
Instead, she finds her desire to live forcibly re-awakened by the vampire who refuses to let her give up. She clings to her hatred, but the more Mason struggles with her, the more determined he is to help her believe in love again. The only catch is he might have to do the same. But can he offer up his heart to another extraordinary woman if he already gave it away centuries ago?
© Copyright 2009 - All Rights Reserved
The Sahara had once been green. Lush, a verdant land supporting civilizations. Then the earth’s orbit changed, the sun came a little closer, and the land altered, becoming a desert that swallowed armies. It had happened three or four thousand years ago, barely a blink in the nine billion year life of Earth, but in that blink, Heaven and Hell had switched places. Had it been cosmic boredom, a need for a different perspective? Life giver, life taker.
Jessica wondered which face the Sahara preferred. Since she’d come here to die, it was a point of interest. Barely two years ago, her body had been vigorous and fertile as well. Now it, too, was a barren skeleton that repelled most sensible life forms. She felt almost at home here.
As the largest desert in the world, this was a place one could walk for days—if one had the constitution of a camel—and see no other human life. But the history of the area was still mapped on this wasteland, if one had trained eyes. Though she’d had to study it primarily from within the walls of her prison, she’d done little else of importance in the past months but study her final destination.
She didn’t really count killing Lord Raithe as important. The vampire who’d forced her to be his servant for over five years, and the reason she was dying now, was relatively nothing in the scheme of things. Creatures lived, creatures died, and their bones became sand like this. They all walked over the remains of their ancestors. At least he’d never torment anyone again. That mattered, though in truth, she’d been sick for so long now, she couldn’t even recall why that had been as important as it had once seemed.
In contrast, Farida had remained significant to her. In the midst of a life so horrible Jess often thought she’d already died and somehow deserved Hell—though she couldn’t recall her crime—Farida had given her a spark of light. It had amazed Jess, discovering the body’s desire to live was stronger than anything, even despair. Maybe that was why she’d connected with a woman who had chosen love and then lost everything.
From the very first moment Jess opened the ancient binding and discovered the written memories of the sheikh’s daughter who had lived over three hundred years ago, a bond had formed between them. Farida had spoken in her memoir passionately, vibrantly, of a love worth any torment.
Between being on the run as a fugitive and hoping she had the strength to keep going the next day, Jess had read her words. Hiding in dank places that only society’s forgotten frequented, often there was nothing else to break her thoughts, except the trickling background of an internal hourglass, the sands of her life running out. Her cells were being subsumed in that flow of sand, as if she were becoming part of a place like Farida’s Sahara. But she was okay with that. There were those who believed that the Sahara would return to greenness, that the cycles of climate change would evolve again, the sun getting less hot and the rains increasing. A different way of life would return.
After Jess killed Raithe, Farida’s journal and the diamonds were the only things worth her life to slip back into his house and retrieve. Maybe even then, in her subconscious, she’d realized where she was going to go and what she was going to do with the short remainder of her life. It was no more fantastic than what her life had been for the past five years. And no one would look for her in the Middle East.
When she’d arrived in the Sahara, she realized that those who wrote of it as a desolate place, devoid of life, didn’t know it. There was life here. Not just in the few peoples and creatures that called it home, but in the ghosts that whispered, finding voice through the movement of the sand, a haunting noise like blowing across the top of a soda bottle. She knew what that sounded like, for she’d done it as a teenager, clustered with her friends on the curb outside the Quik-Stop with soda and Cheetoes, eying the boys that came in after school. Boys who eyed them right back.
God, that was a long time ago. She held those memories to her occasionally like a favorite doll, even as she knew the act was closer to that of a mother holding a dead baby.
The three men she’d paid to accompany her this far thought her a madwoman, of course. But she’d paid them enough to indulge her, and there was nothing to lose, no liability. Take a crazy, dying woman out to a remote part of the desert that wasn’t on any map, and she’d eventually tire of her fantasy of finding the marker for a dead woman’s grave or die. They’d be rich men, either way. She’d shown them the jewels, what would be theirs if they helped her. She thanked whatever capricious Deity watched over fools that she’d had the foresight to take the gems while everyone was still out looking for her. Raithe had had a hoard to rival a dragon’s, so they’d never be missed.
Now, as she rolled the comfort of familiar thoughts through her head, a reminder of where she’d been, where she was going, she looked over the endless stretch of dunes. The breathtaking artistry of the wind upon them rivaled the greatest sculptors of the ages, and the sun collaborated, providing a different view with each degree it descended. But even that beauty couldn’t distract her from the fact night was drawing close. God, she hated darkness. But she fingered the compass in her pocket, reassuring herself. The stars would help her find Farida tonight at last.
Reading the words of that diary made her feel as if she were in Farida’s silken tent, where they cuddled on the pillows as girlfriends, pressed forehead to forehead. In the darkest time of night, Farida whispered in her ear. She’d told Jessica that, while everything in life could be taken away by uncontrollable forces, there was always a choice left. Something overlooked, if one did not let fear overwhelm desire.
Farida’s choice had been an incomparable man. Jessica’s would be where she wanted to die. Closing her eyes, Jessica remembered her favorite diary entry, about the night Farida had met Lord Mason…
* * * * *
I was behind the screen when Prince Haytham entered the tent to speak with my father. My father valued my counsel and often allowed me to do this, perhaps because he knew how very restless I became in a woman’s world. Why does Allah create dreams and appetites, the desire to live free and fierce as a man does, if those things are to be denied a woman’s soul? I have often wondered this.
Then I saw the man with the prince. Those longings, banked always against my responsibilities as my father’s daughter, exploded inside me like the brightness of stars, such that they couldn’t be contained. I bit down so hard on my lip I drew blood, though I knew I must fly, sing, dance…all for him.
He had to be a djinn spun from the desert sand, for never has a man been so beautifully made. Face carved with the sculpted beauty of the dunes, but smooth as watered stone, as if a goddess had created him and then lovingly stroked him, over and over.
When they sat for coffee, he removed his robes, showing he wore the brown riding trousers and white shirt of a European. He lounged back on the pillows, a graceful animal. Though he smiled and listened in that relaxed way of men as coffee was prepared, he reminded me of a desert tiger, for his hair was burnished copper, an animal’s pelt. He had it scraped back from his face, so every magnificent plane was emphasized. My fingers wanted to feel that fall of straight silk, tied back from his shoulders.
His eyes were true amber, like the tiger as well, an almost unnatural brilliance to them, as if he carried the fire of the desert within him. A djinn, as I have said. I heard Prince Haytham say later that he suspected Lord Mason was a British spy, for during the time he stayed with us, he was always gone by dawn, and returned at nightfall. He also spoke our language as well as a native, and his accent was not as precisely bitten off as other Englishmen who have met our camp.
The prince said Lord Mason’s purpose was nothing that concerned us, though I imagined him stepping out of view of our camp and dissolving into a tornado of sand, a desert devil spinning across the dunes. He had too much energy to contain in the body of a mortal man. I imagined that he returned to us at night only when his need to exercise his powers was temporarily sated.
But I need to leave off my fancies and go back to that first time I saw him. As I bit down on my lip and tasted my blood, I must have made a sound despite my efforts, for he looked at me, found me behind the screen. Those tiger’s eyes flickered. I saw his nostrils flare, as if he had my scent, knew every shameful thing I wanted. A passing moment, over in a blink. He shifted his attention away, not disrespecting my father by staring at a woman of his house.
But when he raised his hand to perform the salaam, I drew in another unsteady breath, thinking how those hands would feel on my flesh, compelling my surrender, my obedience, my devotion and love throughout eternity. I knew then. From that very first second, Fate tied a gentle but unbreakable tether around my throat and handed the lead to him. I would follow him, no matter what our end would be.