Friday, March 19, 2010

Hardest of Hearts by Cat Marsters

Hardest of Hearts by Cat  Marsters

Read an excerpt

Hardest of Hearts

by Cat Marsters
cover art by Sahara Kelly
ISBN: 978-1-60521-119-0
Genre(s): Paranormal, Action/Adventure
Theme(s): Vampires
Length: Novella

Emma and Aidan can't keep their hands off each other. There's just one little problem: she's sworn to kill all vampires and he likes the taste of blood a little too much.
Emma's been raised in the knowledge that all vampires are evil. After all, they're responsible for the death of her parents. Meeting Aidan shouldn't change a thing: so he might be the most beautiful man she's ever seen; he's still a vampire, and it's her duty to kill him, not to get him naked. Even if his Irish charm and quiet morality are extremely persuasive.
Aidan's come back to town to avenge the death of a very old friend. But far from the old zealot he expected, his new enemy is a young redhead with a killer body. She's determined to wipe out all vampires, and Aidan sees it as his duty to save his own kind.
And if he has to seduce her to do it, so much the better...
I saw my first vampire when I was sixteen. He was incredibly beautiful, a pale,
tortured creature haunting the school corridors. An unearthly concoction of
glittering skin and soulful eyes, drawing the yearning, desperate love of every
girl in school.
I drove a stake through his heart, of course.
So when a vampire walked in through the doors of Oh My Goth one Friday night
about ten years later, my fingers twitched for the stake in my bag.
Unfortunately, my bag was in the back room, and no part of my outfit would have
concealed it. Added to which, my boss would probably complain if I staked a
customer in the shop. And I'd get stuck with cleaning up the blood.
The vampire was a looker. It's a trick of fiction to persuade us that all
vampires are hot. They're not, just as not all humans are gorgeous. The
better-looking ones are more successful, however. They attract more prey, which
makes them stronger. Simple as that.
This one moved like a predator, the swagger and grace of a creature who won't
ever be challenged. A man who knows no woman can turn him down. A hunter who
doesn't believe he can be beaten.
I watched him move around the shop, graceful and predatory, even as my brain
checked and discarded every available item it could think of which might be used
as a weapon.
He was tall and lean in dark jeans and a leather jacket, and maybe I could stun
him with one of the heavy coffee-table Bible of the Dead books he was slinking
past. No, vampire skulls were thicker than that.
He had dark hair, black maybe, curly and tousled and just brushing his collar,
and now he was prowling past the crucifix earrings, maybe I could use those. No,
probably not—symbols of religious belief only really work if you actually do
believe—and in my experience they're still not terribly effective on anything
but the newest vampire.
His skin was pale, like that of most Caucasian vampires. He didn't gleam with
the sheen of the newly-fed, which probably worked in his favor. If he looked
like he'd just eaten someone, I'd have to leap over the counter and bludgeon him
to death with a coffin-shaped handbag.
He needed a shave, which was somewhat unusual amongst vampires, unless they were
very old, before the art of clean shaving had been perfected. Maybe I could
offer him one of the ceremonial knives to shave with, and then accidentally cut
off his head with it. No. The blades were quite small, and I'd have to do a lot
of hacking. Think of the carpet.
His eyes were dark, narrowed slightly as he glanced at the admittedly tacky
range of Goth gifts for sale. His lips were shapely, and I could see no sign of
fangs. Not that it would have bothered most of our clientele if he'd been
displaying them.
The vampire moved past the range of dying flowers on the Valentines display to
the Turnbury Murders exhibition, and as he looked up I saw his eyes were a
chocolatey shade, with dark lashes. His bone structure was impeccable, with a
strong jaw and high cheekbones. His nose might have been broken once or twice,
but that only served to make his perfection a little more human.
Except that he wasn't human, and I was considering stabbing him in the heart
with an ornamental fan.
I could follow him outside when he left, perform some of my usual
look-at-my-neck moves—the vampire version of the crooked finger—and lure him
around to the little yard at the back of the shop. Probably, I could hide his
body there until the shop closed, and with any luck he might have disintegrated
enough to simply be tossed in the organic recycling bin.
Then the vampire turned to look at me, and my breath caught in my throat. I'd
assessed the details, inventoried features, dispassionately noted his good
looks—but now he was looking directly at me, and that dark chocolate gaze was
reaching right out to me and begging me to succumb. He had come-hither eyes, and
I sure as hell wanted to hither and come.
Stake through the heart, I reminded myself as he prowled over to the counter.
Poison in a pretty bottle. A gorgeous vampire is still a vampire.
Goddamn, he was pretty though.
"I wonder if you could help me," he said, a faint smile playing on his lips, and
either the bastard was putting on an Irish accent to be charming or he was
actually lucky enough to open his mouth and speak like that naturally. I wasn't
sure which would have been the more annoying.
"I'm sure I can try," I replied, as politely as I could—which is to say, not
very polite. Thankfully, people don't expect someone working in a shop which
sells coffin handbags to actually be polite, which suits me to the ground.
"I'm looking for information about the Turnbury Murders," he said, and my eyes
"Well, we have lots of it in our exhibition," I said, waving at the wall.
He smiled then, a proper smile, a wide grin that lit up his face and made his
eyes sparkle. His teeth were decent, which told me that despite his lack of
shaving standards, he wasn't a terribly old vampire. More than a hundred or so
years old and the standard of dental hygiene was so dismal a lot of vamps had a
mouthful of brown teeth. Only their fangs looked remotely healthy.
But this vampire, Mr. Handsome Irish Charmer, had perfect pearlers. And dark
chocolately eyes, and carelessly long hair. And now he'd moved closer I could
see the muscle definition beneath his clothes. He had on a couple of layered
t-shirts, frayed and faded, and the hand resting on the counter wore a
fingerless glove. His leather jacket was worn in several places, and the silver
chain vanishing under his shirt was tarnished.
A lot of vampires tended to dress like they were homeless, and I'd still never
quite worked out why.
This guy made it look like the height of style.
"I'm interested," said the vampire, "in Joan Moorcroft, and William Huntley, and
Lizzie Bathgate."
His eyes suddenly became less like chocolate and more like wood, old, hard wood,
the kind that's turned rocklike with age and hard use, and can't be shattered by
The three people he was asking about had been vampires. And they'd been killed
by me.
"There's not much information up there about them," the vampire continued. His
gaze never left mine.
"Not very much is known about them," I replied steadily. "It's not even certain
they were murdered. They simply disappeared."
Those three vampires had been old, old enough that their bodies disintegrated
with nauseating speed. Torrence had simply scooped their crumbling bones into a
weighted bag and dumped it in the sea.
"And where do you think they disappeared to?" asked the vampire. His nails were
short and clean, his fingers elegant.
I held his gaze. "I think they probably went home," I said. "We have some books
on the Turnbury Murders, if you're interested."
"I'm just interested in those three."
"Well, we have very little information on them," I said. He was lean, but
muscular. Probably knew how to use his body in a fight.
He continued to stare at me. "I knew Lizzie Bathgate," he said, his voice very
"Did you? Then I'm very sorry for your loss."
"Loss? I thought she went home?"
"Well, maybe you should try calling her there."
"Lizzie was never very good with phones."
"Wasn't she." It wasn't a question. I'd given up the pretense of being polite.
"They were somewhat before her time."
I smoothed my hands over a stack of Turnbury Murders leaflets. "How
"She'd have been more than seventy when they were invented."
"Is that so." The nearest wooden object was a pencil far too small to really do
any damage with, but I rolled it under my palm in a move I doubt he missed.
"Which would make her nearly two hundred years old."
"Well, she didn't look a day over twenty," I snapped.
There it was. A tiny softening in those hardwood eyes, a tilt of his head, and
an utter lack of surprise. The vampire knew who I was.
The three or four other customers in the shop barely turned their heads. Daisy,
the only other member of staff present, was helping a girl try on corsets in the
changing room. The gloomy Emo music Daisy preferred kept our conversation
I was alone with a vampire who knew who I was, and the only weapon I had was a
damn pencil.
"You're Emma Howard," he said.
"My reputation precedes me," I said curtly.
"Young vampire hunter with curly red hair and a killer body," he said, surveying
what was visible of said body behind the counter. His eyes caressed me as a
lover's would. "There can't be many about."
"Did you want something?" I snarled.
His eyes met mine again, and he smiled, the motion lazy.
"I want plenty," he said. He reached towards me, and I tensed, prepared to fight
him bare-handed if I had to, but all he did was slide a Guide to the Turnbury
Murders leaflet from under my palm.
"Thanks for the information," he said, and one eyelid quirked in what might have
been a wink. Rage nearly consumed me.
"Be seeing you," the vampire said, and sauntered out as casual as anything.
Beneath my hand, the pencil snapped in two.

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