“What is normal? No one ever knows what each new day will bring,” she said. “And who wants normal? Who on earth would want to give up extraordinary for normal?” He stood so quickly that he nearly knocked the chair over.

He reached out a hand. “The Ritz?”


Hours later, they ordered champagne. They lay on a gorgeous king-sized bed piled high with pillows and satiny-smooth sheets.“

“So ... you really think I’m extraordinary?”

And she laughed. “Beyond a doubt. Oh, my God, yes, beyond any doubt.” Night fell, and a full moon rose over Paris. High atop the elegance of the landmark Parisian hotel, the balcony doors were open to the breezes of the night. Within the hearth, an electric “fire” burned. It might as well have been the real thing, for it seemed that the flames rose and fell, rose and fell, and burned with the fever of the night.

Burned . . .

And burned.

After all, they had both decided ...

They had been waiting all of their lives.

For a sneak preview of Shannon Drake’s next contemporary vampire novel—

coming from Zebra Books in October 2003—just turn the page ...

She was screaming.

In the terrible reality that was happening, she heard her own voice.

In the darkness, she knew a spiraling fear that threatened to become overwhelming, to smother her. She had a sense of fatality, and she saw the shadow figure, saw him entering the room. Adrenaline raced through her, desperation, the sense that she must move, must fight for survival.

The sound continued, it was all she had, and she screamed and screamed, knowing the deadly menace that had come to her. She knew, as well, that she had said something, done something, to precipitate this.

She knew each step as it occurred, the figure appearing, the fear, the terrible understanding of what was to come. She felt the violence as he came upon her, his touch upon her hair first, her clothing, the blows against her as she resisted. The violation of her flesh, the hands around her throat...

Faceless, he was faceless, but she knew him, she had to know him.

Had to know his hands. Around her throat, then her hands, pressing her down, and she knew that she was going to die. She wasn’t sure how ... would the hands so powerful against her flesh crush the life from her, or was this only to subdue, would there be a knife blade, a pressing against her throat, creating a rich spill of blood ... ?

Whichever, it was coming, she knew that it was coming, and she still couldn’t see his face, only the darkness, and she was suddenly certain of a welling of sound, soft and low and underlying the chilling shrill of her screams, a sound of chanting, voices, many voices ...

Whispers, laughter.

Eerie laughter, evil laughter ...

She screamed louder, fought more wildly, desperate now not just to save her life, but to still the cackling sounds that seemed to enter her very soul, wrapping around it, crushing the life from it, as the hands upon her seemed to be doing with flesh.

She kicked, tried hard to keep screaming, but she had no breath, no sound could come, no air could come . ..

Only the pulse, the thunder of her heart.

Fight, fight... even as a darkness deeper than night fell before her eyes. Kick, scratch, fight... claw at the hands ...

The hands. .. that slipped as she dug her nails hard...

Screaming, still the sound of screaming ...

“Megan! Jesus, stop! Megan!”

Hands, again, on her shoulders, shaking her. She struck out, hard, desperately.

“Megan! Damn! Megan, wake up!”

She awoke, stunned, still hearing distant screams, but they were coming from her.


Finn, straddled over her then, his right hand was vised around her wrists; he was rubbing his jaw with his left. He stared down at her, his eyes as brilliant as twin knife blades, his face ashen.

“Megan! What the hell is the matter with you?”

Abruptly, her screaming stopped.

She was drawn from the incredible reality of the world she had entered in her sleep to the true reality of life. And in real life, she was in a quiet bed and breakfast, in a quiet, historic town that only went a bit crazy during the month of October.

“Finn! Oh, my God, Finn!”

She tried to pull her arms free.

“Are you going to sock me in the jaw again?”

“I didn’t!”

“You did.”

“I’m so sorry ... please!”

He eased his hold. She reached up, curled her arms around his neck, shaking, nearly sobbing.

A dream. It had been nothing but a dream.

He didn’t push her away, but his shoulders were as stiff as boards. When she drew back, the look in his narrowed green eyes was wary, distant, and accusing.

“Megan, Jesus Christ, what the hell was that all about?”

“I had the most awful nightmare.”

“A nightmare—and you had to scream like a thousand hounds were after you!” He was interrupted by a hard banging on the door.

She bit her lip, wincing. Finn jumped up and reached for the terry bathrobe she had discarded before bed.

He opened the door. From the darkness of the room, Megan could see the dimly lit hallway. Mr. Fallon, the groundskeeper and jack-of-all-trades at Huntington House, stood grimly in the doorway.

“What goes on here, Mr. Douglas?” he demanded sternly.

“I’m so sorry. It seems that Megan has had a nightmare,” Finn explained.

Mr. Fallon gave Finn an up and down glare that implied he didn’t believe a word of it. In fact, it looked as if he was about to call the police, and see that Finn was charged with some form of domestic violence.

“Sounded like bloody murder!” Fallon said.

Megan couldn’t just hop up and explain herself. She was naked. She called out weakly from the bed.

“I’m fine, Mr. Fallon, really. I just had a horrible nightmare. I’m so, so sorry!”

“Well, then, it’s a good thing you’re in this wing of the house,” Fallon said brusquely. “You’d be waking up the whole household, with such caterwaulin‘! Do you have these nightmares often, young lady?”

“No, no ... of course not!” Megan called.

“As you can see,” Finn told Fallon irritably, “everything is perfectly all right in here.”

“Actually, young man, there’s not all that much that I can see—since it’s darned dark and all. But we don’t take kindly to folks fighting around here—not in Huntington House. We’re a fine establishment with a good reputation.”

“Of course,” Finn said.

“The Merrills have a reputation in these parts, too,” he said, referring to Megan’s family.

She wasn’t sure if the reputation her family had earned was good or bad.

“I’m honestly sorry, Mr. Fallon. There were too many tales filling my head when I fell asleep, I believe.”


“I had a nightmare,” Megan said, her tone quiet but firm. She resented Mr. Fallon. She was suddenly certain that he didn’t think much of the Merrill family at all.

“See that you keep it down,” Fallon said. “There can be no more such outbursts—sir!” He had started speaking to Megan; he ended with a word of warning for Finn.

“Goodnight,” Finn said.

Fallon nodded, and moved off. Reluctantly, so it seemed.

Finn closed the door. Darkness descended with the nightlight gone from the hall. But a second later the room was flooded with light as Finn hit the switch at the side of the door. He leaned against the door, crossing his arms over his chest, staring at Megan.

“He thinks I was beating you.”

“Oh, Finn, surely not—”

“Everyone knows that we’ve just gotten back together.”

“Don’t be ridiculous. Fallon doesn’t know a thing about us.”

“Well, he seems to know all about your family, and therefore, he probably knows that we’ve just gotten back together, and he surely thinks you made a major mistake and that I was about to slit your throat before he arrived.”

“Finn, stop it. Surely, somewhere in his life, sometime before, someone has woken up from a nightmare, screaming.”

“You think? I’ve never woken up before next to a woman screaming loud enough to burst my eardrums.”

“Dammit, Finn, I’ve said that I’m sorry! I didn’t do it on purpose! I had a dream, a really terrible nightmare. Someone was going to kill me!” she said, surprised to feel a hint of the fear rising within her again, as if it would choke off her her speech. “In fact, a little sympathy would be in order.” He stood, still distant, staring at her for a long moment. Even the way he looked now, far too tall for the terry bathrobe, legs seeming impossibly long beneath the white hem, she loved him so much. From his tousled dark hair to his bare feet. Things were so tenuous between them now. Before ... once, before, she would have flown from the bed and into his arms.

“Finn!” she said, still shaky, and growing angry herself.

“Excuse me, you nearly dislocated my jaw, Megan.”

“Why can’t you understand? I was deeply sleeping. I had a nightmare. A really terrifying nightmare.” A muscle twitched in his cheek. Hair wild, arms folded over his chest, wearing her robe, he was both imposing and appealing. He had a great face. Not too pretty. Classic, masculine structure, strong chin line, solid, denned, cheekbones, fine, full mouth, dead straight, aristocratic nose. Not small, not too prominent Deep green eyes set beneath a broad brow, beneath rich dark hair. He was a natural athlete, in good shape. Now, though they were in the cool autumn of October in Massachusetts, they had just come from a week in the Florida Keys, and he was solidly bronzed and sleek, and ever more appealing.

She turned, lying back on her pillow, facing away from him.

A moment later, he was at her side.

She felt his fingers feather down her back. “All right, Megan, I’m sorry.”

“I imagine it was the fireside tales,” she murmured, still resentful but not wanting the argument to go on.