The Broken Highlander by Laura Hunsaker

The fire consumed him, burning away what he had been. It coursed through his veins until it culminated where his heart should be. He no longer knew whether he had a heart or not. But he held fast to the one thing in the inky blackness that he could remember. Her. She was everything. He both hated her and wanted her. But what had she done to him?
The Broken Highlander
The Broken Highlander by Laura Hunsaker
The wet slurping sounds nearly gagged Nevin MacLachlan, but he refused to stop. He needed this. His newfound strength had waned. It had been weeks since he had fed. He was pushing himself to go longer between feedings. The last time wasn’t something he’d soon forget. How could he? He’d killed a man. Forcing the blood down his throat in a Herculean effort, Nevin refused to shut his eyes. He would watch, he made himself watch, and he would never forget what he had become. Vampire. He dropped the nearly empty deer carcass and stared in horror and disgust at the blood on his hands. His plaid was ruined. He’d have to try to wash the blood out in the loch. Trudging towards the freezing cold loch, his thoughts drifted to the demon angel who had turned him into the monster he now was. She was beautiful. Long hair, dark as the night he lived in, eyes that were just as dark, and a sinfully lush figure. He’d wanted her from the instant he first saw her. The lust that hit him was unlike anything he’d ever felt before, not even for his wife. But that was before. Before she’d turned him, before he’d been relegated to the darkness of shadows, before he’d become a monster. He swatted at a low-hanging branch with more vehemence than was necessary and the branch splintered. Disgusted at himself, he plodded on. Damn her, she’d ruined everything. Why couldn’t she have just left him alone? He should be inside his warm smithy, pounding out a piece of metal, watching the lump of raw ore change shape and turn into something useful. He loved working with his hands. He loved making tools, weapons, horse shoes, didn’t matter. He created something and he felt a sense of purpose. But all that was gone. His friends, his village, all thought him a demon. Which he was. The blood dripping down his beard was evidence enough. The one time he’d seen his reflection in the moonlit water, his eyes had been red. If that didn’t prove he was demon, the taste of blood in his mouth did. Because he enjoyed the blood. All of his kind did. That was the problem, wasn’t it? He couldn’t stop thinking about blood. Except when he was thinking about her. Her. The demon who had doomed him to this hellish existence of eternity. He didn’t pretend that the human he’d killed wasn’t dead because of his own actions, but she sure as hell deserved some of the blame. It was her fault he had become this creature. Nevin refused to become like her. He wouldn’t kill humans. Not again. His fight was with the vampires. All of them. The Nightkind had killed his wife, and he had hated them long before he’d been turned into one. Now, he wouldn’t rest until every last one of them had been eradicated. Maybe then he’d feel some peace. Chapter 2 The icy waters of the loch at night did nothing to cleanse his soul, but he scrubbed his body with a corner of his plaid. He scrubbed until his skin felt raw, then he scrubbed some more. It wasn’t until he heard a scream that stopped. Pulled from his melancholy mood, his head jerked up in surprise. His newly enhanced hearing allowed him to hear fabric rending, followed by a grunt and another scream. Heedless of the fact that he was soaking wet and freezing, Nevin ran toward the commotion. Knowing what he would find didn’t make it any easier. It was as he expected; a large man was forcing himself upon a young lass. Nevin walked silently up to them, the only sound he made was the droplets of water falling from his plaid. Nothing their human ears would hear. He palmed his sword, waiting to draw it until he was closer. The smooth pink moonstone he’d put into the hilt never failed to calm him. His wife had worn it as a brooch when she’d been alive. Now he kept it as a constant reminder of what vampires had taken from him. Drawing his sword, he pressed the tip into the back of the man’s thick neck. “I doona think the lass is willing,” he said softly. The man stilled atop her, but yelled out, “Oy! Move along! This isna yer business.” A soft rustle from the side alerted Nevin that he wasn’t alone with them anymore. He could hear individual footsteps now coming from behind him. Without removing his sword Nevin waited until the other man was close enough to reach and his arm shot out, gripping the man by his throat. He was adapting to his heightened senses very quickly. Without taking his eyes from the man’s profile, he said, “You made it my business when you chose to force the lass. Now move off of her, slowly.” He did, albeit unwillingly and while calling Nevin every foul name he knew. As soon as he stood completely, he spun with his dirk, aiming for Nevin’s heart. The move surprised him, and he jerked out of the way. For all of his speed, Nevin still felt the blade break skin, although not in his heart, but beneath his arm. It went deep and it hurt like bloody hell. Nevin tossed the lad he was holding to the ground and whirled to face the man. He stiffened as he felt small fingers grip his shirt. The lass was holding on for dear life. “Lassie, are you well?” He could feel her trembling against him, her warm breath steaming his shirt, and a barely perceptible nod against his back. His sword held in front, he waited for his opponent to make a move. He might be a demon, but Nevin would never hurt someone smaller and weaker than himself. This man he faced was more demon than he. When he’d been human, he’d been a blacksmith and a warrior. He protected those who couldn’t protect themselves. Maybe he could do that here, and it would be one less black mark against his soul. If he even had one now. His opponent feinted left but Nevin saw the tightening of his muscles as he pulled back to attack from the right. His new senses were helping him, and he would take advantage of that. When their blades clanged against each other, the lass behind him jumped, her fingers clutching his shirt even tighter. Nevin went to place his hand over one of hers to reassure her, but before his skin touched hers, he saw the dried blood and grime on his fingers. Jerking his hand back, he shouted a battle cry in his rage, and slammed his sword down at the other man. The man stood no chance against Nevin’s enhanced strength and dropped to the ground, cleaved nearly in half from shoulder to belly. Breathing hard and disgusted by his loss of control, Nevin glanced up at the lad who took one look at his eyes and uttered “Demon,” before crashing through the trees like a frightened mongrel. Nevin knew his eyes would be red, but had hoped the dark would hide the color. Calming himself, he started to turn around, but the lass wouldn’t let go of his shirt. Taking a small corner of his plaid that was still clean, Nevin tried to wipe his hands clean as best as he could. The dirt and blood beneath his finger nails would have to wait until he could make his way back to the loch. Satisfied he wouldn’t get any blood on her, Nevin brushed his fingers over hers as gently as he could. She didn’t move. Light as a butterfly, he once more stroked her hand. “Lass, it’s all right, they’re gone. Doona fash yourself o’er the likes of them anymore.” After a moment, his words sunk in, and her breathing changed. He turned himself to face her, his shirt bunching around in the process since she hadn’t let go of him. When her eyes met his, he was shocked to see something akin to worship in them. She pressed her face to his stomach, Christ she was a tiny thing, and she kept mumbling “Thank you, thank you,” over and over again. Nevin tipped her face up to his to take a good look, and to ensure she was well. “How old are ye, lassie?” “Seven and ten,” she said, her voice clear as a bell. ““Your family is sure to be missing you. Come, I’ll take you back to your people.” He paused. “Are ye a Sinclair, then?” “Aye, m’laird, Caitriona Sinclair.” At her wide-eyed statement, Nevin went cold. This innocent lass thought him a laird, an honorable man. He was neither. And she needed to know that. “I’m nay laird. Come” If she heard his change in tone, she showed no notice of it, going so far as to grip his biceps in her small hand. Nevin would see her home and disappear into the darkness of the trees. That’s where he belonged. This lass represented all that he could no longer have. She was light and youth and deserved a chance at happiness. He would ensure she lived long enough to have it. Caitriona kept up a steady stream of chatter, most of it thanking him for saving her. Nevin grunted here and there, hoping to dissuade her from thinking him a hero. Still she continued to look at him with her light blue eyes full of adoration. By the time they entered her village, many were standing around with torches. It seemed her disappearance had not gone unnoticed. The angry glares they received told Nevin that he was right, and they’d been organizing a search party. “Caitriona!” A woman broke from the crowd, her skirts in her hands, as she ran towards them. Embracing Caitriona and smoothing her hair from her face, the woman both scolded and hugged the girl. Nevin figured her for Caitriona’s mother. “Mum, all is well. He saved me.” Once more, all eyes turned to Nevin. One man stood out from the crowd. Pushing his way to the front, he glared at them both, but turned his cold stare to Nevin. “Is this true?” “Aye, ‘tis.” “Father, he rescued me,” Caitriona tried to help, but he turned his steely gaze to her. “Lass, we’ll get to you. Doona think I dinnae ken you’d sneaked out of the village.” The girl had the grace to blush and drop her eyes. Turning back to Nevin, he ground out, “Ye have my thanks, because I’ve a fair idea of the fate ye saved her from. As she’s my only child, I canna thank ye enough. But you’re nay welcome here.” “Father!” she shouted, stepping forward to protect Nevin. He waved her back, “Your father is right, lassie. You doona ken what kind of man I am, and as you saw how quickly evil can find you, you should nay trust me.” “I ken what you are, Demon.” He nearly spat the word at Nevin. Then his voice changed, softened. “You brought my daughter back to me. I’ll give you my thanks, but I repeat, you’re nay welcome here. I willna tell them what you are, and in return you’ll leave without bloodshed, aye?” “Aye.” Without glancing behind, he left. He shouldn’t have been surprised. He shouldn’t have been, but he was. Well, shite, what had he expected, fanfare? His humorless laugh scared what animals lurked in the bush. He whispered, “Aye, run wee beasties, I’m your nightmares come to life.” With that grim thought, he trudged back to the loch to once more scrub blood from his clothing, something he was getting too good at. He had to leave this territory. Caitriona’s father may have been lenient, but who knew how long his goodwill would last? Nevin would find a small clan, mayhap see if they needed a blacksmith, and at least attempt a normal life. He sighed. A normal life where the blacksmith worked only at night? It was impossible. Unless… Chapter 3 Nevin looked at the small cottage he’d built. It had felt so good, so right, to be creating once more. He’d set his smithy to the back. It wasn’t much to look at, built mostly underground with a sod roof. It blended into the grassy hill as if it were a natural structure. He would sell his wares each night around sundown at local villages. His cottage and smithy were far enough away that no one need know he worked at night. He’d craft a story that he’d travelled all day only to arrive at nightfall, so it wouldn’t be strange that he was selling metal work under the cover of darkness. Because that’s what he did, he crafted things. Rather than looking at it as telling lies, he was crafting stories along with the swords and horseshoes. This might work. And it did work. For a while. But eventually someone would come to him at his cottage, and he’d be found out. It never failed. The first few times someone had come to his croft, he would play at not feeling well. It worked once or twice, but it didn’t last. The first time had been the hardest. He’d gotten friendly with a clan. But how could he be a blacksmith, if he couldn’t come out in the daylight? It was unnatural, not to mingle with the villagers, especially in a clan welcoming enough to take in a stranger. After missing yet another christening, people became suspicious. Someone must have had him watched, because soon rumors flew that he was mad. That he worked tirelessly into the night, but was never around during the day. It didn’t matter to them how hard he worked to meet all their needs, all that mattered was that he stayed to the shadows, never venturing to church, nor to clan gatherings. People noticed. And that scared them. After a few less than cordial dealings with the MacKay clan, who had always been welcoming enough, Nevin understood. The rumors were affecting everything. At first, it was just a few, but others joined, and still more, until no one would speak to him. That night, he was seen hunting by a man he’d once called friend, and shouts of demon rang through the forest. His cottage and smithy were set on fire, and he was cast out. “Demon,” McKay spat. Hanging his head, Nevin couldn’t disagree. “I’ll leave,” he said, hoping to preserve the peace. But his friends, men he’d worked with, hunted with, men whose wee bairns he’d held, all ran at him. Nevin didn’t fight. It wouldn’t be fair; they were no match for his superior strength. He let them run him out of the village. In the middle of the night, he crept back to take his tools and what weapons he could carry, but he had to sift through the ashes of his hut. They’d burnt his smithy to the ground. His shoulders sagged. He didn’t blame them. He left without looking back. Yet Nevin kept trying. He wanted that normal life, he wanted what he’d lost. He thought if he could just hold on to this human aspect of himself, that maybe his humanity would stay intact. The rumors had spread beyond their village. Rumors of a demon who would steal their souls and eat their children. Nevin became his clan’s version of the Bogeyman. Soon fewer and fewer clans were willing to do business with a stranger, for fear that the Demon Blacksmith would come after them. The first time had hurt the most, but with each village, each set of friends that ran him out in fear, a little bit of him died. Soon there was little left of the honorable blacksmith he’d once been. He lost more of his humanity from humans than he had the night he’d become a demon. The demon takes your soul. You become the demon. Soulless monsters cursed to roam the night. He had no soul, yet these humans dared to steal what little humanity he’d retained? Nevin sneered. He no longer cared what they thought. The last time he’d tried, he swore to himself never again. After one too many burnings, one too many losses, his despair turned into anger. And it felt good. Something had broken inside. Perhaps it was whatever humanity he had left. He no longer cared. The smile that curled his lips wasn’t pretty. He knew it was frightening. And he didn’t care. He had a purpose. Chapter 4 Nevin wandered farther and farther from his beloved Highlands. He took what gold and silver he’d saved, and left Scotland. One day he would return. One day, he would own another cottage, even if he had to buy it under a different name. Today was not that day. No longer able to create, he turned to destruction. He took to hunting every night, but he didn’t hunt for food. He hunted to kill. Still holding on to his vow to not hurt the innocent, he hunted his own kind. He was learning how to differentiate his kind from humans. He’d thought it would be difficult, but he could instantly feel who was human, and who wasn’t. Nevin also learned that he was stronger and faster than most of the Nightkind. One bitterly cold winter, he found himself in a different type of town. One that held far more Nightkind than he’d ever seen in one place. Trudging through the snow, he felt eyes on his back. Even his keen eyesight couldn’t penetrate the dark shadows in this frozen town. Nevin’s unease grew with each step. With very few humans about, he knew the eyes belonged to creatures like himself. Nevin was surrounded, he could feel it. Ignoring the eyes upon him, he continued on his path. After walking across the continent, nothing scared him. He hardly felt anything anymore, why should fear be any different? He no longer feared things that went bump in the night. He was what frightened humans, and many vampires were learning to fear him as well. This new threat didn’t frighten him. Perhaps it should have. “Cine se duce acolo?” Who goes there? Not bothering to answer, Nevin continued on. The only thing he did anymore was hunt. He hunted his own kind and many didn’t take kindly to that. Nevin couldn’t give a shit. He wasn’t hiding. If someone wanted a fight, he’d give it to him. But for now, he kept walking. The group was growing. Once more, a voice called out "Cum te cheamă?” What is your name? Once more Nevin ignored the question, instead trudging along. The mob grew. Soon, more Nightkind than Nevin had ever seen in one place were crowding around him. With a heavy sigh, he turned and addressed the vampires. “I ken you’ve heard of me, and I ken you’re looking for a fight. I can feel it on the night breeze. You’ll find no quarrel with me unless I find you killing humans.” “I’d rather just kill you!” a voice called from the back. His smile was feral. “You are welcome to try.” But a smooth, cultured voice spoke, interrupting the insults being slung Nevin’s way. “So this is the Demon Blacksmith. You are a long way from home, Highlander. Why have you come to my territory?” Nevin watched as the crowd broke apart to allow a smartly dressed vampire whose mere presence affected the crowd, to walk through. His mere presence spoke of wealth, and he was obviously in charge of this group of Nightkind. Nevin sneered at him. “I doona owe you anything, least of all an explanation.” The vampire’s eyes flashed red. “Och aye,” he mimicked Nevin, “you do.” This vampire was more powerful than any he’d ever met, save the female who had turned him so many years ago. Nevin could feel his power rolling over him in waves. His skin prickled, his fangs lengthened, and he knew his eyes were red. Most vampires had red eyes only when they fed, but Nevin’s had yet to change back to his natural brown. One more mark against his soul. If he had one. “These are my lands. I am king here.” He didn’t raise his voice once, yet the authority and power was evident in each word spoken. “You will obey me.” “I obey no man,” Nevin snarled. “I had hoped you’d say that.” He turned to his men. “Take him alive. The queen would hate for her pet to die by our hands.” Confused by the statement, Nevin nearly missed the first attack. The fangs of the male who jumped him dug into the meaty part of his shoulder, but he took the man and threw him to his people. An all out brawl began in earnest, and he fought like a man possessed. He fought with fang and sword until he lost count of how many heads he’d taken, how many limbs he’d cleaved, and how many of those men had given him similar injuries. Soon enough, the fight shifted and they no longer looked to injure him enough for capture. They were trying to kill him. After what felt like hours, the self-professed king called a halt to the bloodbath. Before Nevin could find him, the bite of steel sliced through his neck. A familiar feeling, he’d forgotten how much it hurt. But death wouldn’t come easily to one such as him. Nevin gripped the blade as it bit into his flesh and with sheer brute force, was able to maneuver it out of his throat. “Interesting,” murmured his attacker. “I can see why she likes you.” Darkness took over the edge of his vision, closing in on him until he couldn’t see anything. The last thing he heard before he fell was that smooth accented voice. Chapter 5 Once more, Nevin woke from death. His eyes were crusted shut with blood, and his throat burned. Decapitation was a bitch. When he tried to rub the grit from his eyes, he found couldn’t move his arms. His legs felt useless too. Was he bound? He obviously hadn’t lost his head, but from what he remembered, it was a near thing. Muttered voices caught his attention. Feigning unconsciousness wasn’t difficult since he could barely move. Keeping his breathing even was a feat, though, as he was certain he had a gaping wound in his throat. Straining to listen, he only caught a few words. “It’s unnatural.” “ No one should survive that.” “ But he pulled the blade from his neck. I saw it!” “Demon Blacksmith...” “He kills his own kind…” “The queen won’t like this.” Finally prying open his eyelids, Nevin risked looking around. He saw bars and stone. A dungeon? Wouldn’t be the first time. Dropping his head back down, he listened and plotted. He’d escape. His arms strained at the chains. He was a blacksmith, he knew the links would have a weakness. Systematically pulling, there was no give. But he was still weak. As soon as his strength returned, he’d try again. The blackness took him once more. When he woke again, there was no confusion, Nevin instantly remembered where he was. He began working at the chains once more. “Ah. You’re awake.” Stiffening, he tried to turn his head, but with his neck still unhealed, he couldn’t move much. He’d had no warning that he wasn’t alone. No telltale scent or sound. That was unnerving. His senses had never failed him. “Go fook yourself.” His voice was gritty, it didn’t sound like him at all. Nearly losing his head must wreak havoc with the vocal chords. He once more pulled at the chains that held him. “My queen will find favor with my gift.” Nevin knew the man smiled, amused at his attempts to free himself. It didn’t matter. Nevin would get free. There was no alternative. He means me, Nevin thought. I’m the gift. What had he been called earlier? Pet. He was no man’s pet, least of all this mysterious queen’s. He was burning with curiosity, and although this man seemed chatty, Nevin refused to ask. “There is interest in your gaze. You must remember our queen?” Nevin simply glared.”No? More’s the pity. She’s never forgotten you.” Nevin wouldn’t rise to the bait. He still didn’t know who held him, but he memorized the man’s face. One didn’t forget the man who’d tried to behead him. The cultured voice interrupted his thoughts again. “I’ll see to it that you’re healed. Once you’re healed, you’ll be kept chained. I can’t let my Lady’s pet loose, now can I?” Nevin scented a woman being brought in. “Drink.” “Nay. I’ll no’ drink anything you have to offer.” “Oh I think you will,” his amusement was clear. “Given enough time, you won’t be able to help yourself.” Nevin feared he was right. Healing from an injury this severe was hard, and made much more so when he wouldn’t feed. The man walked out, his guards dragged the woman after them leaving Nevin alone with nothing but the rats for company. The rats… Chapter 6 Nevin lost count of how many nights he had been locked in the dungeon, but he’d broken the chain and managed to free his left foot. He smiled grimly. He’d also helped the castle with its rat problem. Each night the woman was brought down to him. Each night he refused. His neck hadn’t fully healed, but the rat blood was helping. It was just slow. But he didn’t give in. Not even when the woman’s wrist had been cut and held before him. It was all he could do not to lunge at her, giving away that both of his feet were free now. He snapped his teeth in frustration, the only sign that he wasn’t calm. “You’ll give in soon.” The man’s smug voice grated over his nerves. He thought Nevin couldn’t last much longer. “Nay. I won’t.” Nevin’s voice was devoid of anything. It was flat and firm, giving the man pause. Each time he left, Nevin continued working on his chains. He wasn’t at full strength, nowhere near, in fact, but he was stronger. He pulled at his bonds, the cuffs digging into scabbed over wrists, from where he pulled at them each day. Something had to give. The rats were attracted to his smell, but even they had given him a wide berth lately. If he could just get one more, maybe then he could break the chain. There! He could hear a rat scurrying about. Stilling himself, he waited. It felt like hours, but finally one came close to his foot. He brought his boot down on the beast, and trapped it between his feet. Maneuvering it up, he tossed it as best as he could towards his mouth. Success! He caught the rat with his fangs and bled it dry. The small burst of strength allowed him to pull at his chains once more, until he heard his thumb pop. With a snarl, he yanked it all the way out, his broken digit bleeding all over. Lightning-fast, he snagged a second rat and tore into it. His thumb began to knit itself together. He would be gone by the next night, this he swore. With one hand and both his legs free, he was able to use his legs for leverage. He wouldn’t hesitate to break his other thumb to get free, if he had felt it would help. The chains creaked, he was so close. Footsteps signaled his nightly feeding. Shite! The hell with it. Growling, Nevin broke his other thumb, yanking it through the cuff. When the guard opened his cell, Nevin lunged at him, ripping his throat out. The other guard couldn’t draw his sword fast enough, and Nevin quickly snapped his neck. “I’ll see you in Hell,” snarled the last man. He drew his sword and shoved the woman to the ground. But Hell didn’t want him. It had spat him back out, and Nevin refused to go back a third time. Bleeding and tired, he had no patience for this. Dodging the man’s blow, he was behind him before he could blink. While the confused man turned too slowly, Nevin took his head. Bending down to the woman, he noticed her eyes were glazed over. “Lass? Hullo?” No answer. Was she in some sort of trance? He hefted her over his shoulder and ran. Nevin ran until he could no longer run. His chest heaved, but the farther he got from the castle, the more agitated the woman became. By the time he finally had to stop, she was screaming at the top of her lungs. He put her down and she ran back towards the castle. Shaking it off, Nevin turned to catch his bearings. He needed to hunt. A shuffling indicated a large animal nearby, perhaps a boar? He didn’t care, he couldn’t afford to be picky at the moment. He scented a moose. He knew the people of this area poached moose from the royal preserves. He thought he was in the Carpathian mountains, the ancient Dacian lands, so chances were he would be poaching as well. No one would catch him, he thought as he lunged at his prey. He dropped the carcass and headed toward the sound of water. He needed to get the stink of the dungeon off of himself. *** Stepping out of the water, Nevin knew someone watched him. But that wasn’t what bothered him. That scent… He couldn’t get it out of his mind. He’d been trying to outrun her for centuries. The woman who only hunted him in his memory. “What are you doing here?” he demanded. His voice was gravelly, not yet healed. She didn’t answer. “Why are you here?” he gritted. The scent was gone. Nevin roared his anger and frustration to the sky, no one to hear him, not even the moon, on this dark night. He stalked into the woods, determined to put her behind him. He would stop thinking about her. Never again, he told himself. But he could still smell her, a teasing, lingering scent as if she laughed at him. As if to say, Never is a long time. When you were immortal, never was an eternity. Present day His prey ran. They always ran. Nevin MacLachlan loved it when they ran. The thrill of the chase, the fear he could smell, the capture. He tackled the man around the waist. Slipping plastic zip ties on his prey, he hauled him away. The sick bastard babbled in fear. Good. This man had raped and murdered a woman, landing him in jail. But scum like this man never stayed in jail, and had jumped bail. Nevin took the bounty. When the man tried to tear away, Nevin tightened his grip to the point of pain, knowing his prey couldn’t escape. This one was worth fifty grand, and Nevin wanted him off the streets. The scar on Nevin’s neck was proof that he didn’t fuck around. Because yeah, some injuries did scar. Some injuries were so traumatic that they never healed properly. His vocal chords had been cut that night, lending his voice a dark, gritty quality that helped frighten his prey into submission. Not that he needed help. He never found out the would-be king of the vampire’s name, but he knew where he lived, and they would meet again. One day, he thought. One day. Never far from his mind was the female vampire who had changed him, damning him to this endless hell. Nevin pushed himself farther, faster, trying to outrun the memory of her taste, her scent. He had centuries ahead of him, an immortal life where he would always want her, and always hate her. But now, he had purpose. He would hunt. He would kill every last vampire he found. They feared him already. They should. He was the Demon Blacksmith, broken no longer. Thank you so much for reading Highland Eclipse, I hope you enjoyed it! If you’d like to hear about my new releases, please sign up for my newsletter. You can sign up for my new release e-mail list at www.laurahunsaker.com , follow me on twitter at @laurahunsaker , or like my Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/LauraHunsaker · Reviews help other readers find books. I appreciate all reviews, whether positive or negative. · This book is lendable through Amazon’s lending program. Share it with a friend! · You’ve just read the prequel to The Nightkind series. If you’d like to read an excerpt from Highlander Reborn, the first short story in my Nightkind series, please turn the page. Excerpt from RONÉ Award Honorable Mention Highlander Reborn: Scotland, 1304 The blood dripped down his forehead and caught in his eyebrows. Nevin didn’t have the energy to wipe it off. He leaned heavily on his sword, trying desperately to catch his breath. The moon gave off plenty of light, but his vision was turning dark. He tried to glance up at the stars one last time but he couldn’t move his head. His body numb from blood loss, he’d gone beyond pain. His body was much too weak to register it. Before his knees buckled and he fell to the ground, the last sound Nevin heard was a woman’s soothing voice telling him to lie still. He couldn’t see her, though. All he could see was darkness. Everywhere he looked there was only a thick, endless field of nothing. A light formed and pulled him closer, closer. It was warm, and he was so terribly cold. But he couldn’t move. The darkness held him back. He instinctively knew that once the thick, inky black had him in its grip, he would never be free. So he fought. Nevin struggled and strained, trying with everything he had to reach the light, but he only exhausted his depleted strength even more. The welcoming warmth of the light drifted farther and farther away. If he could have reached for it, he would have. But he couldn’t move. The Dark would not relinquish him. Not now, not ever. *** Amalia brushed her fingers across her warrior’s sticky forehead. The blood didn’t bother her, his death, however, would. When she’d seen him struck down in that bloody, gods-awful battle, she’d shrieked in denial and rushed to his side. She was beyond furious. He wasn’t supposed to die. Not yet. She hadn’t had enough time with him. She found an unmarked patch of skin on his neck, leaned down and laved his skin with her tongue. His blood tasted bitter with the taint of death. Pressing her lips against his ear, she whispered, “Lie still,” and she bit his neck. She didn’t have to drink much from him since he’d lost most of his blood on the battlefield. She immediately bit her wrist and held it to his mouth, praying he would drink, praying this would work. A shadow slipped over them, obscuring the silvery moonlight. Amalia didn’t glance up, she knew who it was. Her voice snapped like a whip, “I expressly commanded you not to kill him.” Sebastian flicked a non-existent piece of lint from his shoulder. “We were more concerned with defeating the heathens, than watching out for your pet Highlander.” Amalia looked at him then, fury in her eyes. “He was not to be harmed.” A ripple of her power was carried on the wind, causing Sebastian to shudder. Amalia returned to stroking her warrior’s face, waiting for him to turn. “And what happens when he wakes?” Sebastian’s silky smooth voice interrupted Amalia. She glanced sharply at him. “What do you mean?” “He’s spent his life fighting our kind, you cannot possibly think he’ll be grateful to you for turning him.” The ennui Sebastian usually projected was missing, in its place was true curiosity. In truth, Amalia had worried about that, but when faced with letting him die, or knowing she could save him, she was willing to chance his ire. This magnificent warrior deserved a much longer existence than the miniscule six and twenty years he’d lived. Amalia had been watching him for months now. He didn’t know it, but she knew him. Nevin Maclachlan was a skilled blacksmith who lived in a cottage in the village. He had lost his wife to one of her kind, and ever since her death, he had fought in every battle against the Nightkind he could find. Instead of sleeping like most humans, he hunted her kind at night. The man was impressive. He slept very little, yet he spent a full day in his smithy forging weapons. One evening, a night where the moon hung low in the sky, Amalia had been hunting when she’d realized that someone was following her. An amused smile tipped her lips at the thought someone would dare hunt her. No one hunted Amalia. She was royalty. And she was very, very powerful. Stepping out into a patch of moonlight, she turned. He stepped out from the cover of shadow and his hands fisted. She noticed the glint of metal in one of his hands. So he thought to kill her, did he? This arrogant human could no more kill Amalia, than he could sprout wings and fly. Gliding towards him, Amalia noticed his body tense in preparation for an attack. But he did not attack her. How curious. “Demon,” he spat. Amalia cocked her head at the venom he injected into that one word. Interesting. She regally bowed her head a fraction. “Human,” she greeted him. Quietly they stared at each other. Amalia was the one to break the silence, her curiosity getting the better of her. “Why do you follow me?” “To kill you,” said without hesitation. “Yet you have not.” His eyes tightened. “Aye, you have no’ made your move.” Ah, he had honor, this one. He would wait for her to attack first. “Shall I move my hand?” Amalia lightly touched her fingers to his lips. They stiffened beneath her touch. “Keep your hands to yourself, vampire,” he growled. His growl would frighten most. She was not most. “Will you kill me now?” “Fight me and see.” His deep voice intrigued her. Every word seemed a throaty growl, torn from him. He didn’t wish to speak; he wanted a brawl. “What if I do not wish to fight?” Amalia slid her hand from his lips to his neck and around to twist in his hair. “What if fighting is the furthest thing from my mind?” He wrenched himself away, cursing her. Her soft chuckle enraged him even more, yet he still made no effort to hurt her. “Damn you, vampire. Fight me!”he roared. Amalia sauntered back up to him, placed both her hands on his braw shoulders, stretched onto her tiptoes, and placed her mouth to his neck. “Is this what you want?” He instantly had a blade at her heart. “Do it,” he ordered. Amalia pressed her lips to his neck in the whisper of a kiss and murmured, “Nay.” She slid away from this very brave, very foolish human and disappeared into the night. However she did not forget him, quite the opposite, in fact. She began to follow him at night, every night. When this battle had begun, she spread the word that he was not to be harmed. Yet here she sat, his dead body in her lap, waiting for him to wake to eternity.

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