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As Shadows Fade

Posted by Munk

Colleen Gleason

Directly descended from the very first vampire hunter in the Gardella family, Victoria knows she must continue the lineage so humanity will have protectors against the undead.
While Sebastian Vioget appears to be both the perfect warrior and lover to ensure the Gardella Legacy, Victoria cannot forget Max Pesaro – the former slayer still haunted by the vampire queen Lilith's obsession with him.
But it is Lilith's obsession that may save all of humanity. Demons, enemies of both mortals and the undead, have found their way to earth. To defeat them, vampires and slayers must fight side by side. But Lilith wants Max in return for her cooperation ‐ a small price for the world, but too high a price for Victoria.

Excerpted from As Shadows Fade:

"Beg your pardon, sir, but my lady wishes you to attend on her," Oliver said most correctly.
Max glowered at him. "My lady?" Wayren or Victoria?
Oliver looked confused for a moment, then recovered, offering, "Lady Rockley." Apparently, he didn't consider Wayren a lady, which wasn't surprising. Only the Venators–and the evil ones–knew what she was capable of.
Max wadded up the towel and tossed it onto the table. Blast it. Could she not leave him be? He pulled out his last clean shirt and tugged it over his damp skin, where it seemed to stick everywhere. Just as his head emerged from the opening, he heard the man add, "She awaits you in her chamber."
Max stilled, his hands crushing into the soft linen. "Her chamber?"
Then he centered on the whirl of thoughts–and, damnation, the images–that bit of information invoked, and extracted the most palatable one. Victoria's face had been dead white and her clothes soaked with blood. Was she injured more severely than he'd thought? She'd never released Wayren's hand during their short meeting in the parlor.
Max opened his mouth to ask Oliver, but the young man had scuttled off, leaving the door ajar.
There was nothing for it but to "attend to her."
His mouth closed grimly, his jaw tight, he set off, certain that whatever he found, it wouldn't be to his liking.
When he reached Victoria's chamber, his peremptory knock produced no response. Max waited for a moment then knocked again, a bit harder, and the door edged open. Hell. Was he supposed to go in?
Blast it.
He'd not hesitated entering her chamber a few months ago when he first came back to London. He'd been uninvited then.
And now it was morning. Filled with light, which meant exposure. And few shadows in which to hide.
Max pushed the door open, his attention going immediately to the bed. It was empty.
He stepped inside and closed the door, firmly, behind him, looking around the chamber. Early morning sunlight filtered through the nearby tree branches, casting the small room in a soft warm glow. The bed lay pristine and made, high off the ground, with a bumpy white coverlet. The dressing table was situated near the entrance to what must be a small dressing room. The mirrored table held an array of lady-like items–and a few that were not so lady-like: perfume bottles, combs, brush, jewelry, stakes, holy water vials....
He paused and looked more closely, seeking a slender blue-tinted bottle. No. It was gone. The potion that he knew Victoria drank in order to keep from getting with child. Aunt Eustacia, and now Kritanu, made it for her. But it was gone, and he knew that Victoria had made good on her promise to stop taking it.
Max did not want to consider the implications of that fact, and he turned abruptly to examine the rest of the room.
The fireplace held a neat stack of kindling ready to be lit should the weather turn chill or rainy. A chair in the corner near the floor-to-ceiling drapes would provide a good, distant seat from any other furnishings or activity in the room; it was the same chair in which he'd sat when he'd visited her chamber before. This morning, the windows had been flung open, and a soft breeze filtered through them.
Where the hell was Victoria? Had she sent for him or not?
Suddenly, he heard a faint...splash. Water.
Max looked past the dressing table toward the dressing room and swore. Under his breath.
She was taking a bloody bath.
He turned, ready to flee, when the chamber door opened and in bustled the poof-haired maid Verbena. She carried a load of linens, and didn't appear surprised to see him.
And now it was too damned late for him to slip out without being noticed.
"Oh, an' there y'are," the maid said, bustling past him. "S'sorry t'keep ye waiting, my lord, sir," she added, her skirts sending a glass bottle clinking against another on the table as she hurried into the dressing room.
Where Victoria was bathing.
Christ. Almighty.
Max considered making his escape anyway when the chamber door opened again and in limped Vioget.
He hadn't even knocked.
And he looked exceedingly pleased with himself as he came into the room dressed no more formally than Max himself, in trousers and an untucked shirt. Vioget never went about in such dishabille. He likely thought he'd not long be attired at all.
Fully aware of Vioget's penchant for carriage seductions, Max couldn't keep his mouth closed. "You're a bit out of your element, Vioget. There's not a carriage in the vicinity."
He had to give the man credit; he eclipsed his shock almost immediately. "What are you doing here?"
"Likely the same as you," Max replied smoothly, sinking into the chair in the corner. "Responding to our ladyship's beck and call. Unless you weren't beckoned, and are calling uninvited?"
"I was referring to your presence in London, not in this chamber," Vioget responded.
Max looked away. Bloody damned good question. If he'd leave, Victoria would have no choice but to be with Vioget.
Now that she wasn't drinking from the little blue bottle.
He eyed Vioget with a mixture of loathing and candor. For all the man's faults, Max knew Sebastian cared for Victoria and would protect the woman who feared little, and needed no protection–at least, overt protection.
If only Max would get out of his way and allow him to do what both men wanted Vioget to do.

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