I got the green light from my editor to reveal the cover for BOUND BY FLAMES, Night Prince book three. As you can see, Vlad’s back in all of his bare-chested glory, and if you’ve ever wondered what our favorite pyrokinetic, impale-happy vampire would look like with an open-lipped pout? *wink* Well, wonder no more! (click to enlarge)
Side note: I cannot imagine writing a scene where I’d be able to realistically portray Vlad with a sexy pout. A sexy glare, grin or smirk, sure, but a pout? *cracks up* Thank you, art department, for having a more daring imagination than me :).
In the stepback below, Vlad is back to his fierce glory, although he’s still not wearing a shirt because with those abs, why would he? Leila is holding onto her man, and really, I don’t blame her. They’re got some tough stuff coming their way in the third book, releasing January 27th. Several retailers already have preorder links up, so if you like to reserve in advance, here you go: Amazon, Barnes&Noble, BooksAMillion, Powells, Indiebound
In the next few weeks, I’ll have downloadable wallpapers for the cover/stepback, so stay tuned! Also, at the moment I don’t have a back cover description, but in lieu of that, how about an excerpt from the first chapter? Disclaimer: This chapter is pre-revisions and pre-edits, so there may be some grammar/spelling errors. Also, if I decide to tweak the chapter between now and when I finish the book, there might be some content changes, too. In other words, I’m posting this just for entertainment, so enjoy :).
Hundreds of candles glowed from the ballroom’s gothic chandeliers, casting soft amber light onto the guests below. The lack of modern illumination wasn’t because this house used to be a medieval stronghold, but because the owner was a pyrokinetic vampire, so he was rather fond of fire.
I was perched on one of the ceiling’s corner rafters, taking a brief rest from my evening’s covert activities. A few stories below, all the guests wore masks and costumes, but even without seeing fangs or glowing green eyes, it was easy to determine who was human and who wasn’t. Vampires had an inherent grace, making their movements appear as seamless as water rushing over stones. Their mortal counterparts, well, let’s just say they lacked that finesse. Not that it was their fault. Unlike vampires, humans didn’t have supernatural control over every muscle in their bodies.
Until several weeks ago, neither did I. Changing into a vampire had had some unexpected side effects in addition to the now-I-drink-blood stuff. Before, I also didn’t have my new ability to briefly hold in the electrical currents that had surged through me since touching a downed power line when I was thirteen.
The candles in the chandeliers suddenly blazed brighter, coinciding with a man striding up to the balcony that overlooked the ballroom. If that wasn’t enough to announce his presence, his aura flared, too, sending invisible currents rippling through the room. When they hit me, it felt like being engulfed by an electrical field, which, considering my own inner voltage, was ironic. Only a handful of Master vampires in the world could manifest an aura big enough to encompass the gargantuan ballroom. Vlad’s was so powerful, it proclaimed his identity more clearly than if he’d been wearing a neon name tag.
That’s why his disguise was pointless. Beneath the mask made famous from the movie V For Vendetta was a darkly stubbled jaw, high cheekbones, winged eyebrows and burnished copper-colored eyes. His black tuxedo elegantly covered Vlad’s lean, muscled body, almost daring onlookers to fantasize about what lay beneath that. When he held up a hand to silence the musicians, candlelight reflected off his wedding ring, making the twisting bands of gold briefly gleam.
“The unmasking is in one hour,” Vlad stated, his cultured voice tinged with a Slavic accent. Then he smiled, radiating charm and challenge at the same time. “Until then, enjoy the mystery of wondering who’s beside you, if you haven’t already guessed.”
Light laughter and applause greeted his statements, but I was alarmed. If the unmasking was an hour away, I was almost out of time.
A flick of Vlad’s hand had the musicians playing again, and the dance floor was once again filled with costumed, waltzing couples. I didn’t spare them a glance as I leapt onto a nearby ceiling beam, balancing myself instantly on the narrow plank of wood. I could’ve used reflexes like these back when I was a circus performer, not to mention when I was trying out for the Olympic gymnastics team.
Once I’d sprinted back to the network of organ pipes I’d climbed to reach the ceiling, I slid down, landing in the utility space between the walls. Music from the pipes swelled, almost deafening me, but that was the point. Not even vampires with their hyper-elevated senses could hear me above the racket. I crept around until I reached an air conditioning filter, removing it before squeezing myself into the cramped air duct. Good thing I was wearing a form-fitting costume. If I’d dressed as Marie Antoinette, I’d have never made it through.
Finally, I shimmied out of the duct into a closet. Once there, I replaced the filter, brushed the dust from my black costume, and headed into the ballroom to resume my spying. I hadn’t made it ten feet inside before a hand landed on my back.
“There you are,” a voice with a heavy Hungarian accent said.
I turned. The vampire behind me wore a much fancier version of the Joker’s trademark purple suit, and he’d covered what I could see of his naturally pale skin with white paint. His mask came to his lower lip, and the twisted smile etched onto the ceramic upper one made his face looked like it was stuck in a perpetually evil grin.
My mask didn’t cover any of my mouth, so the vampire could see it when I smiled.
“Here I am,” I agreed. I’d made sure to make the Joker’s acquaintance earlier because he’d been on my target list tonight, but he’d also been with another woman. That meant I couldn’t deploy my secret weapon since it required closer contact than his date would’ve put up with. She wasn’t with him now, though, so I seized my opportunity.
“I hope you’re here to ask me to dance,” I said, tilting my head invitingly. At least, I hoped it looked that way. The faux-horned headpiece I wore made me feel like a rabbit with two stiff, extended ears.
“But of course,” he said, linking his arm through mine.
My full-body suit kept him from feeling the electricity coursing through me. If he had, he’d have known my real identity the moment he touched me. That’s why I’d chosen to attend the ball in a Maleficent costume, annoying pointy headpiece or not. The current-repelling rubber covered me from head to toe, leaving only my face bare. The mask took care of any currents radiating from that and my scent would be unfamiliar to anyone who hadn’t met me before, which was most of the people here.
Most. As the Joker – yes, I knew his real name, but this suited him better – led me onto the dance floor, I couldn’t stop from glancing up at the balcony. The place where Vlad had stood was now empty. Good. The only vampire I was worried about tonight was him.
Once we were among the other dancers, the Joker drew me into his arms, his blue eyes flaring with an inhuman glow of green as they slid over my body. The costume fit me like a glove, leaving few of my curves to the imagination, but he looked like he was imagining anyway. Explicitly.
I suppressed a shudder, glad the head-to-toe rubber also muted the scent of distaste that had to be coming from me. The Joker’s silk and cloth attire didn’t act as an olfactory barrier. The scent of lust wafting from him practically clogged my nose, and I didn’t even breathe anymore. Since I needed information from him, I smiled as we began to dance. I’d learned how to waltz exactly one day ago, but that turned out to be practice enough. The Joker whirled me through steps I easily kept up with. He held me closer than the formal dance dictated, though, and I didn’t think it was an accident when his hand grazed my ass.
Once more, I glanced up at the balcony. Thank God it was still empty!
“When will you tell me your name, my enticing stranger?” the Joker asked, his hand still trailing low on my hip. “I can tell you’ve been newly made. Who do you belong to?”
I wasn’t surprised that he’d pegged me as a baby vampire. My costume might hold in my electrical currents and scent, but it couldn’t contain my aura, and like all new vampires, it was weak. Vlad’s guest list contained the biggest and baddest of Eastern Europe’s undead society, so under normal circumstances, I’d only be here as a stronger vampire’s servant. Being written off as insignificant suited me. Not knowing who I was meant the Joker didn’t know about my abilities, and I wasn’t about to give him any hints as to my real identity.
I used the next steps of the dance to maneuver his hand away from my ass. Then I smiled with what I hoped was mysterious allure. “Patience. I’ll tell you who I am at the unmasking.”
“Patience?” he repeated with more than a hint of scorn. Guess my attempt to be mysterious and alluring had failed.
Truth be told, I didn’t have a lot of experience with flirting. I’d started electrocuting anyone I touched at thirteen, which put me firmly in the “dateless” column for the next twelve years. Not even vampires were immune to the dangers of skin-to-skin contact with me, and that’s when I wasn’t even trying to hurt them. Since I needed the Joker to stay close for the next few minutes, I had to keep up my act, poor faux-seduction skills or no. Soon, I’d sneak the detachable fingers off my right glove, touch him while holding in my currents, and thus find out his darkest secret.
Lie detector tests had nothing on my ability to discern people’s worst sins through a single touch. I’d hated my psychometric abilities until recently, when they had become a necessary tool in keeping me and the people I loved alive.
The Joker smiled, seeming to look past my less-than-suave flirting skills. Or, I realized as he danced us toward one of the ballroom’s curtained, secluded alcoves, he had something else in mind.
“Patience is a virtue and I hate virtues,” he murmured, using his body to back me behind the alcove’s elegant drapes. “Besides, I don’t really care what your name is or who you belong to. All I want to know is how tight you are.”
Whoa. Talk about coming on too strong! “I don’t think so, my impatient friend,” I said, laughing as if he’d told a joke. “Maybe later, but now, let’s go back to the dance –”
“Let’s not,” he interrupted, pulling me flush against him. Then his hand landed on my ass as if I’d begged him to spank me. I gasped, so horrified at what was about to happen, I froze. The Joker’s head began to lower, his lips nearing mine –
He screamed as flames shot up his face. His hands flew off me to beat at them in an instinctive attempt to smother the fire. The flames only spread, glowing brighter before I could finish shouting, “Stop!”
Vlad shoved through the guests, who’d quit dancing to stare at the screaming, burning man. Vlad’s mask was off and his long dark hair swung from his rapid strides. His hands were covered in flames, but unlike the Joker frantically pummeling his own face, the flames didn’t burn Vlad. The same power that allowed him to manifest and control fire also kept him safe from its deadly effects.
“Stop?” Vlad’s voice whipped through the air, causing the vampires who’d moved toward the Joker to turn and walk away once they realized who’d caused the fire. “Why would I do that?”
Even if those present hadn’t figured it out, I wouldn’t let a man burn to death just to keep up the pretense.
“Because he didn’t know that I’m your wife.”