Sharon Ashwood, Scorched

Conall Macmillan is an ex-cop who was infected by a demon’s kiss, before being imprisoned in the extra-dimensional prison known as the Castle. A witch’s spell cured him, and he escaped the Castle on his own, only to learn that his humanity has continued to slip away. Unfortunately, Caravelli, the vampire responsible for keeping the supernatural under control in Fairview, doesn’t trust Mac and wants him dead on general principle.

Meanwhile, inside the Castle, Constance, a vampire who’s retained her innocence even after centuries of unlife, has her own problems. The foundling son she’s raised for the past sixteen years has been seized by the corrupt guards of the Castle, where his blood will be used as a drug. She’s willing to do anything to rescue poor Sylvius and keep her friends and adopted family safe.

When Mac and Constance meet, they’re immediately attracted to one another, and forge a tentative partnership based on mutual desire and need. Mac can get in and out of the Castle, while Constance knows the Castle better than almost anyone else. Together, maybe they can save each other, even as the Castle’s magic fails, endangering all who dwell within, innocent and guilty alike. Meanwhile, Caravelli is keeping a close eye on Mac, waiting for a sign that Mac’s demon side is taking control at last. Of course, he has his own problems: his lover’s sister, a vampire hunter, is in town, and she doesn’t approve of the relationship.

A demon, two vampires, a witch, and a vampire slayer walk into a bar….

But seriously, there’s a fast-paced, character-driven, intensely romantic story going on here. Sparks fly between Constance and Mac (and not just because of his new status as a fire demon) while it’s easy to see the continuing chemistry between Caravelli and his girlfriend Holly. These are characters who belong together, and who work together, and Ashwood expertly conveys that growing sense of intimate connection that drives the romance portion of the story. And one can hardly escape without mentioning the -ahem- blazing hot moments of passion between Mac and Constance. They click on all sorts of levels, with passion, sensuality, and unabashed desire.

As for the world-building, it’s a mixture of standard urban fantasy Option B (supernaturals have gone public and struggle to blend in) and intriguingly strange alternate world (the Castle is a pocket dimension where supernaturals of all sorts are imprisoned or otherwise trapped … except for those who come and go as through a revolving door). It’s enjoyable, with enough quirks to stand out, especially when Ashwood plays with local supernatural businesses. (Nanette’s Naughty Kitty Basket! Baba Yaga’s Restaurant, specializing in poultry!) It’s both well thought out, and playful.

While this is the second in Ashwood’s Dark Forgotten series, and features overlapping characters and continuing themes, it can also be read on its own merits. Definitely one of the better paranormal romances I’ve encountered lately.

(Signet, 2009)

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