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Once Bitten

A Darker Hollow

Painted Hearts Publishing

Heat Rating: SCORCHING
Word Count: 58,752
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When Mason comes back to Dark Hollows, he doesn’t quite get the homecoming he’d hoped for.

Mason, who has become something not quite wolf and not quite vampire, has new powers of his own that he’s still trying to figure out, not to mention a complicated relationship with his new mates. He knows his brother Jax will be shocked to find out he’s still alive, and he’d expected some resistance to his new mates, Finn and Valerian, but not the open hostility he meets when they arrive.

The Dark Hollow alphas, Marco and Cade, are not at all pleased to have another alpha like Finn in their territory. And as for the beautiful vampire, Valerian, only Mason’s sudden display of his startling new powers forces an uneasy and tentative truce among them. Meanwhile Mason is still struggling to forgive Finn and Valerian for what they did to him in the past, and his mates are growing impatient for him to make a decision about their lives together.

The sudden reappearance of an ancient, evil vampire named Cassius makes the entire pack hyper-vigilant and uneasy. When Mason and Finn discover the creature is Valerian’s sire, they fear Cassius’s influence over him.

Betrayal, infighting, and even some romance. The next rousing adventure in Dark Hollows is here.

User Reviews
Absolutely adored this installment! These two Ladies enthrall me every time they spill ink. This series is no exception. Mason, Finn, and Valerian are a trio that would make us all swoon. (Or is that...

- Shirley W.

Absolutely adored this installment! These two Ladies enthrall me every time they spill ink. This series is no exception. Mason, Finn, and Valerian are a trio that would make us all swoon. (Or is that...

- Shirley13

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Excerpt

Mason

I got up with the morning light, glancing over toward the back of the small cave where Finn was sleeping. There was no sign of Valerian, but I knew he must be outside, probably hunting. He didn’t need blood often, but it had been a while since he’d fed, and I’d seen how restless he’d been when I went to bed the night before. I had warned him about the boundaries of Mountainwood and cautioned him that the guards constantly patrolled the perimeters and to leave them strictly alone. He’d only nodded in a distracted way, like he knew everything I was telling him, but he wanted to be polite. I hoped he knew—Marco and Cade’s wolves could be vicious, and if they caught him trespassing, I had no doubt they would tear him apart…if they could.
I started a small fire by the stream, set up the little grill we’d purchased in town and began heating water for coffee. First things first—I needed some caffeine in my system so I could wake up all the way and start making plans. I wanted to go see my brother Jax today, and it was well past time I should have done that. I knew he must have been going crazy looking for me all this time and maybe even thinking I was dead. The trail where I was attacked the night I was on my home to his lodge almost six months ago must have been bloody as hell. But I’d had no memory of who I was when I first woke up, and by the time I learned what Finn and Valerian had done to me, a lot of time had already passed. I needed some time to figure things out for myself without getting Jax and the Dark Hollow packs involved.
Because the thing about wolves and brothers was that when you presented them with a problem, sometimes their solution was even worse. They wanted to “fix” things for you, usually in a violent way, and some things just couldn’t be fixed, no matter how much you tried to beat the shit out of it. I fixed myself a cup of instant coffee. Terrible stuff, but better than nothing—marginally—and I sat for a while gazing at the stream, wondering what Jax would say when I walked up into the lodge.
I suddenly sensed someone standing behind me and whirled around to see Valerian, as still and white as a statue in the morning light. As usual, I was struck by how gorgeous vampires could be without even trying. His hair was black and shiny and hung down nearly to his waist, and his eyes were dark, with only a little crimson hidden in their depths. That told me his hunt had been successful and he’d fed recently. Not from a person—we were all agreed about that. He’d agreed that when he was hungry, he would hunt for large game. In this area, that would be mostly deer or bear, and then he’d kill them and drink their blood. Not nearly as satisfying for him as human blood, but like the instant coffee I was drinking, it would do. He had explained that because of his age, he didn’t need the near constant consumption of human blood a younger vampire would require.
I saw that his eyes glowed red now only around the edges like banked embers. He had a small dark moustache and goatee, and he looked like the good-looking bad guy in a movie, where you knew the guy was trouble the minute you saw him. Which, of course, he was. Valerian was nothing but trouble and had been since I’d met him.
He came over to me and sank gracefully down beside me, looking up at me from under those thick eyelashes. He told me once that everything about a nightstalker was designed to be enticing, from the way they looked to the way they moved and spoke and even the way they smelled. All were devised to make him irresistible to his prey.
Valerian had a sweet, warm and slightly acrid odor that smelled like dark, rich soil and the blossoms on roadside laurels. I breathed it in and felt my cock stir.
“Where’s Finn?” he asked softly. “Still getting his beauty sleep?”
I made a soft sound of amusement. “God help us if that’s true. He’s hard enough to resist now, and worst of all, he knows it.”
“You don’t have to—resist that is. You know how much he wants you. All you have to do is say the word.” His beautiful eyes looked me up and down. “To either of us. Or both.”
I shook my head. I wasn’t ready for that yet and Valerian knew it—I’d made myself pretty damn clear. It was hard for me, too, because I loved both of them, even after all that had happened. I knew my brother Jax was going to give me shit about mating with both Valerian and Finn, two predators—one of them a vampire and the other a wolf—who had attacked me on the trail that night and changed my life forever. I didn’t want to hear it. My life, my decision to stay with them, for better or worse. But I still had a lot to figure out before I gave in completely to them, and I wasn’t going to let anything or anyone rush me. I decided it was time for a change of subject.
“I’m going to see Jax today.”
“I’ll go with you.”
“Yeah, not really sure about that. I thought I could break the news to him about you and Finn gently. That won’t happen if you’re with me.”
“Break what news?” Finn said, as he walked out of the cave toward us. Damn werewolf hearing.
“Well, let’s see,” I said, ticking them off with my fingers. “That his baby brother got himself bitten and fucked by both a werewolf and a vampire. That both of you took my blood and gave me some of yours in return so that now I’m some kind of hybrid mixture of both of you. That I have powers beyond yours and theirs, and I don’t even know what all of mine even are yet. And oh, yeah, I’m never coming home again. That ought to about do it.”
“Damn baby,” Finn said, dropping a kiss on my cheek and eye-fucking Valerian, as he flopped down on his ass by the fire and pulled me over against him. Finn wasn’t wearing a shirt and his thick muscles rippled under his tanned skin. “Don’t sugarcoat it for him. Tell him like it is.”
I sighed and leaned against him. “I guess you may as well both go with me. You’d probably just follow me if I tried to leave you here.”
“Yeah, that sounds about right. Is there any coffee?”
“Just instant.” I got up and went over to the stream to the cold box we’d fashioned there from sticks and rocks. I got out the bacon and eggs and brought them back to the grill. “Make us some breakfast while I shave and get cleaned up. I don’t want any of the pack to panic and do something stupid when we show up at their front door because they don’t recognize me.”
Valerian’s gaze swept me up and down. “They may not at first. You’re much bigger now. And even better looking.”
I rolled my eyes at him, even though it was maybe true. The bigger part anyway. When we were in town to buy supplies, I tried to find clothes in my old sizes, and nothing had fit. I’d gained probably twenty pounds of mostly muscle and I was probably three inches taller. The mirrors in the fitting rooms told me my hair now had platinum streaks mixed in with the dirty blond, and my eyes were…different. Odd looking.
I went down to the stream to shave and bathe in the cold water. We had a mirror tied to a low hanging branch near the stream, along a few towels slung over a branch, so I stripped off my clothes, grabbed a razor and shaving cream from the little cache of supplies we’d left in a bag on the bank and lathered up my face so I could shave. I was squatting down by the stream finishing up when I noticed how quiet it was. As I finished and stood up, I looked back toward the fire and saw both of them just ogling me, not even trying to hide it. I grinned at them and turned to wade into the cold stream, knowing it wouldn’t be long until Finn came to climb in beside me. He had absolutely no self-control. Valerian, on the other hand, was like a cat around water. He went in the stream only when he absolutely had to. He was clean— even fastidious—but he dipped up the water and heated it before he bathed himself in it. Finn whispered to me once that vampires couldn’t cross running water. So many of the old legends about crosses and mirrors weren’t true at all, so I found it odd that this one might be.
Werewolves had no such problems though and right away, I felt splashing around behind me, turning in time to get pulled into Finn’s arms and pressed up against a lot of hot naked flesh. How the hell had he gotten his pants and shoes off so fast? His huge erection was poking me in stomach as he held me against him, and I let him kiss and fondle me for a few minutes before I reluctantly pushed him away.
“We don’t have time for this now.”
“Then when, baby? You’re driving me crazy with all this.”
“You’ll be the first to know. And it does you good to suffer for a while. Builds your character.”
“Baby, please,” he groaned, nuzzling my neck again.
I gave in enough to give him a kiss, letting him plunder around inside my mouth with his sweet, hot tongue for a moment, but then Valerian’s soft voice came calling to us, so quiet and menacing that I knew right away something was wrong. “Someone’s coming.”
Finn grabbed me around the waist and thrust me behind him, turning to face whatever was heading our way. It was such an outrageous move that I growled at him and pushed myself past him and climbed out of the stream to stand beside Valerian. Then he moved to stand in front of me too, so it was a few seconds before I caught sight of who it was walking into the clearing. When I did, my mouth dropped open. Roark was walking in the camp, as bold as brass, as if the last time I saw him he hadn’t just shot my mate and stabbed me in the back—literally—with a silver blade. He’d almost killed Finn and now I was about to return the favor. He was followed into the clearing by about three or four other wolves, but all I had eyes for was Roark.
I leaped forward with an outraged cry, my claws extended, but Valerian caught me around the waist and held onto me. I turned to snarl at him, and that gave Finn time to climb out of the water and shoot past me, headed toward Roark and already about half shifted. Roark fell down in front of him on his knees like he’d been shot and so did the others. I saw Finn stop as he got close to Roark, looking as confused as I felt.
“Alpha, please!” Roark was saying. “Just give me a chance to talk to you!”
“What the fuck could you possibly have to say to me?” Finn roared and I gave a few yips and barks for good measure. I pulled uselessly at Valerian’s hands on my waist. I was stronger than Valerian, but I couldn’t break his hold without hurting him, and I wasn’t willing to do that. He leaned down and spoke in my ear.
“Settle down, mon coeur. I’ll let you go and even join you if Finn needs us. But first let’s see what the wolf has to say.”
Finn was shouting at Roark, fury stiffening his back—he was practically foaming at the mouth. “You dare ask me for any fucking thing after what you did!”
“Alpha, please. I never planned to shoot you—I had the gun as a bluff, but then you came at me and I got scared and I panicked. You have to believe me! I was out half of my mind with jealousy.”
“I knew it!” I yelled and kicked out with my foot, knowing I was too far away to reach him, but just practicing for when his balls were a little closer.
“Jealous? You were jealous of me? Why? You have your own mate.”
“No, never my mate. Just a female I lay with when I realized I couldn’t have you. I was actually hoping to make you… Well, anyway, she left me, saying I never loved her, and she went off with her family, along with most of the pack when they found out what I’d done.”
“The pack must not have minded it too much. Most of the bastards came along with you to ambush me on that trail.”
“I know. They were afraid of…” He glanced over at me and Valerian. “They were afraid.”
I showed him my teeth, and he blanched. He looked back up at Finn, begging now. “The pack saw Mason and that nightstalker bring you back to life, Finn. You were dead and then they gave you blood and…then you weren’t anymore. That scared the hell out of us...I mean, them. They realized what they’d done, but they’re afraid of you, now too. The rest of the pack has all run away, and there’s just us left. Please, Finn. Please take us back. Your house is just like you left it and if you come back, we’ll do anything you say. We need our alpha, now more than ever. I promise you we’ll make it up to you.”
“You got to be fucking kidding me! You’re not actually listening to that load of shit, are you?” I was spitting now and tearing up the ground under my feet but I still couldn’t get Valerian to let go. He was like an octopus. “Damn it, Val,” I cried out. “Please!”
Valerian kissed the side of my face. I could feel him trying to compel me to quiet down, but I fought off most of it and yelled at Finn, “Tell him to kiss your ass, Finn!”
Finn glanced back at me and to my horror I saw that far from being ready to attack them, a part of him was torn and wanted to forgive those assholes. Of course, Finn didn’t really have a pack anymore. He’d given that up to be with me and Valerian, but the important thing here was that I could see he was wavering.
Finn turned back to face Roark. “What do you mean, ‘now more than ever’? What’s happened?”
“Don’t talk to him!” I yelled at him. “Do not even engage that fucker in conversation! Finn, I swear to God, if you forgive that sack of shit I’ll kill you and him both in your sleep!”
Finn groaned and turned back to look at me and then back at Roark who was still groveling at his feet.
“Stay right there,” he snarled down at Roark and then came stomping over to me. He nodded to Valerian who released me, then Finn grabbed me as I tried to leap past him again and hauled me up against him. “Listen to me, Mason,” he said, and put his face down to peer into mine. “Please, baby, settle down. Roark was my oldest friend before all this started. Sure, he’s made some mistakes…”
“Like fucking shooting your ass and stabbing mine!”
“Now that did look bad, I admit. But baby, we’re alone in the world right now. We don’t have a pack and who the hell is going to take us in like we are? An alpha wolf, a nightstalker and you! No pack will want any of us because we’re too strong and we don’t smell right. None of us has been able to even figure out exactly what you are yet and Valerian is a goddamn blood sucker!” He glanced over at Valerian and shrugged apologetically. “No offense.”
Valerian lifted one shoulder. “None taken.”
Finn focused on me again. “Let me at least talk to Roark, okay? See what we can work out. Maybe we can negotiate.”
If looks could kill he’d have been dead already, but I knew what he was saying was the truth. We were in a bad fix and that’s why we were even here in North Carolina. I still didn’t like any of it though.
“Talk to him then if you feel like you have to. But he’s not coming back to the pack as any fucking beta, I can promise you that.” An evil thought occurred to me then and I couldn’t help the wicked smile that curved my lips. “We need an omega though. Maybe Roark would be interested in that position.”

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