Thursday, October 26, 2006

excerpt: Handsome Bastard by Kate Hill

Handsome Bastard by Kate Hill

Tentatively scheduled for release in November 2006 from Ellora's Cave

For more information about the Ancient Blood series, please visit:



Leotine glanced at the corpse positioned on the stone slab, its eyelids weighted down by coins, and felt nothing but disgust for the creature responsible for the woman's death. As a member of the sacred society We Who Serve Humanity, she had overcome any tendencies toward squeamishness years ago.

"This is the fiftieth of our soldiers who has died by his hand. For centuries we have hunted Cyprian Augustus and he has slipped through our fingers like smoke from Vulcan's fire. We thought Aurelia would have taken him but he somehow used his enchantments to muddle her thoughts and sway her loyalties." Julius, leader of her faction, stared at Leotine as he spoke. The uncharacteristically desperate look in his eyes should have made her nervous, but didn't. She found that men in general were given to overreacting, especially when blood-drinkers were involved.

The corpse, nearly as white as the slab on which it rested, bore no marks on the face or neck. Strange for one supposedly killed by a blood-drinker. Leotine lifted the sheet covering the dead woman's torso and noted the gaping wound above her heart.

"He changed her, then staked her?"

Julius shook his head and sighed. "No. That act of mercy was performed by us, but he did kill her. Turned her into something vile. Took her mortal life so we were forced to destroy the creature inhabiting her body. Leotine." He stepped closer and placed a heavy hand on her shoulder, his frenzied gaze fixed on her. "You are our last hope. We have sent powerful, experienced men as well as women seductive enough to lure a temple priest away from his god, but Cyprian Augustus has slaughtered them all or turned them into his kind, so we were forced to hunt and kill our own. No one has ever swayed you. Your parents gave you to us early to be certain your heart would belong solely to the cause they knew meant life or death for all humanity. Yours will be the hand to strike down our most elusive enemy, if you accept the duty."

"We have served for as long as they have existed and will continue to serve until they are extinct," Leotine replied, using the words of their society's primary law. Though she remained outwardly calm, inside she boiled with fury and also eagerness to take the creature responsible for the deaths of her fellow warriors.

"Be cautious. His charms are--"

"Nothing to me. I have seduced fiends and sent them back to Pluto with my blade through their black hearts. I swear to you and to humanity that Cyprian Augustus will be no different. He is mine."

Chapter One

The body sprawled in the road leading to his villa brought Cyprian Augustus and his servant to a stop. In spite of the pouring rain, his superior sense of smell caught the scent of fresh blood combined with a distinctly feminine aroma that roused Cyprian's interest.

"Shall I see who it is?" Sextus asked his master.

Before replying, Cyprian glanced around, enveloped by the icy feeling that usually preceded disaster. Finally he nodded and dismounted. Sextus did the same and followed him to the body. Both men knelt.

Covered in a layer of mud and a wet, bloodstained tunic so thin it scarcely concealed her every lush curve, the woman remained unconscious as Cyprian touched a hand to her neck. A pulse beat steadily against his fingers and when he concentrated hard enough he could hear her heartbeat beyond the noise of the storm. One of her eyes was blackened and her cheek badly bruised. Her nose and lips oozed blood, as did several shallow cuts on her arms and legs.

Chestnut hair clung to her shoulders, neck and face. Cyprian brushed a tendril from the corner of her mouth. He noted that in spite of the beating she'd endured, she was quite lovely.

"How do you suppose she got here?" Sextus asked.

"No definite ideas."

"Well how about giving me an indefinite one if you think you know something?"

Anyone unfamiliar with their past would find Sextus' manner of speaking to his master shocking. Their relationship extended far beyond that of master and servant and had endured long past any mortal's comprehension.

Cyprian's mouth twitched downward. He had suspicions about this beaten woman in slaves' garb who had the delicate beauty and well fed look of a lady of leisure. Of course, he knew from experience how many beautiful slaves filled the wealthy households of Rome, but it was simply a *feeling* that told him to use caution. Such feelings had kept him alive for centuries, while others of his kind succumbed to death by mortal hands.

"Do you intend to leave her?" Sextus asked. It certainly wouldn't be the first time Cyprian had committed a cold act, yet when he did he invariably had a good reason.

*Then use your reason,* he told himself. *Stop looking at her pretty face and those luscious, magnificent, potentially deadly curves.*

"If we leave her here she'll most likely die," Sextus said. "Either from those wounds or from exposure or from someone running over her in the middle of the road. So if you intend to leave her to such a fate, at least let me have a taste--"

"Stop it." Cyprian raised his eyes to the heavens then shook his head. "Pitiful excuse for a blood-drinker that you are. Can't you tell her injuries aren't remotely life threatening? It's warm enough out here for her to survive and who else but you or me would be traveling this road at this time of night?"

"Apparently someone was. How else did she get here?"

With a low growl, Cyprian tugged the woman into his arms and stood. He carried her to Sextus' horse and placed her over the saddle.

"Why does she get my horse?"

Curling his lip, Cyprian glanced at Sextus over his shoulder. "The question should be, why do I keep you around? Guide the horse. When we arrive home, bring warm water and bandages to my cubiculum."

"Ah," Sextus smiled, revealing the tips of his tiny fangs, "that's more like the Cyprian I know. Bring her right to bed."

"It's usually a good place to begin getting the truth out of a woman."

"I know several husbands and lovers who might not agree with you."

"That's because they're stupid."

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