Circle of fire, p.1
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       Circle of Fire, p.1

         Part #1 of Damask Circle series by Keri Arthur
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Circle of Fire


  Praise for Keri Arthur

  Nominated for the Romantic Times 2007 Reviewers’ Choice Awards for Career Achievement in Urban Fantasy

  Winner of the Romantic Times 2008 Reviewers’ Choice Awards for Career Achievement in Urban Fantasy

  “Keri Arthur’s imagination and energy infuse everything she writes with zest.”

  —CHARLAINE HARRIS

  Praise for Full Moon Rising

  “Keri Arthur skillfully mixes her suspenseful plot with heady romance in her thoroughly enjoyable alternate reality Melbourne. Sexy vampires, randy werewolves, and unabashed, unapologetic, joyful sex—you’ve gotta love it. Smart, sexy, and well-conceived.”

  —KIM HARRISON

  “Full Moon Rising is unabashedly and joyfully sexual in its portrayal of werewolves in heat … Arthur never fails to deliver, keeping the fires stoked, the cliffs high, and the emotions dancing on a razor’s edge in this edgy, hormone-filled mystery … A shocking and sensual read, so keep the ice handy.”

  —TheCelebrityCafe.com

  “Keri Arthur is one of the best supernatural romance writers in the world.”

  —HARRIET KLAUSNER

  “Strong, smart and capable, Riley will remind many of Anita Blake, Laurell K. Hamilton’s kick-ass vampire hunter … Fans of Anita Blake and Charlaine Harris’ Sookie Stackhouse vampire series will be rewarded.”

  —Publishers Weekly

  “Unbridled lust and kick-ass action are the hallmarks of this first novel in a brand-new paranormal series … ‘Sizzling’ is the only word to describe this heated, action-filled, suspenseful romantic drama.”

  —Curled Up with a Good Book

  “Desert island keeper … Grade: A … I wanted to read this book in one sitting, and was terribly offended that the real world intruded on my reading time! … Inevitable comparisons can be made to Anita Blake, Kim Harrison, and Kelley Armstrong’s books, but I think Ms. Arthur has a clear voice of her own and her characters speak for themselves.… I am hooked!”

  —All About Romance

  Praise for Kissing Sin

  “The second book in this paranormal guardian series is just as phenomenal as the first … I am addicted!!”

  —Fresh Fiction

  “Arthur’s world building skills are absolutely superb and I recommend this story to any reader who enjoys tales of the paranormal.”

  —Coffee Time Romance & More

  “Fast paced and filled with deliciously sexy characters, readers will find Kissing Sin a fantastic urban fantasy with a hot serving of romance that continues to sizzle long after the last page is read.”

  —Darque Reviews

  “Keri Arthur’s unique characters and the imaginative world she’s created will make this series one that readers won’t want to miss.”

  —A Romance Review

  Praise for Tempting Evil

  “Riley Jenson is kick-ass … genuinely tough and strong, but still vulnerable enough to make her interesting.… Arthur is not derivative of early [Laurell K.] Hamilton—far from it—but the intensity of her writing and the complexity of her heroine and her stories is reminiscent.”

  —All About Romance

  “This paranormal romance series gets better and better with each new book.… An exciting adventure that delivers all you need for a fabulous read—sexy shapeshifters, hot vampires, wild uncontrollable sex and the slightest hint of a love that’s meant to be forever.”

  —Fresh Fiction

  “Pure sexy action adventure … I found the world vividly realized and fascinating.… So, if you like your erotic scenes hot, fast, and frequent, your heroine sassy, sexy, and tough, and your stories packed with hard-hitting action in a vividly realized fantasy world, then Tempting Evil and its companion novels could be just what you’re looking for.”

  —SFRevu

  “Keri Arthur’s Riley Jenson series just keeps getting better and better and is sure to call to fans of other authors with kick-ass heroines such as Christine Feehan and Laurell K. Hamilton. I have become a steadfast fan of this marvelous series and I am greatly looking forward to finding out what is next in store for this fascinating and strong character.”

  —A Romance Review

  Praise for Dangerous Games

  “One of the best books I have ever read.… The storyline is so exciting I did not realize I was literally sitting on the edge of my chair.… Arthur has a real winner on her hands. Five cups.”

  —Coffee Time Romance and More

  “The depths of emotion, the tense plot, and the conflict of powerful driving forces inside the heroine made for [an] absorbing read.”

  —SFRevu

  “This series is phenomenal! Dangerous Games is an incredibly original and devastatingly sexy story. It keeps you spellbound and mesmerized on every page. Absolutely perfect!!”

  —Fresh Fiction

  Praise for Embraced by Darkness

  “Arthur is positively one of the best urban fantasy authors in print today. The characters have been well-drawn from the start and the mysteries just keep getting better. A creative, sexy and adventure-filled world that readers will just love escaping to.”

  —Darque Reviews

  “Arthur’s storytelling is getting better and better with each book. Embraced by Darkness has suspense, interesting concepts, terrific main and secondary characters, well developed story arcs, and the world-building is highly entertaining.… I think this series is worth the time and emotional investment to read.”

  —Reuters.com

  “Once again, Keri Arthur has created a perfect, exciting and thrilling read with intensity that kept me vigilantly turning each page, hoping it would never end.”

  —Fresh Fiction

  “Reminiscent of Laurell K. Hamilton back when her books had mysteries to solve, Arthur’s characters inhabit a dark sexy world of the paranormal.”

  —The Parkersburg News and Sentinel

  “I love this series.”

  —All About Romance

  Praise for The Darkest Kiss

  “The paranormal Australia that Arthur concocts works perfectly, and the plot speeds along at a breakneck pace. Riley fans won’t be disappointed.”

  —Publishers Weekly

  Praise for Bound to Shadows

  “The Riley Jenson Guardian series ROCKS! Riley is one bad-ass heroine with a heart of gold. Keri Arthur never disappoints and always leaves me eagerly anticipating the next book. A classic, fabulous read!”

  —Fresh Fiction

  Praise for Moon Sworn

  “Huge kudos to Arthur for giving readers an impressive series they won’t soon forget! 4½ stars, Top pick!”

  —RT Book Reviews

  “The superb final Guardian urban fantasy saga ends with quite a bang that will please the fans of the series. Riley is terrific as she goes through a myriad of emotions with no time to mourn her losses.… Readers will enjoy Riley’s rousing last stand.”

  —Midwest Book Review

  Praise for Darkness Unbound

  “A thrilling ride.”

  —Publishers Weekly

  Praise for Darkness Rising

  “Arthur ratchets up the intrigue … in this powerful sequel.”

  —Publishers Weekly

  Circle of Fire is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

  2014 Dell eBook Edition

  Copyright © 2001 by Keri Arthur

  Excerpt from Circle of Death by Keri Arthur copyright © 2002, 2014 by Keri Arthur

  All rights reserved.

  Published in the United States by Dell, an imprint of The Random House Publ
ishing Group, a division of Random House LLC, a Penguin Random House Company, New York.

  Originally published in different form in paperback in the United States by ImaJinn Books, Hickory Corners, MI, in 2001.

  DELL and the HOUSE colophon are registered trademarks of Random House LLC.

  This book contains an excerpt from the forthcoming novel Circle of Death by Keri Arthur. This excerpt has been set for this edition only and may not reflect the final content of the forthcoming edition.

  ISBN 978-0-440-24655-8

  eBook ISBN 978-0-345-53970-0

  www.bantamdell.com

  Cover design: Lynn Andreozzi

  Cover illustration: Juliana Kolesova

  v3.1

  Contents

  Cover

  Title Page

  Copyright

  Chapter One

  Chapter Two

  Chapter Three

  Chapter Four

  Chapter Five

  Chapter Six

  Chapter Seven

  Chapter Eight

  Chapter Nine

  Chapter Ten

  Chapter Eleven

  Chapter Twelve

  Chapter Thirteen

  Chapter Fourteen

  Chapter Fifteen

  Chapter Sixteen

  Chapter Seventeen

  Chapter Eighteen

  Chapter Nineteen

  Chapter Twenty

  Epilogue

  Other Books by This Author

  Excerpt from Circle of Death

  MADELINE SMITH DIDN’T BELIEVE IN GHOSTS—NOT UNTIL the night Jon Barnett walked into her life, anyway. Maddie drew her legs up to her chest and held them close. Maybe walked was the wrong word to use; his method of movement seemed more like floating.

  Outside her bedroom, the branches of an old elm scraped back and forth across the tin roofing. The wind howled around the old house—an eerie cry that matched her mood of anticipation and fear. Snow scurried past the windows, a stark contrast against the blackness of the night.

  It felt oddly fitting to be sitting on her bed, waiting for the arrival of a ghost while an early winter storm raged outside.

  Only he insisted he wasn’t a ghost at all.

  She tugged the blankets over her knees and wondered if she should stoke the fire with a little more wood. Maybe the heat would keep him away. Or maybe he’d gotten tired of his game and simply forgotten about her. She believed that the desperation in his eyes was real enough; she just didn’t believe that he was real.

  Perhaps he was just a figment of her imagination—a last, desperate escape from the loneliness of her life.

  The clock on the mantel began to chime quietly, and she turned to look at the time. One-thirty. Maybe he had forgotten about her …

  “Madeline.”

  She closed her eyes, uncertain whether fear or the unexpected pleasure of hearing the low velvet voice one more time had caused the sudden leap of her heart.

  “Madeline,” he repeated. This time a hint of urgency touched the warmth of his voice.

  He stood in the shadows to the left of her window. Despite the storm that raged outside, he wore only a short-sleeved black shirt and dark jeans—the same clothes he’d worn when he had first appeared last night.

  Tonight there was something different about him, though.

  Tonight he looked afraid.

  But he wasn’t real, damn it! How could a ghost feel fear?

  “Madeline, you must help me.”

  She closed her heart to the desperate plea in his voice. What he was asking her to do was impossible.

  “I can’t.” She avoided his gaze and fiddled with the fraying edge of the blanket. “I don’t know you. I don’t even believe that you exist. How can you expect me to leave everything I have on the word of a ghost?”

  “You must!” The sudden sharpness of his voice made her look up. “All I’m asking is for you to travel across the state, not to another country. Why are you so afraid to leave your retreat?”

  Maddie stared at him. He seemed to understand altogether too much about her. No one else had seen her fear—not even her sister, who was as close to her as Maddie ever allowed anyone to get these days.

  “There’s nothing wrong with being cautious,” she said after a moment.

  He studied her, amusement flickering briefly in the diamond-bright depths of his blue eyes. “I never said there was. But life has to be lived. You cannot hide forever.”

  She ignored the sliver of alarm in her heart, ignored the whispers that demanded she ask how he knew so much about her, and raised an eyebrow. “And what does a ghost know about such things?”

  He sighed, running a hand through his overly long hair. In the light of the fire, slivers of gold seemed to flow through his fingers. “I’m no ghost, Madeline. But I will be if you don’t help me soon.”

  Alarm danced through her heart. “What do you mean?”

  He walked across to the fire and held out his hands, as if to capture the warmth of the flames. Hair dusted his arms, golden strands that gleamed in the firelight. His fingers were long and smooth and tanned. Lord, he seemed real—and yet, if she looked closely enough, she could see the glow of the fire through his body.

  “I mean that I’m stuck down this damn well, and I can’t get out. I will die, Madeline, unless you help me.”

  Maddie closed her eyes and tried to stifle the rising spiral of fear. Not for her safety, because she sensed this was one ghost who would cause her no harm. It was just fear of … what? She didn’t know, but there was something about this apparition that made her wary.

  Perhaps she should play along with him. Surely he’d eventually tire of his game and leave her alone. Or perhaps she was just going mad, as most of her so-called friends had insisted she would.

  Yet those same friends had never understood what she was, or what she was capable of doing. Nor had they ever tried to help her.

  “Why can’t someone else rescue you? You must have friends. Why don’t you go haunt them?”

  “Believe me, I would if I could.”

  His tone was dry and left no doubt that he would rather be anywhere else than with her. Bad news when even a damn ghost doesn’t want your company. “So why can’t you?”

  He frowned. “I don’t know. Some force keeps driving me toward you. I have no choice in the matter, Madeline. You’re all I have.”

  And you refuse to help me. The unspoken rebuke was in his eyes when he glanced at her. Maddie bit her lip and looked away, watching the snow continue its dance past her window. Maybe she was going mad. She was beginning to feel sorry for a ghost.

  “Why would you be able to reach a complete stranger and not anyone of real use to you?”

  “I don’t know.”

  He hesitated, so she quickly said, “If you want my help, you at least owe me the truth.”

  “Fair enough.” He turned his back to the fire but kept his hands behind him, as if still trying to warm them. “Whatever this force is, it brings with it a sense of danger. And it’s connected with you somehow.”

  He seemed to say an awful lot without actually saying anything, Maddie noted. Maybe her ghost had been a politician in a former life.

  “That made everything so much clearer,” she said dryly.

  He shot her a look that was half amusement, half frustration. “Someone close to you is in danger and, somehow, they’re drawing me to you.”

  Besides her sister Jayne, the only other person who qualified was Jayne’s son, Evan. And if he did have that sort of power, it would be a recent development, meaning it was highly unlikely he’d have the sort of control Jon was suggesting. No, she thought grimly, there was only one uncontrolled misfit left in their small family unit.

  “So how did you end up in the well?”

  “Someone shot me when I was out exploring.” He shrugged. “I must have fallen in.”

  Maddie raised an eyebrow. From what she could see of him, there was remarkably little evidence of a bullet wo
und. “Then you are dead.”

  He sighed and closed his eyes. “I was hit in the arm. The fall could have killed me, but I was … lucky.”

  The arm closer to her was a suntanned brown, well muscled and remarkably free of wounds. His hands were still firmly clasped together, which surely wouldn’t be possible if the other arm had a bullet wound. Maybe it was her ghost who was mad, not she.

  “Why can’t I see any sort of wound, then?”

  “Because I’m here astrally.”

  “That doesn’t really explain why you’re standing there with no wound.” Or why she could see him. From the little she knew of astral travel, she shouldn’t have been able to do that, let alone interact with him.

  “You’re not seeing the wound because I don’t want you to.”

  Which was probably a good thing, given that she did want to get some sleep tonight. “Why don’t you just shout for help?”

  “As I explained before, I can’t take the risk. Someone is out to get me. If they think I’m still alive, they’ll just find me and finish the job.”

  A chill ran through her. “It could have been an accident.”

  “No.”

  She closed her eyes at the soft certainty in his voice. “Then if I come to help you, my life could be in danger.”

  “How would they know you’re there to help me? You’d just be another tourist passing by.”

  The sudden weariness in his voice made her look at him. His form had faded slightly, merging with the night. Something was wrong, something more than the fact that he’d been shot. And she sensed that he wouldn’t tell her what. “Who do you mean by they?”

  “I’m not exactly sure. But someone in this town knew why I was here, and they moved pretty swiftly to get rid of me.”

  “Then tell me again what town you’re in, and why you’re there.” If he was going to continue haunting her, she should at least try to understand a little more about him. And last night she’d been too busy trying to convince herself that he was nothing more than a vivid dream to really listen to anything he said.

  He stared at her, then shook his head. “How many times do I have to repeat myself before you believe me?”

  His voice held an edge of desperation that made her wince. “You mentioned some town—Sherbrook, wasn’t it?”

 
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