Kiss of Crimson
by Lara Adrian
(Bantam Dell, $6.99, R) ISBN 978-0-553-58938-2
***
Second in Lara Adrian's series on vampires, Kiss of Crimson focuses on Dante. Born in eighteenth-century Italy, he is one of the fiercest fighters of the Order, an exclusive group of vampire warriors, whose unrestrained fight against Evil sets them on the fringes of both vampire and human society. Their major enemies are Rogues, vampires who can no longer control their hunger for human blood. They have become a threat to themselves and to the host population which unknowingly feeds them. Which is why Dante and his brothers have sworn to kill a Rogue on sight.

One night, while clubbing, Dante comes across a group of Rogues who don't have the usual response to his all-powerful weapons. Instead, they riddle him with bullets, leaving him desperate for human blood. He stumbles into the clinic of veterinarian Tess Culver, overpowers her and drinks her blood.

Normally, this bloodthirsty act wouldn't matter. As long as vampires don't succumb to bloodlust, humans don't suffer, and a quick memory wipe ensures that the unusual circumstances are soon forgotten. But Tess has an unusual birthmark, which Dante sees and recognizes a little too late. It brands her as a Breedmate, a female human who can not only mate with vampires but also carry their babies to term (vampires are only male). When vampires consume a Breedmate's blood, a strong connection is formed, one which can quickly develop into a lifetime bond, otherwise known as eternal love.

Taking Tess's blood is one thing; entering into a lifetime non- consensual relationship is another. But with vampire-threatening day about to break, Dante doesn't have time to explain everything to Tess (who is blissfully ignorant about vampires and her connection to them). He wipes her memory clean and vows he will return soon. When they next meet, it is instant and mutual lust. Despite a hot bedroom romp, Dante still hesitates to spill the beans. He is sorely tempted to bond with her, but visions of his death by fire have been haunting him all his life. He wants to spare her the misery of early widowhood.

Dante also discovers that Tess's ex-boyfriend is the main source for Crimson, a drug that produces a minor caffeine-like buzz on humans but has disastrous effects on young vampires (the vampires he witnessed in the first scene were under its influence). Dante doesn't really suspect Tess of being involved, but he also isn't sure how she will respond to the information. It never occurs to him that she might react even worse if she found out the wrong way. Once again, it is up to him to make things right again.

Dante's failure to disclose everything set my teeth on the edge. He is such a heavy-handed alpha male that Tess has a minor role in the suspense part of the novel. Fortunately, Adrian doesn't completely ignore her. Like all Breedmates, she is endowed with a special talent, one that she is reluctant to use until Dante enters her life. Elsewhere, her interactions with her human friends and her animal pets draw the portrait of a caring healer in search of a soul mate. Dante walks right into that role, even if it is more mating than souls that draw them together.

Adrian is a fairly competent writer and pens hot erotic scenes and vivid action sequences. Although Kiss of Crimson is part of on-going series, she does a great job ensuring it can stand alone. She strikes a careful balance between providing necessary details and avoiding extensive major information dumps.

Yet, for all her competence, I'm not completely thrilled by this story. With so many other on-going series about an underground brotherhood of trash-talking supermen and their bonded psychic mates, it's hard to discern anything special. Still, the secondary characters who cross the pages have me interested enough to keep on looking out for more.

--Mary Benn


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