printed copy

Highland Hunger

Hannah Howell

ISBN 9781420119718
Publish Date 9/4/2012
Format Paperback
Categories Zebra, Historical, Romance
List Price: $7.99

Hidden in the shadowy caves and caverns of the Scottish Highlands, secret vampire clans wage dark battles both deadly and passionate. . .

"Dark Embrace" by Hannah Howell

While searching for his clan's demon Lost Ones, Raibeart MacNachton encounters an ethereal beauty running for her life. The decision to play hero is easy; fighting the urge to ravish the enchanting Una Dunn is more difficult—especially when Raibeart learns they share a powerful connection.

"The Guardian" by Michele Sinclair

The immortal Dorian vows never to fall in love with a mere human—until he meets the beguiling, arousing, Moirae Deincourt. She stirs a longing in Dorian that he dares not quench. But when Moirae's life is put in danger, her true nature is revealed—and the lust that rages between them can no longer be controlled. . .

"A Knight Beyond Black" by Jackie Ivie

Vampire Iain Duncan MacAvee has stepped forward to claim the woman he betrothed years ago—only to learn that the tempting Lady Tira knows nothing of the engagement. Though Tira feigns disinterest, the Duke's animal-like charisma has unleashed her most carnal desires—a hunger only Iain can satisfy. . .

Chapter One

“Bleeding bitch! That witch is cursing us!”

Raibeart frowned at the words cutting through the predawn quiet. He had already paused in his ride to the caves because of the noise of people thrashing their way through the woods. Whoever the fools were, they were stumbling their way all over the path he had chosen to get to his shelter. That could cause a delay, and time was not something he had much of. He moved his horse deeper into the shadows of a small stand of trees fighting each other for space.

“There she is!”

Just as he wondered if he could slip around the men, Raibeart caught sight of their prey. Her pale hair was a beacon for her enemies. Even men without the keen sight of a MacNachton could see that hair in the dim gray of approaching dawn. Slender, her skirts hiked up high to make running easier and revealing strong slim legs that swiftly stirred his interest, she did not look much like the women men usually decried as witches. She was young and buxom. The slender form he grew more interested in by the moment suddenly stilled. He watched as she caught sight of her pursuers and then she bolted.

“Wheesht, Tor, the lass can run,” he muttered to his horse as he watched the woman race through the trees, leaping over every obstacle with nimble grace. “Shame she is doing naught but running in circles.”

Despite their clumsiness, the five men chasing her managed to herd her into the center of the small clearing and soon encircled her. Raibeart studied the way the woman crouched slightly, moving with care to keep each man in her sight. There was something about the way she moved, the way she so skillfully evaded each lunge of a man, and the way the men approached her as if she were some dangerous animal that sharpened his interest in her beyond mere physical appreciation of her beauty. Her hands were curved in a way that resembled claws as she slashed out at the men, and he could hear her growl softly. If not for the waves of fair hair hanging to her slender hips, he would think she carried MacNachton blood.

He looked up at the sky. A rapidly approaching dawn had already lightened the dark of night into a paler gray. The sun would begin to climb into the sky soon. The safety of the caves beckoned but he shrugged. He had time to rescue a fair-haired woman. Raibeart secured the reins around his left hand, studied the ground, and touched the sword sheathed on the saddle.

“Ready, Tor? I am thinking we have a few moments to be gallant, aye?” He began to walk his horse closer toward his target, wanting to be just a little nearer to the woman before he charged. “A little fun before taking our rest. Mayhap our journey will then be less of an utter failure.”

Una struggled to catch her breath. She was not as strong or as fast as she needed to be to fight these men. Blood loss and months locked in a cage had sapped her strength. The thought that she was failing the ones who depended upon her to help them only added to her growing weakness, stirring a weariness that went to her soul. She had such hope in her heart when she had first fled Dunmorton, but that hope was rapidly turning to ashes at her feet.

“Ye are more trouble than ye are worth,” said Donald, the one Una considered the meanest, ugliest, and most slack-witted of the laird’s venal minions. “I dinnae ken why the laird wants ye back.”

She suddenly recalled that not all of the laird’s men knew why the laird held her and the others captive, except to give the old man a ready supply of young women to force to his bed. That did not explain the two youths or the two children, but the men of Dunmorton were not known for their deep thoughts. She wondered if telling them the truth would turn them against the man. These men were already jealous of their laird and his favorites, angered that they did not share the women they kept caged. That jealousy could be turned to rage if they discovered what else the old man was not sharing.

Then she met Donald’s narrowed eyes and cast aside the thought of stirring dissent in the ranks. It would probably work but would be of no help to her. Donald would do his best to kill her before he raced back to the keep to demand his fair share of the laird’s bounty. Una did not think the knowledge that Donald and the lackwits with him would be swiftly killed would offer her much joy, for she would be dead. And, she thought, if these men learned the truth, the people she had hoped to save would soon die as well.

“I dinnae believe the laird would appreciate his lackeys questioning him,” she said.

“And he doesnae appreciate his game escaping its cage, either.”

“Tsk, it seems disappointment must be the madmon’s lot this day, aye?” She turned her head to hiss at the man trying to creep up on her side. “Back away, ye wee bastard, or I will rip ye open and strangle ye with your own innards.”

She could tell by the way Red Rob narrowed his eyes that her reference to his short stature would cost her. From the moment she had been dragged to Dunmorton and he had realized that she was several inches taller than him, he had loathed her, taking what few chances he got to add to her misery. If these men caught her, Red Rob would make sure that she suffered every step of the way back to captivity.

If? Una almost laughed aloud. There was no uncertainty about her fate. She could not stop the men from capturing her. The only thing in question at the moment was how much damage she could inflict upon them before they brought her down. Una prayed it would be a lot.

Failure was a bitter taste on the back of her tongue. She had tried so hard, planned so carefully, that it struck her as monstrously unfair that she should fail. Even worse, Una knew she would never find a chance to try again, nor would any of the others. They would all spend what remained of their pitiful lives locked in cages, the women dragged to the laird’s bedchamber whenever he demanded it, and all of them bled repeatedly to make the laird and his chosen men strong. The thought of the youngest of the laird’s captives suffering such a fate made her want to scream out in rage.

Una was just thinking that she would put an end to the game by going on the attack when the sound of hooves thundering over the ground made her and her enemies tense. The way her attackers’ eyes widened and they all stepped back, scurrying away until she had no one at her back, caused Una to glance in the direction of the approaching sound. If whatever came their way frightened her enemy, it could only be good for her.

Her glance turned into an open-mouthed stare. A huge black horse was galloping their way, but it was the man seated on the impressive beast that fully grasped her attention and held it. He was big, big enough that he needed a horse that size just to carry his weight. Long black hair, broad shoulders, and a wide grin on his handsome face—a wide grin that revealed a glimpse of what looked like fangs.

She did not flinch when he leaned down, holding out a hand as he drew near yet barely reining in his mount. Una weighed her choices in that heartbeat of time it took for him to reach her. Five men to battle or one big one. The choice was clear. She grabbed his wrist and leapt up, noting his strength as he easily drew her up behind him.

The men who had encircled her scattered before the charging horse. She wrapped her arms around the man’s waist as he rode around the clearing twice, driving her enemy farther away. When he then kicked his mount back into a full charging gallop, riding away from the laird’s men, she hung on tightly and tried to decide what she should do next.

Una frowned when the first thought to enter her head was that the man smelled good. His thick black hair brushed against her face as they rode, and she liked the feel of it touching her skin. Cursing softly, she forced such strange thoughts from her mind. Men had proved to be nothing but a threat to her from an early age, and she refused to allow such womanly thoughts to distract her from the most important thing—escape.

Leaping from the back of a galloping horse was not a good idea, she decided as she looked down at the ground, which passed by beneath the animal’s hooves at an alarming speed. If she did not break her neck, she would certainly break something else, making escape impossible. She glanced up at the brightening sky and knew it would be a clear, sunny day. By the time the sun was at its zenith, she would have to find shelter or be too weak to get away from anyone. It appeared that her only chance to escape would come when her rescuer slowed down enough for her to leap off the horse and run, but he showed little inclination to do that.

She frowned even more as he headed straight toward the hills. There would be shelter there but only if she stayed with or near this man. Una was not sure why he would take her into the hills, but she doubted that his reasons were ones she would like. She inwardly cursed, knowing that she would soon have to make yet another quick decision, whether to run or stay and take the chance that this man was truly intent upon saving her. He could be, but she knew how quickly that could change if he discovered what she truly was.

Life had not treated her fairly, she thought, allowing herself to wallow in the mire of self-pity for a moment. She had lost her family to a fever that had never touched her. That had only added to the villagers’ suspicions that there was something different about her. As if being blond, blue-eyed, and taller than most women, even some men, was not enough. Still grieving for her family, she had been driven away from the village, forced to survive on her own for years. Then she had found herself caged and bled to fulfill the dreams of a madman who wanted a long life. That made all she had already suffered to stay alive pale into insignificance.

Una shook aside her maudlin thoughts. She was still alive and, at the moment, still free. That was all that mattered now. She still had a chance to help her fellow prisoners.

Idly studying the wide shoulders and strong back of the man she rode behind, and ruthlessly smothering the spark of interest such a sight stirred within her, Una tried to decide if she could trust him. Even more importantly, could she take him down if he proved to be untrustworthy? She was strong, she was fast, and she had very sharp teeth. All had kept her alive and freed her from many a man’s attempt to take what she did not wish to give. None of those men, however, had been as big and strong as this one.

She briefly considered immediately ending whatever threat the man who had pulled her out of the trap she had been imposed. It would be easy to wrap her hands around his neck, strangle him or simply snap his neck. The mere thought of doing so, or of using her teeth to inflict a mortal wound, turned her stomach. He had rescued her from certain capture, from a return to the cage the laird had waiting for her, whatever his reasons might be for such an act. It would also be cold-blooded murder, and she had never stooped to that. Una quickly smothered a sigh. She would have to wait to see what he would do next before she acted.

The woman pressed against his back was thinking so hard Raibeart was surprised he could not hear her. From the way her tempting body had tensed, slumped, tensed again, and then straightened, he suspected she was trying to decide if he was friend or foe. Obviously rescuing her from those men had not been enough to win her trust. Considering she had just been chased down by five men acting like hounds on the scent of a hare, he was not surprised.

“What is your name?” he asked as his mount made its careful way up the rocky slope of the first hill, toward the cave that would shelter him from the sun’s killing light.

“Una Dunn,” she replied after a brief hesitation.

“I am Raibeart MacNachton, Sir Raibeart MacNachton.”

“Weel met, sir.”

“Truly? Ye dinnae appear certain of that.”

Una scowled at the back of his head. She struggled to ignore how his long thick black hair tempted her with the urge to touch. There was no way the man could know all the doubts she was suffering from. She had learned to hide what she felt very well over the years.

“I have no doubt that I needed to be rescued,” she said.

“Just about the rescuer.”

“I dinnae ken who ye are, sir. I would be a fool not to be wary about a mon I dinnae ken, have ne’er met, nor have heard even the smallest rumor about.”

“True. Ye can come to ken who I am as we rest.”

“Rest? But the day has only just begun. The sun isnae even fully risen yet.”

“And I have been riding through the night so I must rest for a wee while. I suspect ye didnae get much rest, either.”

Una was not sure why, but she suspected he was not telling her the whole truth, that he was hiding something. But, then, she was holding fast to a few secrets herself. She would welcome a rest after her ordeal as well as shelter from the rising sun, but she would not openly admit to that. Sheltering from the sun for a large part of the day had been one habit that had marked her, and her family, as different, stirring whispers of witchery and Satan. Not everyone had swallowed the lie that it was because the women of her family were so fair; the sun easily burned them. Una doubted this man would believe it.

The man reined in his mount and Una looked around. It took her a moment to see the opening in the rocky hillside. Her rescuer planned for them to seek their rest within a cave. Her mind sought fruitlessly for a decision about what step to take next. Go with the man into the cave or try to flee. The laird’s men were nowhere in sight, but she needed rest and shelter. It was not a need she could ignore for much longer, not if she was going to have the strength needed to go on. She struggled to make up her mind as he dismounted, and idly noticed that he kept the reins clasped tightly in his hand.

Then she looked into his dark brown eyes and all clarity of thought fled. Thickly lashed, set beneath straight dark brows, they were the most beautiful eyes she had ever seen on a man. There were faint specks of amber decorating that dark brown that fascinated her. The way he looked at her with both amusement and understanding touched something deep inside her, something soft and womanly. Una abruptly realized that she had a lot more to worry about than whether or not this man was truly her rescuer.

About Hannah Howell:

Born and raised in Massachusetts, her family's home since the 1630s, Hannah Howell is the author of over thirty Zebra historical romances. Her love of history prompts the choice of venue, and also her dragging her husband Stephen, to every historical site she can get to. Her fascination with the past makes research as much a pleasure as a necessity. It was a thrill for her to turn her love of history and writing into a career, one that allows her to share those loves with others.

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