Hot Spell

with Emma Holly, Lora Leigh, and Shiloh Walker

Hot Spell cover

“Falling for Anthony”

In Regency England, a desperate lady is Falling for Anthony when a childhood friend comes back from the dead to protect her brother from an unnatural evil.

“An emotional roller coaster for both the characters and the reader.” –Romance Junkies

“…fantastic death-defying love…” –Fresh Fiction

The Story So Far

Are you starting with this book? Do you want a series refresher before starting the next? Catch up on The Story So Far in the Guardian series primer.

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“We have never spoken of that night.”

Colin flicked Emily a meaningful glance so that she could not mistake which night he spoke of, then turned his attention back to the horses. The steady clip-clop tempo of their hooves increased after a murmur from him. Emily tucked her lap blanket tighter around her hips, thankful that the pink in her cheeks could be blamed on the cold-if Colin could see the color at all. Night had fallen quickly, and they had only just turned into the long drive leading to the house.

“Why would you wish to speak of it now?” She folded her hands in her lap, and stared at the lines of buttons at the wrists of her gloves. “I can hardly think you would want to relive the experience. Going home to find our father, our brother and his wife have perished in a fire does not make for easy conversation.”

“No. Earlier that night at the hotel, Emily. Where, by the slimmest chance, I happened to see you with a-“

The phaeton lurched forward as one of the horses shied, breaking its smooth gait. Colin’s fingers tightened on the reins, and he spoke a few soothing words before looking back at Emily.

“What could have possessed you to behave so recklessly?” Guilt shadowed his eyes, as if he blamed himself for her actions, and that shamed her more than his disappointment or censure could have.

She was saved from an immediate reply as the horses whinnied and tossed their heads, the metal in the harness jingling discordantly. Colin frowned, his gaze skimming along the trees lining the drive.

A shiver of uneasiness ran up Emily’s spine, but it wasn’t caused by the darkness. Her recklessness had not brought ruin to her family, but it may have had just as damaging an effect.

“I told Anthony he was unsuitable,” she admitted.

“Anthony?” Colin pulled on the reins, bringing the team to a vicious halt. He turned in his seat to stare at her, anger lining his mouth with white. A muscle in his jaw flexed. “You rejected Ramsdell and then went to a whore?”

“No.” She swallowed past the constriction in her throat. “He was first, and then I sent him to his death thinking that I considered him unworthy of further attention.”

The horses shifted restlessly. Colin turned away from her, clicked his tongue and they practically leapt forward in their eagerness to go. Emily watched his profile, wondering if she could ever repair her status in his eyes, if he could ever forgive her for courting ruin and insulting their friend.

She started in surprise as a laugh broke from him, and he gathered the reins in one hand and wrapped his other arm around her shoulders, hugged her close. “Em,” he said with a wry smile. “Ramsdell was likely the happiest man in the world when he died. If you had to ruin yourself, I suppose I should be glad you gave my friend the one thing he’d dreamed of in the process.”

She tilted her face into his chest and couldn’t stop the giggle that rose in her throat. “That is a shocking and inappropriate response for a brother to have.”

“You’re my sister,” he said, as if it were that simple. “Your reputation has remained intact, so the only person to whom you will have to explain yourself will be the husband you select. You have obviously tortured yourself over the past-I would never add to it. I would as soon remove my arm as hurt you.” He glanced down. “Are you weeping all over my new greatcoat? I should really hate to see it ruined with tears.”

Emily grinned. “No, I-“

The horses screamed, and then Emily was screaming as the white, naked creature lifted Colin up, and then the blood was spurting from her brother’s neck. And then it came for her, and she felt its teeth rending, ripping-

Emily woke, her hand automatically flying to her throat, but smooth skin met her fingers instead of torn flesh and blood.

Nightmare, she realized, but her relief did little to ease the racing of her heart. The dreams had come frequently in the last month, but she’d rarely been able to wake from them. She wasn’t certain if that was a blessing or not; the sudden awareness was almost as terrifying as being trapped within them until the end.

In the grate, coals shifted and tumbled. She rolled onto her side, pillowing her head against the arm of the chaise, and watched the shadows cast by the embers’ glow. Exhaustion settled over her like a blanket, but she didn’t want to sleep again. She wanted to rise from the makeshift bed, turn around, and find Colin whole and healthy.

Since that hope faded day by day, she let her eyes drift closed. Some nightmares were preferable to reality, and it had been a long time since she’d believed in fairy-tale endings or miracles.

But maybe…

Even as she scolded herself for her silliness, she sat up, made a wish, and looked over at Colin’s bed.

Colin’s empty bed.

Oh, God. The chains lay serpentine across the sheets, the manacles gaping. She blinked, but nothing changed, and she didn’t wake up.

How had he unlocked the chains? Had he escaped the room, or was he hiding in the dark? Should she call for him, or try to run? Would running attract his attention?

Her heartbeat drummed slow and thick in her ears, and she fought the panic that darkened the edges of her vision. She resisted the urge to look behind her, toward the fireplace and dressing room. He hadn’t been there moments ago, he wasn’t there now, waiting for her to turn around before he grabbed her.

Her room was only four doors down the hall, and it had a sturdy lock. She was light on her feet, it would only take seconds to-

A scraping, sliding noise interrupted her frantic preparations. She caught her breath on a sob, her body tensing as her brother grasped the leg of the bed and dragged himself into view. His face was pressed against the floor; she didn’t think he had noticed her. He slowly crawled around the edge of the bed on his elbows and stomach, digging his fingers into the rug with each forward pull. His legs slid behind him, and he gave a kittenish mew when his knee bumped the footboard.

The pathetic scene wavered through her tears. She wanted to help him, but the risk was too great, his weakness deceptive. Better to leave the room and lock the door behind her-in the morning she would repair him to his bed, and try to discover how he’d loosed himself.

Though the rational decision heartened her, it took a few moments to screw her courage. Then she gathered up her skirts and sprinted to the door.

She knew the moment he saw her; she heard a growl, but she was already pushing at the handle.

It wouldn’t open.

She cried out in dismay, certain it had not been locked when she’d fallen asleep. But she took no time to ponder the mystery of it, spinning around and fleeing to the dressing room. It wouldn’t lock, but she could prop a chair against the door.

She didn’t make it; halfway across the room, Colin crashed into her, sent her sprawling against the coal bin next to the grate. It spilled over with a clang and an explosion of black dust. She reached out blindly for the iron poker that flanked the hearth.

He caught her wildly grasping arm, yanking her against him. Pain, excruciating and hot, ripped through her shoulder, and she screamed.

His fingers tore at her neckline, his nails scoring her skin in long furrows. She flailed at him with her free arm, numbly recognizing that her death was upon her. She stilled, let it come.

His head bent, his breath cold against her skin. She closed her eyes against the bite, praying that it would be quick-praying that it would be complete. She did not want to become what he was.

“Colin.” Whether she spoke the word as a plea, or to bestow forgiveness on this thing with her brother’s face but the mind of an animal, she didn’t know. But her voice must have touched some last bit of humanity in him; his weight shifted, lessened-and though she waited in agony the bite didn’t come. Hopeful and afraid, she opened her eyes.

And looked into the face of a dead man.

Anthony Ramsdell had wrapped his hands over Colin’s jaw, and was holding those sharp teeth away from her neck. Beside him, a youth in a monk’s robe pried Colin’s fingers from her dress.

Anthony gave her a lopsided grin. “You two are a little old to be wrestling, aren’t you?” A pair of white, feathery wings waved gently behind him.

When did I die? Emily wondered, and then Colin attempted to struggle against his captors, jolting her shoulder. She shrieked, and merciful darkness flooded the pain away.