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Authors: Amarinda Jones

Tags: #Romance, #Erotica, #Vampires, #Paranormal

Run the Gantlet

BOOK: Run the Gantlet
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An El ora’s Cave Romantica Publication

www.el orascave.com

Run the Gantlet

ISBN 9781419921162

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Run the Gantlet Copyright © 2009 Amarinda Jones

Edited by Helen Woodal

Cover art by Syneca

Electronic book Publication July 2009

The terms Romantica® and Quickies® are registered trademarks of El ora’s Cave Publishing.

With the exception of quotes used in reviews, this book may not be reproduced or used in whole or in part by any means existing without written permission from the publisher, El ora’s Cave Publishing, Inc.® 1056 Home Avenue, Akron OH 44310-3502.

Warning: The unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this copyrighted work is il egal. No part of this book may be scanned, uploaded or distributed via the Internet or any other means, electronic or print, without the publisher’s permission. Criminal copyright infringement, including infringement without monetary gain, is investigated by the FBI and is punishable by up to 5 years in federal prison and a fine of $250,000. (http://www.fbi.gov/ipr/). Please purchase only authorized electronic or print editions and do not participate in or encourage the electronic piracy of copyrighted material. Your support of the author’s rights is appreciated.

This book is a work of fiction and any resemblance to persons, living or dead, or places, events or locales is purely coincidental. The characters are productions of the authors’ imagination and used fictitiously.

RUN THE GANTLET

Amarinda Jones

Dedication

Vampires—hot, sexy and wantable. Thank the cosmos they exist.

Trademarks Acknowledgement

The author acknowledges the trademarked status and trademark owners of the fol owing wordmarks mentioned in this work of fiction: Band-Aid: Johnson & Johnson

Harry Potter: Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

Jiminy Cricket: Disney Enterprises, Inc.

Sleeping Beauty
: Disney Enterprises, Inc.

Tarzan: Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc.

The Clash: Dorisimo Ltd

The Wizard of Oz
: Turner Entertainment Co.

Tim Tams: Campbel Soup Company

Vegemite: Kraft Foods Ltd.

Chapter One

“What?” Eloise Gaunt was not in the mood for amateur dramatics.

“I cannot tel you.”

Eloise rol ed her eyes and pul ed her hand from the woman’s grip. “You just sucked in your breath and looked al terrified.” Wel , as terrified as a suburban gypsy with two screaming children fighting in the next room could. “You either tel me or I’m not paying for the rest of this reading, Madame Cherylene.” It was not exactly a name that inspired confidence in psychic abilities.

The suburban gypsy in question yel ed at her children to shut up and stop fighting. She then adjusted the turban-like scarf around her head. “I see darkness.”

“I’m beginning to wonder if you see anything at al . The lighting is crap in here.” Eloise was al for atmosphere, but she just knew she was going to bang her knee viciously on something on the way out of this darkened room, and she needed no half-assed fortune tel er to tel her that. Candles were only good in blackouts as far as Eloise was concerned.

“You must take this seriously.”

Eloise sighed deeply.
Why do I put myself through this?
“Okay. So tel me.” She needed to hear some fantastical story that she could laugh at and walk away from, forty dol ars poorer but feeling safe.

“There is a dark one from ancient times.”

“Uh-huh,” Eloise murmured yet stiffened at the words.
Not what I want to hear.

“A blond, blue-eyed man.”

“You just said he was dark.” Eloise knew she could act as flippant as she liked but she knew what that darkness was.

Madame Cherylene looked at her with a strange, almost-fearful look. “His soul is dark.”

“Right. Dark soul, blond hair, blue eyes. Any other distinguishing features?”
And please tell me how and when I can avoid meeting him.

“He is a vampire.” The woman’s words gushed out in both horror and fascination.

“Oh crap.” Of al the things Eloise did not want to hear that was it.

“Fuck! You mean I’m actual y right?” Madame Cherylene looked amazed. “They real y exist?”

“Yeah, unfortunately so.” Eloise ran her hand through her messy, shoulder-length, dark brown hair. The clip holding it in place had long since giving up trying to contain al the unruly waves.

“Jeez, you knew already, didn’t you?” Madame Cherylene pul ed her turban off and dropped in on the table with a thump. “Were you testing me?”

Eloise watched as the fake diamond fel out and clattered onto the wooden surface. “No, I was testing myself more than you.” She was not surprised that the woman was confused. It was hard to explain even the simplest life to another person, let alone one involving a vampire. “I was hoping you’d be some carnival hack who would tel me I would meet a tal , dark, handsome man who would sweep me off my feet and have two-point-four children, a mortgage, put on thirty pounds and divorce my husband.”
But no, I can’t be normal like everyone else.

“You know I get the feeling he does not want you.”

Eloise snorted at her words. ”Wel , right back at him.” She wanted no part of this herself
. Okay, time to stop spinning my wheels and to make some sort
of plan.
For the last two weeks she had been feeling on edge and this just added to it. The overwhelming need to get in her car and drive as far out of Brisbane as she could gripped Eloise with a new surge of panic. Though how far was far enough? That this vampire did not want her was the least of her concerns. None of this was about love or need. “I wil not be a slave to fate.”

Madame Cherylene shook head. “Don’t you get it? You have no choice. This is not a question of choosing a path. There is only one direction for both of you.”

The woman was right but that did not mean much to Eloise. She had been going against the odds for years. “Unless his path is directly past the supermarket for Tim Tams then we wil not meet.” A road trip and panic always required chocolate.

“He is your destiny.”

“Oh bugger off, he is not.” Eloise stood up. She had exactly fifty-two dol ars in her purse, was low on gas, had a maxed-out credit card and a bunch of courtesy cards for buy-one-get-one-free coffee and muffins. If she traveled slowly and stopped at al the Muffin Stops she would probably make it just west past Ipswich. Not exactly the back of beyond but it was a start.

“Running away doesn’t help.”

Great. A woman with a fake turban and feral children was giving her advice.
But then I asked for it. I’m desperate
. “It doesn’t hurt.”
Though I am going to
have to change these shoes before I do.
They looked fantastic on Eloise but a mad dash to safety required flat soles and non-pointy toes.

“It’s too late for whatever you plan to do.” Madam Cherylene shook her head at her.

Eloise knew that. She always had.
I just never thought it would get to this stage
. “Okay so I invest in garlic and crucifixes.” That was doable. She loved garlic, and crucifixes were always a fashion statement.

The clairvoyant yel ed at her children again and then turned to her client. “I think that only happens with movie vampires.”

Ouch!
Eloise banged her knee on the table
. I just knew I would do that.
“So what stops them?” She reached down to massage the pain away.

“Some things cannot be stopped.”

Eloise blew out a sigh and handed the woman the rest of the money. “Yeah, yeah, I know that. What is foretold cannot be stopped.”

She had been hearing that from her great Uncle McManus Gaunt since she turned eighteen. “Jeez, why couldn’t I have been normal and have lost my virginity years ago?” Eloise muttered to herself as she left the house. “But oh no, I had to want ‘the one’ and he just happens to be a frigging vampire.” It was true. Eloise knew she could not be what she wasn’t and some things were destined to happen no matter how much she wanted to prove otherwise.

* * * * *

Fourteen years ago

Uncle McManus was her guardian and the last known Gaunt standing other than herself.

“It is written lass.”

“Who wrote it?” Eloise loved him but he was a crazy old coot with wild dark eyes, thick, wool y gray hair and was rarely seen without a glass of scotch in his hand. It made her wonder if it was
written
in fine-grained malt in his mind.

“You know our clan is from the town of Wick in Scotland?”

Of course she did. Her uncle had been tel ing her about the Gaunt family as soon as she had been old enough to form sentences. “Yes, in the county of Caithness in the Highlands of Scotland.” Like any Highlander born and bred, McManus Gaunt had firm beliefs on who was a “true” Highlander and he made sure Eloise knew her heritage.

“Aye, and your ancestress Caitriona and you are linked through destiny.”

“Okay,” Eloise had murmured, thinking maybe it was time to start marking off the amount in his scotch bottles to indicate consumption and the likelihood of wild storytel ing.

“Caitriona died for love.” His eyes focused hard on hers. “She decreed nearly a thousand years ago that a woman of Gaunt a thousand years in the future would be tested for her love of her soul mate.”

Soul mates? They believed in pop psychology even back then? “Why?” Had this Caitriona woman been prey to the bottle herself? Some of the best ramblings happened under the influence of alcohol. Or was this some crazy story passed down and elaborated on with every generation?

“Because she fel in love with a vampire and he betrayed Caitriona and it broke her heart.”

Eloise arched her eyebrows. “A vampire? Seriously?” She looked at him and the bottle at his elbow. Was it fueling his story just a tad?

“They exist, lass. Vampires are al around us. We pass by them without knowing. They seek out only those who understand them.”

“Riiiight. How much have you had to drink today, Uncle Mac?”

He looked at her in al seriousness. “Don’t be flippant about this girl. If you fail the test your life wil be forfeited.”

Whoa.
That was not something Eloise expected to hear. The look in his eyes was extremely grave and serious. A cold shiver of apprehension ran up her spine. “Me fail the test? Why me?”

“You are the last Gaunt woman of our line, lass.”

The way her uncle said that made fine hairs on the back of her neck stand up. “But how could I—”

McManus held up his hand. “In fourteen years from now the thousand years is up. You wil be tested and there is naught you can do about it. My duty is to warn you.”

Naught? Those weren’t odds she cared for.
Warn me?
“But—”

“You cannot fight fate, lass.” He shook his head at the thought of it. “He wil come regardless. No other man wil tempt you as he shal .”

“He?” It sounded so final, so definite. Although at eighteen, Eloise had no idea what she wanted to do with her life, having to deal with some weird family story was not on her list of career ambitions.

“A vampire of your own.” McManus reached over and patted her hand. “It wil either be the making of you or—”

“Or what?” Eloise looked at him in trepidation. After hearing this, she wished he were drunk.

“Just don’t fail, lass. You must appease Caitriona’s restless spirit and pass her test.”

Eloise looked at him in horror. “There’s a test?

“Seven in fact and there is no way out of them.”

“Holy crap, talk about not being able to pick your relatives.”

McManus nodded his head. “Aye, but you wil be fine. You’re a woman of Gaunt.”

Jeez, I wish I was a Jones.

* * * * *

Present Day

“Oh hel .” It was
her.
Arrow sensed the dark-haired woman before he saw her. He knew this was going to happen one day. His mortal mother, descended from a long line of Celts, had explained it to him as soon as he was old enough to understand.

“The men of my clan know their true love instantly. Some dream of her. Some can hear her thoughts. Your true love wil come to you when you are ready.

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