Table of Contents Praise for D.B. Reynolds’s Vampires in America D.B. Reynolds Vampires in America Vampires in AmericaThe VignettesVolume 2 Copyright Dedication From the Author Vampire Vignette #10 an Old Friend Vampire Vignette #11 My Heart Vampire Vignette #12 When Juro Met Lucia (and fell in love) Vampire Vignette #13 The Christmas Present Vampire Vignette #14 Natalie’s Dream Vampire Vignette #15 Old Enemies Vampire Vignette #16 Dessert Vampire Vignette #17 Dear Diary Vampire Vignette #18 Freedom Vampire Vignette #19 Merry Christmas, Baby My gift to you . . . A Note from the Author My interview with a vampire! Huff ‘n Puff Reporter An Interview with Cynthia Leighton When Cyn Met Emma An Introduction to Jared Huff ‘n Puff Interview with Raphael And Cyn A Touch of Lucas for Halloween The Kissing Booth
Halloween Memories Aden and Sidonie’s First Christmas A Council of War A Visit to the Haunted House Please visit these websites for more information about D.B. Reynolds About the Author
Praise for D.B. Reynolds’s Vampires in America TOP PICK! 4-1/2 Stars. “This is a power read, and fans will not be disappointed in the latest installment of Reynolds’s tantalizing series.” —RT Book Reviews on LUCIFER “Captivating and brimming with brilliance, CHRISTIAN is yet another defining addition to the ever-evolving world of Vampires in America created by D.B. Reynolds.” —KT Book Reviews “Did I mention that the sizzling sex factor in this book is reaching the combustible stage? It is a wonder my Kindle didn’t burn up.” —La Deetda Reads on DECEPTION “D.B. Reynolds has outdone herself with this exhilarating story; and VINCENT is a worthy addition to Reynolds’s always excellent Vampires in America series.” —-Fresh Fiction “Terrific writing, strong characters and world
building, excellent storylines all help make Vampires in America a must read. Aden is one of the best so far.” A TOP BOOK OF THE YEAR! —On Top Down Under Book Reviews “In one of the most compelling vampire books I’ve read in a while, Reynolds blends an excellent mix of paranormal elements, suspense and combustible attraction.” —RT Book Reviews on LUCAS “Move over Raphael, there’s a new Lord in town.” —Bitten by Paranormal Romance on JABRIL
D.B. Reynolds Vampires in America Raphael Jabril Rajmund Sophia Duncan Lucas Aden Vincent
Vampires in America: The Vampire Wars Deception Christian Lucifer
The Cyn and Raphael Novellas Betrayed
Hunted Unforgiven Compelled Relentless
The Stone Warriors The Stone Warriors: Damian The Stone Warriors: Kato
Vampires in America The Vignettes Volume 2 by
D. B. Reynolds ImaJinn Books
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons (living or dead), events or locations is entirely coincidental.
Dedication With love to my readers, because you’re the reason I write these stories.
From the Author I started writing my Vampire Vignettes in 2009, because my readers wanted more. RAPHAEL and JABRIL had just come out only a few months apart, but I knew there was going to be a longer wait for RAJMUND, because I was still writing his story. So, as a way to keep my readers happy while they waited, I wrote my very first vignette. “A Vampire New Year’s Eve” was a short and sexy story of Raphael and Cyn and their special way of celebrating the New Year. I published it on my website, and my readers loved it. The new books came out, but I kept writing my vignettes, too. They were little glimpses into my vampires’ lives— private moments that happened when they weren’t fighting for territory and destroying evil vampires, when they weren’t trying to win the hearts of the women (and man) that they loved. In 2012, I put together Vampires in America: The Vignettes-Volume 1. It included all the stories that had been published on my website at that point, plus some new stories that hadn’t. I called it
Volume 1, and the first question my readers asked was, “Is there going to be a Volume 2?” I said, “Yes, eventually.” Well, it took five years, but here we are at last . . . Volume 2. I want to thank every reader who ever sent me an e-mail, a message, a card or letter, every one of you who left a review on Amazon, or who told your friends, “You have to read these books.” If not for your love and support, I wouldn’t be able to spend my nights doing what I love . . . writing stories for all of you to read. xoxo —D. B. Reynolds
Vampire Vignette #10 an Old Friend Shortly after the events in DUNCAN, Book Five Malibu, California CYN TUCKED HER stockinged feet beneath her and curled into the corner of the oversized leather chair. The lights in the private suite she shared with Raphael were dim, and not just because he preferred it that way. He was upstairs, so if she’d wanted, she could have turned every light in the place to its highest setting, and no one would have cared. But the lights were dim because it suited her mood this evening, and her mood was sad. She didn’t even know why she was sad. Or rather she did know, but . . . well, it was complicated. She was sad because Raphael was sad. She just didn’t know why he was sad. Not yet anyway, though she had no doubt she would know before the night was over. They’d just finished showering . . . and other things, since shower sex was a particular favorite of
Raphael’s. She suspected he enjoyed the ambush quality of it, though he hadn’t ever had to work that hard at it. She’d been embarrassingly easy almost from the beginning. She took some solace in knowing she’d held out for the short time she had. She didn’t like to think about the months after that, before Raphael had finally admitted he couldn’t live without her. She smiled briefly, the smile dying when she cast her gaze and her thoughts upward to where she could feel Raphael’s emotions as clearly as if they were her own. He’d been called to the phone right after their shower. She hadn’t been able to hear when Juro told him who was calling, but she had seen his surprise. Whoever it was hadn’t been expected. And now, he was sad. The whir of the elevator mechanism alerted her to his imminent return, and she sat up expectantly, waiting for the doors to open. Her heart was tripping a little too rapidly, her throat dry. The doors opened, and Raphael stepped into the shadowy room, his gaze going directly to where she sat in her dark corner. “Raphael?” Cyn was on her feet and moving toward him before she was aware of it. There was such pain in his face. She’d never seen anything like it, except maybe when Marco and Preston had died up north . . . was that it? Had someone else died?
“Raphael, who was it?” He pulled her into his arms, burying his face in her hair with a deep sigh of relief. His entire body relaxed then, as if he’d been holding it all in, just waiting for the comfort of holding her. Cyn reached up and stroked her fingers over the back of his head, soothing him. “Come sit with me,” she murmured, and tugged him toward the huge chair which had been designed to fit his considerable stature. He came willingly, letting her lead him, letting her push him gently down, before she climbed onto his lap and wrapped her arms around him. His arms circled her immediately, holding her so tightly she could barely breathe. But she didn’t complain. She’d never seen him like this. Vulnerable. Even when Alexandra had betrayed him, he hadn’t been like this. He’d been furious, not sad, not lost. Something terrible must have happened. “What do you need?” she asked gently, stroking his neck and shoulders with long, slow movements, designed to soothe and relax. “What can I do?” She thought he wasn’t going to answer, but then his deep voice rumbled, “Just this, my Cyn. You’re the only comfort I need.” Tears stung her eyes. She loved him so much. It hurt to see him in such pain, but at the same time,
it touched her to know she could console him. “Tell me what happened,” she urged. “An old friend died.” Cyn breathed a silent sight of relief. Part of her had feared that another of his children, maybe even someone she knew, had died. But he’d said, “old friend.” “Not one of yours, then?” she clarified cautiously. “No.” He shook his head. “My friend Andrei and I were brothers of a sort. We shared the same Sire. She turned him only weeks after she attacked me, and she abandoned us both.” “Did you know him before?” Raphael lifted his head enough to lean back against the chair, pulling her with him, so her head rested next to his. She could feel the slow beat of his heart against her ribs, the steady in and out of his breathing. “No,” he said, answering her question. “We didn’t meet until she called us to her, decades later. I know now that she was weakening, that she needed our strength to bolster her own. Andrei wasn’t powerful, not in vampiric power, but he was physically unmatched, a true bull of a man. That’s not as useful to a master as the other, but our mistress preferred vampires like Andrei. He lent her his strength without question, never challenged her, no matter how cruel she became. And she could be
very cruel when life disappointed her.” He closed his eyes, as if too weary to continue, and Cyn ran soft fingertips over the sharp curve of his cheekbone. “You don’t have to—” “I want to,” he assured her. “It’s the only way I have of remembering him.” Cyn nodded her understanding, and waited. “By the time I decided to leave Europe, our mistress was long dead, and Andrei had been living for some years in the court of another. I asked him to go with me, but he refused. I was leaving to escape the old hierarchy of Europe, but he found comfort in its familiarity, and didn’t mind swearing fealty to another.” “You stayed in touch?” Raphael smiled sadly. “There was no staying in touch then, my Cyn. Letters took months, sometimes longer, to reach their goal. And that was assuming the recipient stayed in one place, which I certainly did not do for some time.” “But later? Someone knew enough to call you tonight.” He nodded. “Later, when communication became easier, I located him, and invited him once more to join me. But he was content.” “So, what happened?” “Things are unsettled in Europe right now. There’ve been many changes in the last twenty
years . . . wars, changes in international boundaries, countries created, or should I say re-created, decades after the international community had consigned them to the history books. And humans aren’t the only ones fighting one another. There are too many old vampires, too many masters, and not enough followers, with no room for new blood. Andrei’s master was one of those old vampires. He was challenged, and he lost. But he didn’t go easily, and in the final battle, he drained any of his people who weren’t strong enough to resist him. And, as I said, Andrei was never strong. Not that way.” “I’m sorry.” “He lived a long time, longer than I would have thought, given his power. But then, he never challenged anyone. He offered his strength willingly to his master, and he was loyal to the end.” Cyn sighed and pressed closer to Raphael. “What can I do?” He turned his head slightly, his black gaze meeting hers. “Kiss me, my Cyn. Remind me that I, at least, am alive.” A thin blade of fear stabbed her heart at his words. He sounded so tired, so defeated. She’d never heard him like this, and it terrified her. Threading her fingers through his short hair, she touched her lips to his. Gently at first, a brush of softness. Her tongue caressed the seam of his lips,
then slipped between them to stroke the inside of his mouth, to tease his tongue into responding. A low growl rose from his broad chest as his arms tightened around her, one of his big hands dropping down to squeeze her butt. She felt the growing ridge of his arousal and shifted closer, rising onto her knees and straddling him until the hard length of his cock was pressed between her thighs. Taking control, she tugged his head back as she plundered his mouth, her own excitement growing when she felt the first sting of his fangs as they emerged from his gums. More proof of his arousal. “Raphael,” she whispered, her own need growing. “I love you. I need you.” Raphael gripped her butt with both hands and pulled her even closer. Eyes closed, he thrust against her, grinding the seam of her denims into the vee between her legs, hitting her clit with uncanny accuracy. Needing more skin, she reached down with both hands and tugged her sweater and camisole off together, leaving her in nothing but her bra—a bra which was little more than sheer silk and lace, something she’d donned earlier with the intent of tormenting Raphael. But now, she was the one being tormented, needing to offer solace, rather than seduction, to go slowly, lovingly, instead of ripping his button fly open and sucking him into her
mouth like a length of warm, delicious candy. She nearly groaned at the image that filled her head. She looked up to see Raphael’s eyes flash open. They were more silver than black as he bared his teeth and fangs in a predator’s grin. He gave her ass a final squeeze with strong fingers, then traced a path up over her hips, circling her waist briefly before cupping both her breasts as he thumbed her already hard nipples. Cyn inhaled sharply as the soft lace scraped the swollen tips, then gave in and groaned out loud when Raphael unsnapped the front closure on her bra, freeing their heavy weight to fall into his hands. “Beautiful, my Cyn,” he whispered. “Always beautiful.” But he didn’t stop there. He released her breasts, leaving them aching and hungry, and slipped his hands up her arms until he was gripping her biceps. Giving her a sly look, he lifted her off his lap, then spread his legs until she slid between them to kneel on the floor, exactly where she’d thought about being a few moments earlier. “Sneak,” she murmured, even as she shrugged out of her bra and popped the buttons on his fly one at a time. Raphael only smiled slightly—still so sad, she thought. She reached into the open fly of his denims and freed his gorgeous, big cock. And it was gorgeous. Long and velvety, thick enough to be
erotic, to stretch her wonderfully wide and tight, but still graceful in its beauty. She licked up one side slowly, sensuously, starting at the tight crease where it met his balls and stroking all the way up to the head, swirling her tongue over and around, dipping her tongue into the slit, sucking up the drop of pre-cum pearling its tip, before licking down the other side and starting up all over again. Twisting her tongue around the tip once more, she raised just her eyes to look up at Raphael and found him watching her, his gaze molten silver as he stared back, his fingers reaching out to twist in her hair. Maintaining eye contact, Cyn sucked his entire cock into her mouth, feeling it stroke the back of her throat before she lifted her head, her tongue swirling around and around as she moved up and down in a steady rhythm. Raphael’s fingers fisted in her hair as his shaft swelled, his balls tightening. Cyn cupped his balls in the fingers of one hand, caressing them firmly, scraping her nails along his tight sac, just on the edge of pain. With her other hand, she gripped the base of his cock as she pumped faster, sucked harder. Raphael’s grip on her hair tightened painfully a moment before he shouted her name. She tasted the first salty rush of his cum, sucking it all down and swallowing as he thrust into her mouth over and over, until finally he relaxed into the chair, his
fingers stroking carefully through her tangled hair. Cyn was licking the cum from his still-hard erection when he suddenly pulled her up and into his arms as he stood. He strode to the bed and lowered her gently before tugging away her socks, then her soft stretchy pants and panties all at once. Raphael tore his own clothes away with a speed that only a vampire could match, then spread her legs and settled between them, lowering his big body onto hers, pressing her into the mattress. Resting his weight on his elbows, he stroked a few strands of hair off her face. “I love you, my Cyn. Even if all else failed, you would be reason enough for me to keep living.” Cyn wrapped her arms around his shoulders and pulled him down, loving the way his weight crushed against her, the press of firm muscle against her soft breasts. “You’d better keep living, fang boy,” she whispered back. “Or I’ll haunt you forever.” He grinned, and she saw a little bit of his usual arrogance fill his expression for the first time since he’d heard about his friend. He didn’t say anything, just started moving, stroking his cock against her wet sex, the hard length caressing her clit with every movement. She ran her hands down the length of his back, savoring the feel of all that smooth muscle beneath her fingers, until she gripped his ass.
“Raphael,” she breathed. “My Cyn,” he crooned back at her. “Fuck me. Now.” Raphael’s laughter was the sweetest sound she’d heard in a long time. He lifted his hips enough to slide the tip of his cock into her slick heat, filling her with a long, steady thrust until she was stretched inside and out as her body accommodated the length and breadth of him. And, oh God, it felt so good. There was nothing in the world that she loved more than this connection between them, the way their bodies fit, as if made for each other. Which should have been impossible, but somehow it wasn’t. He fucked her with hard, quick thrusts. Pulling nearly completely out of her, leaving only the very tip of his cock inside her quivering pussy, before plunging deep inside her once more. She could feel the walls of her vagina trembling around him, and knew she was stretched so tightly that he had to be feeling it, too. The thought excited her, and she moaned, rubbing her breasts against him wantonly. Raphael hissed when she lifted her legs higher, when his cock slid deep inside her until it was touching her cervix with every thrust. Cyn could hear herself moaning, little wordless cries that echoed the tightening of her vaginal walls, the first humming shivers of excitement in her womb. She groaned loudly and dug her fingers into Raphael’s
tight ass. He grinned, and the sight of his fangs sliding into view sent a trill of excitement through her entire body, a rippling shiver that started in her breasts, tightening her nipples and rolling down through her abdomen and directly to her clit, which pulsed in arousal. Cyn cried out in relief when Raphael lowered his mouth to her neck, his tongue a long, slow stroke of warm wetness, before his teeth closed teasingly over her skin. Cyn was panting by the time she felt the first shiver of an orgasm, felt the slam of Raphael’s cock as it pushed through the trembling, tight walls of her pussy, felt the shiver turn into a convulsion that bowed her back as Raphael lifted his mouth . . . and sank his fangs into her vein. She screamed as the euphoric in his bite shot through her body, stroking every nerve with a velvet fist, squeezing her inner muscles around Raphael’s cock until every movement was a brush of ecstasy, a tremor of sheer pleasure that went on and on. Raphael’s slow, steady strokes became more frenzied as he neared his own release. She felt the slap of his balls with every thrust, the warmth of his breath as he drank her blood. And then he lifted his head with a roar, as the heated rush of his release seared her insides as surely as his silver gaze seared her soul. They lay together for several minutes, hearts
pounding, lungs working, as they came down from the bliss that was always the climax of their lovemaking. Raphael held her against his chest, and she listened to the strong beat of his heart. “I love you, you know.” “I know,” he said, and even as she slapped his firm belly, it made her happy to hear that note of smugness return to his voice. “I love you, too, my Cyn,” he said solemnly. “You are mine. Now and forever.” The End
Vampire Vignette #11 My Heart Not long after the events in LUCAS, Book Six South Dakota LUCAS WATCHED on his surveillance cam as Kathryn parked by the front stairs. The door to her Jeep swung open, and her long legs appeared, one at a time, as she slid out of the vehicle. She was wearing a dress tonight, unusual in itself, but this one was sexy as hell. Black, short, and tight, showing lots of leg above a pair of black stiletto heels. He couldn’t see the shoes well on camera, but he knew they’d be shiny leather stilettos with lots of skinny straps around the ankles, and that they’d been made by a designer with a famous name. And he knew these things because he’d bought them for her last month. Kathryn worked in a man’s world. In order to succeed in that world, she had to minimize her femininity, and, too often, she carried that home with her. But Kathryn was the sexiest woman he’d
ever met, the only woman he’d ever loved, the only one who’d ever inspired him to embrace the concept of monogamy. He’d wanted to give her something sensuous, something that said he thought of her first and foremost as a desirable woman. He’d considered lingerie, but that seemed too ordinary, almost a cliché. So, he’d asked Raphael’s mate, Cyn, for a recommendation, and she’d immediately said, “shoes.” And then, not trusting him to pick the right ones, she’d provided a selection and let him make the final choice. Kathryn had loved them. The look on her face had been enough to tell him he’d done the right thing. But that she’d chosen to wear them tonight, for the first time, touched him more than he would have thought possible. Tonight was important for him, important for them. They’d been as close as two people could be for the last several months, but there’d been a part of Kathryn that she’d always held back, a reluctance to take the final step, to commit to the full potential of their relationship— the relationship of a vampire lord and his mate. She let him take her blood whenever he wanted, which was every time they made love, and she even took small tastes of his. It was enough to connect them, but never enough to form the mate bond. Lucas had never pushed her to commit beyond her comfort level. He didn’t want her to mate with him only because he wanted it. He wanted her to
choose it for herself. Even so, he’d been surprised when she did. When she’d proposed to him, just as one would for a marriage. He loved that she’d been the one to propose, rather than the more traditional form. And he intended to tease her with that fact for a very long time. But until he’d seen her wearing those shoes tonight, he hadn’t been sure she was doing it for the right reasons. War was coming to the North American vampires, a war that would test loyalties and commitments to the point of breaking. Lucas had discussed the situation with Kathryn, just as he discussed all his business with her. And he’d been half-convinced that she had only proposed their mating in order to strengthen him for the coming war. He knew she loved him, that she wanted to protect him, but that wasn’t what he wanted from her. He wanted her to want him. Seeing her tonight in her little black dress and the sexy shoes he’d bought for her himself. . . . She was dressed for seduction, and he knew she desired him, just as he did her. He started for the front door using his vampire speed so that by the time she reached the top step, he was there waiting for her. There was no one else home, at least not in the main house. He’d made sure of it. Vampires were closely linked to their Sire, a link that was only made stronger by physical proximity. And he had no desire for anyone to
eavesdrop on what he and Kathryn were about to share. THE DOOR OPENED as Kathryn took the last step. She looked up in surprise, smiling when she saw Lucas standing there. He held out his hand, pulling her into an embrace as soon as their fingers touched. She sighed with pleasure as his strong arms surrounded her, relaxing for the first time in days when he tucked her against his broad chest. Kathryn was an independent and capable woman. A trained FBI sniper, she could take out a target a mile away. She was skilled in hand-to-hand combat, regularly worked out, and was fully capable of defending herself. But somehow, Lucas wiped all of that away and made her feel delicate, feminine, protected. “A cuisle,” he murmured, burying his face in her hair. “You look beautiful.” Kathryn slipped her arms around his narrow waist and felt his embrace tighten. “We don’t have to do this, Katie mine,” he whispered. “Not unless you’re ready.” He’d probably felt her heart pounding against his chest, or maybe heard it with that super-vamp hearing of his. It was the one problem with having a vampire lover. It was nearly impossible to keep anything from him. Good thing she made it a policy not to lie to anyone who mattered to her. And
Lucas most definitely mattered. She leaned back to meet his eyes directly. “I’m ready, Lucas. I want this. I want you.” “You’re trembling.” “Because I’m excited. Trust me to know my own mind.” He grinned. “One of the things I love most about you . . . I never roll over you. Except in bed, of course.” “Only because I don’t let you.” “True enough. Are we going to stand in the doorway all night?” “I don’t know. Are you going to invite me in?” “This is your home, Kathryn,” he told her, suddenly serious. “You don’t need an invitation.” Tears stung her eyes as she touched her mouth to his. “I love you,” she whispered. Lucas deepened the kiss briefly, then wrapped an arm around her waist and led her inside, closing the door behind them. “Come on,” he said, his hand slipping from her hip to her lower back as they walked down the hallway. “I have champagne and roses in the sitting room.” “Fantastic. We can take them with us when we go downstairs.” “Downstairs?” “To your bedroom, Lucas,” she explained patiently. “I don’t need to be wooed.”
“I don’t want to rush—” “Lucas,” she said turning to face him head-on. “I’ve thought about all of this. I’ve done nothing but think about it for weeks.” And that was the truth. She’d gone over all the obstacles he’d presented her with after she’d proposed to him. He’d warned her about all the pitfalls—not because he didn’t want her to mate with him, but because he didn’t want her to regret it once she did. For all his talk about running roughshod over everyone to get what he wanted, Lucas was an honorable man. And so he’d made sure she knew the downsides to mating with a vampire. They’d never have children, but then, she’d never planned on children anyway. She’d raised her brother; that was enough. There was the violent reality of a vampire’s life, especially a vampire lord. But she knew that, too. She remembered the damage to Nick’s face on that long-ago night in the club parking lot, the blood coating Lucas’s leathers. She knew Lucas could be challenged at any moment, and that he could die. But how was that different from anyone else? Everyone could die without warning. And those who worked in law enforcement, like Kathryn herself, risked their lives every day. Maybe Lucas was the one taking a chance, instead of her. And, yeah, she knew there was a war coming that would put Lucas at even greater risk. But
instead of dissuading her from mating with him, it had been knowledge of the coming war that had made her all the more determined. Not because she wouldn’t have mated with him otherwise, but because she wanted to be sure he survived this war, and together, they were immeasurably stronger than they were apart. Besides, she loved the arrogant bastard and couldn’t imagine life without him. “If you’re sure—” he asked. “Are you trying to talk me out of it? Tonight?” “Hell, no,” he said, tightening his hold on her waist again and hustling her down the hall. “Just being polite.” Kathryn laughed. “Lucas, what about the champagne and roses?” she asked as he rushed past the turn to the sitting room. “There’s plenty of champagne downstairs,” he assured her. “And who needs roses when I’ve got your sweet self?” He urged her into the elevator, crowding her against the back wall even before the door closed, every inch of his powerful body pressed up against hers. “I like the shoes, a cuisle.” “You like them?” she said coyly, holding one foot out and admiring the sexy designer pump. “I love them.” “Well, then—” he murmured, “—you’ll have to leave them on when I fuck you.”
Her eyes widened when they met his. “Won’t that hurt you?” “Hurts so good,” he purred. “Lucas,” she said, suddenly breathless. The elevator door opened and he scooped her up as if she weighed nothing. Which she certainly did not. She wasn’t used to being carried around like the princess in some fairy tale. But as she wound her arms around Lucas’s neck, she had to admit that those princesses had the right idea. Lucas carried her directly to this big bed, deposited her carefully, then followed her down until he was stretched out next to her. Or rather, mostly on top of her. “Did you want champagne?” he asked quietly, playing with the strands of her long hair, which she’d left down tonight, because he liked it that way. “Not really.” She cupped his handsome jaw. “Tell me how we do this.” “It’s not so different from our usual rounds of incredible sex,” he said, stopping when she rolled her eyes. “Are you saying sex with me isn’t incredible?” “Of course, it’s incredible. I love it when you fuck me, the harder the better.” His gaze heated at her deliberate crudity. “Kathryn, if you want me to make it through this explanation, you’ll have to stop saying things like
that.” “Like what?” she asked, tugging his head down until she was speaking directly into his ear. “You mean, I can’t talk about how much I love the feel of your cock sliding into my pussy? Or how you get so deep inside me, I can’t tell where I end and you begin?” “Kathryn,” he growled. “Or how wet I am right now—” she whispered, “—just thinking about fucking you all night long?” She stroked her hands over the breadth of his shoulders, sliding her fingers up and into the silky thickness of his hair. “And now you’ve done it,” he crooned, nibbling delicately along the curve of her neck, his hand sliding up her outer thigh, her skirt crumpled in his fist as he shoved it up to her waist. She was wearing her tiniest pair of panties underneath, nothing but a lacy triangle and a few strings. The kind of thing she’d never worn before meeting Lucas, but she’d worn it tonight because she’d known they’d end up like this. Lucas liked to touch and stroke, to lick and taste. The first thing he always did upon seeing her was caress her in some way. If they were in public, he’d take her hand and stroke her fingers, or put an arm around her and squeeze her hip or shoulder. Simply touching her wasn’t enough; he had to pet her. And on a night like this, when it was only the
two of them, it was almost a sure thing that he’d immediately go for bare skin. The sooner the better. It showed her just how determined he was not to rush her, that he’d been prepared to slow everything down when she arrived, to sit by the fireplace and sip champagne, if that’s what she’d wanted. It made her love him even more. But she didn’t want to slow down. She wanted Lucas and she wanted him now. Which was why she’d deliberately provoked him, and why his strong fingers were even now slipping between her thighs, pushing her legs open, and dipping beneath the pretty lace triangle. “The wrapping is very pretty, a cuisle,” he whispered, his breath warm against skin already damp from his kisses. He snapped the slender band holding her thong together. “But not nearly as pretty as the pussy it hides.” Kathryn exhaled a shuddery breath, her nails digging into Lucas’s scalp as she bent her knees upward, lifting herself eagerly to his touch. She felt his mouth curve into a smile. “So hungry,” he murmured. “Do your FBI friends know what you’re hiding beneath those staid blue suits of yours?” “They don’t think about it,” she whispered, shocked at how difficult it was already to breathe, and he’d barely begun.
“They’d better not,” he growled, even though he’d been the one who brought it up. His fingers stabbed suddenly deep inside her and she groaned. “Lucas,” she gasped. “Mmmm,” he said absently, too busy fucking her with his fingers, withdrawing enough to spread her juices over the lips of her pussy, circling her clit without ever touching it. “Take off your clothes,” she said breathlessly. He lifted lazy eyes to meet hers, then slowly and deliberately slid his fingers out of her pussy, lifted them to his mouth and sucked, his tongue winding around and between, as if to be sure he caught every bit of her glistening arousal. “Delicious,” he commented, then just as slowly grabbed the ends of his sweater and tugged it over his head, tossing it aside before standing to toe off his boots, undoing the buttons on his jeans and sliding them down . . . and Kathryn forgot to breathe as she admired the powerful elegance of his shoulders and chest, the hard ridges of muscle rippling over his abdomen, his flat belly, and narrow hips. Lucas, of course, took his time, knowing she was watching. He did love to preen. “Arrogant,” she whispered, raising her gaze slowly to meet his. “It’s not arrogance if it’s true, Katie mine,” he drawled, unfazed by her comment. He grinned and
dropped to the bed once more, stretching out next to her, one arm over her belly, his fingers cupping her hip, the other touching her face. “What happens next, Lucas?” His laughter fled. “I’m going to make love to you, Kathryn,” he murmured. “But when we share blood this time, we’ll truly share blood. I’ll take yours, and you’ll take mine.” “But I always—” “Not a sip, a cuisle. Not a shallow bite that breaks my skin. Not this time. I’ll slice my wrist for you, and you’ll drink.” Her eyes flashed up to meet his, and she found them already gleaming gold with desire. “Won’t that hurt you?” He smiled. “It will be the furthest thing from hurt. It will be heaven itself.” He bent over and kissed her then, not a teasing brush of lips this time, but a deep, lingering, passionate kiss. The kind of kiss they wrote poems about. A kiss that Kathryn wished could go on forever . . . until she felt the hard length of Lucas’s erection along her thigh, and she remembered there were far better things than kisses . . . even when the kisser was Lucas. Lucas’s hands were everywhere, stroking her thighs, tugging at the shoulders of her dress with a huff of frustration, until he finally pulled down the zipper and stripped her unceremoniously out of the
little black dress she’d selected so carefully for this evening. His breath ran out with appreciation when her breasts were revealed—pale mounds plumping over the black lace of the matching bra, rosy tips eager points within their enclosure—before twisting the front snap, baring her breasts completely only a moment before his mouth closed over one hungry nipple. He sucked hard, drawing half of her breast into his warm mouth, his fangs a slick presence, their sharp points barely felt as his tongue swirled around, tasting her, teasing her nipple into a swollen nub. Kathryn’s back bowed as she offered herself eagerly, holding his head against her breast, curling one leg over his hip as he settled between her thighs, not fucking her, not yet. But she felt his cock all the same. It was a heavy weight against her leg, a velvet stroke on the tender skin of her thigh. “Lucas,” she murmured hungrily, bucking against him, wanting to feel him inside her, wanting him so deep that, as she’d told him before, she couldn’t tell where he ended and she began. “Baby,” she pleaded. “Kathryn,” he whispered. And she shivered when his breath blew over her wet breasts. He lifted himself above her, powerful arms braced to either side of her shoulders as she spread her legs wider, then reached down and stroked the steel length of his cock, so hard and smooth, so hot.
Wrapping her fingers around him, gripping him tightly, possessively, she positioned him at the wet center of her sex, lifting herself so that his tip barely slid inside her. She lifted her gaze when he didn’t follow through, didn’t push deeper into her body. He waited until her eyes were on his, until she was bathed in the golden gleam of his power, and then he flexed his hips, and in a single powerful thrust drove himself forward, not stopping until his balls slapped against her ass, until she felt the touch of his cock against her cervix deep within. He held there for a moment, their eyes locked as the inner muscles of her sheath strained around his thickness, as her cream coated his length until he was as soaked in it as she was. And then he moved again, thrusting strongly in and out, never looking away from her face. Kathryn’s eyes wanted to close. The power of his stare was too much to process, the emotion, the love brimming over, demanding the same of her. But something about Lucas wouldn’t permit her to do that. This thing they were sharing demanded truth between them. He was baring his soul to her, and she had to do the same. He deserved it. He deserved everything she could give him. And so she held his gaze, baring her heart, all of the love she felt for him, her vulnerabilities, her fears, and her total trust in him.
“Kathryn,” he growled, as his pace suddenly quickened, his cock slamming faster, moving in and out, skin slapping with every plunge. Kathryn’s legs tightened around his back as she lifted herself into every thrust, and his fangs grew, pressing against his sensuous lower lip. Kathryn licked her own lips, suddenly hungry for the taste of his blood. “Do it,” she hissed, digging her nails into his shoulders as if to anchor him to her. His head lowered, and she felt his hot breath, the double sting of his fangs as they pierced her skin, the pressure as he punctured her vein . . . and then the rush of exquisite pleasure as the euphoric in his bite shot into her bloodstream, storming along every nerve until the orgasm overwhelmed her and she cried out, arms and legs tightening convulsively around Lucas, even as her pussy squeezed his cock until he could barely move, until he groaned against her neck and his fangs slid out of her vein. She felt the wet touch of his tongue then, as he licked the few stray drops and she welcomed the weight of his body as he collapsed against her, his hips still flexing, his cock still hard inside her, moving slowly, languorously, still fucking her. “Katie, mine,” he whispered. And then his arms came around her, steel bands holding her as he rolled until she was on top of him. She cried out, staring as he brought his own wrist to his mouth and sliced it open with one fang, a long straight cut
down the center. Her eyes lifted in shock, but his were filled with love, with . . . desire. And she understood. Taking his wrist in her fingers, she brought it to her mouth and sucked. Kathryn had tasted enough of Lucas’s blood that she knew what to expect, or thought she did. The reality was so much more. This wasn’t the tiny taste that brought with it an overwhelming rush of lust. This was . . . Lucas. She tasted the golden glow of his power, felt the unflinching loyalty he gave to the vampires who loved and needed him, the redhot heat of his desire for her, the even hotter flame of their love. And she wondered how she’d ever worried that this would be too much. Because this was Lucas, and he was already hers. LUCAS WATCHED Kathryn’s mouth close over his wrist, felt the first hard pull as she took his blood inside her, and his cock grew almost painfully stiff. He’d never shared himself with another woman like this, had never even considered such a thing before meeting Kathryn. She was the one, the only one for him. Watching her drink his blood was a high like nothing he’d ever experienced. And he’d tried just about every high the human world had to offer. Holding her hips in place, he thrust slowly upward, her pussy so tight, so hot, so fucking slick.
It quivered around his cock, caressing him with delicate fingers as a new orgasm began to build within her, as the full impact of his blood heated her veins for the first time. Her fingers convulsed around his wrist as she continued to suck hungrily, and then, without warning, it hit. Going from desire to climax in the space of a heartbeat, they orgasmed together, his release a boiling rush of ecstasy as Kathryn bucked on top of him, her thighs clenching convulsively around his hips, nails digging into his chest as she writhed above him, her cries echoing his groans. He pulled her down, crushing her against his chest, her breath shuddering over his skin as she trembled in the final throes, making helpless little noises that had his cock hardening all over again. And then he felt it. The mate link. A connection like nothing he’d ever known. Kathryn wasn’t bound to him as his vampires were, a weight on his soul, a burden of responsibility. She wasn’t even bound with the ties of love he felt for his Sire or his own vampire children, the ones who had a hold on his heart. She wasn’t bound at all. She wasn’t tied to his heart. She was his heart. “A ghrá,” he whispered, knowing for the first time what it truly meant. My heart. The End . . . Of this story.
But not the end of Lucas and Kathryn’s story.
Vampire Vignette #12 When Juro Met Lucia (and fell in love) Shortly after the events of UNFORGIVEN, Book 7.5 Los Angeles, CA LUCI SPUN AT the sound of running footsteps in the hallway outside her office, turning just in time to see one of her younger charges skid to a stop in her doorway. “Ms. Luci! There’s a huge dude—” His words cut off with a squeak as a shadow fell over his skinny form, a moment before the huge dude made his appearance. “Juro,” she scolded. “Stop scaring the children.” The teenager, who’d been staring up at Juro, way up, immediately redirected his attention at Luci. “I ain’t scared!” he insisted. “My apologies, Dante,” Luci told him, fighting
a grin. “But you can go back to the front room now. Mr. Juro is a friend.” Juro made room, barely, for the kid to squeeze out of Luci’s doorway and escape back down the hall. He watched Dante’s departing form until she heard the front screen door slam. If it had been any other kid, she might have worried that he was off to the streets to get in trouble. But not Dante, or whatever his real name was. A lot of the kids gave her false names. It made it harder to get them government help, but most of them had been screwed by the system too many times to trust easily. Hard on the heels of the slamming door, Juro grunted softly, then stepped into her office, making the small space seem even smaller. He was such a big man, and so very beautiful. In the finely tailored suits he wore for Raphael, he was handsome and formidable. One could guess at his strength, at the muscles and bulk that had to make up the body beneath the elegant fabric. But dressed as he was now—in a black T-shirt, the sleeves stretched to circle huge biceps, fabric clinging to broad shoulders and a thickly-muscled chest before being tucked into a pair of black Levi’s that hung low on narrow hips—he was absolutely drool-worthy. The T-shirt hung slightly looser over his flat belly, hinting at the ripped abdomen that she had never glimpsed, but knew had to be there.
She tried not to stare, or at least not to let him catch her, as he studied the few mismatched seating options in her office. He was probably worried they wouldn’t hold his weight, and with good reason. Frowning, he finally settled on the battered love seat pushed up against the back wall beneath a fringe of hanging plants. Luci winced in sympathy when he sat down. The short couch wasn’t comfortable for her, and she was a third of Juro’s weight. His scowl deepened as he eyed the badly sprung seat beneath him, then extended his regard to the torn and stained upholstery. “You need a new couch,” he told her. “I need five more beds much worse than I need a new couch,” she said mildly. “I can get—” “It’s not just the beds, Juro,” she explained. “It’s the room to put them in.” He frowned. Juro was a problem-solver. “It’s not your problem,” she said gently. “I’m working on a couple of deals.” “What sort of deals?” “The kind that will get my kids a bigger facility.” “Good. I don’t like you being here by yourself. It’s not safe.” “I’m rarely by myself,” she said, intentionally ignoring the second half of his statement. It was
either that or going with her gut and telling him where he could shove his dictates about what was and wasn’t safe for her. It wasn’t his job to keep her safe. “You know what I mean, Lucia.” “I do. And I also know that it’s not your job to keep me safe.” Okay, so she’d gone ahead and told him anyway. But at least she’d been polite. Juro raised his dark eyes, meeting her gaze evenly. “You told the boy I was a friend.” Luci blushed, not knowing what to say. They were friends. More than friends actually. And they’d be way more than friends if she got her way, but she sure as hell wasn’t going to tell him that. “You didn’t call earlier,” she said instead. “I thought maybe you had other plans.” He met her eyes steadily. Juro’s face gave away so little of what he was thinking. Then a tiny smile softened his expression. “Would you go out with me on Friday, Lucia?” Luci’s heart literally missed a beat. At least that’s what it felt like. She and Juro had . . . was dated too strong a word? They’d spent several evenings together, but they’d always met somewhere. The first time had been by happy chance, when they’d run into each other on a Tuesday evening. Luci had been enjoying a quiet and solitary glass of wine after spending two hours
and an early dinner schmoozing a potential donor. Juro had walked in with a couple of other guys that she didn’t know, but assumed were also vampires. He’d been heading for the bar when he spotted her and strolled over. Although, really, “strolled” didn’t come close to describing the big vampire’s predatory grace. He hadn’t asked if he could join her. He’d simply pulled out a chair and sat down. And the rest, as they say, was history. But that history didn’t include anything beyond pleasurable evenings together, at the end of which they always went back to their separate cars and separate lives. Granted, there was always a kiss goodnight, even at the end of that first, accidental meet. And sure, the kisses had gotten hotter and hotter, with a lot more body contact, but never more than that. And Luci was definitely ready to get a lot more of Juro than the acceptable bounds of a PDA. “Out?” she repeated now, daring to hope. “This Friday,” he told her. “I’ll pick you up at your house. There’s a club I think you’ll enjoy. Excellent music, and I’m told the food is good.” Dinner. He was picking her up and taking her out to dinner. Yippee! “I’d love to,” she said, not having to fake her enthusiasm. Juro’s smile broadened into a rare grin, sending hot spears of lust stabbing between her thighs and
making her fervently hope that he couldn’t smell her arousal. The distant slam of the front screen followed by a heavy tread down the hall drew her attention a moment before another of Luci’s teenage charges stormed to a halt in front of her office door. Juro was on his feet faster than her eyes could follow, placing himself between her and the oversized teenage boy standing in her doorway. “Everything okay here, Ms. Luci?” the teen asked, his voice already the deep rumble of a man, despite the slight tremble in reaction to Juro, who was glaring down at him. Luci stood and placed a gentling hand on Juro’s rock-hard forearm. “It’s okay,” she told Juro. “This is Sollie. He helps me out here.” Turning to the young man, she said. “Dante called you?” “Yeah, he said some big guy showed up out of nowhere.” Luci felt, more than heard, Juro’s growl. She patted his arm again. “Juro is a friend, Sollie. I told Dante that.” “You sure you’re okay?” he asked suspiciously. She had to give the kid credit. Even if he was big for his age and well on his way to becoming a very big man, he’d never match Juro’s height, and he’d sure as hell never achieve the vampire’s
strength and speed. But Sollie had a natural protective streak. She didn’t know where he got it, but he watched over the smaller kids and her, too, it would seem. “I’m perfectly safe, Sollie,” she reassured him. She started to step closer, but Juro shifted just enough that she couldn’t get by. Apparently, Sollie wasn’t the only one who worried about her safety. “Okay. I’ll be right here in the living room, if you need me.” “Thank you.” Juro didn’t move until Sollie’s footsteps faded, to be replaced by greetings from the other kids in the house. Then he twisted to look down at her, noting her hand on his arm before lifting his eyes to meet hers. “You shouldn’t be here alone. A boy that size is a real threat.” “Sollie would never hurt me,” she said dismissively. “Not him, maybe. But one of the others.” “I’m not usually here alone, especially at night. But Alex was delayed. He’ll be here any minute.” “Alex?” Luci blinked at the blatant hostility surrounding that single word when Juro said it. It gave her a warm, fuzzy feeling inside, even as the little voice of her inner therapist told her that his possessiveness was excessive. She told the little
voice to shut up and smiled up at Juro, instead. “I’d love to have dinner with you on Friday. Do you know where I live?” He gave her a patient look. Of course he knew where she lived. He probably knew more about her than she did. His eyes warmed. “Is nine o’clock all right?” She nodded. “Perfect.” “Why don’t you walk me out? We can talk outside until this Alex arrives.” “Really, Juro. I’m perfectly—” “Safe, yes. So you said. Walk out with me.” “Okay, fine,” she said, surrendering to the inevitable. It was pointless to try to win a battle of wills with a vampire. Cyn had warned her about that, even before she’d started spending time with Juro. He placed a big, warm hand on her lower back. “Good choice.” Luci swallowed the giddy words that were trying to bubble their way up her throat. He likes me, he really likes me! FRIDAY NIGHT ROLLED around both faster and slower than Luci would have liked. On the one hand, she was super excited . . . in more ways than one. On the other, she was nervous as hell. Maybe she was making too much of this. Maybe it was just a date. He’d take her dinner or whatever, they’d have a lovely evening, and he’d drop her back
home with another scorching kiss. “Gah!” She stared at herself in the mirror, looking for flaws. Not in her appearance. She didn’t need to look for those. Like every other woman in the world, she could identify every physical flaw blindfolded. But . . . she also knew her good points. Her skin was probably her best feature. It was smooth and unblemished, a nice golden brown that she’d inherited from both sides of her genetic pool. Her hair was long, black, and shining, with, so far, no gray outliers. She’d been told she was beautiful, but wasn’t sure she’d go that far. Her figure was good, slender with full breasts and a flat belly. That, too, was mostly good genes, although she worked out religiously in her home gym and had a trainer in, three times a week. But none of that was her focus tonight. Juro hadn’t told her where they were going, so she’d dressed to impress. Or at least to get a reaction from him. Her dress was strapless—a raw silk sheath that fit like a glove, its rich crimson color bringing out the warmth of her natural skin tones. Her heels were five-inch stilettos from Christian Leboutin, black leather with gold satin cut-outs. At five foot six, Luci was average in height, but she was comfortable in heels and needed the extra boost since Juro was probably closer to seven feet than six. She wore no stockings. Her legs were freshly waxed and gleaming, as was every other
inch of skin that mattered. Most importantly, her underwear was new and gorgeous. She was ready, whatever the evening brought. She heard the muted slam of a car door and peeked out the window. Juro was coming up the walkway, looking elegant and gorgeous in matching dark gray slacks and jacket over a black shirt with no tie. Luci sighed with pleasure at the sight, then sucked in a breath when his gaze lifted unerringly to the window where she stood. Vampire hearing? Cyn had told her stories of vampires’ freakishly good senses, but still . . . He disappeared from sight a moment before her doorbell rang, and she hurried down the stairs to open the door. “Hi,” she greeted him, stepping back and remembering to say, “Come on in.” Juro paused for a moment, his gaze scanning her from head to toe, lingering on her bare legs and nose-bleed heels before traveling back up to settle on her face. And the heat in his eyes told her everything she needed to know about how she looked. “Lucia,” he rumbled in his deep voice. He stepped into the house and looked around briefly before returning his attention to her. “Are you ready?” Luci nodded. “I didn’t know where—” “Dinner in Malibu,” he said. “And then a
surprise.” She gave him a puzzled smile. Unlike some people, she loved surprises, but couldn’t imagine what Juro had in mind. “You’ll see,” he said enigmatically. Had she ever met a man who could do enigmatic better than Juro? Did such a person exist? She didn’t think so. So she simply nodded and said, “I love surprises.” “THIS IS YOURS?” Luci spun around in a circle, seeing nothing but moonlight and ocean. They were standing in the main room of an empty house in Malibu. Sitting right on the sand, the ocean-facing wall was all glass from the hardwood floor to the open-beam ceiling a good fifteen feet over their heads. “It is now,” Juro said, standing beside her with a small smile on his face. “I didn’t even know you were looking for a house. Don’t you have to live on the estate? I mean, you’re Raphael’s security chief.” Juro shrugged his massive shoulders. “Raphael’s place is about a hundred yards down the beach. Do you know how long it takes me to run a hundred yards?” “But you’ve lived there for . . . I don’t know how long. Why move now?” Juro closed the distance between them,
stroking the back of his fingers along her jaw with a gentleness no one would expect from a man so big. But Luci knew what he was capable of, knew how careful he was with her, how tender he could be. Sometimes, she wished he’d forget about their differences, forget that he outweighed her by a couple hundred pounds, that he could break her bones without even thinking about it. She wanted him to think of her as a woman, not a porcelain doll. His next words gave her hope that her wish might come true. “I never had a reason before now,” he told her. “What reason?” she whispered, mesmerized by the intensity of his dark gaze as his hand moved down to her shoulder and then her back. His fingers spread wide and he pulled her close until barely an inch separated them, close enough that she could feel the heat of his big body. “I wanted someplace I could bring the woman I . . . care about. A place we could be alone.” Luci swallowed hard, hoping she was reading his intentions correctly. If not, she was about to look like a fool. She eliminated that last inch of separation, going up on her toes, pressing her breasts into his thick chest, wrapping her fingers in the fine silk of his shirt as she raised her face to his and kissed him. Not a lovely the-evening-is-over-Ihad-a-great-time-and-by-the-way-you’re-fucking-
hot kind of a kiss. No, this was a no-holds-barred, kiss-me-you-fool-I-want-to-get-naked-with-you kind of a kiss. And Juro responded with a low, hungry groan, clamping her tightly in his arms as he took over, fisting his thick fingers in her long hair, tugging her head back as he claimed her mouth. And the man, the vampire, could damn well kiss. His lips were soft, his hands commanding as he lifted her off her feet, holding her effortlessly against his huge chest, positioning her mouth just where he wanted her as his tongue swept in, tasting and caressing. Luci moaned softly, her arms tightening around his neck, her fingers tugging at the tight queue of his long hair until the tie loosened and his hair spilled into her hands like silken threads. Juro groaned again, the sound vibrating against her lips a moment before he broke the kiss with a teasing bite. Luci felt a sting, felt the blood warming her lips. Juro’s groan became a hungry growl. Loosening his hold, he slid her down the length of his body until her feet hit the floor. He held her a moment longer, as if wanting to be sure she could stand, then he grabbed her hand and spun away from the windows, pulling her back through the house without a word, her high heels tapping sharply on the wood floor as he led her down the hall to a curving stairwell. His arm went around her
waist as they climbed the stairs, carrying her as he took them three at a time, until they emerged on the top floor of the three-story house. Juro didn’t even pause when they reached the top, simply pushed through a pair of half-open doors and into a gorgeous bedroom that took up the front half of the third level. Moonlight flowed like silver over the waves outside, lighting the room more brightly than any artificial light could have done. Luci’s heart was thumping so hard in her chest, she thought he must be able to hear it. This was it. This was what she’d been waiting for. Juro took four long strides into the bedroom, tugging her behind him, and then he stopped dead, holding both of her hands in his, and gazing down at her with a look of gentle affection. Nooooo! Luci almost screamed the word out loud. She didn’t want gentle. She wanted the passionate man who’d dragged her up the stairs. Juro’s smile turned knowing, as if reading her thoughts. “Be very sure, Lucia,” he said in his deep, bass voice. “I’ve wanted you a long time. I don’t know if I’ll be able to stop once I start.” She couldn’t breathe. My God, had anyone ever said anything more romantic than that? Luci was unable to form words, but she managed a jerky nod. Then, just to be sure he understood, she pulled her hands away, stepped
back, slid down the side zipper of her strapless dress and let it fall to the floor, leaving her in nothing but the matching set of lace and silk undies that she’d selected with only one thing in mind— that tonight would be the night she got Juro naked. Juro’s gaze followed the red fabric of her dress as it fell past her hips and down to pool around her feet, his eyes lingering over her breasts, her hips, the juncture between her thighs. As his gaze travelled back up again, he made a noise, halfway between a hum and a growl, and it was so full of hunger that Luci shivered. Then he reached for her. Luci stepped eagerly into his embrace, thankful for the stilettos she still wore as she stretched up and wrapped her arms around his neck. Their mouths met in a ravenous kiss as Juro’s arms yanked her up against his chest, one big hand dropping down to cup her nearly naked butt, the other twisting in her hair, bending her back as he changed the angle of the kiss and delved even more deeply into her mouth. She squeezed her hands between them, scraping at the jacket he still wore, shoving it off his shoulders, tearing it down each arm in turn as he understood what she was doing and shifted to help. “We need to slow down,” he growled against her mouth, releasing her butt in order to toss the jacket to the floor. “You deserve better than this.” “Fuck that,” she gasped, biting his lip, sinking
her teeth in lest he try to pull away. “We’ll go slow next time,” she added, then grabbed the front of his silk shirt and ripped, baring the broad and muscled perfection of his chest which was every bit as gorgeous as she’d known it would be. Juro rumbled wordlessly as he put both hands around her hips and yanked her against his body. He spread the fingers of both hands, slipping them under the narrow band on both sides of her sexy lace thong and ripping them apart. Luci laughed wildly as the tiny lace triangle whispered between her thighs and fell to the floor. This was the passion she’d longed for, the wild man she knew lurked beneath Juro’s cool exterior. He swallowed her laugh, crushing her mouth against his, tongues tangling. Luci hummed with pleasure, her fingers making quick work of his belt, then the button on his slacks, and finally his zipper. Wasting no time, she slid her hand into his pants, shoved past the waistband of his boxer briefs, and wrapped her fingers around his cock. Juro groaned, his hands closing almost painfully around her hips, until one broad finger slipped through the slick moisture of her folds and deep into her body. Luci moaned against his lips as he pumped her once, twice, bucking against his hand in wordless demand. Determined to take him with her, she closed her hand over his cock and stroked him, reveling
the sensation of velvety soft skin over such a hard, thick shaft, squeezing and releasing until Juro wrapped her hair around his fist with a hissed curse, then yanked her head back as his mouth slammed down on hers. Their movements became even more frantic after that as Juro backed her toward the bed. She shoved his slacks and underwear down his legs, never breaking their kiss, lips smashed against each other, tongues curling and teeth clashing. Luci’s nails scraped over his ass as his fingers dug into hers and he lifted her off her feet, her heels clattering to the floor noisily as he toed off his own shoes. Tossing her bodily onto the bed, he followed her down, her legs spreading wide to accommodate his size, clasping immediately around his hips when he pressed between her thighs. And then he was inside her, gradually at first, muscles straining beneath her fingertips as he forced himself to slow down, mindful even in the grip of their passion, that he was a very big man. Luci gasped at the first intrusion of his cock, then immediately tightened her hold on him when he would have pulled back. She loved the sheer weight of his body on top of her, delighted in the discovery that he was big everywhere—thick and long and so very hard. “Don’t,” she whispered when he tried yet
again to pull away. “You’re perfect. Just . . . it’s been a while. Just give me a moment.” Juro growled, his eyes going gold at the revelation that she’d been in a long dry spell sexually. And she knew that the vampire liked that, liked knowing she was only his. Luci smiled up at him, then flexed her hips, causing his cock to sink another few inches. “Lucia,” he hissed, muscles still taut with effort. “Go for it, big boy,” she murmured. And he did. As if he’d been held back with ropes that had suddenly snapped, he sank all the way into her body in a single powerful thrust, then pulled back and did it again, surrounding himself with her wetness one more time, before he pulled almost all the way out . . . and then started fucking her. Hips driving, ass flexing, his big cock slamming in and out of her pussy as his mouth came down on hers once more. Luci held on, feeling every single thrust in every inch of her body as he added a grinding twist on every downward plunge, scraping against her clit. Sliding her arms around his back and over his shoulders, she pulled his full weight down on herself until her nipples were rubbing against his chest, so hard and sensitive that it was almost too much to bear. Almost. Juro slipped his arms beneath her, both hands going to cup her ass, lifting
her higher, his cock going impossibly deeper. Luci bit down on his mouth as the first orgasm struck, as her muscles clenched and her pussy clamped around his thick shaft, as the unbelievable jolt of pleasure started in her clit and rolled upward, swelling her breasts where they were crushed against his massive chest, pebbling her nipples in exquisite pain. A groan rumbled deep in Juro’s chest as her sex squeezed down on him and she felt every inch of him as he slid in and out, shoving deep inside through the tight grasp of her sheath, then withdrawing as it rippled along his length. He cursed suddenly, head thrown back, eyes closed, neck muscles straining and fangs gleaming in the moonlight as his hips bucked against her and he came in a rush of heat. JURO COLLAPSED, wrapping both arms around Lucia and rolling until she was on top of him. And there they lay for several minutes, breathing shallowly as their hearts slowed and nerves stimulated just short of exquisite pain calmed into something approaching normal. He kept one hand in the warm silk of her long hair, fingers gently cupped at the back of her head, the other resting proprietarily over the firm curve of her ass. It had been a long time, she’d told him. But he hadn’t needed her words to know it was true.
Her body had welcomed him, her pussy growing hot and slick, but she’d been tight. So tight, he’d worried about hurting her, but she’d surprised him. His delicate porcelain doll was a tiger in bed. He felt himself growing hard again at the thought, and then Luci chuckled, her breath warm and moist against his neck. She lifted her head, her eyes slumberous with desire as they met his, and she said, “I’ve heard things about vampires.” The muscles of his abdomen contracted as her slender fingers slid down to wrap around his growing erection. “Is it all true?” Juro gave her a slow, smug grin and said, “Oh, yes, Lucia. Our night has only begun.” The End (or the beginning)
Vampire Vignette #13 The Christmas Present Just After ADEN, Book Seven Los Angeles, CA CYNTHIA LEIGHTON pulled to a stop at the curb. She’d been here only once before, and that had been years ago, but the house looked the same. It was an older home, and small, but like most of the houses in this solidly middle-class neighborhood, it had been renovated at some time in the last decade to keep up with soaring real estate values. A winter wreath with a big red bow hung on the door, adding color to the winter-bare yard. All those years ago, she’d come to this house as part of a job. The woman who lived here was the great-granddaughter of a vampire who’d been one of Cyn’s earliest assignments as a PI. The vamp had hired her to locate his descendants, a line birthed, obviously, before he’d been made vampire. She’d done her job, had tracked down and contacted one
Mrs. Gloria Bautista. After checking to be sure the woman wanted to acknowledge her vampire ancestor, Cyn had e-mailed Bautista’s name and personal information to her vampire client. And that had been the end of it, or so she’d thought. She still wasn’t sure why she was here today, except that Mrs. Bautista had sent an e-mail last week, asking to see Cyn. They’d exchanged info and agreed on a time and date, and here she was. She stepped onto the porch and rang the doorbell. The door had a glass panel, one of those with an etched design that prevented casual observation, but she could still see someone approaching from inside a moment before the door opened to reveal a tiny black woman who looked every one of her ninety-three years. Cyn fought to control her reaction. The last time she’d been here, the only other time she’d seen Mrs. Bautista, the woman had looked decades younger than her age. Apparently age or disease had caught up with her in the interim. “Mrs. Bautista,” Cyn said politely. The old woman laughed. “Don’t bother, child. I know how I look. You’ll look this way too one day . . .” She paused, peering up at Cyn. “Or maybe not, considering you got that handsome vampire in your bed.” Cyn blushed, which was ridiculous. She didn’t blush easily, and certainly not because someone
brought up the subject of Raphael and sex. “Don’t mind me,” Mrs. Bautista said with a dismissive wave. “I’m an old woman who’s got nothing better to do than tease young girls like yourself. I’m just jealous, is all. It’s been a while since I had a handsome man in my bed. My Emelio, he was a beautiful one, did I tell you?” “You did, Mrs. Bautista. You showed me your wedding picture. You were both beautiful.” The old woman smiled to herself, as if remembering, then stepped back out of the open doorway. “But where are my manners? I invite you here, then stand in the doorway dreaming like an old woman.” She cackled at her own joke, but waved Cyn inside. Cyn stepped into the neat house. Mrs. Bautista may have changed, but the house looked nearly the same, except for the huge Christmas tree occupying a corner near the front window, dwarfing the tiny room. As before, every inch of wall was covered with family photos. Tabletops shared the space between framed photographs and delicate porcelain figurines, which Cyn knew the old woman had been collecting ever since the handsome Emelio had given her the first one on their first anniversary. Emelio had died several years before Cyn came on the scene, but there were battalions of children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren who’d stepped up to keep the collection going. By now,
Cyn thought, there were probably great-greats, too. “Can I get you anything? A cup of coffee?” Mrs. Bautista asked. And Cyn remembered that the tiny woman always had a pot brewing. She also remembered that Mrs. Bautista’s coffee included a fair dollop of whiskey in every cup. “No, thank you.” She settled on the flowerpatterned sofa, straightening the crocheted arm cover that was dislodged by her movement. She’d go nuts in this house. It was all just a little too precious for her. “Forgive me, Mrs. Bautista,” Cyn said carefully. “But why am I here? Didn’t Amos get hold of you all those years ago?” Amos Cotton was the name of the vampire who’d contracted with Cyn. “Oh, he surely did. Such a nice boy, too.” Bautista laughed and repeated herself, “A nice boy. It’s so odd to say such a thing about my own greatgrandfather. But when he came to visit . . . he’s such a young man. Always will be, I guess . . .” she added, a wistful look on her face. “But that’s neither here nor there,” she continued briskly. “He came to see me, said he didn’t want to meet the family, didn’t want to embarrass anyone, but he surely loved looking at all my pictures. Set up a trust fund, he did. Put some lawyer in charge of it, but it pays tuition for any of my grandbabies who go to college, and it’s helped
more than a few with hospital bills or to get through rough times. Amos is a good man, for all that he’s not truly a man any longer.” Cyn might have argued with that, but she only nodded, more interested in why she was here. The old woman fixed her gaze on Cyn, suddenly serious. “I’m dying, child. There’s no easy way to say it.” Cyn shifted uncomfortably, hoping this wasn’t going to turn into something awkward. If Mrs. Bautista hoped to be saved by being turned vamp . . . “Oh, don’t worry. That’s not why you’re here. Death holds no fear for me. God has gifted me with a good, long life. And I’ll go peaceably to his heavenly reward, knowing my Emelio will be waiting for me.” The old woman stood, and Cyn watched as she shuffled over to an antique table, pulled open the drawer, and removed a gold foil box wrapped with red ribbon and a simple tie bow. Returning to the sofa, she sat slowly, as if it pained her, then held out the box to Cyn. “I’d like you to give this to Amos Cotton.” Cyn accepted the box automatically, but frowned. “I don’t understand. Why can’t you give it to him?” “I haven’t seen Amos since that first time. He puts money in the trust fund, but he never comes
around, even though I’ve invited him. I’ve sent him pictures of all my babies as they grew, and the new ones being born. But . . . I think it troubles him to see people who are his descendants looking older with every year, sometimes even dying the way my nephew did. I told him the boy was with God, that they all were, but I’m not sure Amos believes as we do. He was a slave, you know. His wife and child were torn from him by men who saw him as a thing to be sold, not even a man. That’s enough to test anyone’s faith in God’s plan. It’s his child, you know,” she said, looking up suddenly, her eyes bright. “It’s Amos’s son who’s my own grandfather.” Cyn made a noncommittal noise, still wondering why she was here. “How does he get the pictures you send him?” she asked. “I send them to that lawyer. He always lets me know Amos got them, and sometimes he passes on a note from Amos himself.” “Why not send this box the same way?” “This is a special present, Ms. Leighton, a special photograph. It’s one that Amos has never seen. It troubled him so much to talk about his wife —Elizabeth House was her name, and their son was Abraham—that I never had the heart to give him this picture.” “It’s his wife and son?” Cyn asked, her chest tight with unexpected emotion.
“It is,” she confirmed. “It’s old, of course, but my grandson had it restored for me. And I want you to give it to Amos.” “Me?” The very idea was horrifying to Cyn. She didn’t do this kind of touchy-feely stuff. Give her a bad guy to shoot, a crisis to solve, no problem. But she was awful at funerals, terrible in a tragedy. She didn’t even know Amos Cotton. He was nothing but an e-mail address to her. “This is not a good idea, Mrs. Bautista,” she tried to explain. “I don’t know Amos. I don’t even know his real name.” Like most slaves, Amos Cotton had changed his name after he’d become a free man. He’d admitted as much to Cyn, but had never told her his current name, preferring to keep his history private. This desire for secrecy regarding their pasts and even their true ages was typical of many vampires, especially the older ones, and so Cyn hadn’t pushed. As long as she got paid, she didn’t really care who did the paying. Although these days, Raphael vetted all of her clients, to make sure that none of his enemies were using her to get to him. “You should send this to that lawyer, Mrs. Bautista,” Cyn urged. “Not this one, child. This one must be delivered in person, and I want you to do it.” Cyn stared at the stubborn old woman in frustration.
“I can pay you if that’s—” “Of course, that’s not it,” Cyn said quickly, insulted that the woman would even think that. “Then, you’ll do it for me? You’ll give Amos my Christmas present?” Cyn sighed. “Fine. Did the lawyer give you an address?” “Oh, no. Amos won’t allow it.” Cyn gave her a frustrated look. “Then, how do I find him?” Gloria Bautista laughed. “I don’t know, child. But I bet your vampire does.” Five Days Later CYN WAS DOZING, caught in that limbo between sleep and wakefulness, draped over Raphael’s sleeping form, lulled by the slow beat of his heart. Raphael woke without warning, as he always did. His arms curled around her back, pulling her even tighter against him. “Good evening, my Cyn,” he crooned, dropping a kiss on top of her head. Cyn smiled and snuggled closer. “Hey, baby.” Raphael moved, rolling her over and under him, until they were face to face, his long, hard body stretched over hers. “And how was your day?” “Empty without you,” she murmured with a smile, knowing exactly where this was going.
His hips flexed, nudging her thighs apart, the heavy length of his cock finding the cleft between her thighs, teasing her as he slid back and forth in the cream of her arousal. She was always ready for him when they woke up together, always wet. It was as if, even in sleep, her body knew what was coming and got ready, just for him. “Raphael,” she whispered, lifting her hips, urging him to do more than tease. “Spread your legs for me, sweet Cyn. Show me how much you want me.” Cyn bent her knees, opening her thighs wide. “I always want you,” she murmured, her fingers running up and down along the smooth muscle of his back. She lifted her head to his neck and sucked gently, kissing her way down to his shoulder, closing her teeth over the powerful muscle there. Raphael hissed as the warm swell of his blood hit her tongue. Lifting his hips, he drove between her thighs, his cock plunging deep into her body, stretching her inner tissues as they strained to accommodate his breadth. Cyn groaned at the double shock of his blood and his cock. Her sheath contracted around him, trembling with desire as the first shivers of her climax built into a tidal wave of carnal pleasure that sped from her pussy to her womb, zipping like lightning over every nerve and muscle of her body until she could only hold on and scream his name.
Raphael rumbled his satisfaction as she thrashed beneath him, as he continued to fuck her, his cock pounding in and out, every movement a sensual glide along inner tissues that were exquisitely sensitive in the throes of her orgasm. He took her mouth as he fucked her, his lips moving over hers, tasting and touching, his tongue sweeping into her mouth as if wanting to claim every inch of her, inside and out. Cyn held onto him as the climax rolled over her, shaking under the onslaught of erotic sensation, her pussy clutching greedily at his cock. She could hear her own pulse thrumming loudly, could feel her heart pounding against his chest as she struggled to catch her breath. Raphael lifted his mouth from hers with a final luxurious sweep of his lips as his kisses moved over her jaw, his tongue dipping into the curve of her ear, his breath warm against her overheated skin. She felt the first brush of his tongue over the swell of her jugular, a rasping stroke as he coaxed the big vein to plumpness. His lips closed over her neck, sucking the vein into his mouth, teasing her as he had with his cock. Not biting, not yet. She tensed in anticipation, her nails scoring the smooth skin of his back, holding him tightly, her legs wrapped around his hips and crossed over his ass as his muscles continued to flex, his cock gliding in and out. “Raphael,” she said, demanding.
“Say please,” he murmured against the skin of her neck, his tongue a line of heat as it followed her vein from her ear to her shoulder. Cyn threaded her fingers into his short hair and tugged hard, but he only growled, the sound hitting her like a straight shot of lust, her pussy contracting and her nipples hardening to a painful intensity as they scraped over his chest. She pleaded again, his name falling from her lips on a gasping breath, “Raphael.” “Give me what I want,” he whispered directly into her ear. “Please,” she sobbed. The word was still on her lips when his fangs sank through the velvet of her skin and pierced her vein. He groaned as she felt the pull of his mouth, as her blood flowed down his throat. Cyn’s back bowed as the euphoric in his bite hit her bloodstream and a fresh climax seared through her body, heating her veins and lighting up her nerves, until every inch of her skin, every muscle, every nerve ending screamed with desire and lust and pure, unadulterated pleasure. Cyn cried out helplessly, as Raphael’s body stiffened in her embrace, as his cock drove harder and faster, until she felt the rush of his orgasm, the heat of his release filling her as his fangs withdrew. She came down slowly, her pussy still twitching in luscious torment, her legs falling from
his back, but her knees still close against his hips. She caressed him lovingly, methodically, her hands moving up and down his smooth spine, over the powerful muscles of his shoulders. Raphael lay on top of her, his weight crushing her against the mattress, his face buried against her neck, breath soughing over her skin. She ran a hand over his head, threading her fingers through his hair, as she put her lips against his ear and whispered, “I love you.” She could feel his lips curve into a smile a moment before he lifted his head enough to kiss her, a gentle touching of lips. “I love you, too, my Cyn.” He shifted his weight to one side, pulling her with him until she lay half on and half off of him. Her cell phone came alive on the table next to the bed. Her ringer was off, but the device vibrated against the wood in a frantic dance. Cyn glanced over, but ignored it. But then Raphael’s phone rang on the opposite table, and his ringer was on. Their sighs mingled. “Shower?” he suggested. “Shower,” she agreed, then let him drag her off the bed to the start of another night. AN HOUR LATER, Cyn sat at her desk, working in the soft glow of twinkling lights from their small
Christmas tree. Raphael emerged from the huge closet they shared, dressed to conquer the world in an elegant charcoal suit. His tie tonight was platinum gray with a tiny charcoal pattern, his shirt white as always. Cyn glanced up, her head tilting as she admired the beauty that was her Raphael. “Working?” he said, glancing at her open computer. “Just checking e-mail,” she said, returning to the task. She checked box after box, deleting most of it, until she came to a familiar return address. She opened the e-mail and swallowed her reaction to what she found there. She must have made more noise than she thought, because Raphael came up to read over her shoulder. “Problem?” he asked. “Who’s . . . Gloria Bautista?” Cyn sighed deeply. “She died yesterday. This is from her oldest daughter.” “I’m sorry. Was she a friend?” “Not really, more of an acquaintance. I was hired to find her for one of your vampires, but it was before I met you.” Raphael was still standing over her shoulder. “Don’t forget your promise?” he read out loud. “Is that a threat? Do you need—” “No, no, nothing like that. Mrs. Bautista called me about a week ago, said she wanted me to come over. I hadn’t even talked to her in years, not since
I located her for your vamp, but she said it was important, so I made the time.” “And?” His long fingers brushed the hair from her neck as he bent over to drop a lingering kiss against her nape. Cyn leaned into his kiss, her eyes closing. “She gave me something, a Christmas present she said, for the vampire who hired me. I didn’t understand then why she gave it to me. They’re in touch through his lawyer. She could have just sent it to him. But now I see. She knew she was dying, and she wanted to be sure he got it, that it didn’t get buried in all the estate bullshit.” “You said he was one of mine. Is he local then?” “That’s the thing. I haven’t given it to him yet, because I’m not sure who he is. Our business was all via e-mail, so I never met him. He was born a slave in the South, and the only name I had for him was his slave name. But he doesn’t use that anymore. Mrs. Bautista actually told me to ask you about it.” She spun in her chair and looked up at him. “What’s the name?” Raphael asked curiously. “Amos Cotton.” Raphael got a smug sort of smile on his face, a cross between amusement and satisfaction. Cyn dreaded what that smile meant for her. “Who is it?” she asked, even though she was
sure she’d be sorry she asked. “Amos Cotton, my darling Cyn, is my lieutenant, Jared Lincoln.” “Fuck!” CYN WOULD HAVE liked to put the task off indefinitely, to hide the box, with its red bow and its precious contents, deep in a drawer and forget about it. Gloria Bautista would never know. She was gone. But Cyn would know. So, she kissed Raphael on his way to play master of the universe, then trudged down the hall to Jared’s office, hoping he wouldn’t be there, that she could drop the box on his desk with a note and run. The door to his office was halfway open. She knocked and was about to walk in, when Jared come up behind her. “Cyn?” His surprise was evident. She’d never visited his office before. They avoided even the most casual conversation with each other. She spun around. “Hey,” she said, managing to sound more-or-less normal. “Do you have a minute?” He blinked in confusion, but reached around her to push his door open. “Of course. Come on in.” Cyn nodded her thanks, walking past him into
the room, scanning it curiously it as she did so. Jared’s office was smaller than Raphael’s, but still big enough to have a sitting area to one side, with a couch and chairs. There was a wall of windows behind the desk and the black night beyond. The ever-present sound of waves whispered up from the beach below. But the ocean was relatively quiet tonight. There was no pounding surf, no rumbles thundering up through the rocky cliff side. Cyn glanced at the comfy-looking couch and chairs around the coffee table, but decided against it, selecting one of the stiff chairs in front of his desk instead, shielding herself with the formality of the arrangement. Jared’s handsome face—and, yes, she could admit he was handsome, even though they didn’t get along—showed only a mild curiosity as he seated himself behind the desk. Crossing his hands on the desktop, he looked at her expectantly. Right. This was her show. “Gloria Bautista e-mailed me a little over a week ago,” she said, wanting to get right to the point and get this over with. But her words caused an unexpected wave of grief to pass over Jared’s face. “My lawyer called late last night,” he said quietly. “I’ve never wanted to interfere, but . . . I’ve kept tabs.” Cyn paused. She’d never considered that he
might have feelings for Gloria. But she should have. The woman was his great-granddaughter. The closest living blood relative he had. “I’m sorry for your loss, Jared. Truly. She was . . . one of a kind.” He smiled gently. “She was that. It’s probably selfish of me to mourn her death. She was ninetythree, after all, and hardly the picture of health. She did love her fried food.” Cyn shocked herself by smiling back at him. “And her coffee.” He chuckled. “And her coffee.” They were quiet as their smiles died, and they remembered they didn’t get along. “You said she e-mailed you?” he asked politely. Cyn nodded. “She wanted to meet. I was puzzled because we hadn’t seen each other since I first found her for you, but she insisted, and it wasn’t far, so. . . . Anyway, we talked, and then she gave me this.” Cyn pulled the gift out of her laptop bag and laid it on the desk. “She said it was a Christmas present and asked me to give it to you.” Jared lifted the box slowly, then glanced up at Cyn. “Tomorrow is Christmas.” “I know.” “Do you know what this is?” Cyn nodded. “She told me.” Jared eyed her silently, as if trying to decide
what to do next. Whether to open the box in front of her, or wait until he was alone. The decision shouldn’t have been that difficult, and Cyn thought it was a mark of the distrust between them that he even had to consider it. She felt guilty suddenly for the existence of that distrust. She’d had good reasons to be angry at the time, but it was possible she’d carried her grudge a little far. His loyalty to Raphael was unquestioned, after all. And with the wars going on, it would probably behoove the two of them to try and get along, maybe even to build some trust. “Open it,” she encouraged him, meeting his gaze. He took it for the challenge it was, and maybe he understood the olive branch beneath the challenge, too, because he gave her a little half smile, then pulled the ribbon’s end, untying the bow. He didn’t bother with the knot. He was a vampire after all, with a vampire’s strength. He gave it a tug and it tore easily. Setting aside the ribbon, Jared lifted the lid, then the folds of tissue paper, to reveal the photograph. The frame was silver, and mostly polished, but with dark tarnish in the curves and crevices to give it a patina of age. The picture was only 4” x 6”. Mrs. Bautista had told her she’d had it restored, but Cyn could tell that the original image had probably been a tintype from the Civil War era, and you could only do so much with one of those.
The picture was of a young black woman, her dress white with a high neckline and long sleeves, her hair pulled into a tight bun, her face lovely but solemn. Standing next to her was a boy of about five years. He wore shorts and a long-sleeved shirt, one hand resting on his mother’s thigh. One could see that he was striving for the same solemn expression that his mother wore, but there was a spark of excitement, a smile playing around his lips. This was Jared’s son. And his wife, the woman he’d loved, the mother of his child. Jared sat perfectly still, staring at the photograph in silence. “Gloria talked about you,” Cyn said, uncomfortable with the emotion in the room. “You meant a lot to her.” Jared’s dark eyes roamed over the image hungrily, drinking in every tiny detail. “I never knew she had this,” he whispered. “I didn’t know it existed.” Cyn stood abruptly, her discomfort morphing to embarrassment. This was a private moment, and she didn’t belong here. She grabbed the straps of her bag and stood, walking over to the still halfopen door where she paused to look back at him. He raised his head, dark eyes glistening with unshed tears. “Thank you,” he said, his voice rough with feeling.
Cyn nodded, struggling for something to say. “Merry Christmas, Jared,” she said finally. And then she fled. The End
Vampire Vignette #14 Natalie’s Dream Warning: Do NOT read this story if you don’t want to know what, or whom, Natalie is dreaming about. This story may contain more than one sexy vampire. But after all, it’s just a dream. Or is it? Right After CHRISTIAN, Book Ten San Antonio, TX NATALIE STRETCHED lazily beneath incredibly soft sheets. She’d have to find out where the hotel got their linens, because this was the most decadent bed she’d ever slept in. She scooted closer to Christian, taking comfort from his big body, even though the sun was up and he was completely out. He claimed he was aware of her still, and she had to believe him, since the first thing he always did upon waking was wrap his arms around her. And that usually led to a lot more. Her entire body heated at the thought, her nipples perking up to rub
against the T-shirt, which, along with her panties, was the only thing she had on. She glanced guiltily to her left, where Marc slept peacefully, his dark hair sticking up as though he’d rubbed his hands through it while he slept, which wasn’t possible, since vampires didn’t move in their sleep. Like, not at all. And that was the only reason Marc was here with her and Christian. Because once the vamps went out, they were out. It didn’t matter that the three of them were in bed together, or that she slept between the two beautiful men. She could have been a log for all they cared. They’d driven to San Antonio for a meeting with that city’s vampire leaders. It wasn’t a huge community, but, apparently, the vampires who called the city home were a powerful group, both as vampires and local business leaders. Since Christian planned to change his territorial headquarters to San Antonio, this meeting had been important on several fronts. The three of them could have flown. Christian had a private jet now, and it would have been faster. But he’d wanted to stop in a couple of smaller cities on the way, so they’d driven. Alon, who was now officially Christian’s security chief, had stayed behind in Houston, working with their new security team. As the new Lord of the South, Christian needed fighters, an army of vampires who would be loyal only to him. Over time, he’d create
vampire children of his own to ensure their loyalty, but that could take years, and they couldn’t wait that long. So, in the meantime, Alon was vetting applicants. That left Natalie and Christian and Marc traveling to San Antonio. She wasn’t much good in the way of protection for Christian, though she always carried her Glock and she knew how to use it. But the main reason she was there was simply that Christian wanted her with him. He hated sleeping without her, hated waking up without her. His love for her was still new and shiny, and every time she thought about it, it made her smile so hard that her cheeks hurt. But that wasn’t why they were all together in this bed. That was because they hadn’t finished their meetings in time to make it safely home. And rather than sleep through the day at some roadside motel, Christian had decided they’d remain in San Antonio. Except that neither he nor Marc trusted the local vamps enough to stay with them through the day. Unfortunately, it was a busy weekend in the city, and the only five-star room available had been the one the three of them were sleeping in. One room, one bed. A king-sized bed to be sure, but still . . . Natalie glanced over at Marc again. He’d offered to sleep on the floor, but she’d insisted he join them on the bed. She just had to be sure she
was out of the bed before sunset. She set the alarm on her phone and slipped it beneath her pillow, then snuggled closer to Christian and fell almost instantly asleep. A STRONG ARM circled her from behind, tucking her into the curve of a powerful body. She smiled at Christian’s familiar scent, at the delicious feel of all those muscles surrounding her. His lips left a hot line of sensation as he kissed from her neck to her cheek, and teased at her mouth. “Kiss me, chére,” he murmured. She turned her head to meet his mouth. His kisses were always so much more . . . a confession of love, a seduction. As if she needed seducing. She was already his, body and soul. His voice alone was enough to remind her of the endless nights spent in his arms, of sweaty skin and cries in the dark. Her pussy clenched at the images his kiss conjured. She moaned softly, reaching back to stroke her fingers over his cheek, as he smoothed his hand over her belly beneath the T-shirt, pulling her even closer, pressing her butt against the hard ridge of his cock. “Yes,” she whispered, always so hungry for him, no matter how many times they made love. Every time was like the first, like she was starving for his touch, for the feel of his cock penetrating her pussy, gliding on the slick juices of her arousal. Christian’s hand dipped into her panties,
gripping the delicate material and ripping it away with a single tug. She gasped, excited beyond thought by his forcefulness, by the need for her that drove him. His big hand circled her thigh, pushing it forward, opening her to the press of his cock. She lifted her leg higher and he drove deep inside her, his hips flexing against her butt as he pumped in and out, the fingers of his hand now spread against her belly, holding her in place for his invasion. Natalie cupped her own breast, pinching her nipple between her fingers, squeezing the soft flesh. His penis felt so big and hard, the smooth muscles of her sheath stretched so tightly around him. She grew more excited with every thrust. “Christian,” she whispered on a moan. “Tell me what you want,” he murmured against her ear. “I want to come,” she said, her voice hitching with need. His fingers dropped from her belly, sliding between the slick folds of her pussy to circle her clit, making her shiver with anticipation. “Ask nicely, mon ange,” he whispered. “Please,” she cried softly. “Please.” Without warning, he pinched the swollen nub between his fingers, sending desire like a bolt of lightning shooting from her clit to her clenching pussy and hardened nipples. She shuddered helplessly as the orgasm swept over her, as
Christian’s arms tightened to hold her close, his hips barely moving now as he thrust harder and harder until the hot rush of his release filled her and he joined her in erotic ecstasy. They lay there for a moment, breathing, hearts pounding. Natalie opened her eyes at last and met Marc’s warm, brown gaze. She blinked, startled for a moment, before remembering . . . they’d all slept together. She’d set her alarm. What . . .? “She’s lovely, isn’t she?” Christian said from behind her, his deep voice vibrating over her hot skin. Marc smiled, his eyes hot with desire. “Lovely,” he agreed, as his gaze skimmed her bare breasts and downward to where Christian’s fingers still held her pussy open, one finger toying gently with her sensitized clit. Natalie jerked in embarrassment, her entire body blushing. She went to cover herself, but Christian’s voice stopped her, his mouth against her ear. “Look at him, Natalie. Look how beautiful he is.” He reached over her and took hold of Marc’s cock, stroking his hand up and down the rigid length of Marc’s erection, even as he began to fuck her again, his shaft hardening within her soaking wet pussy. Natalie’s breath was coming in short gasps. This was outrageous, shameful. And yet she was
more aroused than she’d ever been in her life. What was wrong with her that she wanted this, wanted to know what Marc’s cock would feel like in the grip of her fingers, or buried deep inside her? She moaned softly, wishing he would touch her. “I think she wants you, brother,” Christian murmured. Her breath hitched. She should say something, should stop this. But then Marc’s strong fingers were sliding down her belly, slipping between the folds of her sex, then rubbing her juices over and around her clit while Christian kept fucking her. “Oh, God,” she whispered and closed her eyes against the sensory overload, until someone’s warm mouth closed over her nipple and her eyes flashed open. Marc’s dark head was bent over her breasts, his tongue scraping across the sensitive flesh, teeth biting gently before sucking until she cried out in mingled pain and pleasure. She moaned, overwhelmed by a need she couldn’t even express. “Tell me, Natalie,” Christian whispered, the very voice of temptation. “Say the words.” “Please, Christian,” she said, nearly sobbing the words. She wanted it so badly. “Please what?” he persisted. “Say it, chére.” “I want you to fuck me,” she gasped, pushing the words out, so turned on she could barely think. “I want both of you.” The next thing she knew, she was on her knees,
straddling Marc. His cock was stiff between her thighs, his fingers pumping the base of it with short hard strokes, preparing himself for her. Christian’s powerful hands circled her waist, teasing her, letting only the engorged tip of Marc’s cock brush her pussy as she strained for more. She wanted to feel that cock inside of her. Christian chuckled, a sensuous masculine sound, as he lowered her slowly onto Marc’s cock until she was full, her inner muscles stretched around his thickness. She groaned as Marc’s hands replaced Christian’s, as he lifted her up and fucked her, his shaft pumping in and out with powerful strokes. She closed her eyes, shivering in sensory overload at the touch of Christian’s hand against her back, sliding down her spine to her butt. Marc slammed into her body, burying himself deep before wrapping his arms around her and pulling her down to crush her breasts against his chest. Behind her, Christian’s caress smoothed over her butt, squeezing the two round cheeks, baring the tight rosebud of her anus. The cold slide of lubricant was her only warning before Christian’s probing finger made her cry out in unexpected desire. Marc slipped his tongue into her mouth, kissing her, their tongues twisting hungrily as his cock filled her pussy, while Christian’s finger slid farther into her ass. She groaned. She wasn’t this wanton creature thrashing
between two beautiful men, and yet . . . she never wanted it to stop. Christian added a second finger, stretching her hole open wider, and she responded hungrily, arching her back in invitation. She wanted more. Christian leaned over then, straddling both of them between his thighs, his cock a heavy weight against her butt. “Do you want this, chére? Do you want my cock in your tight little ass?” Natalie lifted her mouth from Marc’s and nodded, unable to form the words. But Christian slapped her butt sharply. “I want to hear you say it, Natalie.” She nodded again, gasping for air. “I want you,” she said, drawing a shaky breath. “Christian, please. I want you to—” her voice became a needy whisper, “—fuck my ass.” He kissed the back of her neck, his tongue trailing down her spine, until he kissed each cheek of her butt. “I am your slave, mon ange.” His fingers probed her ass once more, preparing her, and then she was stretched impossibly wide as the head of his cock pushed against the tight hole. Her heart raced. His cock was so much bigger than his fingers. He pressed farther, going slowly, gliding on the lubricant as he pushed his way past her anal ring and into her ass. Suddenly she was overwhelmed. Christian was
sliding the length of his cock into her butt, while Marc continued to fuck her pussy. It felt as if the two of them were rubbing against each other deep inside her, moving in a sensual dance so that she was always full. Sensation was everywhere—her nipples scraping against the firm muscle of Marc’s chest, his fingers digging into her hips, Christian’s strong arms surrounding them both, his kisses hot against her the back of her neck. The stray thought hit that the two of them were moving in rhythm, as if they’d done this before. But of course they had. Christian had told her. She wiped that instantly from her mind. She didn’t want to think about the other women they’d fucked. They were hers now and forever. Without warning, the pace quickened. Both men were moving faster, fucking her harder. Her climax threatened, a glorious promise hanging on the precipice, and then it broke over her. Her pussy clenched hard around Marc’s cock, squeezing so tightly that he groaned, burying himself deep into her body and holding himself there, his cock swelling inside her as she climaxed around him. And then Christian’s release was filling her ass, and Marc was coming, and she was swamped once again with pleasure, surrounded with male heat as they crashed together into ecstasy. They all froze for a long moment, too exhausted to move, and then the three of them
collapsed into a slick, sweaty pile. Christian pulled slowly out of her ass, rolling to one side and taking her with him. Marc rolled with them, turning to his side and pulling out of her pussy, leaving the two vampires surrounding her in a warm, hard-breathing hug. “We should travel more often,” Christian whispered, kissing the back of her neck softly. She felt the press of his cock, still hard against her butt. Vampire stamina, she thought with a smile and reached back to caress him, while Marc’s fingers slid through the slick juices of her climax, gliding over her clit, making her shiver. She put her lips against Christian’s ear and . . . woke to the familiar darkness of their bedroom in Houston. Christian slept motionless next to her, his arm heavy across her body. . . and her pussy was soaking wet from her filthy dream. She sat up, hard nipples tingling as the soft sheet slid down her body. Where the hell had that dream come from? No, strike that. It was Christian’s fault. He’d filled her head with tales of him and Marc, and how they’d hunted together. He was the one who’d put those images in her head. She turned and studied his handsome face in the dim light of the bedroom. He claimed he could follow her in his sleep. Had he somehow slipped that dream into her sleeping mind? Would he know what she’d dreamed when he woke?
She shivered, remembering what it had felt like to be trapped between the two vampires, her pussy and ass both filled as the climax had crashed over them. In that moment, she’d been pure sensation. No thought, no reason, only pleasure. What would it have been like if Christian had bitten her in that moment? Would she even survive such an avalanche of passion? She rubbed a hand over her naked breasts, over nipples still knotted with desire, and then realized what she was doing. She blushed hotly. This had to stop. Jumping out of bed, she headed for the bathroom. Time for a cold, cold shower. She was already upstairs and working by the time Christian joined her, her second cup of coffee still hot in front of her. Christian came over and kissed her neck. “Couldn’t sleep, chére?” She blushed, but kept her head down as she nodded. “I woke up early and decided to get some work done.” “Just as well. We’ve leaving for San Antonio soon, and it’s a long drive.” Natalie’s eyes flashed wide open. Shit! She’d forgotten about that. They were driving to San Antonio tonight, just like in her dream! Marc walked into the kitchen at that moment, leaning down to kiss her cheek before going over to where Christian was preparing his favorite caramel
macchiato. The kiss was an innocent gesture, something he’d done a million times before, but remembered heat had arousal slicking her pussy between clenched thighs. “We need to hit the road sooner rather than later,” Marc said casually, taking a slurping sip from his drink. “I don’t want to get stuck overnight with the San Antonio crowd. And this being a weekend, the hotels will be packed. So we need to leave time for a safe return home.” Natalie looked up then . . . and smiled. The End
Vampire Vignette #15 Old Enemies Between LUCIFER, Book Eleven, and RELENTLESS, Book 11.5 Washington, D C, present day DUNCAN WOKE TO a warm body and the smell of spring flowers. He tipped his head slightly, burying his nose in the silky lushness of Emma’s hair. He could tell from her heartbeat and her slow, even breaths that she was still asleep, though he had no way of knowing how long she’d been that way. She was always there in the pre-dawn hours before he fell into his daylight sleep, and she was always there when he woke for the night. But that didn’t mean she hadn’t been up during the day. There was business to attend to, much of it with people who preferred to go home to their families at night. And there was her physiological need for sunlight, not to mention the psychological one. His Emma was, after all, fully human. And he liked her that way.
The hand that had been draped just below her ribs slid lower, until his fingers caressed her smooth hip and widened to splay over her flat stomach, continuing their downward path to comb through the neat patch of dark curls between her thighs. He paused when she stirred—her heartbeat quickening, her breathing a touch faster—and then slid one finger between the petal-soft folds of her outer lips. He took his time, rubbing his finger back and forth, opening her to his touch, feeling the slow build of her arousal, her pussy growing hotter, wetter. Emma’s slender fingers closed over his wrist. Not to stop him, but to make sure he continued. He grinned. He’d been known to tease his mate, but she did her own share of teasing, too. His finger coasted over the exquisite nub of her clitoris. The sensitive little pearl was hard, but not as hard and swollen as it would be before he released her. She moaned, still holding on to his wrist, her hips flexing into his touch. Duncan tipped his head far enough to run his tongue over the sweet curve of her ear, biting gently on the soft lobe, before letting his tongue wander to the satin skin of her neck and the plump line of her jugular. He nipped lightly, teeth only, no fangs. But it was enough to have Emma sucking in a breath of anticipation. She was fully awake now, her body writhing
gently against his, turning slightly to make her breasts more accessible, while she pushed her butt against his growing erection in a sweet caress. Duncan dipped his finger deeper, pumping in and out briefly, before adding a second one to rub over the most exquisitely sensitive area of her vagina. She cried out, bucking wildly as her pussy flooded with liquid heat. Duncan’s eyes closed, overwhelmed with desire for this woman, as she strained against his hold, even as her fingers tightened their grip on his wrist, as if daring him to pull his fingers away. He kissed her neck, sucking at her skin, before biting hard enough to leave a mark. It startled her enough to make her jerk in his arms, loosening her hold on his wrist long enough for him to slide his hand out between her thighs without hurting her. She made a small noise of protest as he dragged his wet fingers over her belly and hip, only to suck in her breath as those same fingers gripped her lovely thigh and pushed it forward, making room for his cock between her legs. He entered her from behind, sliding his full length into her tight body in a single, slow stroke, feeling her inner walls stretch to accommodate him in one breath, and with the next, begin rippling around him in a sensual dance of seduction. He groaned as his cock sank into her. Her pussy was so silky hot, so tight. She fit over his cock like the
finest glove, made just for him. He recognized the conceit in that thought and didn’t care. This woman had always been his. It had simply taken him a while to find her. His left arm curled beneath her, holding her close enough that he could squeeze her breasts, pinching the nipples into dark buds that rolled between his fingers like delicate pearls, while his right hand pushed deep between her thighs, spreading her puffy folds and baring her clit. “Duncan!” Emma cried out, caught between the thrust of his cock from behind her and the press of his fingers in front. Her clit was fully engorged, swollen with blood until it was like a ripe cherry, begging to be plucked. He stroked it with the rough pad of his finger, listening to the gasped intake of her breath. “Duncan,” she whispered, almost a plea. Begging him to stop? Perhaps. She would be overwhelmed with sensation by now—his cock stroking steadily in and out, his fingers crushing her breasts, scraping over her clit, and all while his breath heated the skin of her neck, reminding her that his fangs were close, reminding her of the ecstasy of his bite. His cock swelled abruptly, hardening to the point of pain, as if Emma’s overload of pleasure, her need for release, had freed his own desires, his own hunger. He sank fully into her body and held there,
groaning. If he moved, he would climax, and he wasn’t ready for that. He wanted a few more minutes of Emma’s shivering heat, the tight clasp of her sex around him, the trembling of her body as she begged wordlessly for release. He put his lips to her ear, nipping the outer curve gently, and whispered, “I love you, Emmaline.” In the next moment, his fingers closed over the swollen nub of her clit, even as his fangs sliced through her skin and into the velvety seduction of her vein. Blood, sweet as honey, filled his mouth and rolled down his throat, filling him with heat, lighting up every nerve in his body, bringing him back to life after his cold day’s sleep. He drank greedily. Emma’s blood tasted like her, warm as sunshine, with a floral bouquet like the finest wine. She was delicious, but she was his to protect. He stopped, withdrawing his fangs and licking the small wounds, sealing them so they’d heal far faster than normal. Emma was still trembling in his arms, her pussy clamped around his cock from the orgasm that had slammed her when the euphoric in his bite had flowed into her bloodstream like fire. He lifted his fingers from her clit, but only slightly, still caressing her, sliding through the cream of her climax, brushing against her clit, reminding her he was still buried inside her, and he was hard. He moved again, his hand between her legs
holding her against him as he fucked her with long, steady strokes. He loved the deep, wet heat of her pussy after she’d climaxed. The way her inner muscles trembled with the passage of his cock, a million tiny fingers caressing him, as he glided in and out of her body, plunging in to the hilt and then sliding out until only the bare tip of his cock was inside her. Emma’s was still in his arms, holding her breath for what she knew was coming. Her heart was racing, her breath panting. She reached back and smoothed her hand over his cheek, her fingers gliding across his lips, dipping into his mouth, kissing his jaw, when he bent his head to brush his mouth over her shoulder. “Duncan,” she whispered, the name a caress on her lips. He hummed a wordless response even as a new hunger crashed into him, powering his hips as they thrust harder, faster, his every thought filled with fucking her, with hearing her scream his name as her pussy rippled around his cock in climax. She gasped in surprise as her abdominal muscles suddenly clenched, dragging a wordless cry from her lips. Along his cock, her sheath was shivering in anticipation, stroking his shaft, urging him to come, to fill her with his release. Duncan gritted his teeth as his balls tightened, feeling his orgasm like a tide of heat raging to be
freed. He closed his fingers over Emma’s swollen clit, pinching the engorged bundle of nerves, even as his climax roared through him. He heard her scream over his roar of completion, felt her bucking wildly within his arms. And then there was nothing. EMMA OPENED her eyes and gazed around slowly. She couldn’t move yet. Her muscles were limp, except for the little jolts of erotic sensation that kept firing off, making her shudder in remembered pleasure. Duncan’s arm was heavy over her waist, his thigh still shoved between hers. She shifted slightly. Every time he moved, his thigh brushed against her pussy, sending fresh waves of desire rocketing over her abused nerves. A girl could only take so much sexual pleasure before turning into a quivering pile of goo. Duncan’s lips touched her shoulder. “Mine,” he murmured. She reached back and tugged his long hair, bringing his mouth down to hers for a kiss. “Mine,” she repeated. He laughed. “Yes, Emmaline. I am well and truly yours.” He sighed. “What’s our schedule for tonight? Any boring visitors or even more boring parties we must attend?” It was her turn to laugh. He pretended to hate the politics and politicking of DC, but she knew
that privately he loved the challenge of it. Loved outwitting the various politicians and bureaucrats who thought they were so very smart. Especially the ones who dismissed him as a freak in a fancy suit, a novice to the DC scene. They didn’t seem to understand that he’d had more than a century to prepare for this job. Plus, he had her. She smiled at the thought, and said, “Amazingly, we have nothing on the calendar that requires us to leave the house tonight, unless we want to. There’s a whole pile of new legislation for me to wade through, and I’m sure some of it will require your attention. Beyond that, you should review the final upgrades on the new embassy. Alaric is waiting for your approval before he goes ahead. He’ll be by later.” EMMA SAT CROSS-legged on the small sofa in her office, hunched over the laptop on the coffee table in front of her, going through the previous day’s Congressional Record that had hit her inbox that morning. Congress members were constantly inserting things into the Congressional Record for the folks back home, recognizing the local team’s victory, somebody’s hundredth birthday, their favorite ice cream. Who knew what they’d come up with? It cost nothing, and it made for good press in the next election, which was what occupied most of their time. The actual running of the country, the
whole “how a bill becomes a law” stuff, was a small part of how they spent their days. Fortunately, the Congressional Record, which included both types of congressional activities, was online and searchable. It made her job much easier. Or, at least, the part of her job that included keeping an eye out for anything that might affect the business and/or well-being of Duncan specifically, and vampires in general. She had a regular list of search parameters, and one of the techie vamps had written a program that would search the official record and generate a list of items for her to look at closely. Which was how she came to discover a sneaky piece of legislation buried so deeply that she wouldn’t have found it if she’d limited her search to “vampire.” Even though the proposed law was aimed specifically at vampires, it never used the word. “Fucker,” she muttered. Noting the name of the congressman—Kerwin, a name which sounded familiar, as if she should know it—she switched over to his official website and started making notes. This would be the first item on her list when she met Duncan for their nightly briefing. She was his lover and his mate, but she was also the equivalent of his congressional chief of staff. Her job was to keep him apprised of anything that happened within the hallowed halls of congress
which might affect vampires. And this bill definitely qualified. Congressman Kerwin—and, damn it, why was that name so familiar?—was trying to prevent vampires from residing in the District of Columbia. And since the most prominent vampire currently living there was Duncan, this bill was personal. It was also unconstitutional, since vampires had been recognized as citizens, with all the rights thereof, in previous Supreme Court rulings. Kerwin had to know this, so the reason for his legislation had more to do with stirring up hatred than actually preventing anyone from living in DC. The question was why? She glanced at the time on her screen. Duncan should be back soon. He’d gone over to the building site, which was the location of the old vampire “embassy” building. The one that had burned down with Duncan and his vampires trapped in the basement. Or, that had been the plan. The killers hadn’t understood what it meant to be a vampire lord, especially not a very powerful vampire lord, like Duncan. He’d literally blown a hole out of the basement and escaped along with every vampire who’d been trapped with him. And then he’d gone after his enemies, both human and vampire. But it seemed he’d missed one. She made a few notes, then shut her laptop and got up from the
sofa. Walking over to the small bathroom attached to her office, she stripped off her yoga pants and Tshirt. She’d been dressed for comfort while she worked, but Duncan liked her to dress up for their meetings. Liked it a lot. The thigh-high stockings went on first. Her bra and panties were already sexy, silk and lace, so no need to change those. Next was a pencil skirt, this one a black-on-black stripe, and a white silk blouse that showed more than a hint of the pretty bra underneath. A quick brush of her teeth, a touch-up on her makeup, which wasn’t much—Duncan liked the way she looked just fine, makeup or not—and she was ready to go. Except for the shoes. He did love her shoes. Today’s pair were red, a Gucci Mary Jane pump with a black and red strap. Not her highest heel, but the Mary Jane design added a touch of naughty schoolmistress that she loved. And so would Duncan. Emma was just bending to pick up her notes when that indefinable something lit up inside her, and she knew Duncan had returned. She couldn’t stop the smile that stole over her face as she straightened. She loved him with everything she had, everything she knew. And, most importantly, he loved her back the same way. “Evening, Alaric,” she said a few minutes later, when she passed the vampire contractor in the hall. “How’s it going over there?” Alaric was
supervising the rebuilding of Duncan’s main residence, the so-called Vampire Embassy, in DC. Their enemies had burned the old one down with Duncan and his vampires still inside, but they’d badly underestimated Duncan’s power. No vampires had been killed, though the structure had been destroyed. “Making progress,” Alaric replied. “Though this damn weather isn’t helping. Your boyfriend has the details.” She laughed and kept going. Duncan’s office was down the hall, the only room large enough to accommodate the number of vampires who sometimes met there. This was a temporary house. It was large for a house, but not for an embassy. The house that had been destroyed in the fire had been twice as big, and would be even bigger when it was rebuilt. She was still surprised at how long it took to build a house. Although, she had to admit that the vampires’ DC residence wasn’t just a house. The new building would be nice, but this one served them well enough, so she was content to wait. Duncan’s office door stood partway open, so she pushed it the rest of the way and stepped inside to find him already walking toward her, his face lit up with a smile that made him even more devastatingly handsome. His arms came around her and he took her
mouth in a hungry kiss, as if it had been days rather than hours they’d been apart. Emma’s arms wrapped around his back, holding on for dear life. Duncan’s kisses would knock her right off her Mary Janes, if she wasn’t careful. He lifted his mouth at last, but didn’t stop kissing her, nibbling at her lips, her cheeks, and finally transferring his attention to her ear. “I like the shoes,” he whispered, and then bit her earlobe just hard enough to be felt. The bite sent a bolt of lust straight to her pussy, leaving her wet and warm. And he knew it, too. The bastard. “Cheater,” she muttered, but he just laughed. “I didn’t know kissing my mate was cheating,” he replied, closing the office door. Okay, well, he had a point. It wasn’t the kissing, it was the kisser. Duncan’s powers of seduction were irresistible. Fortunately for them both, he only practiced his magic on her, so she wasn’t complaining. “Alaric sounds unhappy,” she commented as he led her over to the big table where they usually started this nightly briefing. They rarely ended up there. Once the early business was finished, with its paperwork and computer files, they’d move to the comfortable couch where all too frequently, Emma ended up underneath Duncan. Or sometimes on top, depending on his mood. “Alaric believes the weather should
accommodate itself to his schedule, but he’ll recover.” “Hmmm. Anything I need to know about?” She’d stopped asking for details, like when the house might be finished. “Nothing. I spoke to Raphael. He and Cyn send their love.” She gave him a skeptical look. “If somebody sent love, then you talked to Cyn.” He laughed. “She was in the room. They were on speaker.” “I knew it. Anything happening there?” She didn’t look at him when she asked the question. The North American vamps were plotting to invade Europe, and it terrified her. She knew her fears were irrational. As powerful as Duncan was, Raphael was so much more, and he stood behind the plan along with all the others. Together, they were a force like the vampire world had never seen. And Duncan wouldn’t be directly involved in any of the fighting. Ireland had been decided on as the point of invasion, and he had no roots in Europe, at all. But still, things happened in war. He might not be a direct participant, but he was a very visible representative of the North American vampire community, and that made him a target. “I am in no danger, Emmaline,” he said gently, taking her hand. She tipped her head from side to side. “Well,
no more than usual, maybe. You need to look at this.” She passed over a printed copy of the relevant pages from the Congressional Record. Duncan bent his head to read the few paragraphs, but she still saw the flare of bronze in his eyes that told her something about the entry triggered strong emotions. Something more than the fact that a congressman was targeting vampires. “Why is his name so familiar?” she asked, zeroing in on the one thing that had stuck in her head. He didn’t answer right away. Instead, he stood, taking her hand as he did and pulling her over to the couch, where he sat and pulled her so close that she was practically on his lap. “Duncan?” she said, getting worried. Why the hell couldn’t she place that fucker’s name? “Do you remember, darlin’, after Lacey died —” He never hesitated to say Lacey’s name or even to refer to her murder. Emma appreciated that. She was strong enough to deal with whatever this was. And Lacey deserved to be remembered as the warm, wonderful person she’d been, Emma’s sister in every way that mattered. She was more than the circumstances of her death. “—and we dealt with that bastard Max Grafton, I told you there were others—” “And you said we’d deal with them, too, in
time,” she interrupted, thinking hard. Was Kerwin one of those? She replayed in her head every conversation she could remember, but that had been a terrible time for her. Everything was overlaid with so much pain. “The interview with Violet,” he said, understanding what she was doing and quietly jogging her thoughts. Her eyes widened. She now knew exactly what had caused that flare of emotion in Duncan’s eyes. He had no use for men who abused women, and Congressman Dean Kerwin had been one of the men who’d raped and otherwise abused the young women who’d been provided by his predecessor, the vampire lord Victor. Victor had selected the women for their beauty and desire to party with DC powerbrokers. He’d used his considerable power as a vampire lord to compel them to cooperate in the sexual free-for-alls that he’d hosted for influential members of congress and other powerbrokers, and then he’d wiped the women’s memories so they couldn’t complain. Except that he’d had to rush it after Lacey died, and someone had remembered. Violet Slayton had worked with Lacey and known her well. She’d also been there the day Lacey was killed, and with Duncan’s help, she’d remembered the events of that day. She’d never known the name of the man who’d raped her, but her description had been
enough that Duncan recognized him. Dean Kerwin was on a list kept only in Duncan’s head. An enemies list that included every man or woman who’d participated in the rape and abuse of those young women. They hadn’t been able to kill them all at once. Too many deaths would attract too much attention. But now . . . “What happens if Kerwin dies?” he growled. Emma thought quickly. “The governor of his state is a friend. We and others have donated heavily to his campaign. He’ll appoint a successor who shares our values. Plus, it’s too late in the cycle to waste money on a special election. He’ll wait until the general, which gives his appointed candidate a head start in campaigning. We will, of course, contribute generously to the appropriate political action committee.” Duncan nodded. “Sort through our invitations. Find something Kerwin has committed to attend. Something social that he can’t avoid. I want to meet him before he dies.” Dean Kerwin had just hit the number one spot on Duncan’s list. IT WAS BLACK TIE, as so many of Washington’s events were. Emma didn’t mind. She loved dressing up, and as for Duncan. . . . Well, the man had been born to wear a tux. He was the very picture of lethal elegance. The guards at the door were well-
trained enough to know they were missing something. Duncan couldn’t hide the sense of danger he wore like a second skin. But because it fit him so well, he wasn’t bothered by the security scans or more intrusive pat-downs at the entry checkpoint. Some vampires, especially the powerful ones, would have bristled in insult at the idea of humans laying hands on them. But not Duncan. He stood impassively, knowing they’d find nothing, knowing if they went too far that he could stop their hearts with a thought. On the other hand, when the guards— frustrated at finding nothing on Duncan—thought to turn that same attention on Emma, Duncan stepped in. He didn’t say a word. He didn’t have to. One look from those cold vampire eyes and they forgot Emma existed. “You’re such a bully,” she whispered, taking his arm as they walked into the ballroom. “It is my obligation as a Southern gentleman to defend your honor.” It was said with such a heavy Southern accent that she laughed out loud, drawing more than one glance from the stodgy gathering. It was too early in the evening for frivolity, she knew. Another an hour or two, and the guffaws would be loud and loose. “Any sign of our prey?” he asked, glancing over at Miguel to include him in the question. His
lieutenant was there as a bodyguard, and he wasn’t the only one. Well, he was the only vampire bodyguard. “We need to circulate,” Emma said, linking her arm with his. “You take the right side, Miguel. We’ll go left.” “Sire.” Miguel infused that one word with so much. Disapproval at being parted from Duncan in this crowd. Warning that it wasn’t wise. And, finally, acceptance, because he knew it was a losing battle. Duncan grinned. “We’ll be fine. Emma will defend me, won’t you, darlin’?” She gave Miguel a solemn nod. “With my life.” “Not even in jest, Emmaline. Go, Miguel. The room isn’t that large. I am capable of defending us for the few seconds it will take you to reach us.” They parted ways, Miguel going around one side of the huge room while the two of them went around the other. There were more people here than Emma had expected when she’d chosen this event. Although she’d known most of DC would be invited, the cause it was supporting wasn’t that popular amongst half of the politicians in this divided town, and she expected the turnout to reflect that. But apparently, everyone was trying to demonstrate their social awareness, and so it was packed. “Is this too many people?” she asked Duncan.
“Not at all. The more people who witness our friendly encounter, the better. Same goes for the good congressman’s excellent health when we depart this evening.” Emma knew she should be shocked at his casual plotting to murder a US Congressman. Or anybody, really. But she knew what Kerwin was guilty of, and she knew he’d never pay for his crimes. He was too well-connected, and too visible. His party would rather see a guilty man go free than suffer a scandal that could cost them an election. That was what politics had come to. She’d take vampire justice any day of the week. Duncan stilled for a moment, and she knew Miguel was demanding his attention. Especially when he turned his head to scan the other side of the room. “Congressman Kerwin,” he murmured, then pulled her close, speaking directly in her ear. “Remember what we agreed, Emma. This is a friendly encounter of Washington insiders, nothing more.” “But I get to be there later, right?” Duncan sighed. He hadn’t been joking about the Southern gentleman thing, earlier. He’d been born and bred to protect his woman. “Yes,” he agreed finally. “You will join me later, as well.” She went up on tiptoes and kissed his cheek.
“Thank you. Let’s go schmooze.” “SCHMOOZE,” DUNCAN repeated quietly, as the three of them—he, Emma, and Miguel—let themselves in through the congressman’s patio door. Kerwin had first-rate security, but the only security guaranteed to keep out vampires was more vampires. And Kerwin didn’t have any of those. Duncan would never have allowed it, even if the man had tried to hire some. Vampire lords were very picky about whom they agreed to protect, and every vampire in their territory abided by their rules. “Not now,” Emma whispered. “Now is for doing, not talking.” “Good to know.” He stepped into the expansive room beyond the doors and paused to take the pulse of the household. To his right, he could see the kitchen, and beyond that . . . a human female slept. Probably the cook and/or housekeeper. Innocent. He pushed her into a deeper sleep, and moved on. There were no other bodies on this ground floor, living or dead. And no one in the basement below. He strode silently to the foot of the stairs and looked up. Two humans, both adult. He breathed a sigh of relief. He was capable of deepening a child’s sleep, but was reluctant to do so. In his mind, children were to be protected at all costs. In a situation like this, letting them sleep was
the best protection, but they would still wake in the morning to death. And he would spare them that sadness, if he could. “No children,” he murmured, when Emma joined him. She squeezed his arm in understanding. “Kerwin?” she whispered. “Upstairs, along with a female, but in a separate room.” “His wife was with him at the fundraiser.” Duncan shrugged. He didn’t care who the woman was. If she was his wife, she had to know on some level the kind of man she’d married. “She’ll sleep until morning. Let’s go.” Miguel went first. Duncan didn’t even try to persuade him otherwise. He put Emma in the middle, while he went last, sliding in front of her as they approached the congressman’s bedroom. The doors were closed, but Kerwin was a drinker. By the time Duncan had spoken with him at the party, he’d already been well inebriated. Enough that he hadn’t remembered meeting Duncan before. And when Duncan had discreetly brought up the subject of the man’s legislation to ban vampires from living in DC, he’d seemed too drunk to tone down his rhetoric to suit his audience. Duncan had intercepted more than one worried and/or apologetic glance from others within hearing distance. But Kerwin had seemed unaware of those as well.
Either he was a very good actor, or a very bad drunk. Regardless of what he was, however, he was going to die tonight. And before then, he’d know exactly who Duncan was, and exactly why he was about to die. Duncan slipped into Kerwin’s bedroom, thankful that the man at least had the good taste to wear pajamas. It wouldn’t have changed whether he lived or died, but at least it spared Emma the sight of a naked Kerwin. “Wake up, Kerwin.” He sent the telepathic command directly to the human’s sleeping brain. Kerwin sat up with a start, shock written on his face and reflected in his posture, as he leaned back against a huge headboard of elaborately carved wood. He stared blankly, still too drunk to made sense of this invasion. Duncan reacted impatiently, sending a small shot of telepathy that reacted like an electrical shock, or maybe a jolt of 100% caffeine, waking the man up and driving the last vestiges of confusion from his brain. Kerwin’s reaction, typically, shifted to aggression. He was a powerful man. No one dared accost him in his own home. Aggression was quickly tempered by fear, however. The ultimate refuge of a bully when confronted with a true threat.
“Who are you people?” Duncan, realizing it was too dark for the human to see clearly, flicked his fingers in a wisp of power and turned on every light in the room at once. “Vampire,” Kerwin whispered. “How dare . . . you think I’m afraid of you?” He turned and dug through the drawer in his nightstand, finally coming up with a cross, which he held out in front of him. “Begone, demon spawn.” Duncan gave a bored sigh. “Well. Now that’s out of the way. We’re here to discuss—” “Call my office,” he sneered, seeming unaware that his talisman had no effect. The man should have at least informed himself about vampire facts before he thought to cross them. “But it won’t do any good. The bill’s going through.” Duncan tilted his head, intrigued. “It will never survive a Supreme Court challenge. You must know that.” “Who’s going to bring the lawsuit? You?” he demanded, dismissal in every syllable. “Well, yes, for starters. But it won’t ever reach that point, because you, my friend, are going to die tragically long before then.” Kerwin drew breath to respond, but in that moment Duncan’s words caught up with his brain, and his mouth snapped shut, thus forever denying the world, or at least the three of them, the thrill of
his snappy comeback. “Look,” he stammered. “I can withdraw the bill.” Duncan snorted dismissively. “I don’t care about your bill. It’s barely worth my time. Your mistake was raising your head from the morass and reminding me of your previous crimes.” “Previous . . . what previous crimes?” “Oh, I’m sure there are many, but the only ones that concern me have to do with a young woman named Violet Slayton.” “You’ve got the wrong man. I don’t even know someone named Violet.” “She’s the young woman you raped at that house in Leesburg. And probably others.” “It was—” He swallowed nervously, then blurted out, “She never said no!” “She couldn’t,” Duncan snarled. “Max Grafton made sure of it, and you knew that.” “I swear—” Duncan didn’t wait to hear whatever lies he’d told himself to justify rape. He simply gathered his power and sent Kerwin spinning into a nightmare, one where he was the victim, weak and helpless. Unable to tap even his own will to defend himself. He watched impassively as the human thrashed on the big bed, as he whimpered, and cried out in pain and humiliation. When his cries turned to screams, Duncan froze his vocal cords. He could
deal with whoever might come to investigate, but it was easier to stop the man from screaming at all, especially when doing so only added to the despair of the nightmare Duncan had crafted. “Baby,” Emma whispered, sliding up next to him and taking his hand as she stared at Kerwin. Duncan turned and placed a soft kiss on the side of her head. “I think it’s time to go,” she told him. He gave her a surprised look. “You don’t want him to suffer for what he did?” “Of course I do. But it’s you I’m worried about. His soul can rot in hell, but yours is worth saving. He deserves this, but you don’t.” “Emma,” he murmured, freeing his hand to pull her close. “Whatever did I do to deserve you?” “Maybe I deserved you, instead.” He hugged her tightly. “All right.” With a thought, he wiped the nightmare from Kerwin’s brain, and, in almost the same instant, squeezed the human’s heart, disrupting its rhythm until it was struggling to maintain function. “Let’s go,” he said quickly. He wanted Emma out of that room before Kerwin died. She went willingly, but kept hold of his hand, making sure he came with her. He and Miguel exchanged a look of perfect understanding as Duncan released Kerwin’s heart, letting the man die a moment before they left the room. Miguel closed
the doors. THEY LEFT THE house as quietly as they’d entered, without so much as a stray dog bark to say they’d been there. The drive back to Embassy Row and their own small house was oddly peaceful. Emma knew she should be troubled. She wasn’t blind to what Duncan and Miguel had done at the end. They’d killed Kerwin, although Duncan had tried to spare her the sight of it. Did he really think she was that innocent? But she didn’t call him on it, because he meant well. He wanted to protect her, and as long as protection didn’t cross the line into lying, or keeping her in the dark about things that mattered, she’d let him. She gave a light yawn and snuggled up to him in the backseat of the SUV. “Tired?” Duncan asked, shifting to put his arm around her. She nodded. “Long night.” “We’ll be home soon.” Emma let her head fall against his shoulder, fighting tears. Home. It was everything she and Lacey had dreamed of through all the years of foster care. A home to call their own, and maybe someone to share it with. A man who loved them. It seemed unfair that Lacey’s death had brought that dream to Emma. But her friend wouldn’t have begrudged her happiness. Lacey was probably
swinging on a cloud somewhere, laughing down at Emma, and making big eyes because Duncan was so gorgeous. She smiled. “Home,” she agreed. The End
Vampire Vignette #16 Dessert Shortly after ADEN, Book Seven Chicago, Illinois SIDONIE WAS NERVOUS. This was a big night. Meet-the-family night. She’d put it off for as long as she could, until her brothers had begun to drop hints that maybe she was ashamed of her vampire lover. And that was unacceptable. Her nervousness had more to do with grandchildren. As in, there wouldn’t be any. Not from her, anyway. And then there was the whole immortality thing. Obviously, her parents wouldn’t care if she outlived them, but what about her brothers? They’d age, their children would age, and Sid would remain just as she was. That was weird enough to make any girl worry about the family’s reaction. But she couldn’t tolerate the idea that anyone would think she was ashamed of Aden, so tonight was the night. She was still in her robe, making one more attempt at taming her curly hair, when Aden
strolled out of his closet, smoothing his tie. Her heart did a good old-fashioned pitty-pat at the sight of him. Her beautiful vampire didn’t wear suits very often, but when he did . . . good God, he was handsome. The suit was a dark charcoal, custommade to show off his broad shoulders and deep chest, his flat belly, his narrow waist. . . . She caught herself a moment before she’d stripped him naked in her thoughts. His tie was black, with a small silver pattern, contrasting nicely with a white shirt, but . . . “You didn’t like the blue tie?” she asked. “It brings out the color of your eyes.” He stopped and gave her a long look. “Who gives a fuck about the color of my eyes? I’ll leave that to peacocks like Raphael and Duncan.” Sid laughed, and knew that’s what he’d intended. He knew she was stressed about the night. He was such a sweetheart, but only with her. Her heart squeezed with happiness. “Shall I tell Cyn you said that?” she teased. He shrugged. “Go ahead.” She made a dismissive noise. “You’re no fun.” He swooped over and picked her up, nuzzling her neck and shoulders, as she laughed in delight. Nibbling his way up to her mouth, he kissed her deeply, luxuriously, his tongue a lazy swirl of sensuality as he stroked it against hers, his lips far too soft and sexy for such a tough vampire. “I can
be fun, habibi,” he murmured against her lips. “Shall I show you how?” Sid held on tightly, her arms around his neck, her breasts crushed against the pristine whiteness of his shirt. “That’s no fair,” she whispered. He grinned, and said, “Fuck fair.” But he gave her a smacking kiss on her lips and deposited her back on the bench in front of her vanity. “Why are you still sitting there? You already look beautiful.” “My hair—” “I love your hair. Leave it.” “Bossy man.” “Not that I care, but we’re going to be late. You should get moving, unless you plan to change clothes in the helicopter?” Sid threw a jar at him, knowing he’d catch it. Which he did. Frustrating man. “I’m moving.” She stood and headed for her closet. This was the easiest part of getting ready. For all the significance of tonight, it was still dinner with the family. And sure, if it had been an ordinary occasion, she’d be showing up in jeans and a sweater. These people knew her. They loved her. But this wasn’t an ordinary occasion, so, she was wearing a dress—a simple silk sheath, with long sleeves and a boat neck. The neck thing was deliberate. First, because Aden liked her neck bare—for obvious reasons. And second, to prove to her parents that her neck wasn’t constantly covered in hickeys, like some
hormonal teenager. Of course, they’d never see the bite marks on her breasts. She smiled to herself. Those were between her and Aden. She turned as Aden walked into the closet, giving him her back so he could zip the dress. He did the honors, then bent to kiss her bared neck. “If we were meeting with vampires tonight, I’d be biting you right now. Marking you for everyone to see,” he whispered, his breath warm on her skin. She shivered. “Stop that.” He grinned and kissed the skin behind her ear, his eyes meeting hers in the mirror. “You don’t really want me to stop.” “No,” she breathed, then swallowed. “But you’re the one who said we’d be late.” “I say a lot of shit I don’t mean.” “Aden.” He laughed. “Let’s go then. It’s cold. You’ll need a coat. And shoes.” “Oh, ha ha.” Bracing a hand on his rock-hard arm, she stepped into a pair of black pumps, with stupidly high heels. But they made her legs look great, and brought her a little closer to Aden’s height. She pulled a wool coat from the closet, smiling when Aden took it and held it for her to slip her arms through. With a final look at herself in the mirror, and the gorgeous man gazing patiently over her shoulder, she said, “Let’s do this thing.”
ADEN STUDIED SID’S family home as the limo turned up the long driveway. The house was brightly lit, with warm light spilling from what looked like every room. It was a big house on a good-sized piece of land. He personally wouldn’t want to live this far from the city, but if one was raising a family, it made sense. This was a wealthy enclave that protected its status and its citizens, a job made easier by distance. Sid’s hand clenched in his as the limo stopped in front of a wide, brick porch. He leaned over and brushed a kiss against her temple, breathing in the sweet scent of her perfume. “It’s not too late. We can still escape, habibi.” She smiled and tipped her head against his lips. “No way, dude. You’re stuck with me.” He snorted his opinion of that. He firmly believed he had the better deal in their relationship. He was a moody, bad-tempered, and bossy son-ofa-bitch, and those were his good points. Sidonie was light to his dark. She’d dragged him kicking and screaming back to a life where love and even happiness were real things. He didn’t give a fuck what her parents thought about him or his relationship with their daughter. He was never letting her go. The front door opened, silhouetting two men in the spill of warm, bright light. Aden couldn’t make
out details, but he’d bet these were her brothers. They had the same lean build, both tall, with wide shoulders. He couldn’t tell much else, except that they were both wary as they stared at the limo, waiting to meet the monster who’d claimed their baby sister. Whatever. “You know what to do,” he told Bastien, who was sitting in the passenger seat up front, with Kage behind the wheel. They’d wait with the car, while two more of his vampires, Freddy and Travis, had arrived separately and already taken up positions outside the house. Aden didn’t believe there was any danger lurking in Sidonie’s family home, but one could never be too careful. Besides, if he hadn’t invited them along, his vampires would have come anyway. Whether he thought he needed bodyguards or not, they did. It was in their nature to protect their Sire. It was a vampire thing. Aden opened the limo door and climbed out, turning to take Sidonie’s hand so she wouldn’t fall in those sexy-as-hell heels. Keeping an arm around her, he closed the limo door, and headed up the stairs. Her brothers ventured out to the porch with big smiles and hugs for her and cautious looks at him. Sid stepped back into the curve of his arm, her body language making it clear that she was with Aden first tonight. “Aden, these are my brothers,
Jameson and Robert.” The older brother held out his hand first. “It’s good to meet you . . . at last.” Sidonie slapped her brother’s arm. “Ow. You’re so mean.” Aden watched the interplay curiously. There was a protectiveness in Sidonie’s brothers that was more like that of a parent than a sibling. It made him think better of the men. The second brother, Robert, held out his hand. “Ignore them,” he said, giving Aden’s hand a firm shake. “They’ve been acting like this since Sid was born.” “Well, she is mean,” Aden said quietly. Sidonie gasped, but the two men laughed. “Come on in,” Robert said, moving out of the doorway. “It’s fucking cold out there.” “Robert!” a woman’s voice scolded to the sound of tapping heels. “Language.” Aden choked back a laugh of his own as he reminded himself not to swear until they’d left the house. “Baby!” Sidonie left his side to hurry into the embrace of an older woman, obviously her mother, though they looked nothing alike. They were both slender, but the resemblance ended there. Her mother had the same light brown hair of her brothers, and she was several inches shorter than Sidonie. Aden
supposed if one searched, there was some similarity in their features, but not what one would expect. Sidonie was turning, holding out a hand for Aden. “Mom, this is Aden. Aden, my mother, Tamara Reid.” “Oh, my,” her mother said, her eyes widening as she took in Aden’s considerable height, which was at least a foot taller than she was, even in her heels. “I’m so happy to meet you,” she said warmly. “Come in. My husband’s just pouring us a drink.” That sounded good. Aden couldn’t get drunk, but a nice scotch would go down well. He wondered if Sidonie’s father had a decent stock of liquor. Maybe he should have brought his own bottle . . . as a gift. “Thank you,” he said, then to Sidonie, “You want your coat off, habibi?” Sidonie gave him a warm look and slid her coat off into his hands. “Thanks, baby.” “Let me take that,” one of the brothers said, and hung the coat in a closet. “Let’s get that drink.” They all marched, er, walked into the next room, which turned out to be the sitting room portion of a large, open floor plan that included a dining room, and, beyond that, a kitchen where he could see a man in a black apron working at the counter—the family’s private chef, he assumed. He looked around and found Sidonie’s father
at the wet bar, pouring an amber liquid from an elaborate crystal decanter. There was no mistaking the relationship between father and daughter. He had Sidonie’s red hair and fair skin—or rather, she had his. She also had his looks, albeit a more delicate, feminine version. “Daddy.” Sidonie held onto Aden’s hand and led him over to her father’s side. “This is Aden. Baby, this is my dad, Jameson.” Aden eyed the father carefully. The brothers didn’t worry him. In this house, at least, they were clearly betas. Dad was the alpha. But since Aden was accustomed to being the only alpha in his world and was also, quite honestly, considerably more alpha than Jameson Sr., he had to tread carefully. He didn’t want to best the man in his own house, but he wouldn’t be taking a subordinate role to anyone, either. Not even Sidonie’s father. “Aden,” Jameson Sr. said. “Jameson.” Aden shook his hand, careful to temper his strength, but he met the man’s gaze evenly. “Scotch?” Aden took the proffered glass. Sidonie was still holding on to his left hand, clinging with both of hers, betraying her nerves. Aden loosed his hand and slipped an arm around her waist, pulling her close. She smiled up at him with such love . . . it reminded him of why he was subjecting himself to
this human custom of meeting the parents. How ridiculous. He was hundreds of years older than they were, and would live hundreds of years longer. As would their daughter as his mate. He reined in his irritation before it was reflected on his face. Sidonie was all too good at reading him, and he wouldn’t hurt her over something so trivial. “You want a glass, baby girl?” Jameson Sr. asked. Aden gave Sidonie an amused glance at the endearment and caught her blush. Adorable. He kissed the top of her head. “No, thanks, Daddy. I still don’t like the taste.” “The ancestors are rolling in their graves,” Jameson Sr. grumbled, shaking his head. But then he winked at her and held out his glass to Aden. “To my beautiful daughter,” he said, meeting Aden’s eyes with a challenging stare. Aden stared right back at him, never flinching. “And my beautiful Sidonie.” “I’m with Sid on this one.” Sidonie’s mother, Tamara, stepped into the fray, breaking up the stare-down, as she slipped under her husband’s arm. “I never liked the taste, either.” “And yet, somehow, I still married you,” Jameson Sr. said, kissing her upturned face. “Aden,” Tamara said, turning in her husband’s embrace. “Sidonie tells me you have some lovely
antique pieces, including a spectacular tapestry.” He nodded slightly. “I do appreciate lovely things.” He hugged Sidonie a fraction closer, smiling when she glanced up at him with a laugh. “Are you saying my daughter is one of those things?” her father inquired with a definite chill to his voice. “Daddy,” Sidonie scolded. But Aden didn’t let it go. He regarded the human somberly, reminding himself that this wasn’t his world, that these weren’t his vampires, and no challenge had been issued. Or if there was a challenge, it was so laughable as to be meaningless. And yet . . . no one was allowed to question him when it came to Sidonie. She was the light and laughter of his life. “Sidonie is the best thing,” he said deliberately, “that ever happened to me. She is also quite lovely.” “Of course she is,” Tamara interrupted. She nudged her husband with a shoulder against his chest, breaking the moment. “And Ron is signaling me to get everyone seated. Shall we?” Aden gave Jameson Sr. a tiny sideways nod, as if to say, “I’m willing, are you?” The father’s eyes narrowed slightly, but he jerked a nod at Aden, before turning his attention to Tamara. “Lead the way, love.” Sidonie held Aden back a moment, slipping both arms around his waist and gazing up at him.
“I’m sorry,” she whispered. “He means well.” Aden drained his scotch and set the glass down, before wrapping her in his arms. “I don’t blame him. I wouldn’t want my daughter stuck with me, either.” He heard the unexpected note of bitterness in his words and would have brushed it away, both physically and emotionally. But Sidonie didn’t let him. “Don’t do that,” she said, holding him tighter. “You’re the best man I’ve ever known, and I love you. Fuck everyone else.” That made him smile. “Language, Sidonie,” he whispered, mimicking her mother’s earlier chastisement. “Am I really the best thing that ever happened to you?” He tipped his head down and kissed her. “Without question.” “Same goes, you know. You’re my best thing, too.” “Then let’s go eat some damn dinner, so we can get back to Chicago and fuck.” She gave a surprised laugh that warmed his heart. He loved when she laughed like that, free and happy, like a child. She raised up on her toes to kiss him, and he caught her waist. She’d kill herself on those stupid, sexy-as-hell heels, and her father would blame him. “Come on, baby,” she whispered against his
lips. “We can do this.” SID IGNORED HER mother’s careful seating plan, which would have put Sid next to her dad, and Aden next to her mom, on opposite sides of the oval table. As if. She let Aden take the chair next to her mom, but then took the chair next to him, giving her brother Robert a death-ray glare when he opened his mouth to challenge her. This was a family dinner. They didn’t need a fucking seating plan. She was still pissed at her dad for trying to embarrass Aden like that. Or challenge him, or whatever else he’d thought to accomplish. She knew her father loved her. She even understood his reservations, and what was probably his unhappiness. Her dad wanted the same thing for her as he had with her mom. What he didn’t realize was that she already had it. Aden was the love of her life, and he loved her just as much. She put her arm on his broad shoulder and rested her head against him for just a moment. He responded by stretching his arm across her lap and gripping her outer thigh, as he kissed her forehead. “You okay?” he whispered. She nodded against his shoulder, not sitting up until her mother’s private chef, Ron, came around with the first course. She noticed the man’s hesitant look at Aden, so she gave him a nod of assent. She
and Aden had discussed this before agreeing to have dinner with her family. Like most vampires, Aden didn’t eat regular food, but it wasn’t because he couldn’t. Vampires could eat anything regular humans did, but it had no nutritional value for them and not much taste. So, they simply didn’t bother. Alcohol had more flavor, apparently, and they still enjoyed the heat of it as it went down. Which was why every vampire she knew drank a lot of booze. But they never got drunk, never even got a good buzz. She caught her mother’s chiding gaze, and immediately straightened in her chair, choking back a laugh at her own reaction as she picked up her fork. Aden’s hand on her thigh didn’t move. Apparently, the mom stare had no effect on him. She glanced down at the food. Ron had been with her parents long enough to know her favorites. She caught his eye with a smile as he slipped her brother Jamie’s plate in front of him. He gave her a wink, then headed back to the kitchen. “Something I should know?” Aden murmured, his grip tightening on her thigh. Sidonie laughed quietly. “He’s twice my age.” “And I’m over two hundred.” “He’s like an uncle to me.” “So?” She tsked. “Aden.” He shook his head. “You’re so sheltered.”
“Eat your Carpaccio, you terrible man,” she ordered. He made a dismissive noise. “A moment ago, I was the love of your life.” “You still are. Lucky for you, I love terrible men.” “Men?” “Argh.” He laughed. “No mushy stuff at the table,” her brother Robert muttered. “Mushy stuff?” she said, grinning at him. “No wonder you’re still single.” “I happen to like being single. I’m not old enough for the ball and chain. Pick on Jamie here. He’s the oldest; he should go down first.” AND, SO IT WENT, Aden thought, listening to the back and forth between siblings and parents, the gentle teasing of people who formed a family. He’d never known anything like it, and so had no comparison. He had his vampires, his inner circle. They were a family of sorts. He loved them, they loved him back. Some might argue that they had to love him, that the bond between Sire and child forced their connection. But, as he saw it, that was no different than the parent-child bond. Not every parent was a good mother or father; not every child cared about his parents beyond what they could
give him. Vampires were the same. He observed more than he talked during dinner. He and Sidonie’s mother discussed her tapestry work, and he gave vague assurances that he’d let her see the tapestry Sidonie had spoken of, the one that had hung in his private room when she’d met him. It hung on the wall of their sitting room now, the outer room of the private suite he shared with Sidonie. In the basement of their big house. The only person allowed in there, besides Sidonie and him, was the vampire housekeeper he’d hired upon becoming Lord of the Midwest. He’d have to move the damn tapestry to an upstairs room if Sidonie insisted on showing it to her family. “Are you going to eat that?” Sidonie’s whisper broke into his thoughts, and he glanced down to see her eyeing his dessert. It was something dark and chocolatey. His Sidonie loved chocolate. He switched plates without a word, replacing her empty one with his. “I’ll have my dessert later,” he whispered against her ear, smiling when he felt the heat of her blush. The blush didn’t stop her from eating the cake, however. The sounds of pleasure she made with each bite were very familiar to him. Familiar enough that he might be claiming his dessert sooner than he’d thought. Sex in a helicopter could be exciting. Fortunately, the evening ended soon after that.
There was coffee and a very fine cognac, kisses all around, including a cheek kiss for Aden from Sidonie’s mother. But it was handshakes from the men, even her father, and then they finally escaped the house, into the cold air, down the walkway to the limousine, where Bastien stood, holding the door open. “Sidonie,” Bastien said, giving her a smile as she bent into the limo. His smile widened into a grin when he met Aden’s gaze. “My lord.” Aden scowled. The bastard could barely keep from laughing. “I trust you had a pleasant evening?” “Don’t push it,” Aden growled, and slid in to sit next to Sidonie. He didn’t fully relax until they’d left the gates of the private enclave behind and were heading for the parking lot of the local high school, which was serving as a helipad for the night. The suburb didn’t have an actual helipad, other than the roof of the hospital. And that wasn’t for rent. Aden wouldn’t have considered it anyway. Logistically, it couldn’t be made secure. Sidonie leaned into him with a sigh. “Was it terrible?” “No night with you could be terrible.” She linked her fingers with his where his hand lay across her thighs, much as it had all through dinner. Aden liked to keep her close. He also liked to make his claim clear.
“You’re sweet,” she murmured. Sweet? “But how bad was it?” she persisted. “On a scale of one to ten?” “Which is best, the one or the ten?” “Ten.” “Hmm. I’ll go with five.” “A five is totally neutral. That’s like not saying anything at all.” Aden looked at her. “Yeah, yeah, okay. I’ll take what I can get.” “Helicopter’s in sight, boss.” Bastien did a poor job of hiding his amusement. BACK IN CHICAGO, Aden’s arms closed around her the minute the door to their private quarters closed behind them. “You owe me a dessert,” he murmured in that deep voice that vibrated all the way to her soul. She turned in his arms, pressing her breasts against his hard chest and sliding her arms around his neck, as she raised her face for a kiss. He obliged. He always did. Her Aden loved to kiss. At least he loved to kiss her, which was all she cared about. His kiss was deep and commanding, an invasion of teeth and tongue as he claimed her mouth as his. He was a possessive bastard. Every time they made love, he claimed her body all over again, marking her in ways that sometimes were for
others to see, and other times were simply to remind her that she belonged to him and no one else. Sidonie didn’t need the reminders. He was so deep in her heart that she could dig for years and never uncover all the ways he’d claimed her. All the ways she’d let herself be claimed. “I love you,” she whispered. Tears filled her eyes. She loved him so much. More than she could ever say. “I know, habibi,” he said softly. “I understand. Don’t cry.” She pulled back with a laugh that was at least half sobbing. “Easy for you to say.” He held her in place, suddenly serious. “Do you think so? Do you think I love you any less?” Her lower lip quivered as a fresh wave of emotion overwhelmed her. She shook her head. “No,” she managed to say, as tears rolled down her cheeks. Aden hugged her close, one big hand cradling the back of her head as he pressed her into his shoulder. “What kind of dessert is this?” he teased, swaying from side to side. She laughed and punched his stomach. But carefully, since she was more likely to hurt her own hand than his rock-hard gut. “Let me change clothes.” He growled. “Not a chance. This is my dessert.
I make the rules.” She sucked in a worried breath, even as her pussy clenched in anticipation. Aden had lots of rules. Sometimes he told her what they were in advance, and sometimes not. He wanted her to break the rules, so he could punish her. Aden was very creative when it came to punishments. He pulled her arms away and set her in front of him. “Take off the coat.” Sid slid out of the winter coat and tossed it on a nearby couch. She stared up at him, studying his gorgeous face for some clue, and feeling suddenly very vulnerable. Her dress was sexy, but perfectly acceptable for a family dinner, and she was wearing far more than usual in the way of undergarments. Both a bra and panties, as he well knew. It was a fact he proved a moment later when he slid his rough fingers up her thighs, beneath the material of her dress, until he met the silk of her panties. Meeting her eyes with a lazy grin, he gave a hard tug and tore the delicate fabric on both sides. Holding her gaze, he slid the silk slowly between her thighs, gliding it through her wet pussy, tugging hard so that it dug between her pussy lips, every sodden inch of it rubbing against her swollen clit. Pulling what was left of the sodden panties out from under her skirt, he held it to her nose, his gaze heating as she inhaled the scent of her own arousal. He raised the silk to his own nose and inhaled
deeply, then tossed the useless fabric away. Sid could feel the slick heat of her arousal, wanted to rub her thighs together to relieve some of the unbearable need in her pussy. She could feel the weight of Aden’s stare. He was just waiting for her to do something like that, to ease her own sexual hunger. That was one rule that never changed. Her pussy belonged to him, just like her mouth and every other part of her body. She considered doing it anyway, because she liked his punishments, and besides, he needed to be challenged sometimes. But Aden’s growl stopped her. He swore he didn’t read her mind, but sometimes . . . He bared his teeth at her. A promise of things to come. She shivered, and his big hands closed over her naked butt, squeezing both cheeks as he raised her skirt to her waist and spun her around so her back faced him. One of his hands left her butt, and she tensed. Aden loved to pink her pale skin, especially the cheeks of her ass. But instead, his hand came up and unzipped the back of her dress, his fingers trailing over her skin all the way down, until she felt the relatively cooler air of the room hit her bare skin. Aden kissed the back of her neck as he slid the dress off her shoulders and down over her arms, letting it fall to pool around her ankles. “Step,” he ordered. And she did, lifting one high-heeled foot and then the other, until Aden kicked the dress across the floor, as if it was useless
fabric instead of an elegant bit of designer creativity. He unhooked her strapless bra, and she was naked, except for her heels and black thighhigh stockings. One of his hands slid down her thigh to rub against the top of her stocking. “These stay on.” Sidonie shivered again at the rough dominance of that command. He pulled her back, until she hit his big, hard body, and she realized he was still fully clothed. If she looked, she knew she’d find he hadn’t even loosened his tie. The bastard. He loved to do this to her. To enhance her vulnerability by stripping her bare, while he remained dressed, secure in the uniform of civility. She pressed her hand against his thigh, sliding upward. She barely brushed the bulge of his cock before he grabbed both her hands and leaned in to sink his teeth into the junction between her neck and shoulder. Sid cried out, but the pain was drowned in the rush of arousal that shook her narrow frame, a full body shudder that left her breasts straining for his touch, her nipples hard and swollen, her thighs sticky with liquid heat as they clenched around her aching pussy. His tongue rasped over the bite, sending fresh jolts of desire coursing through her body. She wanted his hands on her breasts, wanted his fingers dipping between the silky, swollen folds of her sex, to plunge into her body, gliding on the slick cream
of her arousal. But more than anything, she wanted his cock. She clenched her butt and pushed back, rubbing herself against the growing thickness of his cock. He growled, then lifted her off her feet, walked the short distance to their bed, until her knees hit the mattress. He let her slide down his body until her feet hit the ground, then bent her over the bed with her butt in the air facing him. He kicked her legs apart, baring her sex, her ass, opening her to whatever he wanted to do. Sid moaned softly and arched her back, offering herself to whatever wicked plans he had. Her entire body craved his touch, lusted after the pleasure, the release, that only he could give her. His hand stroked down the line of her spine, trailing one finger between her butt cheeks, teasing the rosebud of her ass, before dropping lower to dip into the slick cream of her pussy. “So wet, habibi,” he murmured. Sid felt her cheeks flush in embarrassment. It was stupid. This was Aden. He’d seen and licked every inch of her up close, had fucked her every way possible. But she couldn’t help it. She was bent over a bed with her ass in the air, her pussy dripping with arousal, begging to be fucked. She was completely vulnerable. For a woman who prided herself on a take-no-prisoners attitude toward life, it was embarrassing. And it turned her on so hard, she
thought she’d climax before his cock so much as touched her. Aden chuckled, low and dark. He knew what he did to her, what he made her feel. The beautiful bastard. His hand brushed against her ass, and then it was his cock, hard and thick and long, sliding between the cheeks of her ass, gliding in the cream of her arousal, pushing between the swollen lips of her pussy, shoving into the tight channel of her sheath. His hands gripped her hips, holding her in place as he slammed deep into her body, pulling out and plunging back in until his groin slapped her ass with every thrust. Sidonie knew she wouldn’t last. She felt the heat of his cock as it rubbed along her inner walls, scraping over tiny nerves and muscles, the grip of his fingers digging into her hips, the deep rasp of his breath. She clutched the thick comforter, fighting against the scream clogging her throat, wanting the sensuality of this moment to last, but Aden had other plans. Sliding one hand over her belly and down between her legs, he stroked his fingers once over the engorged nub of her clit, making Sid cry out, pleading for release. Or was it more pleasure? She didn’t know. But then he took the decision away from her. Leaning down, he sank his teeth into her vein, releasing the euphoric in his bite, even as he pinched her clit between thumb and forefinger. She
screamed as every nerve came alive, every muscle clenched. The comforter was like steel wool against her swollen and hypersensitive nipples, Aden’s cock stretching her impossibly wide as her sheath clamped down on his thickness. His hand closed over her pussy, claiming it for his own, as he slammed his cock as deep as it could go and stayed there. He snarled as the wet heat of his climax filled her, his cock flexing and jerking inside her as he ground his body against hers until the orgasm finally released them both and he collapsed against her back. ADEN SLID HIS fangs slowly out of Sidonie’s plump vein and licked up the last few drops. Her blood was like honey, addictive and delicious. And all his. He wrapped an arm around her, his hand flat against her belly as he scooted them both up onto the bed. He was still fully dressed, but unwilling to release her soft, sweet body long enough to get rid of his clothes. Her pussy was rippling around his cock, still warm, and wet, and trembling. He kissed the back of her neck, tasting salty sweat. “You with me?” he murmured against her soft ear. She gave a little moan that might have contained some words. He smiled and said, “The best dessert ever.” The End
Vampire Vignette #17 Dear Diary Two Months after LUCIFER, Book Eleven Houston, TX, present day NATALIE SLIPPED OUT of the room she shared with Christian. It was late afternoon, which meant he was still sleeping soundly and wouldn’t stir for a few hours yet. Usually, she slept with him, although sometimes she read or worked in bed. It depended on how tired she was, and how many hours the sun’s presence in the sky would keep him asleep. Summer was the worst, with its long days and short nights. She shook her head at the thought. Most people loved summertime. She had, too, once upon a time, but now it was a pain in the ass. She missed him. Fortunately, the fall season was well and truly upon them, with the days growing steadily shorter. Christian would sleep only a few more hours, but she was hungry now. Last night had been busy, with plans for the new house that needed to be checked
over and approved, and lots of hush-hush conference calls with Raphael and the other vampire lords. As Cyn would say, it was a bunch of super-secret vampire shit. Natalie hadn’t been in the room for those, but the minute Christian was off the phone, he’d called a meeting of his own, with her, his lieutenant, Marc, and his security chief, Alon. Alon was a newish vamp. Less than a year away from his turning, he’d been Natalie’s friend and dojo master. In fact, she’d introduced Alon to Christian. Not as a potential recruit, but as an instructor. She’d also been there the night Alon had been shot in a fight with rival vampires—the same night Christian had saved Alon’s life by making him a vampire. It was unusual, but there was no question of consent. Alon had spoken to Christian when they’d first met about his desire to become a vampire. These thoughts filled her head as she passed through the house’s small command center, with its state-of-the-art tech and security system. She checked each system carefully, scanning the feed from the various cameras, both outdoor and indoor. Vampires were not universally beloved. There were hate groups who thought nothing of burning down a house full of sleeping vampires, persisting in the superstitious belief that vampires were undead, like the zombies on TV. But while they might be idiots, it didn’t take
much of an IQ to throw a Molotov cocktail through a window. Of course, the windows on this house were covered in hurricane-tested shutters. The doors, too. When they moved to the new house, they’d have a full, daytime, security force. But Christian had decided against bringing on the extra people before then. Their current house was in an upscale, suburban neighborhood. Having a cordon of armed guards lurking in the daytime would only serve to draw attention to the fact that vampires lived here. Natalie wasn’t sure she agreed with that reasoning, but she’d been outvoted by the three vampires who shared the house with her. They couldn’t stop her from scanning every single security feed, however. Nor could they stop her from carrying a gun whenever she left the basement sleeping quarters. Satisfied with what she saw on the security monitors, Natalie entered the code on the vault door to the stairway. After closing that door behind her, she climbed the stairs to a second vault door and entered a different code. That door swung open to the main hallway of their house. Passing the unused bedrooms, she entered the state-of-the art kitchen, which was dominated by Christian’s elaborate espresso machine. Her vampire had a coffee fetish. It was the first thing he did every night after rising. Well, actually, the first thing he
did was make love to her. She smiled. But coffee was his first thought after that. He and the others made quite the fuss over it, with Marc demanding his caramel macchiato, and Alon joining Christian in preferring small cups of thick, rich espresso. Natalie would have liked a pumpkin spice latte, but she’d wait until Christian woke for the night. The gleaming machine was his baby. He wouldn’t say a word to her, but he’d mutter beneath his breath while cleaning every inch of it. Sometimes, she made herself a latte, or even worse, a plain hot chocolate, just to watch him fuss afterward. But not today. She was too hungry. Pulling open the refrigerator door, she checked out the possibilities. The guys didn’t eat, but she did, and she made weekly runs to the grocery store to be sure there was always food on hand. After checking to be sure she had fresh bread, she made herself a turkey and Swiss sandwich, then grabbed a bag of greasy potato chips. The best kind. She was reaching for a plate when she saw a leather-bound book sitting on the counter. The word “Journal” was stamped into the leather, and she could tell from the condition of the pages that some of them had been written on. Curious about whose it was, she brought it to the counter along with her sandwich and a diet Coke, then flipped open the first page.
A single glance told her the journal belonged to Alon. He had a unique slant to his writing that she’d always attributed to the fact that Hebrew, with its right to left alignment, was his first language. The writing was as bold as he was, utterly self-assured. She took a bite of her sandwich and stared at the writing-filled page without reading the words. The journal was private. Like a diary. In fact, the first words on the page were precisely that: “Dear Diary.” That made her smile. Alon was a big, tough vampire, a dojo master, expert in several disciplines of martial arts . . . and he started his journal with the same words she’d used as a teenager. She took another bite and chewed, still staring. She wasn’t even trying, but her eyes automatically made words of the scribbling, and her heart clenched. “Dear Diary, I hate this. What was I thinking?” Oh, my God. Alon hated being a vampire. She’d thought he was happy being Christian’s security chief. He’d never said a word to her. Not a word! She’d thought they were friends. But maybe he’d been worried that she was too close to Christian. That her loyalties would be divided, and anything he told her, she’d tell Christian. What was she going to do? Well, the first thing you have to do is read more than ten words of the damn thing, she scolded
herself. Natalie pulled the diary closer and started to read. Less than an hour later, she’d read the whole thing. Well, the whole thing wasn’t that much. There were only a few pages, less than she’d originally thought, but those few pages alternately terrified her and made her want to cry. The terror was because if Christian found out, if he read what Alon had written, he might kill him. Loyalty was everything among vampires, and Alon was talking about breaking his vow to Christian and pledging to some other vampire lord. He hadn’t decided which one yet, but that didn’t matter—he wasn’t just any vampire, he was Christian’s security chief. He knew secrets. He was privy to every detail of the new estate house Christian was building, all the security arrangements, the secret escape passages. Not to mention Christian’s business interests. Some of those he’d inherited from the late, unlamented Anthony, but he’d shaken up most of Anthony’s financial holdings so that any vampire still connected with the dead vampire lord would be unable to uncover his investments. But Alon knew all of those, as well. She’d sat at the table with the three of them—Christian, Marc, and Alon—while they all discussed the best investments and allocations. She wiped her cheek and realized it was wet with tears. What was she going to do?
A clock chimed softly from the formal living room. She straightened and twisted around to look at the clock on the microwave. She must have been sitting there, stressing out, for much longer than she’d thought, because that chime meant the sun would be down within the hour. And she still had no idea what to do. Sliding off the seat, she laid the unopened diary exactly where she’d found it, not wanting Alon to realize she’d read it. But she’d no sooner put it down than she second-guessed herself. She didn’t want anyone else to read it, either. Anyone being Christian or Marc, since they were the only two others living in the house, and Christian never invited anyone else over to the house anymore. Not since he and the others had been betrayed by vampires they’d thought were their allies, if not their friends. The clock on the microwave advanced with a nearly soundless tick, and she nearly jumped out of her skin. What the hell was she going to do? Okay, she’d leave the diary, but make sure Christian didn’t reach the kitchen before Alon. That should be easy. She and her vampire lover were usually the last ones up the stairs, since, well, they had other things to occupy their time. Like sex. Glorious, vicious, vampire sex. She smiled dreamily, then snapped herself back to reality. Right. Diary. Okay, she’d give herself, and
Alon, twenty-four hours to get rid of the damn thing. She’d just have to corner him privately, make him understand, and hope he could forgive her. “IS SOMETHING troubling you, ma chére?” Natalie lay on top of Christian, still trembling from the force of her climax, his cock still firm and deep inside her body. His arm tightened around her. “You seem . . . tense. I might be insulted.” She grimaced against his chest where he couldn’t see it. She had to tell him about Alon. Her first loyalty was to Christian. He was her mate, her lover, the love of her life. But she’d really hoped to speak with Alon first. She fought not to grind her teeth as she struggled with her decision. He’d only hear the noise and force her to tell. Of course, she was going to tell him anyway, but. . . . Argh! She sighed. “If I tell you something, will you promise not to freak out?” He stilled beneath her. “No, I won’t.” Natalie frowned. “No, you won’t freak out, or no, you won’t promise?” “No, I won’t promise. It depends on what you have to tell me.” She sat up and looked down at him, her thighs bracketing his hips. She couldn’t help the little smile that softened her lips. He was such a pretty sight. But then she scowled. “You know I love you,
right? More than anyone or anything.” “Natalie.” He glowered. “Just tell me what the fuck you’re talking about.” She groaned. “All right. Look, I was hungry this afternoon, so I got up and, well, let’s just say I discovered something I wasn’t supposed to know, but now that I do—” “Jesus fucking Christ, just spit it out, would you?” “Alon hates being a vampire!” she practically shouted, then froze, hoping her voice hadn’t carried. “The walls are soundproof, chèrie.” She knew that, but she lowered her voice anyway. “And he hates working for you. I’m afraid he’s going to betray you, and then . . .” She hiccupped a sob and couldn’t go on. “Come here.” He hugged her close, one big hand running up and down her back. “Don’t worry. I’ll talk to him.” “Promise?” She hated the way she sounded, all blubbery and pathetic. But this was Alon, and this was Christian. “I promise. And I’ll be gentle.” She thought about that. He didn’t seem as upset as she’d expected. Maybe this wasn’t the disaster she’d feared. She swallowed and sat up. He brushed gently at the tears wetting her cheeks. “Come on,” he said. “Let’s shower. Then we’ll
go upstairs and get this sorted out.” ALON AND MARC were both in the kitchen when Natalie and Christian made it upstairs. And both gave Christian expectant looks. “What took you so long?” Marc demanded. He’d been with Christian a long time. In fact, it had been just the two of them for years before Christian had decided to challenge for the Southern territory. So, he felt a certain freedom, in that they were friends, in addition to Christian being both his Sire and his lord. “We’re in caffeine withdrawal here.” Christian simply laughed and headed for the elaborate espresso machine that took up half the counter space against one wall. Natalie exchanged good evening hugs with the two vampires, while surreptitiously searching for the telltale red cover of Alon’s diary, breathing a sigh of relief when she didn’t find it. “You guys are pathetic,” she commented and pulled a bagel out of the freezer, popping it first in the microwave and then the toaster. Sure, Christian would be making her a latte, but she wasn’t jonesing for it, like these junkies. Christian just smiled and kept working. He loved that damn machine. Natalie sometimes wondered which one he’d save first if disaster ever struck—her or the machine? By the time her bagel was toasted and smeared
with cream cheese, and she’d settled onto one of the kitchen stools with her latte, everyone else had their drinks—including big, tough Marc with his sickly sweet caramel macchiato. Christian set his espresso on the marble-topped island and sat next to her, his thigh touching hers. It was quiet for a few minutes as everyone sucked and slurped, and then Christian soundlessly set his cup down onto the saucer, looked at Alon, and said, “So, you hate being a vampire, and you especially hate working for me?” Natalie choked on her last bite of bagel. Tears rolled down her face as she sucked in air, while Christian rubbed her back. She lifted her head and glared at him. “What?” he said defensively. And then added, “Hey, I wasn’t the one reading the guy’s diary.” She froze, holding her breath . . . and they all started laughing. Her face heated with furious embarrassment as she realized she’d been had. Shoving away from the counter, she evaded Christian’s hand when he tried to grab her and didn’t stop until she reached the hall doorway. “I hate all of you,” she snapped. “It’s like living in a stupid, fucking frat house!” She spun and stormed down the hall, going past the basement door and into the small bedroom she’d converted to an office for her own use. She didn’t slam the door. She wouldn’t give them the satisfaction, but she
closed and locked it. For all the good it would do. Christian waited a whole thirty minutes before coming to find her. He knew she couldn’t stay angry for long, especially not against him. Big, dumb vampire. He twisted the locked doorknob as if it was paper and walked in. “Chèrie,” he said, pulling her out of the chair and into his embrace. “It was a prank. But I knew you’d tell me first. I bet them—” He stopped talking when Natalie’s eyes narrowed. “You all had bets going on what I’d do?” “Hmmm, not really bets,” he equivocated, which wasn’t like him at all. It was tantamount to a confession. Son of a bitch. Natalie felt herself getting angry all over again, but then. . . . Don’t get angry, Nat, she told herself. Get even. She smiled at Christian. He gave her a worried look. Her smile turned into a grin. Two weeks later CHRISTIAN SLIPPED his arms around Natalie as he pressed her against the shower’s tiled wall, protecting her back from the force of his cock slamming in and out of her. Her arms were around his neck, her breasts crushed deliciously against his powerful chest, her pussy hot and slick with arousal. They’d already made love once, when he’d awakened for the night. A long, slow fuck that had
left her aching with happiness and utterly sated. Or so she’d thought. Until her vampire lover had climbed into the shower behind her, his cock still hard and brushing her ass. Desire had stormed through her body, as if she hadn’t seen him in weeks, as if she’d been starved for the taste of him. And so here she was, hanging on for dear life while he pounded into her, his snarl filling the steamy enclosure as he bent his head and drank. Natalie screamed. Not from the tiny bit of pain, but from the sheer ecstasy of his bite as the euphoric in his vampire metabolism raced through her system, leaving an overwhelming, erotic pleasure in its wake. Christian slammed into her one last time, grunting against her skin, his fangs still buried in her vein as his release filled her with heat. He stilled for a moment, his cock deep in her pussy, his fangs in her neck . . . and then he lifted his head, and licked the small wounds shut. Kissing her neck, he whispered, “Je t’aime, ma Natalie.” And then he slowly withdrew his cock, holding her steady as she lowered her legs to the floor, his hands on her hips until she remembered how to stand. He kissed her again, his lips soft and warm against hers. “Okay?” he asked, meeting her eyes. She gave him a crooked smile. “Better than okay.” He grinned.
And she felt almost guilty. But not really. IT TOOK NATALIE a while to reach the kitchen. She had to wash and dry her hair, which couldn’t be rushed. And then she had to use extra care with her makeup, since they were going over to the new house and meeting with the architect and the designer. Both were vampires, which meant they were gorgeous, so she had to hold up the human side of things. She dressed carefully, too. Going for businesslike, but not obsessively so. Stylish, but not trendy. And then, finally, she left the rooms she shared with Christian, passed through the control center and checked out the security screens, even though all three vampires were wide awake and way more on top of things than she could ever be. She entered the vault codes in the proper order and climbed the stairs, then made her way to the kitchen . . . Where three sets of accusing eyes were waiting for her. She met their gazes one at a time, starting with Christian, then Marc, then Alon, and then back to Christian. “What?” she asked in confusion. “Did something happen?” She put exactly the right note of worry into the question. Or so she thought. Christian didn’t say a word. He just turned back to his beloved machine and continued taking
it apart, one piece at a time, carefully inspecting and cleaning every inch of it. Marc wasn’t that subtle. He hissed at her— actually hissed at her—when she walked behind him and pulled orange juice out of the fridge. “Did something happen to the machine, babe?” she asked Christian. “Does that mean no latte today?” He was still ignoring her. Goodness. She’d only reversed one tiny gear thingy deep inside the elaborate machine. How much harm could it do? She flattened her lips so she wouldn’t grin. “Should I make a run to Starbucks?” she inquired solicitously. That got her a filthy look from her beloved mate. Almost choking on the need to laugh, she walked over to him. “Cher,” she murmured, rubbing the taut muscles of his back, “it was only a prank.” Then she took her orange juice and walked down to her office to make some phone calls. And the moral of this story is . . . don’t fuck with a woman who has all day to work the perfect revenge. The End
Vampire Vignette #18 Freedom Malibu, CA, present day CYN SAT IN HER usual spot, in the alcove off Raphael’s office, near the big fireplace. She was working on her laptop, as always these days. No more private investigator adventures for her. No more sneaking around spying on cheating spouses or tracking down runaway kids. No more meeting strange vampires in dodgy places. She’d have said she missed it, but life with Raphael lately had been filled with enough life-threatening adventures to satisfy even her inner adrenaline junkie. What she longed for lately wasn’t more adventure, it was less. Which brought her back to the night’s task. She’d been hired by one of Raphael’s vampires in Arizona to track down a wayward bank account. She’d done this sort of thing before. Accounts got lost when a bank closed or was acquired by someone else, or when the funds were declared
unclaimed and seized by the state. That last one was a typical government scam. But once the state had your money, it was nearly impossible to get it back. Most vampires knew how to avoid that in the modern era. There were certain banks that specialized in, shall we say, discreet, financial holdings. Most of those involved shady money, but they worked as well for vampires, shady or not. Unfortunately, her Arizona vampire client was looking for a much older account, and, from what she’d found so far, he might be out of luck. Bored with what was beginning to look like a fruitless search, she tuned in to the conversation in Raphael’s part of the office, which had been going on for some time. She’d been listening with half an ear, registering the voices and moods, without hearing the details. But now that she was paying attention, nothing about it surprised her. Lucas and Juro were arguing again. Sometimes, she thought those two took opposite sides of every issue just so they could torment each other. As she listened, Raphael finally called an end to the debate and sent them away, probably to continue their disagreement in private. She put her laptop on the table when she heard Raphael’s chair push back, and looked up with a smile when he joined her, making room on the small couch. He sat next to her, pulling her against his side with a sigh. She raised her face for a kiss, which he delivered
with his usual passionate thoroughness, sending ripples of desire over every inch of her body. “Long night?” she asked. “Something like that.” “Do those two ever agree on anything?” “Only when it matters. If they have the luxury of argument, they’ll do it every time.” “Exactly. They work together like clockwork when they have to, so why all the bickering like two ten-year-olds the rest of the time?” He kissed the side of her head. “Now, that, my Cyn, is a long story. It goes back to when we first met Juro and Ken’ichi, to when I made them Vampire.” “Lucas was with you then?” “Oh, yes.” San Francisco, 1885 RAPHAEL STROLLED through the crowded wharf district, a path automatically clearing for him through the mass of humans clogging the streets of this busy seaport. Voices assailed him from all sides —people talking, arguing, selling, in any number of languages. Some of those conversations he understood because he spoke the language, others he got because human emotions were easy to read, and the specifics didn’t matter. He didn’t delve too deeply into any of it. He simply listened, letting the words flow through him as he skimmed for clues.
Certain words triggered a closer scrutiny; the rest meant nothing. Some might have assumed he was on the prowl for food or conquest. He wasn’t. He was looking for vampires. Not in the crowd around him. If a vampire was free and strong enough to be mingling with this crowd, then Raphael let him be, although he made the vampire aware of his presence and what it meant. Raphael was a vampire lord, and he’d chosen this as his territory. Not only San Francisco, but the entire western coast of the continent, as least as far north as the big island and inlet. Beyond that, the territory had been claimed by another vampire lord, a hedonist who seemed to care more for his pleasure than any growth of his territory. He’d been more than happy to cede the South to Raphael, and to Raphael’s child Lucas. “I hate these crowds,” Lucas muttered, chasing away a would-be solicitor with a glare that included just enough power to make sure the man took the warning seriously. It wasn’t necessary. Lucas was a big, powerful man even without the use of his power, but the boy did love frightening the humans. “These crowds provide cover for our existence,” Raphael reminded him in a mild voice. Lucas’s complaints didn’t bother him. He was accustomed to them by now, and, besides, it was only talk. When push came to shove, when true
danger threatened, Lucas was as staunch a companion as any could hope for. And he took Raphael’s safety even more seriously than his own. The latter wasn’t necessary, but Lucas had begun his life with Raphael as a protector of sorts. He’d been Raphael’s daylight servant, the one who ran the many errands necessary for a vampire to have a decent life in human society. And what other society was there? Vampires might be stronger, but humans were far more numerous and always would be. And that was a good thing, since they provided the only food that could sustain a vampire. In any event, Lucas had protected and provided for Raphael and the few vampires he’d brought with him from Europe during the long ocean crossing and when they’d first arrived here. Raphael had turned him soon after. He was a powerful vampire now, soon to be lord over his own territory. But, if anything, the vampire/child bond only enhanced Lucas’s protective drive when it came to Raphael. “Yeah, they feed us, but there’s so damn many of them. And they can turn on a moment’s notice. We’ve both seen it happen.” “Not to us, fortunately,” Raphael murmured. “Fortune has nothing to do with it. It’s brains and good planning.” Raphael smiled, his attention sharpening when
he caught the distinct voice of a carnival barker among the noise. He searched the crowd, a task made easier by his height, which was well above the average man’s, as was Lucas’s. “There,” he said, finding the barker on a street corner a block ahead. Lucas’s gaze moved over the crowd, finding the man easily enough. “Yep.” Raphael glanced at him. Lucas had taken easily to the slang of this new world, unlike Raphael, who hadn’t, and wasn’t inclined to try. They changed their heading to pass close by the barker, who was promoting a circus, which, according to the man’s shouts, included a freak show. The makeshift podium he stood behind was plastered with images of the usual clowns and captive animals, but the man’s persistent shouts listed a “fanged demon” among the offered freaks. And that was what had brought Raphael to San Francisco. Every vampire in his new territory was his. From the strong ones living on their own to the truly powerful who had to be challenged and defeated before they’d accept Raphael’s rule, or leave the territory. Most chose to remain. It was in the nature of most vampires to prefer the protection of a vampire lord, and Raphael was powerful enough to bring the comfort of that association to even the strongest among them. But it wasn’t the strong who worried him. It
was the weak. Carnivals and circuses like this one preyed upon weak vampires, capturing them during the day, chaining them by night. Feeding them just enough blood to survive, but never enough to grow strong. These were Raphael’s people, just as much as the powerful vampires he had to defeat in order to claim them as his own. If anything, these weak ones needed his protection even more. He shared a small part of his enormous power with every vampire he claimed. It made the weaker ones stronger, strong enough to resist humans who would prey upon them, strong enough to live their lives without fear. Because they knew they could call on Raphael for protection and he’d always be there. It was comfort, but it was also strength. But first, he had to find them, and then rescue them. Raphael found the circus at the far, dark end of the wharf, in an area better known for warehouses than entertainment. It wasn’t the smallest circus he’d seen, but far from the largest, consisting of three rundown tents, with visible patches that had stitching on top of stitching, attesting to several layers of repair. Which was better than some socalled circuses, who didn’t bother to repair their tents at all. Still, these were worn and dirty, and didn’t say much for the financial success of their owner. The tents weren’t large, with each appearing to
showcase no more than three exhibits. One contained animals, with the poor creatures trapped in too-small cages. There was a big cat, pacing back and forth, with a look in its eye that didn’t promise good things for the human gawkers if it ever managed to escape. Raphael was tempted. He felt a certain kinship with the great beast. But there were women and children in the crowd, too. They’d be the first to die. And the cat itself would die soon after. Most of the men were armed in this town, as well as some of the women. The second tent showcased a bearded woman and a man with a skin ailment, with a sign above him that read, “Alligator Man.” But it was the third tent that drew Raphael’s attention, and Lucas’s, too. “Sire,” Lucas said quietly. They both stared at a poster outside the third tent that showed a man with red eyes and fangs. They started toward the tent, but slowed when it became obvious that something was wrong with the tent. One half of the structure was all but collapsed, with the thick ropes and heavy canvas lying in great folds that dipped to the ground. Shouting drew them around the collapsed section to where a big man was shouting orders at workers they couldn’t yet see. He was sweating under the dim, yellow lights, despite the cool and wet night air, his skin and clothing as dirty as the
canvas he was struggling with. Raphael started to turn away, thinking this might make his task tonight easier. If the vampire was being kept in his daytime resting place because of the tent collapse, then Raphael could rescue him there, away from the crowds and his captors both. But a pained bellow had him turning back at the last minute. It had sounded like a beast rather than a man, angry and hurt both. He’d never seen an elephant in a circus this small, but that’s what the bellow had reminded him of—a wild animal kept captive and mistreated. Curious, he touched Lucas’s arm to stop him from leaving. Walking carefully around the fallen section of the tent, avoiding the layers of heavy fabric, he stepped over the thick ropes that seemed to snake everywhere he walked. The human sighted him from the corner of his eye and turned. “This tent isn’t open yet. Go back to the midway. There’s nothing for you to see here.” He waved a thick arm back toward the two functioning tents. Raphael glanced at the man, but otherwise ignored him, continuing his circle around the tent until he came upon two huge men struggling to raise the tent with sheer, brute force. Their arms were looped with the thick ropes, their shoulders weighed down under the burden of a good third of the tent’s canvas. Adding to their burden were the
iron collars around their necks, with heavy chains trailing down their backs, and more chains that shackled their feet, and linked their arms together, left to right, so that they couldn’t move except in concert with each other. The sharp crack of a whip jarred Raphael’s senses. The thin strip of leather landed on only the right half of the duo, but the two of them winced in concert, as if they’d both been struck. Their handler shouted a wordless demand that they get moving, but Raphael could hear the almost sexual satisfaction the man took in inflicting pain. No doubt it was made even more satisfying because his victims were so much larger than he was, the kind of men who could easily have dominated the handler had they been free. The situation struck a chord in Raphael. He hated slavery, hated to see any man brought so low. If the circus manager wanted to inflict pain, his victims should at least have a chance to fight back. He looked over at the two men, both Asian, but not Chinese as was typical of San Francisco. Japanese, maybe, Raphael thought. He had never visited that country, but he’d met quite a few of their warriors through his own pursuit of the martial arts. The two men were uniformly big and tall, their appearances so identical that they had to be twins. He couldn’t help but wonder how they’d fallen into the clutches of their current tormentor, who clearly wasn’t
strong enough to have overpowered two such big men. As he contemplated the situation, he glanced over at the men and found one of them staring directly at him, judging him. The big man’s gaze was full of rage as he stared at Raphael, probably wondering if he was yet another weak human come to buy muscle to be used and abused. Raphael met his gaze evenly, letting enough of his power fill his eyes to make it clear who was the alpha between them. The slave’s eyes widened slightly, but he continued to stare. In challenge this time, as if to demand Raphael prove his claim. Raphael smiled slightly. “Be ready, Lucas,” he murmured. Lucas gave him a surprised look, immediately followed by a wide grin. He didn’t question Raphael’s intentions. Lucas was always up for a good fight, and he was endlessly adaptable in a brawl. “They look strong,” Raphael called out to the handler. The man gave him a distracted look, and said only, “You’re still here?” “How much?” Raphael persisted. The handler made a disgusted noise. He stopped harassing the two big men and turned his full attention on Raphael. “Look, I told you, this tent isn’t open yet. Go back—”
“I don’t want to see your show,” Raphael said, letting disgust flavor his words. “I want to buy these two workers. How—” The man barked out an unpleasant laugh. “Workers? Is that what you call them. They’re little more than beasts, barely human. And they’re not for sale.” Raphael regarded the man, his eyes gone narrow with irritation. He hated to be interrupted, especially by the likes of this human. “Everything’s for sale, for the right price. So, what is it?” “Look, even if they were for sale—which they’re not—you don’t have the gold. I’d have to hire twenty men, ten for each, to do the work of these two. Sorry,” he added, in a tone which said plainly that he wasn’t sorry at all. Raphael gave that same small smile, then lifted his eyes to meet the big man’s. “I’ll be back,” he said clearly, knowing the man would understand his intent, if not the words. “Be ready.” The owner scowled heavily, looking between the two of them. “Don’t go making trouble,” he shouted. “Get out of here, or I’ll call the police.” It was a hollow threat. Circus people didn’t call upon the local police for anything short of murder, and maybe not even that, depending on the likely suspect. But Raphael gave the man a mocking bow and retraced his steps back to the dirt midway, standing to one side out of the general
flow of the crowd. “Well, you can’t say I didn’t warn him,” Raphael commented, once Lucas had joined him. “What an asshole. What do you want those guys for anyway? They’re big and probably good to have around in a fight, but they’re both human.” “For now.” Lucas gave him a surprised look. “You’re going to turn them?” “Maybe. If I’m to establish my territory, I’m going to need an army.” “Well, okay, then. What’s the plan?” “Later. First, we locate the vampire. If we’re going to liberate him, as well as those two, we’re going to need a better strategy than usual.” “You mean the one where we break in, grab our guy, and kill anyone who gets in our way? That strategy?” Raphael grinned. “Yes, that one. Come on,” he said, gesturing to the line of box wagons behind the tents. Some were painted with the name of the circus, others with pictures depicting the inhabitant’s special performance skill, and still others were nothing but boards slapped together with a roof on top. But all had a door and a semblance of privacy. This was where everyone associated with the circus lived. “The vampire exhibit was scheduled for the fallen tent,” he reminded Lucas. “Their captive will be back here
somewhere, wherever it is that they keep him in daylight. Look for a wagon with covered windows and a locked door.” “Do I have to?” Lucas was regarding the ramshackle wagons with distaste. “It’s only looking, Lucas. I’ll do the dirty work.” Lucas snorted his reaction. “As if I’d let you.” He studied the wagons from one end to the other, his eye taking in all the small details. Some who’d met Lucas dismissed him as a frivolous man. But they didn’t know him the way Raphael did. This oldest of his vampire children was completely serious when the occasion demanded it—a man of fierce concentration in a fight, and a deadly force on the battlefield. “That one,” Lucas said, pointing to a wagon about halfway left of the line’s midpoint. “Look at the construction. It’s a cage around a wooden box, with a heavy lock still on the door. Even weakened, they couldn’t count on the vampire not breaking himself out, so a wooden box would never do. But a cage wouldn’t protect him from sunlight. So, they did both. It took some effort, Sire. They’ve probably had him a long time.” Raphael nodded slowly. He could sense the vampire’s life force inside the manmade prison of its captivity. It was weak. So weak. But he didn’t know if that was from malnutrition, or something worse. “All the more reason for us to set him free.
Let’s take a closer look.” They walked slowly along the circus wagon train. Raphael knew the moment the vampire became aware of his presence. Even shielding, as he was now, Raphael was a powerful force. The vampire would have sensed him long ago, but had been too afraid to reach out. Vampires were meant to live in groups, to gain protection and a kind of synergistic energy from each other. Even more importantly, weak vampires like this one needed to be bonded to a vampire lord like Raphael, a vampire strong enough to protect them, to give them the security they needed to live their lives without fear. This vampire didn’t seem to understand that. Had he lived alone his entire life? Had his Sire neglected to teach him even the most basic truths of being Vampire? When they reached the wagon, Raphael put his hand to the lock. He paused long enough to send a wave of reassurance to the trembling vampire within, and then he simply ripped off the locking mechanism and opened the door. The vampire recognized Raphael immediately as the powerful force he’d been sensing for the last hour or more. He cowered against the wagon wall, more terrified than comforted by Raphael’s presence. Thankfully, Lucas was shielding his own power, tamping it down to almost nothing, so that any vampire, like this one, who met him would
assume he was ordinary, maybe one of Raphael’s warriors. Raphael was grateful for his Lucas’s foresight, because he didn’t think this terrified vampire would have survived the arrival of two powerful vampire lords at the same time. Sending out waves of reassurance and safety, Raphael stepped up into the wagon. This wasn’t the first such captive vampire he’d encountered. Not even the tenth. He and Lucas had freed many such prisoners over the last year, in circuses and elsewhere. The key to a successful rescue was always the same—get in, get out, get gone. But there were some necessary parts to the plan that couldn’t be rushed. Raphael needed to give the imprisoned vampire some of his blood, so that he’d have enough strength to participate in his rescue and to survive their escape. But before he did so, he needed to be sure the vampire was reliable, that he understood what was happening, and could control himself once he tasted the perfect ambrosia that was a powerful vampire lord’s blood. If not, if the vampire was insane or too damaged by either a long imprisonment or a cruel Sire, he could turn the energy of Raphael’s blood into the incredible strength of a madman. He could break free of his bonds only to wreak havoc among the humans, doing far more damage than good for the vampire community.
Vampires lived very much in the shadows of this new world. Most had learned by now that there was no need to drink their victims dry, that they could take what they needed and leave the donor alive, with no memory of the encounter, other than a bruised neck, which would heal too rapidly for anyone to make much of it. To be sure, there were vampires who still killed to survive, especially in crowded cities like San Francisco. If the vampire chose his victims well—prostitutes or sailors in port for only a day or two—and didn’t hit any one part of the city too often, the police would never bother to investigate. But a vampire who went mad and started tearing a city apart, killing at random . . . that would draw entirely too much attention. Raphael was aware of the pressure they were under to grab the imprisoned vampire and escape quickly, but he still took the time to sit down and talk to him. He explained who he was, and told the captive of their plan to break him free, that they’d then leave town immediately, putting miles between them and San Francisco before the sun rose. But the vampire shook his head. “I can’t go. I can’t leave without her.” Raphael tilted his head, studying the vampire, easing into his thoughts so carefully that he never sensed the intrusion. This is bad, he thought to himself. A complication they definitely didn’t need, but one he
absolutely could not ignore. “A female,” he said. The vampire, whose name, Raphael had discovered in his tour of the vampire’s thoughts, was Bennie, nodded his head. “She and I were turned by the same master, and then sold to Vernon. Our master told him how to keep me weak, and how to use Agnes for the sexual pleasure of a vampire’s bite.” Raphael swallowed a growl, not wanting to frighten the young vampire with the raw emotion of his reaction to this bit of news. When this was over, when Bennie and Agnes were both safe with the rest of his vampires, he was going to learn everything they knew about this master vampire who sired vampires only to sell them. And then, he’d find him and kill him slowly. But right now, he and Lucas needed to adapt their rescue plan even further. First there were the two Asian humans to free, and now a second vampire—a female, who was being raped repeatedly. He managed to push back his rage enough to ask, “Where is she kept?” “Vernon keeps her close and never lets her out. He lets her bite him for the sexual effect, but she never manages more than a sip of his blood in return. It’s not enough for her. She’s young and not strong, and he keeps her chained even when he rapes her.”
“Where?” “In his wagon, second one from the lead. It has a blue door. Paint’s faded, but you can still see the color.” The vampire’s voice was fading, his energy flagging. He would need blood soon, if they were going to escape tonight. But Raphael had one more question first. “Vernon,” Raphael repeated. “Is he a big man? Long, black hair, dusky skin?” “What you can see beneath the dirt and sweat, yes. The man never bathes that I can tell.” Raphael nodded at this confirmation. Vernon was the human who’d been whipping the two slaves earlier. Raphael was going to take great pleasure in ending the man’s life tonight. Bennie’s breath ran out in a long exhale and he slumped against the wall, his chained arms falling limply between his thighs. What energy he’d retained had been exhausted. Raphael glanced back and gave Lucas a short nod, then rolled up the sleeve of his left arm. “My name is Raphael,” he told Bennie, speaking rapidly. “I’ve claimed everything from the mountains to the ocean as my own, my territory. Any vampire who lives here, whether a part of my personal estate or not, owes fealty to me. Do you understand?” Bennie nodded. “My master dreamed of building an empire of his own. I didn’t understand
what he was talking about, but now, meeting you, I know he could never have achieved his dream.” “Your master was a fool, and if he still lives within my territory, his life will be short. But that’s no matter for tonight. You need to be stronger if we’re to escape safely. You’re going to drink from my blood and swear an oath of loyalty to me as your lord. Once we’re safely away, you may choose to leave my territory and live on your own. That will be your decision to make. But for now, you will swear an oath, or you will be left behind. Do you understand?” “I do. What of Agnes?” “The same will hold for Agnes, but I will not leave her behind, no matter what. I’ll see her safely away from this place and set her free, if that’s her wish.” “Thank you,” Bennie whispered, then slid to his knees. “I’ve never done this. I don’t know what words to say.” “I do,” Raphael said, then pulled a small, sharp knife from his pocket and cut a four-inch slice in his forearm, starting at his wrist and cutting toward his elbow. “Do you come to me of your own free will and desire, Bennie?” Bennie stared at the blood gushing from his wrist, and then up to meet Raphael’s eyes in shock. “Yes,” he whispered. “Yes, I do.” “Is this what you truly desire?”
Bennie swallowed hard, his mouth beginning to water as the rich scent of Raphael’s blood wafted up to fill his senses. “Oh, yes,” he croaked. Raphael lowered his bleeding arm to Bennie’s mouth. “Then drink, Bennie, and be mine.” “SIRE.” RAPHAEL glanced over as Lucas joined him on the sofa of their hotel room. Bennie was asleep in the bedroom, recovering from the effects of Raphael’s blood. The vampire was young enough that he might not wake until the next night, so they’d have to leave him sleeping while they completed the next stage of their rescue. “You want to know what the plan is,” Raphael said. Lucas nodded. “We can get away with letting the boy sleep it off. The three of us could easily slip out of town tomorrow night. But I know you. You won’t leave the female or the two slaves. So, what’s the plan?” Raphael smiled slightly. “We’re going to need wagons.” Lucas scowled. “That’s it? That’s your plan? Wagons?” “Don’t be obtuse, Lucas. It doesn’t become you.” He sighed heavily. “All right, I get it. We’re going to need wagons because the female and even the boy in there won’t be strong enough to travel
fast and light. And your two giants will need bigger horses than any we have with us. They’ll need a wagon until we gain enough distance from the city. We’re going to be slow, Sire. Too slow.” “And yet, we’re going to do it. We can use the circus’s own wagons.” “Not exactly discreet, from what I saw of them.” “We’ll choose the best of the lot and make do. We can always cover the sides with cloth. Besides, it shouldn’t be necessary for anything more than the first week. We can stop in Sacramento and make the necessary changes. We’ll be traveling fast and likely won’t find any place to rest, other than the wagons. They’ll come in handy for all of us.” Lucas made a face. “Sounds lovely. Let’s hope your giants are reliable enough to guard our daylight sleep. Who’s to say they won’t kill us all and make off with the wagons?” Raphael gave him a cold look. “I do. And don’t call them that. They’re not giants. They’re men.” “All right, all right.” He raised both hands, palm out in surrender. “I’m just being thorough.” “We have to leave tonight.” Lucas’s eyes widened. “Tonight? How—” “We’ll go after Agnes first. She’s in Vernon’s wagon. We’ll take that and one other.” “And the boy?”
Raphael had to smile at Lucas’s continued reference to Bennie as “the boy.” Outwardly, they were about the same age, but outward appearances meant little to a vampire. Lucas was a hundred years old, kept young by Raphael’s blood while they were still in Europe, and then made vampire once they arrived in this country. “Bennie will sleep until I want him to wake. He’ll be perfectly safe here for the short time we’ll be gone. We’ll pick him up on our way out of town.” Lucas shrugged. “When do we leave?” “Now, while the circus is still crowded with people.” THE CIRCUS WAS in full swing when they returned. It was a Saturday night, and families swelled the ranks of those eager to lose money on the tawdry midway and gawk at the freaks. All the better, Raphael thought. The high voices and piercing shrieks of the children on top of the tinny music and constant patter of the barkers would provide better cover for their subterfuge. They made their way through the crowds, moving steadily, but with an unhurried pace, not drawing anyone’s attention. Either one of them could have used their power to push away attention, and ease their way through. But it wasn’t necessary, and not knowing what the night would
bring, they chose to conserve their strength. The circus wasn’t large. Even at their relaxed pace, it was less than half an hour before they’d made their way around the tents to the encampment behind it. To one side were the stables, where the unfortunate caged animals were kept when not on display. With the circus in full swing—apart from the still-collapsed third tent— the stables held only horses. Lucas,” Raphael said, “you get the horses. I’ll get the girl. We’ll take whatever wagon she’s in, and one other.” “We don’t know her situation. I should go with you.” “It’s one female. I’ll be perfectly safe.” Lucas grunted, not convinced. His instincts to protect Raphael were running hot in the face of the evening’s challenges and uncertainties, including two very large humans, whom Raphael seemed determined to rescue, even though they were completely unknown and unpredictable. “Lucas, go.” Lucas’s lips flattened unhappily, but he nodded. “I’ll be quick,” he said and took off. Vampire speed put an entirely different spin on “quick.” Raphael didn’t bother to track Lucas, who was more than capable of taking care of himself. Instead, feeling the pressure of time, he walked
along the long line of wagons, looking for one with a blue door, based on Bennie’s description. As he drew closer, however, he no longer needed the help. He could sense the female vampire, could hear her weak heartbeat, her faint breaths, even though it was nighttime. He strode up to the wagon, snapped the lock on the door, and climbed inside. Bennie had been right. The man was a pig. But this wagon was much bigger than the one where Bennie had been held captive, with a private sleeping compartment in the front half. Raphael made his way through the mess to a narrow door. The female was inside. He opened the door carefully. A vampire on the edge of starvation, as this one was, could be amazingly violent and much stronger than one might expect. Stronger even than they’d been before they’d been starved. The drive to survive was a powerful thing among vampires. The female didn’t attack, however. She lay on the bed, pale and weak, her breath rattling in her chest. A thick chain led from a metal band around her ankle and disappeared into the piles of clothing and junk that littered the floor. The chain probably wasn’t necessary, Raphael considered. She was too weak to move. He sat on the bed next to her, depressing the thin mattress and making her roll slightly in his direction. That elicited a reaction from her. Her
eyes opened in a glare and her fangs slid from her gums to slice into parched lips. Seeing him instead of her tormentor, her pale eyes stared in confusion, and she blinked slowly, as if it was a great effort. “What’s your name, child?” he asked. Her mouth opened and closed, then opened again as her tongue came out to wet her lips. “Agnes,” she whispered. Her eyelids drifted downward, as if even that exhausted her. “Agnes, I’m Raphael.” Scooting closer, he gathered her into his arms, ignoring her weak protests. Holding her there, he rolled back his sleeve and lifted his wrist to his mouth, not bothering with the knife as he used his fangs to rip open a vein. Cupping her head in his other hand, he held his bloody wrist to her mouth, and said, “Drink.” It took far longer than it should have, but eventually her nostrils flared and her eyes fluttered open again. She inhaled more deeply, then gave a tentative, tasting lick. A shudder rolled through her entire body, then she latched onto his wrist with a pained groan and sucked. Tears rolled down her cheeks as she drank greedily of his blood, her little fangs digging into his flesh like barbs, holding him in place. Or trying to. She would have to drink again tomorrow or the next day, when they were free of this place and could make time for her to swear fealty to him. But for now, she was starving.
Raphael simply let her feed, until the sucking began to slow, and her efforts were more about comfort than sustenance. He pulled his wrist away gently. Licking his own wounds closed, he rolled his shirtsleeve down and shoved his coat sleeve over it. There wasn’t a single piece of fabric in this wagon that he’d touch, much less use to bind his bloody wrist. Agnes cuddled close to his chest, until she abruptly stiffened and her eyes popped open, alert and aware. She sat up in alarm. “Who are you?” “I’m Raphael. We’re going to get you out of here.” “We? Who are you? Not your name, but who?” “I am lord over this territory, which makes you mine to protect.” “I’m no one’s—” “Don’t be foolish, Agnes. You need protection, and I’ve no need to compel women to my bed.” She blushed at being confronted with her own accusations. “I apologize. It’s only that—” “I know. There’s no need to explain. But time is short. If you’re strong enough, we’ll be on our way.” “I’d crawl on my knees to escape this place.” She sat up and started to swing her legs over the side of the sleeping platform, but the chain stopped her. She looked up at him in dismay. “The chain. I
can’t break it, I’ve tried—” Her voice dried up as Raphael reached down and twisted off the link that held the chain to the heavy anklet on her foot. She stared for a moment, then threw her leg over the side and stood. “I’m ready.” Raphael went first, as they threaded their way through Vernon’s junk and opened the door to the outside. Lucas was already there, harnessing a pair of horses to the front of the wagon. He glanced up at Agnes, who was using Raphael as a shield against this new stranger. “Agnes, this is Lucas,” Raphael said, crossing over to help Lucas with the harness. Lucas gave her one of his most charming grins. “Agnes,” he said smoothly. She blushed and ducked her head, giving Raphael a pleading look from beneath her lashes. “Lucas is mine,” Raphael said. “You can trust him.” He buckled a final strap, and then said, “We’re taking this wagon—” She gasped. “Vernon will—” “Vernon no longer matters,” Raphael interrupted firmly. “We’re taking his wagon, and we need one more. Which one is best?” Agnes looked up and down the line, shaking her head. “I don’t know. He never let me out. You should ask—” She gasped again, her face going even paler. “Bennie! Dear God, I forgot all about him. You must—”
“We already got Bennie,” Lucas said rather sharply. “He didn’t forget you. He refused to leave town without you.” Agnes heard the condemnation in Lucas’s voice. Tears filled her eyes as she searched the shadows around the wagons. “Is he here?” Raphael gave Lucas a chiding look. Agnes had been through a lot. It wasn’t a surprise that she’d forgotten Bennie for a time. “He’s waiting for us at the hotel. I wanted him to rest. The next few nights will be exhausting, and, like you, Bennie had been starved and mistreated.” She laughed bitterly. “Is that what we’re calling it?” Raphael regarded her somberly. “I know what Vernon did to you, Agnes. I don’t pretend otherwise. But I can’t make it go away. All I can do is give you a new future.” He waited until she met his gaze. “And make sure it never happens again.” Her eyes widened. “How will you—” “By killing Vernon and the master who sold you to him.” “Can you do that?” she breathed. Lucas gave a barking laugh. “Open your mind, sweetheart. He can do that and more.” Agnes shot him a puzzled glance and then turned back to Raphael. Her face scrunched into a frown of concentration a moment before she fell to her knees. “My lord,” she whispered. “I’m sorry. I
had no—” “Get up, Agnes,” Raphael muttered, grasping the girl’s arm. He gave Lucas a killing stare, but the ass only grinned back at him. “I’m sorry. You told me your name, but I was so confused, and—” “Agnes,” he said sharply. “We don’t have time for this. I need you to focus.” “But I don’t know which wagon—” “Forget it,” Lucas said impatiently. “I’m taking the cook’s wagon. It’s sturdy, and it has food, which your new fighters are going to need.” “Fighters?” she said weakly. Raphael raised his eyes to heaven, wondering how he was going to survive the next week. “Don’t worry yourself. Do you want to ride inside the wagon or on the seat with Lucas?” Her wide-eyed gaze shifted from Lucas to the narrow wooden seat. He could see her weighing the perils between sitting next to Lucas or returning to the terror of her confinement. “Lucas is perfectly safe,” he assured her gently. “He will defend you with his life.” Lucas didn’t say anything for a change. Because what Raphael said was true. Lucas might have a wicked tongue, but he was a fierce defender of those who were weaker than he was. “I’ll ride outside then,” she said with a small smile in Lucas’s direction.
Raphael gave a little shake of his head. By sunrise, Lucas would have her utterly charmed. Then again, after however many months she’d suffered Vernon’s abuse, a little charm could be a good thing. “Good,” he said briskly, then turned to Lucas. “You and Agnes go by the hotel and pick up Bennie. I’ll get the others and—” “What? I am not letting you—” “You forget yourself, Lucas,” Raphael said sharply. “I don’t need your assistance, and I certainly don’t require your permission.” “Damn it, I know that. But it’s not safe for you —” “Lucas.” Raphael didn’t raise his voice, but he put all the power of his vampire blood in that one word. Power that eclipsed Lucas’s considerable strength. Raphael was still growing, the vampire blood in his veins still working on his mind and body, working on the magic that made him Vampire. But his power already exceeded that of not only Lucas, but every other vampire he’d ever encountered. Lucas stared at him unhappily. He acknowledged Raphael’s greater power and was loyal beyond question. But he was also Raphael’s vampire child, and that bond drove him to pledge his life to Raphael’s safety. Whether Raphael needed it or not.
“I’ll be right behind you,” he said quietly to Lucas. “By the time you reach the hotel and get Bennie up and into the wagon, we’ll be on the road. We’ll meet you near the stables on the southern edge of town. You remember the one.” Lucas regarded him for a long moment, then sighed and said, “I remember.” Raphael clapped him on the shoulder. “Come on. Help me harness the horses to the cook’s wagon before it’s too late.” RAPHAEL LOOPED the reins around the wooden brake, and then, with a final pat for the lead horse, walked back toward the dwindling noise of the circus. They’d had a late start of it, what with rescuing Bennie first. And their initial plan for the evening had never involved anyone else. But in Raphael’s life, one’s plans rarely had anything to do with outcomes, so he’d learned to adapt. Tonight, that meant rescuing four people instead of one, which had taken time. Something they didn’t have in abundance. The crowds were noticeably thinner as he made his way toward the third tent, operating on instinct. Ordinarily, he imagined Vernon would be leading the show in one of the larger tents, calling reluctant patrons to come stare at the freaks. But when they’d walked through earlier, Raphael had seen that the third tent was still quiet and forlorn,
still listing heavily to one side. Logic said Vernon was losing money with every hour the tent remained dark. Instinct told him Vernon would work his slaves to death if that’s what it took to get it re-opened. He heard Vernon’s voice before he circled the tent and found him sitting in a folding chair, directing the two slaves and mopping his brow, as if he was the one doing all the work. “Not that way, you fool,” he bellowed. He waved an arm, but didn’t raise the whip which lay on the ground next to him. “Too tired to whip your own slaves, Vernon?” Raphael asked in his silkiest voice. The man’s head snapped around, the chair falling over behind him as he struggled to stand. “What the hell do you want?” he demanded. “I told you to leave. I won’t warn you again.” Striding over to where the two huge men were working to erect the tent, he picked up the heavy chain that linked to the iron collar around the neck of the one who’d challenged Raphael earlier. Vernon gave the chain a yank to get the slave’s attention, which drew the other one along as well, since the two were linked. “You,” he yelled, addressing the first slave. “Get rid of this troublemaker. Toss him in the bay.” The big slave stared at Vernon for a moment, as if contemplating his death, and then swung his
gaze over to Raphael, who said, “I did say I’d be back.” Vernon stared back and forth between them, his chest heaving with growing outrage, hands still fisted around the thick chain. Without warning, he dropped the chain, pulled a weapon, and fired at Raphael. After that, two things happened at the same time. One of the slaves gave a huge bellow and grabbed Vernon. And Raphael felt an agonizing pain in his chest, the kind of pain he hadn’t felt since he’d been turned over four hundred years ago, when he’d suffered through his rebirth as a vampire, alone and ignorant. He pressed a hand to his chest and it came away wet. He looked down and stared. Blood. Too much blood. He collapsed to his knees, feeling the magic that ran through his veins trying to patch him back together, but he’d spent so much of his own blood in the last few hours—healing first Bennie and then Agnes—that his body was struggling to recover. For the first time since that long-ago turning, he realized with shocking clarity, he was in danger of dying. Raphael gritted his teeth and forced himself to concentrate. He hadn’t survived a sadistic father, a murderous bitch of a mistress, and three thousand hellish miles at sea only to die on a dirty pier in San Francisco.
Turning his magic inward, he began repairing the worst of the damage. If he could restore others, he could damn well mend himself. At least well enough to hold until their rendezvous with Lucas, who could give him an infusion of much-needed power. He was so intent on his work that he wasn’t aware of the two slaves or Vernon, until he heard the handler yelling for help at the top of his lungs. Acting on instinct, Raphael reached out and wrapped a narrow ribbon of power around Vernon’s heart. Following the sounds of the man’s pained gasps, he turned slowly and found one of the slaves, the quiet one who never spoke, gripping both of Vernon’s arms behind his back, holding them both in one big hand. It looked painful. And from the constant wails of the circus man, it was. “Please,” Vernon rasped, staring at Raphael. “Help me.” Raphael watched him coldly. He still held the man’s heart in a delicate grip. A single twitch of his finger, the slightest flare of his power, and the organ would be nothing but ash. It would be totally bloodless. No need to open the man’s chest. But he wanted him to suffer, wanted him to feel a small fraction of the pain he’d no doubt inflicted on others, including the two big men who were looking on with identical expressions of cool curiosity. Raphael looked from one identical face to the other. “His life belongs to you, not me. I will take
it,” he continued, ignoring Vernon’s renewed wails, “if that’s your wish.” The men remained silent, staring at each other. If they’d been vampires, Raphael would have assumed some telepathic communication. But they were fully human. He wondered if their twin birth had gifted them with some other means of communication, or if they’d simply spent so much of their lives together that words were no longer necessary. The one in front of Vernon, the same one who’d eyed Raphael so boldly, picked up the revolver that their tormentor had shot Raphael with and studied it carefully, turning it this way and that, pointing it in the distance and lining up its sights. When he swung around and pointed the gun at Vernon, the man’s squeals became non-stop, as he twisted and fought the hold on his arms, causing himself more pain with nothing to show for it. The silent twin behind him barely seemed to notice the man’s thrashing attempts at escape. “If I shoot him, the police might investigate,” the twin holding the gun said. Raphael studied him. “You speak English,” he said, not commenting on the fact that these were the first words he’d ever heard from either of them. “Enough,” the twin said. He seemed to be the spokesman for the pair. “I can make his death appear as though his
heart failed.” “Will he suffer?” Raphael smiled slowly. “Oh, yes.” The twin glanced at his brother, then nodded. “Then do it. We would not have the rest of our lives haunted by those looking for answers to his death.” Raphael turned to Vernon and let his fangs slide out to slowly fill his smile. Power struck silver in his black gaze, as the human babbled in terror. “Don’t let him touch me. He’s a monster. He’s not even human. Look at him!” he shrieked, as the stench of urine filled the air. Raphael lifted his hand and crooked one finger, sliding a barbed hook of power into the man’s heart and giving it a slow tug, this way and that. Vernon screamed while his heart was slowly ripped into pieces, as Raphael held onto his life force, refusing to let him die until the organ was no more than shredded bloody flesh and Vernon could do nothing but keen mindlessly as he suffered. Raphael would have made it last longer. Days would have been the appropriate sentence for the man’s crimes. But the night was moving on, and Lucas would be growing impatient. If Raphael didn’t show up soon, Lucas would come looking for him. He sighed, feeling more tired than he had in years. Perhaps he’d grown complacent about his
own immortality. It was different now. Guns permitted an enemy to kill from a distance, and even the most powerful vampire could die if a bullet shredded his heart. Forcing himself to his feet, he looked at the two men. “You can’t stay here,” he cautioned. “You should come with me, at least until we’re away from this city.” The spokesman tilted his head curiously. “Are you vampire?” Raphael concealed his surprise. Few humans knew what a vampire was, especially in this new world. “I am,” he agreed. “But I don’t feed on the unwilling, if that’s your concern.” The big man nodded, then lifted the heavy chain that still bound him to his brother. He didn’t bother noting the shackles on his ankles and neck. “We’ll have to get rid of these.” Raphael gestured at the dead man. “Do you know where he carries the key?” “He doesn’t. They’re in his wagon. He was too afraid we’d take it from him if he kept it with him.” Raphael considered that. Vernon’s wagon was already outside the city, with Lucas and the others. “Was it the wagon with a blue door?” he asked, wanting to be sure. The big man shrugged. “We’ve never even seen his wagon. My brother and I slept with the beasts.”
Raphael’s lip curled in disgust. He should have made the man suffer more. “I don’t need any key,” he muttered abruptly. Walking over, he snapped the chain between the two brothers, then turned to the talkative one. “The collar will have to stay for now. I don’t want to hurt you.” Going down to one knee, he reached for the chain between the man’s ankles, but the large man stepped back with a grunted protest. “Your clothes! It’s filthy here, sir. We can wait —” “The clothes are replaceable, and already covered in blood. And, no, you cannot wait even one more hour.” Raphael snapped the chains close to the heavy metal anklets, then reached for the man’s brother and did the same. He stood and looked up to meet the man’s eyes, which was something he rarely had to do. Raphael was well over six feet, very tall for a man in his time and still now. But the former slave was taller than he was by several inches. “What’s your name?” he asked. The big man blinked, as if no one had asked him that simple question in a very long time. “Juro,” he said finally. “And my brother is Ken’ichi.” Raphael tilted his head curiously. “Japanese,” he identified. “Does your brother speak?” He’d known mutes before, men of average or better intellect who, for one reason or another, couldn’t
speak out loud. Juro nodded. “He talks when there’s something worth saying.” “You’re twins?” He nodded again. “Your English is quite good.” “I’m a good listener.” Raphael smiled. “Are you coming with me?” “We owe you our lives.” “That’s not what I asked, and there is no debt, regardless. If you come with me, I can promise you a better life and honest work as free men.” Juro studied him for a long moment, then glanced at his brother and back again. “You’re more than you seem, and I’m a curious man. We’ll go with you, at least until we are, all of us, safe.” “Fair enough. Is there anything you need from your quarters, anything you want to bring with you?” Juro shook his head. “We have nothing.” He said it with such finality that Raphael knew he meant it literally. They owned nothing. “All right. There’s a wagon harnessed and waiting for us. The cook’s wagon, I’m told. We should go before someone notices.” “Stealing wagons?” Juro observed as they started walking. “That doesn’t seem very noble.” Raphael snorted. “Whoever said I was noble?” Juro stared. “Your clothes, your speech . . .”
“A clever disguise. Can you drive the horses?” “Ken’ichi can. He has a way with animals.” “Good. You and I will ride in the back. The others are waiting for us at the southern edge of the city. There’s a stable, first left off the main road, once—” “The horses will lead the way,” Ken’ichi interrupted quietly, speaking for the first time. “They’ll sense the others and hurry to join them.” Raphael studied him a moment. He wasn’t accustomed to being interrupted. But then he shrugged. “Let’s hope they all get along, then. We’ve a long journey ahead of us.” JURO SAT IN THE back of the wagon, watching the stranger, the vampire, who’d rescued him and his brother. The man—for vampire or not, he was clearly also a man—certainly had an air of authority about him. He’d seen the way the other man, probably also a vampire, had deferred to this one, though there’d been a good measure of respect and affection mixed in there, too. The vampire— Raphael, he’d said his name was—leaned against the side wall of the closed wagon, his eyes closed, and with no sign of the fangs he’d displayed with great effect to Vernon. It made sense that the fangs could be retracted into the gums. How else could they hide among regular humans? What surprised Juro the most was that, despite his terrible injuries
and the obvious weakness that resulted, Raphael hadn’t consumed any blood. He’d killed Vernon, but he’d never bitten him. The actual killing was another mystery for Juro to solve. Raphael had killed the brutal human without ever touching him. Magic. It had to be. Juro believed in magic. His people in Japan were ardent believers in the existence of demons and ghosts, and other similar spirits. Vampires fell nicely into that belief system. In Japanese lore, demons were creatures who wandered between life and death, and who possessed the power to affect the natural world. Some were evil, some good. Juro considered himself a good judge of men. He’d seen a lot during his years as a slave. Men tended to forget he and his brother were there, or, at least, to forget they were human. Vernon’s socalled business associates ignored them as one would a cow or horse. That meant Juro had seen the darkest nature of these men, and, sometimes, the virtuous nature of others. For eight years, he and Ken’ichi had watched and learned, and Juro believed, to the depths of his soul, that this Raphael was a good man. But a good man who was capable of terrible cruelty when it served him. “It’s not much farther,” Raphael said, surprising Juro. He’d thought the man asleep. “I’m fine,” Juro replied, looking around the bare walls of the wagon. They’d stripped the
interior of the cook’s equipment and personal belongings, until there was nothing left but a wooden box with deep benches on both sides. And they’d left the narrow door open between the compartments, so they could hear Ken’ichi if he called. “This is far better than our previous accommodations,” Juro added. Raphael’s eyes opened, and they seemed to glow, as if they were lined with silver. “How long?” he asked, pinning Juro with those strange eyes. Juro didn’t even consider lying, or pretending not to understand the question. He owed Raphael too much to disrespect him with games. “Eight years,” he said, keeping his voice flat and emotionless. Raphael studied him a moment longer. “How? You and your brother are big, strong men. How did a worm like Vernon manage to capture and keep you?” Juro smiled bitterly. “We weren’t captured, we volunteered. We came to this country as children, with our parents. They worked hard to build a new life here, but the money was never enough. So, Ken’ichi and I worked, too. In the fields at first, but we grew too fast and too big. Our bodies were no longer suited for that work. We were on our way to a lumber mill when a man from the circus saw us walking on the road.” “Vernon?”
“No, he came later. This man dressed like a gentleman, a man of means. He claimed to own a large circus that traveled from one coast to the next, performing in all the big cities to huge crowds. He told us people would pay to see us demonstrate how strong we were. He made much of the fact that we were twins, and said it would only bring in more money.” Juro shook his head, remembering. “Ken’ichi and I dreamed of sending money back to our parents, rescuing them from a life of backbreaking work. We saw ourselves in fine clothes, traveling the continent, seeing all the marvels this new world had to offer.” He fell silent. “What happened?” Raphael asked finally. “We were idiots. People paid to see us, but we didn’t see any of that money. We were chained like animals and treated the same way. When our benefactor grew tired of traveling and retired to his fine life, the circus was broken up and the pieces sold, including us. But you heard that part from Vernon. Our price was low, because the cost of keeping us was too high. We ate as much as the bears and elephants, but weren’t as popular with the crowds.” Raphael’s attention shifted without warning, his expression intent and focused somewhere that Juro couldn’t see. A moment later, the wagon jolted to a stop, but the vampire was already on his feet and out the door. Juro followed, but the moment his
feet hit the ground, he felt something slam into his chest. He stumbled back, thinking he’d been shot, but there was nothing. “Where the hell were you when he was being attacked? Hiding behind your fucking circus tent?” The other man—the one who’d been with Raphael earlier—practically flew through the air as he jumped off his horse and strode up to Juro, his eyes giving off golden sparks on the unlit road. Vampire. Juro was sure of it. But vampire or not, he didn’t get to call Juro a coward. Juro lowered his head and glared through half-lidded eyes. He’d had years of learning to control his anger, years when he’d been chained like an animal and beaten if he fought back. But he wasn’t an animal, and he wasn’t chained anymore. He didn’t care what vampire strength this bastard had. Juro had size on his side. But Raphael was holding out a hand, silently asking him to wait. And because it was Raphael asking, Juro waited. “Lucas,” Raphael said quietly. “I’m fine.” The two vampires were both big men by most standards. Not compared to Juro and his brother, but they were larger than most. They stood only inches apart, and there was so much emotion between them. Lucas was studying every bit of Raphael, his face contorted with worry, while Raphael seemed to be trying to evoke calm, to
reassure Lucas that he truly was well. “But you weren’t,” the vampire Lucas insisted. “I felt it, Sire. I felt the bullet nick your heart. You nearly died, because you’d given your blood to him.” He spat the last word, glaring his condemnation at Juro. “But I didn’t die. And it wasn’t Juro’s fault— he took none of my blood. It was what I gave to Bennie and Agnes that left me vulnerable —especially Agnes. She was weakened to the point of death when we found her. I was foolish not to have fed well before we began this venture.” Lucas didn’t stop staring at Juro over Raphael’s shoulder, his animosity and distrust written on both his face and his body. Had Raphael not been there, the vampire would have happily torn Juro apart. Or, at least, he would have tried. “Lucas,” Raphael said, demanding his attention. “Where are Bennie and Agnes?” “They’re with the wagon. Bennie’s feeling great after his nap. He’s keeping an eye on Agnes.” “How far?” “A mile to the turn-off, another half mile to the stable.” “We should go. We need to be away from here before dawn. And there’s the matter of sleeping arrangements.” “You’re going to trust him?” Lucas growled. Raphael’s posture change was subtle, but the
night around them suddenly grew still. His next words were quiet, but filled with a menace that seemed to come from some inner well of power. “Are you doubting my judgment?” he asked Lucas. “Sire, no!” The other vampire appeared honestly distraught at the accusation. “It’s just . . . you nearly died,” he added softly. “And I wasn’t there.” Raphael gripped his shoulder. “You were close. And you’d never have let me die, Lucas.” Lucas nodded wordlessly. “Not without taking me with you,” he whispered. “Not tonight,” Raphael said, with a final shoulder squeeze. “Come. You can lead us to the stable.” Lucas turned for his horse, but not before he’d given Juro one last distrustful glare. “That one doesn’t trust me,” Juro commented to Raphael, once they were back in the wagon and following Lucas to the stable. “Lucas has good reasons for his distrust of others.” “We all do,” Juro responded. Raphael tilted his head slightly, acknowledging the point, and remained silent for the rest of their ride. But as the wagon jolted to a stop at the stable, he stood and looked down at Juro. “We’ll leave here tonight, and travel together for a time. It’s best
for all of us to travel some distance from this city as quickly as possible. But after that, you and Ken’ichi will have a decision to make. Think about what you really want, and let me know what you decide.” Juro stood. He didn’t like crouching at another man’s feet, even if that man was a vampire. “And if we decide we want to go our own way?” he demanded. Raphael gave a small smile. “I am not a circus master, Juro. If your path is different than mine, then I will see you safely on your way. I have no need for animals and no stomach for slaves. What I do need are strong, loyal men who will fight to protect what we build together.” He opened the wagon door to the outside. “Talk to your brother. It will take us two weeks or more to reach safety. I’ll want your answer then.” He took the first step down from the wagon, but Juro’s voice called him back. “Will we be like you? Will we be vampires?” Raphael laughed. “You’ll be vampires, if you wish. But probably not like me.” Juro scowled at the empty doorway, wondering what the hell that meant. He was still standing there when Ken’ichi rounded the back of the wagon. “Stupid vampire talks in riddles,” Juro growled. His brother tipped his head, studying him, then
said, “They need us, Juro.” He sighed. “Yeah, I know. Let’s see what this stable offers by way of supplies. I suspect we’ll be driving through the night from now on.” THEY KEPT THE wagons even though they were slow. But they were a safe place for the vampires to rest during the day, and finding horses big enough to carry Juro and Ken’ichi wasn’t easy. Once they returned home to the Malibu coast, they could search out appropriate mounts for the two, but for the moment, their focus was on leaving San Francisco far behind as quickly as possible. There was also no desire to call attention to the brothers, whose size and identical appearance made them instantly notable. So, they traveled by night, with Raphael, Lucas, and Bennie riding separately, while Juro and Ken’ichi drove the wagons, and Agnes rode along with whichever one struck her fancy on a given night. There were enough big and small towns along the way that the vampires had no trouble finding blood donors. Raphael had made it clear to Bennie and Agnes that they were to take what they needed and no more, and that the donors were to be left healthy and happy, but without any memory of the encounter. The last thing he needed, as he forged the beginnings of his sprawling territory, was a mob of terrified humans knocking on his door, or far
worse, burning his house down. He had rules for his vampires, and any who disobeyed were eliminated. There was no room for fools. Raphael maneuvered his horse up next to Lucas’s as they neared their familiar stretch of coastline at last. He could feel the difference in the air, the moisture and the salty brine scent. It drew him like the sweetest siren song. “Nearly there, Sire,” Lucas said, glancing over as they drew abreast. “Home,” Raphael agreed. He surprised even himself sometimes with the comfort he found in this place. He’d expected to appreciate the security of his headquarters, but never the pull of home. “But not for you, Lucas,” he said quietly. “You’re casting me out?” Lucas half-jested. “You’ll always be welcome,” he chided. “You know that. But you’ve staked a claim to the Plains. You can’t walk away and still expect anyone to honor your rights.” “I know.” Lucas looked away. “What about those two?” Raphael didn’t have to ask whom he meant. Lucas was polite to Ken’ichi, but barely tolerated Juro, still blaming him for the wounds Raphael had suffered when freeing the two brothers. “Juro and Ken’ichi have until we reach the estate to make their decision. I’ve told them the same.”
“Will you turn them?” “If that’s what they choose.” “You think . . .” Lucas didn’t finish the thought. “What worries you more, Lucas? That Juro will be useless to me? Or that he’ll be stronger than you are?” He laughed dismissively. “He won’t be stronger than I am. I’m a vampire lord, Sire. There simply aren’t that many of us. But even if he’s a weak and stupid vampire, he’ll still be a very big man. That could be a problem for you.” “If they ask to be turned—and they may not— I don’t think they’ll be weak or stupid. There are no certainties when it comes to vampires, but I have an intuitive sense about such things. I created you, didn’t I?” Lucas grinned. “Yeah, but there’s only one of me, Sire. You know that.” “And the world is grateful. Come on, Lucas,” he said spurring his horse to a faster pace. “I want to be home tonight.” JURO STOOD ON the high bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean, marveling at the vivid color of the sky, as the sun dipped toward the horizon, and another day died. There was nothing to see here but ocean and sky, with wind-worn trees scattered along the bluff. The nearest neighbor was miles
away. Malibu was a primitive place compared to the big city that was San Francisco. Los Angeles was close and thriving, but Raphael had chosen to establish his estate far away from all of that. It wasn’t much yet—a pair of houses that were weathered and worn. At first glance, they appeared on the verge of collapse, but, as with so many things when it came to Raphael, their ramshackle appearance was deceptive. In fact, the two houses, which were connected by a short, enclosed passageway, were extremely sturdy and well-sealed against sunlight. This was a place for vampires. Very few humans lived here, and those who did were bound to a vampire mate and so considered trustworthy. They served the household’s daytime needs, including guarding the vampires’ sleep. Raphael had purchased the several acres of land for a fair price, although he’d probably used some vampire persuasion to get the owner to sell such a large plot. The other homes on this part of the coast were all small and set right next to each other on a brief stretch of sand. But Raphael had wanted more. He had a vision for the future that Juro greatly admired. It was a vision that would provide safety and security for vast number of vampires, integrating them into the human world in a way that was unprecedented, and bringing both fortune and power. Juro supposed being a vampire made a man look at life differently.
A human’s life was so brief compared to a vampire’s. Humans had a few decades to dream and grow, before they died. Vampires had centuries. Even that arrogant ass Lucas was over a century old. He glanced back toward the sprawling residence and saw Ken’ichi walking out to join him. His brother was a man of few words. But when he had something to say, he made his voice heard. And, judging by the determined look on his face, Ken’ichi had something to say. “Juro,” he said, coming up to stand next to him. They were identical in every way, except for the talking. “Ken’ichi,” he responded in kind, waiting for his brother to say whatever was on his mind. “This is a beautiful place, isn’t it?” he asked softly. “A man can hear his own thoughts here. Not like in San Francisco.” Juro nodded, waiting. “He’ll do it, you know.” “Raphael?” Juro clarified. “Yes. Some men plot their whole lives and never achieve a thing. Raphael’s different. His dream will become reality.” “I know.” “I’d like to be a part of it. Not just the living, but the building. It would give life purpose. And no one would ever own us again.”
“You don’t think it’s unnatural? Never to see sunlight, to drink human blood to survive?” Ken’ichi shrugged. “What’s natural, brother? If it exists in nature, isn’t it natural?” Juro laughed. “Now you’re playing word games with me.” “But I’m right.” “You are, but it’s not nature or purpose that calls me to this decision. It’s Raphael. He’s a leader of men—no matter that he’s a vampire. To earn his trust and loyalty would make me proud. If that ass Lucas is deserving of such, then you and I are surely twice so.” Ken’ichi chuckled. “Accept it, brother. There’s a bond between them that you’ll never break.” “And that’s exactly it. Raphael expects loyalty, but he gives it in an equal amount. He doesn’t break.” “So, we’re agreed, then?” Juro breathed deeply in and out. “I guess we are.” RAPHAEL LOOKED up when the two brothers tapped lightly on the door of his study. He knew why they’d come. He even thought he knew their decision, but wanted to know for sure. “Juro, Ken’ichi,” he greeted. “Come in.” They walked in side by side and stood in front of his desk.
“You said we had a decision to make,” Juro said, taking the lead as usual. “Well, we’ve done so.” Raphael leaned back and gave them a curious look. Juro’s mouth tightened briefly, but then he said, “We’d like to join you. We want to be made vampires.” Raphael was happy about their decision and wanted to smile, but he didn’t. “You’re certain. You’ve thought about what it means to be Vampire?” “We have, my lord,” Ken’ichi said quietly. “And it’s what we want.” Raphael smiled. “I’m pleased to welcome you then. I can turn you both in the same night. I’m assuming you’d prefer that?” The brothers nodded in unison. “Well, then . . . what about tonight? Or tomorrow, if you’d like to see one more day of sunlight.” Juro blinked in surprise, as if facing that inevitable reality for the first time. It wasn’t hypothetical anymore. It was real. Ken’ichi, on the other hand, seemed perfectly relaxed, secure in his decision. The two of them exchanged a long look, and in the next moment, turned as one to face him again. “Tonight will be fine, my lord,” Juro said. “We
watched the sunset earlier.” “Excellent. Who’s first?” JURO STOOD ON the edge of the bluff, feeling the surf pound against the cliff. A full moon hung in the sky as big as the sun, giving the grassy bluff, with its few sparse trees, a silver sheen. It reminded him of Raphael’s eyes, which was a fanciful thought he never would have expected of himself. Ken’ichi walked up and stood next to him. “Regrets?” he asked. Juro shook his head. “None. My blood burns with power of a sort I don’t quite understand yet. I’m ten times as strong as I was before. And, brother, we were strong. How can I regret it?” “Sunlight? Food?” “A small price. Do you have regrets?” he asked abruptly. Ken’ichi had been the one with no regrets going in. “Oh, no,” Ken’ichi said calmly. “This is what we were meant to be. I believe it.” He stood silently for a moment, then said, “Lord Raphael wants to see us.” “Did he say why?” “I don’t believe he needs a reason, but he did give one. He needs an army, and he’d like us to train it.” Juro grinned. “Really?” He nodded slowly. “I like that. Let’s get to work, brother. Our new life
begins tonight.” The End
Vampire Vignette #19 Merry Christmas, Baby Two weeks after the events in RELENTLESS Malibu, CA “WE NEED A VACATION.” Cyn lay on the bed, watching through the open bathroom door as Raphael finished shaving. He had a meeting tonight. Another meeting. Raphael walked out of the bathroom and headed for his half of their walk-in closet. They were both clothes hounds. When she’d moved in permanently, they’d had to remodel his basement suite to accommodate the addition of her clothes. What had once been a second office for him—one that he’d never used—was now part of a closet that was nearly as big as the main bedroom. Raphael disappeared into that closet. “Did you hear what I said?” she asked, knowing full well he had. Vampires had great hearing. “We just saved the world; doesn’t that deserve a vacation?”
He walked out of the closet, his suit pants zipped, but not buttoned, a crisp white shirt hanging open to show off his gorgeous chest. “Saying we saved the world might be a bit of an exaggeration,” he responded with a smile, as he sat on the bed to slip on his boots. Cyn sat up and crawled down to the edge of the big bed. Coming up behind him, she bracketed his hips with her thighs and lifted the back of his shirt, pressing her naked breasts against his bare skin. “I didn’t hear a ‘no’ in there. We could go to Colorado and have a white Christmas.” He turned enough to give her skeptical look over his shoulder. “Because I love cold weather.” “Oh, don’t be such a fud. It’s not like we’ll be making snowmen by moonlight. Maybe a nice walk or two, but think of how romantic it would be. You and me and no one else, all cozy and warm by the fireplace, while it snows outside.” “I’m not sure Juro would share your enthusiasm for the ‘just you and me’ part.” “He can’t come. He has to stay home and help Luci plan their wedding. And don’t say it. I know you’ll still have to bring security, but it’s a big house. We could pretend it was just us.” His expression turned serious and he stood, pulling her off the bed and into his arms. “Does it bother you? Always having my security team around?”
“No,” she said, but couldn’t make herself look at him. He was too good at detecting lies, and she didn’t want to lie to his face anyway. “Cyn,” he chided. “Talk to me.” She raised her eyes to meet his, taking in every detail of the face she loved so well. “It doesn’t bother me . . . mostly. And it’s not even that, it’s just . . . It feels sometimes like we’ve been fighting one war or another from the moment we met. Isn’t it time to let someone else do the fighting? Quinn’s all set to go in Ireland, and you have allies here at home. Let them handle the bad guys for a while.” He kissed her forehead, then trailed his lips down to her mouth. “But, Colorado?” She opened her mouth to his, enjoying the slow seduction that was his kiss. “We live at the beach, fang boy. We can’t vacation there. Besides, I like the idea of a white Christmas.” He kissed her again, a quick brush of his lips over hers. “The things I do for you, lubimaya.” She grinned. “Yeah, but I make it worthwhile.” “Is that a promise?” “You bet.” “I’ll have Jared make the arrangements. We have to bring security, but we’ll make it the minimum necessary.” “Can we go dancing?” “Dancing?” he repeated skeptically. “What does dancing have to do with snow?”
“Not snow, vacation. A romantic vacation getaway, with dancing in the moonlight.” “In the cold moonlight.” “Well, no. We’ll go to a club and dance indoors.” He sighed. “I’m going to regret this. Make your plans, coordinate with Jared. May I get dressed now?” She pulled back, giving his bare chest a blatant scan of appreciation. “If you must.” “You,” he said, giving her a quick, hard kiss, “are temptation itself. But I’ve already postponed tonight’s meeting twice because of that business in Paris.” “That’s fine,” she said breezily. “You finish up your meetings. I’ll plan the vacay.” She was still chuckling, hunched over her laptop, checking out weather conditions, when Raphael emerged from the closet once again. But this time, he was in full master of the universe mode. She looked up and gave him a detailed headto-toe perusal, enjoying every inch. “You do look good in a suit, baby.” He shot his shirt cuffs, tugging the starched edges a precise half inch past the silk wool sleeves of his suit jacket. “And you? Do you plan to get dressed eventually? Or will you remain down here, chortling over your computer all night?” “Jealous?”
He leaned over and bit her lower lip. “Yes.” “See? I’m right. You do need a vacation.” “In the snow.” “Get over it, dude. It’s going to be great. You’ll see.” Aspen, Colorado CYN LOUNGED BACK against Raphael’s solid body, her toes curling in the warm socks she’d pulled on in lieu of slippers. She thought about reaching for her wine glass, but she was a little too comfortable to make the effort. Snow was falling fast and heavy outside the big plate-glass window, but the house was warm and toasty, with a lively fire burning in the huge, stone fireplace. Raphael kissed the top of her head absently, his attention never wavering from the e-reader in his left hand. Christmas in the snow. It was exactly what she’d wanted. So, why the hell was she feeling so bored? Damn. “Dancing,” she said without warning. Raphael’s e-reader was lowered to the table next to him. “Dancing?” he repeated, making a question of the single word. “We need to go dancing.” Silence. “I’ll be fun,” she insisted. “Does that mean you’ve had your fill of Christmas in the snow?”
“No. I’m simply expanding our itinerary.” “We have an itinerary?” She sat up and swung around to face him, resting one hand on his rock-hard thigh. “I’ll tell you what. One night of dancing at a club of my choice . . . and then we can go home to Malibu.” “Done,” he said, before she could amend the deal. “When do we leave?” She laughed. “The club’s open tonight.” “Excellent. What’s the name? I’ll have Jared call ahead.” “It’s a popular place. We might not be able to get a reservation this late.” “No problem. Jared is very persuasive.” “I don’t know the name, but it’s underground, so he should be able to find it.” Raphael stood, pulling her up with him. “Let’s go. You can change while I talk to Jared.” He hustled her ahead of him down the hall to their bedroom. “How do you know I want to change?” He laughed. “Because I know you, my Cyn.” He slapped her ass lightly. “Change. I’ll make the arrangements.” She turned and grabbed a fistful of his thick Tshirt, pulling herself up onto her toes until their faces were even. “I love you.” He went still, letting one hand drop to curl around her lower back, while his other hand cupped
her cheek. He kissed her softly. “I ya lyublyu tebya. Seychas i navsegda.” And I love you. Now and forever. Cyn’s heart squeezed at his declaration of love, such beautiful words in his native Russian. Tears stung her eyes, sliding down her cheeks as they kissed. “We don’t have to go out if you don’t want to,” she whispered, her throat still tight with emotion. He smiled. “Too late, lubimaya. The deal is already made.” She grinned back at him, knowing the tease was his way of easing the emotion of the moment. “It was worth a shot,” she said, playing along. He kissed her again, hard and fast. “The car leaves in thirty minutes.” Her eyes went wide. “Thirty minutes! That’s not enough time. I need to—” “You’re already stunning. Anything more is just window dressing.” Emotion swelled again. She lowered her eyes and patted his chest. “You say the sweetest things, fang boy. Make your plans. I’ll be ready in thirty.” TECHNO MUSIC throbbed like the heart of a great beast, lights flashing with each pump of fresh blood. Or maybe it was some other organ, Cyn considered. Some other fluid that was pumping.
Glancing around the packed club, one would never know it was Christmas Eve. Oh, sure, the flashing lights hit red and green every eighth beat or so, and there was a token bit of green garland around the mirror behind the bar. But that was it. Raphael’s arm tightened around her waist as they eased their way through the crowd around the door, with Jared taking the lead. When she’d suggested this little outing, she’d assumed the club would be half-empty. It was Christmas Eve, for God’s sake. Didn’t these people have families? Shouldn’t they be home wrapping or unwrapping presents? Getting drunk on eggnog, instead of highpriced cocktails? Her attention abruptly locked on a determinedlooking man making a beeline in their direction, his gaze never leaving Raphael. “Incoming,” she warned and shifted slightly, placing herself in front of Raphael, while her hand drifted to the subcompact Sig 9mm in her coat pocket. Raphael’s growl sounded in her ear, as Jared stepped in front of them to intercept the man whose eyes abruptly gleamed red . . . and stayed that way. “Vampire,” she muttered. “Jared, welcome.” The club vampire’s words were barely audible over the noise, but the warmth of his greeting was reflected in his smile and the macho handclasp and shoulder bump that the two vamps exchanged.
“Let me guess,” Cyn said dryly. “This club is owned by vampires, too.” “Of course,” Raphael said. “Do you think I’d have agreed to bring you here otherwise?” He took her hand away from the gun in her pocket, and using their linked hands to pull her closer, he trapped her hand behind her back and hugged her tightly, putting his mouth directly at her ear. “The next time you try to protect me with your body, my Cyn, I will be far less circumspect in stopping you.” She gave him a narrow look. Less circumspect? What the hell did that mean? He returned her look with a blank face. And no one on earth did blank face better than Mr. Lord-of-AllHe-Surveys Raphael. She settled for an unladylike snort, then turned her attention instead to the club vamp whom Jared was now introducing. “Sire, this is—” “Miles Younger,” Raphael supplied, causing the vamp’s eyes to flare such a bright red that they competed with the flashing lights. “My lord,” Miles said, the reverence in his voice echoing the joy in his expression. “I am honored. Welcome to our club.” Raphael nodded slightly. It might have seemed snobbish to someone who didn’t know him or the situation, but Cyn knew both. Raphael accepted that kind of adoration as his due. It was simply part of vampire society. Raphael wasn’t just Miles’s
lord, he was the power who kept vampires like Miles safe and alive, in the most literal sense. Even so, he didn’t take their love or loyalty for granted. He earned the respect of vampires like Miles. But he also preferred anonymity in public places. Cyn squeezed his hand, knowing he wanted the adoration part to be over with. Since Jared also knew that, he put himself in front of Raphael and said, “We should get him to a table, Miles. Security issues. You understand.” “Of course,” Miles said at once. “I’ve reserved our largest table, but it’s also the most discreet.” With a last, respectful nod in Raphael’s direction, he started through the crowd, which parted like magic before them. Actually, it was magic. Cyn could feel the hum of vampire power over her skin, subtly pushing the human club-goers out of their way. It wasn’t Raphael’s doing. He hadn’t raised so much as a magical little finger. Between Jared and the two other security vamps who’d accompanied them into the club, plus probably Miles, too, there was already an overload of vampire magic. Once they reached the table, though, she had to admit that Miles had done good. It was big enough for ten people, if they really liked one another. Call it eight if they preferred a bit more space. In their case, the only people sitting were Jared, Cyn, and Raphael. The other two vamps remained standing, keeping a watchful eye on the
crowd and leaving little doubt as to the danger of fucking with the table’s occupants. THEY’D BEEN AT the club for about an hour, long enough that they were on their second bottle of Raphael’s favorite vodka, which was sitting in an ice bucket frosted with cold. Obviously, Jared had done more than make a reservation when he’d called ahead. Cyn was sitting in the curve of Raphael’s arm, people-watching, when she wasn’t making out with her boyfriend. “Is this what you wanted to do tonight?” Raphael spoke against her ear, his deep voice evoking all sorts of sensual images, most of which made her long for the privacy of their bed. Which was probably intentional. The bastard. She smiled and rested her head on his shoulder. “I like the energy in a place like this. All of those people on the dance floor, hopping around, having fun.” He picked up a glass that was rimed with ice and sipped his vodka. “Most of them can’t dance.” She laughed. “That’s what makes it great. They don’t care.” He grunted. “I want to dance, too,” she said in sudden decision. “But not to this music. You think the deejay takes requests?” “He will.”
Cyn shook her head. Of course, the deejay would take a request. Hell, Miles would clear out the club in an instant and give them a private party for two if that was what Raphael wanted. And Raphael would do it even faster if he thought she wanted it. Talk about romantic. But she still wanted her dance, so she wrote her request on a napkin and handed it to Jared. He glanced at it and rolled his eyes, but called the ever-attentive Miles over to their table. Miles, in turn, walked over and delivered Cyn’s request to the deejay, with, no doubt, a little vampire “push” to make sure it happened. Two songs later, the lights stopped flashing and dimmed way down, giving the busy club a soft, intimate feel. Anyone who’d ever been to a bar or nightclub knew what that meant. Couples— strangers and lovers, alike—slipped into each other’s arms when the first soft strings introduced the song. Cyn slid from the booth, pulling Raphael after her, and they became just another anonymous couple on the darkened dance floor as a rough voice sang the first words. Raphael’s arms came around her, pressing her against his powerful body, making her feel treasured, making her feel loved. She twined her arms around his neck, the fingers of one hand stroking his short hair. He was several inches taller than she was, but her heels made them almost even,
so she could lean in and kiss him. He held her even tighter, until their bodies were perfectly aligned. His denim-clad thighs were hard against her legs, bare under her short dress, and his chest was a wall of solid muscle against her soft breasts. He smelled of his favorite aftershave, spicy with a hint of musk and leather, the latter from the jacket he was wearing over a simple black T-shirt. He smiled slightly when their eyes met, his limned in the silver of his power, hers probably shining wet with unshed tears. “You’re such a romantic,” he murmured, teasing. Because she always said it to him. “I love this song.” “Why?” “Because it’s us. You and me.” He tilted his head, listening to the lyrics. “He’s apologizing for loving her.” “Yes, but that’s not the point. He still loves her just as much as the first time they met, and he wants her the same way he did at that first spark of desire.” “But I love you even more than that, my Cyn.” Her eyes were definitely filling with tears. His smile grew. “Just dance with me,” she muttered, hiding her face against his neck. “Anytime, anywhere, lubimaya,” he murmured. He held her until the last notes of the
piano had faded away. Everyone on the dance floor, everyone in the entire club, seemed frozen in time as he lowered his head and kissed her. It was a passionate kiss, the kind they wrote about in romance novels, all soft lips and caressing tongues, their bodies flush against one another, the firm ridge of his cock perfectly aligned with the triangle between her thighs. He lifted his head slightly, his tongue swiping at her bottom lip, before he touched his mouth briefly to hers once again. “We should go home,” she whispered. When the lights came up, and the pulsing sound of techno filled the crowded club once again, the vampire lord and his mate had left the building. AS SOON AS THEY were home, with the vaultstyle door on their bedroom sealing out the rest of the world against the coming sunrise, Cyn turned her back to Raphael and silently asked for his help with the zipper on her dress. He obliged, but not without taking advantage of her half-naked state, sliding a hand around to her bare belly, the fingers of his other hand gliding up to cup her half-naked breasts in their lace bra. He tweaked one nipple, then leaned down to kiss her neck, before moving into his half of the huge closet to undress. Cyn smiled at his back as she stepped out of her heels and let the dress slide to the floor. She
picked it up and slipped it onto a velvet-covered hanger, then padded in her barely-there, but very pretty, underwear to the bathroom to wash her face. She didn’t wear full makeup very often, and, as always, could hardly wait to wash it off. Figuring she was about to get lucky, she brushed her teeth for good measure, then walked back to the closet, where she found a bare-chested Raphael standing there in half-zipped jeans. Giving him a wink that promised all sorts of delicious things, she went up on her tiptoes to kiss his mouth, a soft brush of her lips against his, teasing away when he would have deepened it to something more. She had other plans. Lowering his zipper, she reached in to grip his stiff cock, feeling it grow harder with every stroke of her fingers, as she dropped to her knees in front of him. “Cyn,” he growled in warning, though whether he wanted her to hurry up or slow down, she didn’t know. And didn’t care. This was her show, and she’d do it her way. “Hmmm?” It was a hum of sound as her lips closed over his cock, her tongue twisting around his thickness as she took him fully into her mouth. Her cheeks hollowed out when she sucked, then released when she lifted her head until only the very tip of him was in her mouth. Her eyes rolled back, her gaze meeting his as she took his cock deep into her mouth once more, taking it all the
way to touch the back of her throat, before lifting her head and slowly, so slowly, releasing him . . . but with a wicked twist. Raphael’s eyes narrowed in warning at the feel of her teeth scraping along the sensitive underside of his shaft, but he didn’t stop her. She slicked her tongue over the same length of his cock, swirling it around the very tip. And all the while, she held his gaze, his eyes starflecked and shining silver, as she licked his cock up and down, kissing it teasingly. But Raphael had reached the end of his patience. His fingers twisted in her long hair, tightening painfully as he held her in place and fucked her willing mouth, his hips flexing as his cock plunged between her lips. Russian curses filled the room as his moves grew more urgent, the grip on her hair becoming so tight that she had to dig her fingers into his ass to keep from being tossed around by the force of his thrusts. He came with a long groan, holding her head still, his cock deep in her mouth as his release spilled down her throat. Cyn swallowed over and over, her throat muscles stroking his cock as she fought to control the urge to breathe. A moment before she’d have been forced to break away for oxygen, he pulled his cock from her mouth and dropped to his knees next to her, holding her against him when she sagged forward. “Lubimaya,” he murmured. That was the
sweetest word in her world, the endearment he used only for her. My love. “Breathe,” he said, switching to English. She gasped out a laugh. “I’m trying.” He rubbed her back, his hand gliding down the bare stretch of skin between her bra and a pair of tiny black panties. His fingers dipped even farther, slipping inside her underwear to cup her naked ass. He moved without warning after that, scooping her into his arms and standing with no effort. He carried her the short distance and dropped her to the bed, reaching down to pull the turned-down comforter out from under her, until she was lying on clean, cool sheets. “Strip,” he demanded. Cyn might have protested his bossiness, just for the hell of it, but she was too taken by the revelation of his gorgeous body as he slid his jeans down long legs, telling her what she’d already suspected—that he was commando under there. Raphael never wore briefs with jeans, only with his suits. Cyn lay there for a moment, admiring the view. Raphael was well over six feet of pure, magnificent male, with sweeping bands of thick muscle detailing broad shoulders, a wide chest and powerful arms. He had a flat belly and narrow hips, plus that beautifully delineated, deep vee of abdominal muscle that seemed designed to entice her eye to admire his cock and balls. So very much to admire,
she thought lovingly. Her lover was a big man. Everywhere. It took her a moment to realize he was just standing there with his hands on his hips, watching her watch him. She licked her lips to keep the drool from spilling down her chin, and grinned up at him. “Are we going to stare or fuck?” she asked, as if he’d been the one staring. He laughed, and it was a sound of such breathtaking abandon that it stole her breath. She rarely managed to surprise him into laughing like that. It made her heart ache with joy, and more than a little fear. She loved him so much. “Come here, fang boy.” Raphael growled at the use of her favorite endearment, but there was no heat behind it. He’d never admit it, but he liked it. He prowled over and climbed onto the bed, bracketing her with his knees as she unhooked the front closure on her bra and tossed it aside. He took over from there, stripping the thin panties down her legs and throwing them after the bra. Cyn arched beneath him, hooking one long leg around his hips as she wrapped her arms around his neck. Raphael’s eyes lit with desire and something else, something sinful that made her worry what he had planned. She didn’t have to wait long to find out. Using vampire speed and strength, he lifted her in strong arms and twisted them both so that she
ended up straddling him, with her knees gripping his hips and his cock an enticing length of steel between the lips of her pussy. She leaned over to kiss him, loving the feel of her soft breasts against his hard chest, the scrape of her nipples over the sprinkling of dark hair. Raphael’s arms went around her, his hands stroking down her back, caressing and dominating at the same time, as his fingers squeezed the globes of her ass, before dipping down in a teasing brush through her wetness. Cyn moaned as sexual hunger coursed through her body in a shockwave of need. “Raphael,” she whispered, unable to stop herself from stroking the beautiful planes of his chest before she rose onto her knees and reached for his cock, intending to lower herself onto the hard shaft. She gasped when his hand gripped her wrist, holding her still. She lifted her eyes to meet his silvery gaze. “Baby?” “Say, ‘please,’ my Cyn.” “Bastard,” she hissed, but then complied in the next breath with a murmured, “Please.” He chuckled—chuckled! She’d pay him back for that—and released her wrist, moving both hands to her hips, lifting her up as she positioned his cock between her swollen outer lips, the hard tip of him flirting with her slit, hot and slick with desire. He held her there, dominant to the end, until she was shuddering with need, until her pussy was
so wet that it drenched his cock. Until he was clenching her hips so hard that she knew she’d have fingertip bruises by morning. But she didn’t care. Her only warning was a snarled oath as he slammed her down onto his thickness and fucked her, filling her completely and with a suddenness that made her cry out as he thrust with ruthless focus, beautiful muscles flexing under a sheen of sweat. Cyn was helpless in his hands, able only to moan with pleasure, overwhelmed with sensation, with the friction of his cock as it slid along and between her inner tissues, the cream of her arousal a liquid heat of lubrication between them. The lust in his gaze as he stared up at her through narrow slits of silver desire made every muscle in her body clench with sexual hunger. She cupped her breasts, pinching her already hard and swollen nipples until her inner muscles pulsed in answering sensation. It was Raphael’s turn to groan. With a snarled oath, he rolled her facedown onto the bed and, gripping her hips tightly once more, lifted her ass into the air and forced her legs wide, opening up her body to him completely. He let out a satisfied hiss of pleasure, and then slammed his cock into her pussy over and over, his strong hands holding her hips steady while his thumbs flirted with her ass. Cyn moaned, as she struggled to find an
anchor in the wild frenzy of Raphael’s fucking. She jammed a fist into her mouth to muffle her cries when he leaned forward to reach under her body and between her thighs, sliding his fingers through the cream of her soaking wet pussy, finding the hard nub of her engorged clit, and crushing it beneath the rough pad of his thumb. Cyn screamed, trapped by the heat and weight of his body, her muscles bucking helplessly as he put his mouth to her neck, his breath hot against her skin as he licked the line of her jugular. She shuddered, swamped with sensation—his tongue wet on her skin, his fingers on her clit, his teeth teasing her neck, and his thick cock slamming into her until even her fist couldn’t cover her screams. Her climax struck like a shock of electricity, her sheath clamping down on his cock as waves of sensual pleasure rippled through her body, making her muscles tighten and her nerves spark so hot, it was only Raphael’s smooth voice in her ear that kept her from screaming. “Sweet Cyn,” he murmured. “Mine.” She did scream then, as his mouth closed over her neck and his fangs slid into her vein, as the euphoric in his bite sped through her bloodstream, forcing her already sensitized body to climax all over again. Raphael growled, the sound reverberating through her bones as his fangs remained buried in her neck, his cock deep in her
pussy. He was relentless, pounding in and out, gliding on the liquid heat of her orgasm, until suddenly, he slammed as deep as he could go and stayed there with a tortured groan. The hot rush of his release was still splashing against her womb when his fangs slid from her vein, and he lifted his head with a roar, his hands gripping her hips, holding her in place as his cock bucked within her. They both hung there for a moment, as if too stunned to move. And then Raphael slid his cock out, wrapped his arm around her waist, and pulled her down to the bed beside him. Dipping his mouth to her neck once more, he licked away the blood and sealed the twin puncture wounds. He left his mouth on her neck after that, nuzzling gently, one hand low across her belly, the other cupping a breast while he played idly with her swollen nipple, content. “Merry Christmas, lubimaya.” Cyn smiled and reached back to cup his cheek as the sun rose over the horizon. “Merry Christmas, baby.” The End And to all of you, however you celebrate, may you have the most joyous of holidays with the ones you love
My gift to you . . . A little more Vampires in America! Happy Holidays!
A Note from the Author Over the years since I published RAPHAEL, Book One in my Vampires in America series, I’ve visited more reader blogs and review blogs than I can count. For many of those visits, I wrote small stories. Sometimes a single scene, sometimes something longer, sometimes an interview with various characters. Over time, and for a variety of reasons, some of those blogs have disappeared from the Internet, but I still get reader requests for the stories I posted. So, with the help of the talented people at ImaJinn/BelleBooks, and especially my editor, Brenda Chin, I’m gathering them here for all of you. —D. B. Reynolds
My interview with a vampire! Huff ‘n Puff Reporter Paranormal Haven October 2010 (Between RAJMUND and SOPHIA) I DON’T KNOW what I was thinking. Well, actually, I do. It was Halloween and I needed a feature article for the news blog I write for. You’ve probably heard of it . . . Huff and Puff? We’re like Huffington Post, but with no politics. You get my drift? Anyway, I have this friend who has this friend who knows someone, and one thing led to another and there I was, following the directions from the navigation lady on my dashboard, directing me down Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu. I saw an interview once on TV with Snoop Dogg, where he was talking about how you can program (for a handy fee) your GPS to his voice. But I figure if
I’m lost, I don’t want Snoop Dogg telling me how to get unlost. I want someone like my mom. At least I know she’s not stoned. Well, I’m pretty sure, anyway. She’s a pretty crazy lady sometimes. But I digress. So I was traveling down PCH, traffic whizzing by me like it’s some sort of freeway, when I hear the mom-like voice telling me to turn left. I’m looking and looking and thinking maybe Mom’s stoned after all. Because there’s nothing on the left but this forest of eucalyptus and a bunch of other trees. I knew they were eucalyptus because of the smell. I didn’t know the rest of them. They were just trees. Lots of big trees. With shadows underneath. Because it’s nighttime. Duh. But the mom voice was still nagging at me to turn, so I did it and there it was—my headlights picked out a paved road. Hallelujah. And now I was kind of getting into this. I was there to write a Halloween article, and what could be better than a spooky old mansion hidden behind a bunch of gnarled trees with the ocean pounding against the rocks? Yeah, I was thinking, this could be good. I followed the road until it sort of dead-ended at a big, old wall. Well, it was big, anyway. Not really all that old, though. In fact, it looked almost new. It had a gate and some sort of guardhouse, and this guy came out and asked for my name and ID. I figured he must be a vamp, but I couldn’t really tell. He was wearing black (of course), but not
tuxedo black, more like SWAT-team black, which was kind of disappointing. Although, I guess it wouldn’t make sense to haul out the formal wear for gate duty. But still, he could have made the effort. So, he looked at my ID (boring), checked my name on a list (boring), and called someone on the phone (way boring.) And just when I was about to fall asleep, the gate opened and he told me to follow the twinkly lights, and I drove through. The twinkly lights stuff sounded magical and promising, plus kind of funny coming from a guy in SWAT black, but they turned out to be nothing but solar-powered landscape lamps lining a driveway. Apparently, vampires have gone green. Who knew? But I was still hopeful. I hadn’t seen the mansion yet, it could still be— Nope. Not creepy, not old, not decrepit. It was the perfect Malibu mansion, with balconies and a pool and probably a terrific view since it was right on the cliff. But the only thing scary about this place, I thought, was its price tag! There was another guard waiting in the courtyard by the house. He told me where to park, told me to leave the keys in the car, which I did only because I have a second set in my purse (hah!) But it was kind of a hollow victory, because he was so darn polite about it. By the time I climbed the stairs and went
through a set of truly spectacular cut-glass doors, I was feeling pretty down about the whole scary, creepy thing. But then, this huge, and I mean huge, guy kind of up popped out of nowhere and stood right in front of me. I could see his fangs and everything, and I was thinking, vampire! Finally. He just kind of stared at me for a bit, until I began to feel sort of uncomfortable and there was maybe some sweat trickling down my spine, and then he said, “Follow me,” in this deep voice that, I have to say, suited him perfectly. But then I started thinking how funny it would be if he had this squeaky, helium huffing kind of voice. Or, I was thinking that, until he gave me this look like he knew what I was thinking, and that freaked me out so badly that I stopped thinking about anything at all for a couple of minutes. Like totally blank. Fortunately, my feet remembered how to walk without my brain helping them out. I followed the big guy up some stairs and down a hallway to another set of beautiful doors, but these were black and carved and, yeah, definitely creepy. My escort pushed one of the doors open and held out his arm, like people do when they want you to go ahead of them. So I went. And that’s when I saw Lord Raphael for the first time. I don’t know what I expected, exactly. Someone older, for sure. Maybe wearing a velvet
day coat or brocade or something antiquey looking. I sure as hell didn’t expect a GQ model. But that’s what I got. He’s gorgeous. I mean, take-my-breath-away, let-me-cut-this-picture-out-and-hang-it-on-my-wall gorgeous. Broad shoulders, black hair, chiseled cheekbones, kissable lips, and honest-to-goodness black eyes. And he was wearing this killer-cut suit with a white shirt and this really subdued sapphireblue silk tie. You wouldn’t think sapphire could be subdued, but this one was. He was sitting at his desk, just kind of watching me walk toward him, like he was wondering why the hell he ever agreed to do this. And, frankly, I was wondering the same thing. But then the guy next to him—I figured this had to be his lieutenant, Duncan, by the way. He’s blond, sixfoot, classically handsome, with warm brown eyes —he smiled and said, “This is the reporter Cynthia mentioned would be dropping by, my lord.” Raphael’s expression barely changed, except he blinked his eyes once as he watched me sit down. Then he sighed and said, “Very well. A dozen questions, no more.” Not a lot of enthusiasm there, but I’m not complaining. I mean, would you? I cleared my throat. Yeah, I was nervous, but I was prepared, too. I’m a professional, after all, so I dove right in.
“Good evening, Raph—I mean, Lord Raphael. Thank you for taking the time to see me. Can we start with you telling us a little bit about yourself?” Raphael stared at me a minute longer, and then he said, “What would you like to know?” Okay, tough interview. But I could handle it. “Well, for starters,” I said. “How did you become a vampire lord?” A small smile flirted around his mouth and he shared an amused glance with Duncan before saying, “I was born one. Or re-born, as the case may be. It was only a matter of time—time I spent educating myself in the ways of Vampire, gathering the right people and, eventually, finding the right territory to call my own.” I nodded. Maybe something more personal? “Can you tell us a little about your mate, Cynthia Leighton?” A real smile softened his expression this time. “She’s beautiful, brilliant, and the most courageous human I have ever known, male or female.” Well, darn. That was so sweet. My chest was kind of tight with emotion when I followed up with, “What was the first thing that came to mind when you laid eyes on her?” Off to the side, Duncan chuckled softly. Raphael just shrugged and said, “She was holding a gun on me at the time, so I imagine it was something unprintable. But my second thought was
intrigue. I’d never met anyone quite like her before.” “That wasn’t very long ago, was it? I mean, you just met and now you’re together. What’s it like having Cyn by your side, after having been single for so long?” Raphael drew a deep breath, steepling his fingers in front of his chest. “A combination of things, I suppose. My Cyn is the first human I’ve been with in a very long time. Truthfully, I’ve never been this close to anyone else. She makes me stronger and she brings me joy. She also challenges me at every opportunity and irritates the hell out of me.” He grinned quickly. “She’ll be reading this interview.” I smiled back, feeling more relaxed, and nodded in Duncan’s direction. “What about Duncan? Could you ever see him becoming a vampire lord?” Raphael nodded, completely serious. “When the time comes.” Hmmm. That wasn’t going anywhere. I changed direction. “So, is Duncan single?” Raphael laughed and threw the question to his lieutenant. “Duncan?” “Definitely single, my lord,” Duncan provided. Everyone was being so friendly, I decided to push my luck. “I heard you made a trip to New York recently. Was that for business or pleasure?”
Raphael sobered immediately. “Next question.” Okaaaay. “Rajmund Gregor is the new Lord of the Northeastern Territory. Do you believe he has the power to fix the problems that developed under Krystof’s rule?” Raphael was still eyeing me suspiciously, and I could tell he was considering not answering this question either. Finally, he said, “What another lord does with his territory is not my concern. Having said that, however, I have every confidence in Rajmund’s ability, and expect the territory to flourish under his leadership.” I decided to steer away from the business angle, which seemed a sensitive point. “Speaking of Rajmund, we hear that Sarah Stratton has persuaded him to take a trip down the aisle. Can we expect to hear wedding bells for you and Cyn in the future?” Raphael shrugged again. He was clearly getting bored with this interview, and I knew my time was nearly up. “Cyn is my mate,” he said. “There is no greater bond among vampires. As for anything else, you’d have to ask her.” “I just have a couple more questions,” I assured him. Like he needed my assurances. “Why do you think humans are so fascinated with vampires?” He sighed—definitely bored, I thought—and
pushed up closer to his desk. “Being human, you would know that better than I. But, for the record, I doubt most humans have any idea what a vampire truly is.” Ooooh. I would have loved to follow up on that one, but Raphael was checking his watch and not being subtle about it, either. So I went with my final question, which I had to ask, but honestly kind of made me cringe. “How does the vampire community celebrate Halloween?” Raphael gave me a dead look on that one. Good thing it was the last question. “We don’t,” he said shortly and signaled Duncan. The interview was over. Duncan escorted me courteously from the room, and the huge vampire took me back down the stairs to my car. After that, I don’t remember much. I woke up the next morning, not knowing how I got home or into bed. My first thought was for my notes and my recorder, but they were there in my bag. Untouched, as far as I know. And I’m pretty sure that thing on my neck was just a scratch. Maybe from the seat belt on my car. You know how they’re always rubbing when you drive. Yeah, I’ve thought about it, and I’m sure that’s all it was. The End
An Interview with Cynthia Leighton Paranormal Haven Halloween at the Haven October 2011 (Just before DUNCAN’s release) CYN SETTLED INTO the corner of the leather couch nearest the fireplace. Beyond the windows at the far end of the room, the black night pressed against the glass doors, but this close to the fire, it was warm and cozy. If she had to sit for an interview, this was a better place than most. And, let’s face it, if she couldn’t deal with the chick from Huff ‘n Puff, she should just hang up her guns. “Thank you for agreeing to talk to me, Ms. Leighton. It will mean so much to our readers,” the interviewer said earnestly. Cyn shrugged, “That’s okay. How do we start?” “As I explained to you on the phone, we’re running a series of interviews for the month of
October, asking celebrities and well-known people like yourself to tell us their scariest Halloween memory.” On the other side of the room, Raphael made a noise that sounded suspiciously like choked laughter. Cyn narrowed her gaze at him, but he didn’t look her way. He was too busy pretending that he wasn’t paying attention. Cyn turned back to the interviewer and leaned forward. The woman predictably did the same, as if waiting for the big secret to be revealed. “My scariest Halloween ever,” Cyn said in a confiding voice that she knew with 100% certainty Raphael could hear, “was the night I met my first vampire.” From the corner of her eye, she saw Raphael’s head turn her way. She lifted her head and met his gaze, smiling. He didn’t say a word, but his expression was very suspicious. Cyn winked at him, then turned back to the interviewer who’d been watching the whole exchange with eager fascination. The woman had been thrilled to meet Raphael. A little too thrilled. Her nipples had popped out against that tight T-shirt like guns being deployed on a target. “I met my very first vampire on Halloween,” Cyn said loudly, drawing the interviewer’s attention away from Raphael. “Ah,” the interviewer said, managing to drag
herself back to the matter at hand. “He was also the first person I ever shot.” The woman’s eyes widened with eager interest, but her indrawn breath was buried beneath the sound of Raphael’s chair being pushed back. He stalked across the room and sat next to Cyn on the sofa, one long arm stretching behind her possessively. “You won’t mind if I listen in,” he said, not asking, but telling. Cyn bit her lip to keep from laughing. “It was long before I met you,” she assured him. “I was fresh out of the academy, but most of my friends were in graduate school of one sort of another. We all lived in the same apartment building. The rent was cosmic and the place was pretty ratty, but God, we had fun there. Parties every weekend.” She smiled, thinking back on those days. “The vampire?” Raphael prompted, in a voice that was more of an impatient growl. “Right. Well, everyone knew that I was a cop, of course. So, whenever something happened, like a threatening ex or someone lurking around the front door . . . pretty much anything, they’d come tell me about it. This time, though, it was more serious, and well beyond my experience or skills at that point. At first, we thought it was just some freak who’d watched too many horror movies. It had been going on all month, pretty much since October 1st, which
just seemed to reinforce the whole horror-movie angle. Some guy thought he could get his jollies by dressing up like Dracula and attacking women. Except, they were really getting hurt. He was biting them. And I’m not talking nice little puncture marks, either. He was more like a wild animal. The only reason we figured he was a Dracula wannabe was because of the way he dressed. I mean, as badly as their necks were torn, he could have been into werewolves instead.” “There’s no such thing.” Cyn and the interviewer both looked at Raphael in surprise. “Dracula?” the woman asked finally. Raphael stared at her, as if wondering what she was doing in his house, but then he said flatly, “No. Werewolves.” “Too bad,” Cyn offered, trying to break the tension. “Wolves are kinda sexy.” Raphael’s head swiveled slowly to face her. He didn’t say anything, just gave her a lazy, slowlidded blink of those fabulous black eyes. “Not as sexy as vampires, of course,” she said quickly, patting his thigh. His expression didn’t change. She was sooo going to pay for this later. “So, this person wasn’t a real vampire?” the interviewer interjected. She was now eyeing Raphael nervously, as if she expected him to turn feral at any moment.
Cyn gave the woman a friendly smile. “Well, that’s the thing. We didn’t think so. I mean, there weren’t that many vamps around back then. At least, not that we knew about. We figured it was just some freaky human, and so did the police. But he was covering a pretty big territory and they couldn’t seem to pin him down.” “So, what did you do?” The woman was really getting in the story now. “We set up this whole neighborhood sting operation,” Cyn replied. “I was the bait—” Raphael growled unhappily and the interviewer jumped, clearly believing her earlier fears of impending violence had been justified. Cyn just pulled his arm lower onto her shoulder, patted his hand, and continued. “Everyone in my building and some of the others from the neighborhood were the watchers. We had a whole phone relay set up so they could keep an eye on me and be ready for the takedown. It would have worked, too, except for one thing.” “He was real,” Raphael said dryly. Cyn nodded, sighing deeply. “He was real, all right. He attacked me less than twenty yards from the window where one of the watcher teams was stationed. They were right there and they didn’t see a thing. Later on, they said it was like I walked into the shadow of a tree, except there weren’t any trees. The vamp grabbed me right in front of them
and dragged me back to his place.” What he’d actually done was knock her out using some form of telepathy, but Cyn figured Raphael wouldn’t want that part of the story printed for everyone to read. So, she skipped over how the vamp managed to abduct her. “Oh, my God!” the interviewer said. She picked up her small digital recorder and studied the display, as if checking to be certain it was catching every word. “Did you kill him?” Raphael murmured, and Cyn knew he was plotting murder himself if she hadn’t. “You’re getting ahead of my story,” she scolded him. He gave her a narrow-eyed glance, and Cyn had to choke back a laugh one more time. She swallowed hard and went on with her story. “Anyway,” she said, facing the woman again, “the next thing I know, I was waking up in this dingy little apartment, totally dark, and this freak is bustling around his kitchen humming like he’s baking a pie or something.” “How does one hum when baking a pie?” Raphael murmured. “Hell if I know. No one ever baked one for me. Now stop interrupting. I wake up and I’m really groggy. I figure I’ve been drugged, but he hasn’t taken any of my weapons, which was a surprise. I
had my service weapon, which was a Sig 9mm, plus a smaller backup piece in an ankle holster. I went to pull the Sig, but I must have given something away, because wham!—he was on me. And he starts pushing me down, tearing my sweater away from my neck, except it won’t stay, so he rips it. And the whole time, he’s muttering to himself, like he’s following a checklist of what to do or something.” “What was he saying?” the woman gasped. “I don’t know. It wasn’t English.” “What language was it?” Raphael asked “Something Arabic, I think. None of the languages I knew. Now let me finish!” She turned back to the wide-eyed interviewer. “The vamp took the Sig after that, but he didn’t think to search me for anything else. He figured he had me, but I wasn’t going down easy. I fought him and managed to shove him off the bed. Shocked the hell out of him, too, but then he got really pissed. He stood up and full-on flashed his fangs and snarled at me. He wasn’t even pretending anymore. But while he was posing and trying to scare me, I grabbed my backup piece and shot him in the face.” The interviewer’s jaw dropped. “Oh, my God, did you kill him?” “No,” Cyn said patiently, not bothering to explain that a single bullet to the face wouldn’t kill any vampire she’d ever met. She continued, “But it took him down long enough for me to grab back my
Sig and shoot him a few more times.” The woman made a breathless ah sound. “Then what?” “Well, then, I called the police. Remember, I was a sworn officer of the law. I kept my gun trained on him the whole time, just in case. But he stayed down until the cops arrived and arrested him.” “Wonderful,” the woman whispered. “Our readers will love this. Thank you! Um . . .” She fidgeted nervously with her recorder, then said, “Can I ask a more personal question?” Cyn shrugged. “Sure. Doesn’t mean I’ll answer it, but ask away.” “Everyone knows Duncan’s gone off somewhere, but no one’s heard anything else. When do we find out what’s happening with him?” “I’m not sure how much I can—” “November 15th,” Raphael said abruptly. “You’ll be able to read all about it on November 15th.” He stood, taking Cyn’s hand and pulling her up with him in a clear signal that the interview was over. The interviewer’s mouth opened in a surprised “Oh.” She was clearly dying to ask for details, but one glance at Raphael’s forbidding expression had her gathering her things quickly and standing to leave. “Thank you so much, Ms. Leighton and you,
too—” The rest of her sentence was cut off as Juro stepped into view. “I’ll escort you out,” he rumbled. “Of course,” the interviewer said, clutching her purse. “Thank you again, Ms. Leighton, Lord Raphael,” she called over her shoulder as she was hustled from the room by Juro’s bulk. Cyn watched the woman leave, waiting until the door closed before slipping her arms around Raphael’s waist and looking up at him. Raphael pulled her close automatically. “Did you really turn him over to the police?” he asked. “No,” she said honestly. “He was my first vampire kill. Emptied my entire magazine, plus a backup, twenty-one rounds total, into his heart from about six inches away, then I broke off a chair leg and stabbed that into him for good measure. I waited until he was nothing but dust. Then I ran all the way home.” “I thought as much.” “Did you know him?” “Yes.” “I’m sorry.” “Don’t be. He was an incompetent fool. If you hadn’t killed him, I would have.” A sudden gust of wind batted the windows and Cyn shivered. “Are you cold?”
“It’s just the wind.” She laughed as he shifted his hold and swept her up and into his arms. “Come, my Cyn, I’ll make you warm.” Cyn shivered again as Raphael carried her into their private elevator . . . but for an entirely different reason. The End
When Cyn Met Emma Paranormal Haven November 28, 2011 (Just after DUNCAN’s release) Author’s Note: At the end of DUNCAN, the big bad vamps are all glaring at each other over the Council table. But did you ever wonder what happened when Cyn met Emma? CYN TUGGED THE towel more closely around her neck. The fog had rolled in with a vengeance and it was cold in Malibu tonight. She’d just finished a major workout, and not just with Elke, but Juro’s hulking twin, as well. With all the Council members in town for the big meet, Raphael had insisted she have a second bodyguard, even on the estate. She’d argued that Raphael needed the protection more than she did, since he was the one meeting his fellow homicidal vampire lords. Predictably, that argument hadn’t gone over well,
so both Elke and Juro’s twin now shadowed Cyn everywhere she went unless Raphael was with her. Although when Raphael was with her, they had his guards and her guards, so that was hardly an improvement. But the point was that when she worked out tonight, it had been with Juro’s twin instead of Elke. Elke had been there, but she’d watched from the sidelines, insisting it was better training for Cyn to fight someone new. Of course, the twin wasn’t just someone new, he was someone new and fucking huge! He was at least double Cyn’s entire body weight. And she was feeling every ounce of that extra weight right now. There was, apparently, a huge difference between throwing the 130-pound Elke over her shoulder and trying the same thing with the nearly 300-pound Japanese bodyguard. Her muscles screamed just remembering the attempt. She could hardly wait to get back to her private quarters and a long, hot soak in the Jacuzzi tub. They hadn’t taken more than a few steps across the courtyard when she was forced to draw up short, because Juro’s twin suddenly went on alert. Without warning, he stepped in front of her, halting her forward progress. Next to her, Elke, too, was staring across the courtyard suspiciously. “What?” Cyn demanded and peered around her bodyguard’s bulk.
It was another limousine. One more vampire lord joining the party. Okay, this wouldn’t take long . . . she hoped. Depending on who it was, he might rush out of the car and into the house, or he might instead stand next to the car and preen awhile, letting the peons get a good look at his wonderfulness. Cyn shivered slightly in the cold and hoped it was the first kind of vamp. And she wished she had more than the small towel to keep her warm in the meantime. The limo door opened and her two bodyguards relaxed infinitesimally, like a pent-up breath suddenly released. She stepped to the side again, just enough to see who it was. She caught sight of a familiar blond ponytail and grinned. “It’s Duncan,” she said impatiently. She dodged around Juro’s twin, racing across the courtyard. Her bodyguards were right behind her and then in front of her by the time Duncan turned with a smile. “Elke,” Cyn said irritably, pushing at the immovable object of the female vampire. “It’s Duncan,” she repeated. Elke didn’t move until the twin gave one of the security team’s hand signs, which clearly said it was okay. “What the fuck?” Cyn grumbled. “Don’t blame them,” Duncan said, as she drew closer. “I’ve two unknown vampires with me, and I’m a newly ascended vampire lord. Not everyone
takes well to the transition. They were only being cautious.” “Whatever,” Cyn dismissed, and hugged him. “Are you all recovered from your various mishaps? Every time we turned around lately, someone was shooting you or trying to turn you into a crispy critter.” “Yes, thank you for reminding me,” he said dryly. “Cynthia, darling, you need a shower.” “Duncan!” A dark-haired woman climbed out of the limo, making use of Duncan’s proffered hand to assist her. “What a terrible thing to say,” she added, then turned to Cyn with a smile. “Don’t mind him. He’s just grumpy because traffic was bad and he doesn’t like being the last one here.” “Emma,” Duncan chided her gently. “Cynthia, this is Emma Duquet. Emma, Cynthia Leighton.” Cyn’s eyes widened in realization. So this was the woman who’d hung up on her when she’d called to check on Duncan after the fire. The woman who’d all but bragged about spending hours and hours in Duncan’s bed, when she’d thought Cyn was a romantic rival. Hmm. “Cyn,” Duncan warned her in a low voice. “What now?” Cyn asked in mock exasperation. Goodness, what did he think she was going to do? Start a cat fight in the courtyard? Duncan was her friend, and Cyn cherished her friends. If Emma was important to Duncan, then
Emma was important to Cyn, too. Besides, she had it on pretty good authority that Emma might just have saved Duncan’s life in that whole Washington mess. Not that she’d ever say any of this to Duncan. Instead, she turned to him and said haughtily, “If my sweat bothers you, why don’t you go on in. Emma and I can—” Cyn’s words died in her throat as Emma shifted to let someone else out of the car and Cyn fully appreciated for the first time what Emma was wearing. She was dressed all in black— turtleneck sweater, wool blazer, and an A-line skirt to mid-calf. But the boots . . . the boots were red leather stilettos . . . no, the leather wasn’t red, it was oxblood, and the boots were the most beautiful thing. . . “Oh. My. God,” Cyn said, eyeing the fabulous boots. “Those are Alexander McQueen stirrup boots.” “Yes!” Emma turned her foot to better show off the boot’s unique detail. “Aren’t they gorgeous?” “I’ve been looking all over for those; where did you get them?” “Online,” Emma said enthusiastically. “You can find anything online, which is great, because I’m really not much of a shopper. Duncan gave them to me for Valentine’s Day, but I picked them out. Of course, they’re far too expensive, so I told
him they could count for my birthday, too, but—” “No, no,” Cyn corrected her, taking her arm in a companionable way and turning her toward the house. “Duncan has plenty of money and what better way to spend it than on you? How long are you going to be here this trip?” she asked as she and Emma walked away from the limo and started up the stairs. “You know,” Cyn confided, not waiting for Emma’s answer, “Manhattan has nothing on Beverly Hills when it comes to stores. Maybe we can do a little shopping after I shower,” she said with a pointed look over her shoulder. “You’d think they’d appreciate a little sweat when a woman’s trying to stay fit, but they’re so delicate, aren’t they?” “Well, I think you smell just fine,” Emma agreed. “In fact, I think we should go online and get you some boots. I’m sure they—” “Cyn,” Duncan called somewhat plaintively. Both women turned to look back at him. He didn’t say anything, just gave Cyn a meaningful look. “He’s afraid I’ll corrupt you,” she confided to Emma, but in a voice loud enough for Duncan to hear. “Sounds exciting,” Emma said. “Does it involve wine and chocolate, by any chance?” “Is there any other way?”
THE TWO WOMEN laughed as they turned and disappeared into the big house, followed by Juro’s twin. Elke lingered long enough to greet Duncan. “I’d rather hoped they wouldn’t get along.” Duncan sighed, looking after the two departed women. Elke grinned in amusement. “Never underestimate the power of shoes,” she said, then gave him a little bow and hurried after Cyn and Emma. She didn’t want to miss a minute of this. The End
An Introduction to Jared February 14, 2012 An interview by an ambitious reporter (Between DUNCAN and LUCAS) IT PROBABLY WASN’T the best idea I’ve ever had . . . to ambush a power player in the middle of a political fundraiser. But Jared Lincoln’s a hard man to get hold of, and I really wanted that interview. Of course, it wasn’t just his political power that made me want to talk to him. I mean, that’s nice, but what really makes Jared an interview worth getting is the fact that he’s also a vampire. That’s right, I said vampire. Yeah, they really do exist. And, no, I don’t think they give a damn whether the rest of us believe in them or not. Real vampires are nothing like the ones in most books. They don’t skulk in the shadows and they don’t look like death warmed over. In fact, they’re not dead at all. No one wants to talk about it— especially not the vamps themselves—but from what I can beg, bribe, or steal from my various sources, vampirism is more like a virus—a super
virus that grants virtual immortality along with a variety of superpowers. I suppose I was lucky that Jared didn’t simply zap me with his vampire superpowers that night, because he sure as hell wasn’t happy when I accosted, er, approached him during the fundraiser. “Jared,” I said cheerfully, addressing him like we were old buddies. “Rumor has it you’ve just been promoted.” He made some excuse to the society matron who’d been fawning all over him—as if she had a chance in hell with a guy who looked like Jared. She was old enough to be his mother, maybe his grandmother. Although, come to think of it and youthful looks aside, I have no idea how old Jared really is. I wondered then if he’d tell me if I asked. I know now that he wouldn’t have. Anyway, having sent the society matron gently on her way, Jared turned and gave me a very unfriendly look. His voice was smooth and mellow . . . and filled with disdain when he said to me, “And you are?” Ooooh, that hurt. Or, it would have, if I’d fallen for it. I’m no Barbara Walters, but I’m not completely unknown in Colorado’s political circles, either. He knew who I was. He was just being a dick. And, okay, yeah, a very attractive dick with a great voice. A dick I wouldn’t have minded getting to know better, if he wasn’t being such a . . . dick.
Huh, maybe I’m carrying the dick thing a little too far. So sue me. “Come on, Jared,” I wheedled. “Why the secrecy? Reliable sources tell me you got the big promotion, the key to the executive washroom, that you’re moving up the food—” I stopped midsentence. Maybe food chain wasn’t the best analogy to use here. He laughed, perfect teeth flashing white against his dark skin, his head thrown back in genuine humor. He looked awfully human in that moment. But it didn’t last. He stopped smiling abruptly and turned the full force of his considerable presence on me, staring down from his much greater height. There was no laughter left there, no smile on his expressive lips. “Let it go,” he said bluntly. “Just tell me if it’s true,” I pushed. “Everyone knows Duncan’s the new vampire honcho in Washington, DC, which means there’s an empty spot in Raphael’s organization. And my sources say you’re about to fill the vacancy.” Jared snorted dismissively. “Tell you what, you tell me the name of your sources, and I’ll answer your questions.” I tsked. “Now, Jared, you know I can’t do that.” He shrugged. “Same goes.” I sighed and looked around, taking a long drink
from my too-warm champagne. “I hate these things,” I muttered, not really intending to be heard. But I forgot about those vampire superpowers. “Now that’s something I can help you with,” he murmured, his deep voice sending shivers of pleasure rippling down my spine. I looked up and found his coffee-colored gaze regarding me intently, his eyes seeming to glow from within, like hot coals banked in a fire. “What . . .” I asked faintly, heart pounding. “What do you have in mind?” His smile was slow and confident, and incredibly sexy. And, no, I still didn’t get the interview. But . . . you know all that stuff you’ve heard about how vampire sex is out of this world fantastic, and how good it feels to have a vamp take your blood? Well, it’s all true. The End
Huff ‘n Puff Interview with Raphael And Cyn Paranormal Haven August 15, 2012 (Between DUNCAN and LUCAS) Transcribed from a digital recorder found in an abandoned automobile on Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu, California, a vehicle that was later identified as belonging to Huff ‘n Puff’s paranormal reporter. The reporter, who shall remain nameless until her whereabouts have been established, has been reported missing, and the police have no leads in the case. HELLO AGAIN, LOYAL readers! Yes, it’s me, your intrepid reporter from Huff ‘n Puff, which, by the way is doing way better, ever since my interviews with the vampire community started showing up on a regular basis. I hate to brag, but,
well, the name Anne Rice has come up a time or two. (Ahem.) Anyway, I’m about to lay another exclusive interview on you. It’s January, as I’m recording this. I’ve just left Cynthia Leighton and her personal vampire lord, Raphael, who agreed once again to speak to me. Interviewing a vampire as powerful as Raphael is always a risk, but fear not, I go willingly into the lion’s den for you, dear readers. Once again, I braved the hectic traffic on Pacific Coast Highway and traveled beneath the dark and mysterious trees leading to Raphael’s Malibu estate. I pulled up to the gate, and . . . the guards were still wearing SWAT black—does anyone listen to my fashion advice? Apparently not. Okay, so, Malibu, vampires, beautiful white mansion by the sea . . . the usual. I parked my car by the front door, and gave the guard my keys (I still have the spare set in my purse, which might have saved my life, but that’s for later.) Anyway, after that, that vampire guard, Juro, the really huge one, met me inside the glass doors. I greeted him warmly, because, you know, we’ve met a few times and we’re like best buds now, but he just stared at me. And, hey, I get it. He’s on the job. He has a rep to maintain. I’m sure if we met, like, in a bar or something, he’d be all, “Hey, itty bitty reporter!
How you doin’, babe!” But we’re both professionals, you know, and I respect that. So, moving on. My friend Juro tells me to follow him, and I figured we’d be going upstairs to Raphael’s office again, but instead, he takes me down this long hallway, and then to this big glass sliding door that goes outside. Outside? In January? I don’t care if it is Malibu, you think it doesn’t get cold here in winter? Well, let me tell you, it fucking does! But do I blow the interview because it’s cold? Hell, no. Didn’t I just say I’m a professional? This is part of the cost of my profession, dear readers. And I want you to know, journalism is a dog-eatdog world, but I’m here for you. Where was I? Oh, right. Okay. So, Juro opens the big glass door and gives me a look. You know, the one that says Get the hell through this door. Or whatever. So, I got the hell through the door and into the cold, wet air of a Malibu night. And the first thing I notice is this thick wall of fog sitting right off the cliff in front of the house. I hate fog. I was on a boat with a guy once in Redondo Beach. We were only in the marina, but still. We were, you know, making out and he wanted me to . . . you know . . . and I didn’t want to . . . you know. But it was really foggy and I didn’t want to walk back to the car by myself, because what if I took a wrong turn and fell into the water or something, so instead I offered to. . . . Uh. Never mind.
Where was I again? I’m kind of rattled tonight, readers, and you’ll soon discover why. But I need to tell you the whole story. So I walk outside (in winter!) and there’s Cyn and Raphael all tucked up with each other on a big double chaise, looking all cozy and comfortable and, most importantly, warm. Fortunately, they’re sitting by one of those outdoor fire pit things, and there’s a good fire going, ‘cuz I’m pretty sure they’re not going to invite me to cuddle. Not that I would. Not after tonight. But that’s for later. So, I sit down and pull out my recorder and my notepad, and I realize I’m going to have to make this quick, because fire, schmire, there isn’t a fire pit in the world that’s gonna keep me warm. If I’d known I was going to be conducting the interview in the Arctic, I would have worn my damn parka! (Ahem.) Anyway, I get started on the interview. “Hey!” I said, trying for cheerful even though I’m wondering why they couldn’t have moved their very attractive asses inside. “Nice seeing you all again.” Cyn was nice. She smiled and kind of waved. But Raphael clearly didn’t appreciate my effort, because he just stared at me the way he does, the way that makes you want to check all your body parts to be sure they’re still there. “Well, let’s get started then,” I said, because I’m no wimp. And because I had checked, and as far as I could tell, all of my body parts were still
there. I started with the easy questions. “Cyn, last time I was here, I asked Raph, er Lord Raphael, what it was like to have you in his life. So, this time, I’d like to ask you the same question. You’ve been together a year now. What’s it like?” “Sheer hell,” Cyn intoned. And I kind of jumped, because I thought, Oh, my God, he’s holding her captive, and she’s, like, trying to break away and she needs my help, and thank God, I kept my keys, and . . . But then she laughed. “He’s a brute, but he’s my brute. I love him to pieces.” Raphael rolled his eyes and sighed, but then he kissed the top of her head, and it was just the sweetest thing. And I thought, Well, darn, he’s just a big puppy. . . . But then he looked at me that way again, and I remembered he was the real deal, the big Kahuna, the lord of all vampire lords, and that maybe he could read my mind, so I quashed all thoughts of puppy dogs. “Raphael, stop it,” Cyn scolded him. “You’re freaking her out.” That was nice of her, but completely unnecessary. I definitely wasn’t freaked out. I don’t do freaked out. I’m a reporter. So, I got on with my reporting. “Lord Raphael, rumor has it Cyn was badly injured on your last trip to Seattle. I have a source
who claims he saw you carrying her off your private jet, and she looked—” Cyn interrupted with a glance in Raphael’s direction. “You reporters,” she said, speaking rapidly. “Do I look seriously injured to you? It was a broken leg. That’s it. And not even a full break, more of a crack. I’m already fully recovered.” I turned to Raphael to see what he had to say, but his eyes were kind of glowing, and I thought, Uh oh. I’d heard vamps were really protective of their mates, so maybe asking him about when Cyn was hurt wasn’t my best decision. I moved on. “Cyn, your friend Sarah got married recently, and now I see you’re wearing a gorgeous ring, too. Are you and Raphael contemplating a walk down the aisle?” “Not unless the aisle you mean is in a fine department store. We’ve done all the mating rituals we’re going to.” “No white dress, no big wedding?” “If I want an elegant dress, I’ll buy one. I don’t need to get married for that. And I’ve never liked big parties.” Okay, then. Not going there. “Lord Raphael,” I said, forging onward. “You recently purchased the last piece of significant oceanfront on the Northern coast. But you’ve been very vague about your plans for it. Care to share?” Raphael looked like he’d rather toss me off the
cliff, but Cyn poked him, so, after giving her a narrow look, he said, “That acreage will remain undeveloped, as it should be. That’s why I bought it. There are too many of you humans cluttering up the landscape, as it is.” Well, geez. That wasn’t very polite, was it, dear readers? But it was nothing compared to. . . . No, wait. You need the whole story. Cyn kind of nudged Raphael when he said that. “What he means,” she started to say, but then Raphael turned his head to stare at her and she laughed instead. “Well, I guess he means exactly what he said.” I was so cold, I could barely feel my fingers at that point, so I went for the big question. It was the one question I thought might be dangerous, but it was the one I’d really come here to ask, so I gathered my courage. “Lord Raphael, I’m hearing all sorts of rumors about a war among the vampires. People are calling me almost every day to ask what I know, because, I’m like an expert in the paranormal community. So, I’m asking you, is there a vampire war coming, and do humans need to be afraid?” Now, I don’t frighten easily. I’ve ventured into the unknown time and again to get the story for my readers, the real stories, the ones no one else will cover. But when I asked that question, the whole world seemed to suck in a breath and hold it.
Nothing moved. The wet breeze off the ocean stopped blowing, the fire in the fire pit froze in place. Even Cyn seemed to stop breathing. But Raphael . . . he smiled. And he’s a gorgeous hunk of male. But that smile was the most terrifying thing I’d ever seen. “If there was a vampire war, human,” he growled. “It would be none of your affair. I suggest you cease prying into matters that are well beyond your ability to understand. You may leave now.” And that fast, the world returned to normal. A foghorn sounded off the coast, the fire was dancing once again, and I was colder than I could remember ever being. And I had to wonder if I’d imagined the whole thing. But I couldn’t get out of there soon enough. It was like my body had its own agenda. Juro appeared at the glass door and I was more than happy to follow him down the hall back to the front door. In fact, I was walking so fast that I passed him up in the hallway, and was already pulling out my extra set of keys by the time I got to my car. I didn’t even wait for the vampire valet guy. I drove as fast as I could back through the gates and under the trees, and once I was on Pacific Coast Highway, I pulled over as soon as I could and recorded all of this for you, dear reader. So, if anything happens to me, remember, my last thoughts were for you. And that’s the end of the recording. There
were no other notes found in the car, and no other recordings to validate the events described. We leave it to you, our readers, to decide for yourself. Did the described events really happen? And where is our missing reporter? The End
A Touch of Lucas for Halloween Paranormal Haven Halloween at the Haven October 2012 (Between LUCAS and ADEN) LUCAS STROLLED along the dirt path between the booths, his head swiveling from side to side as he tried to take in every detail of the human gathering. They called it a Harvest Festival, though most of the patrons were in costume, and the theme was more Halloween than harvest. But whatever they called it, it was intriguing. There were carnival rides with people squealing in delighted terror as they spun around and upside down in ways guaranteed to produce violent vomiting. Especially given the variety and truly horrifying quality of some of the food being consumed. Everything imaginable was being deep fried, including some items that were never meant for the deep fryer. Deep fried butter? He shuddered. And they thought
his diet was gruesome. Reaching the end of the row, he left the food vendors behind, and turned to the line of booths offering things for sale. All of the money raised, he’d been told, would be donated to this year’s causes, which included a new children’s reading corner in the local library, and support for the regional food bank. Having once lived on the streets of Ireland, with no food and little shelter, he thought both of these were worthy causes, so he’d been spending money left and right. Even though he didn’t need and wouldn’t use any of the things he’d bought. It was the principle of the thing. “Lucas!” He turned at the sound of his lieutenant, Nicholas, calling his name. In public like this, he preferred his people use his name, not his title. Not that he stood on ceremony most of the time, anyway. “Nick,” he greeted his closest adviser as several of his security people caught up to him, and he was quickly surrounded by vampire bulk. “Sire,” Nick said in a low voice. “I’d rather you didn’t try to lose your security.” “Is that what I did?” he asked innocently. Nick didn’t bother to answer. They both knew what Lucas had done. “What’s that?” Lucas asked, seeing a long line of human males in front of a brightly decorated
booth. Nick glanced over and rolled his eyes. “It’s a kissing booth, my lord. The women there are selling kisses.” “Really? Are the ladies comely?” Nick laughed. “It’s not supposed to matter. It’s for charity.” Lucas changed direction, heading for the kissing booth, but before he got there, he was waylaid by the honorary mayor of their small town. Lucas signaled his security subtly and they permitted the mayor to step closer. “Mayor Stevens,” he greeted the man, whose sole task as honorary mayor was organizing this festival. He was actually the owner of a very profitable ranch nearby. “You thinking of getting in line?” Stevens asked, jerking his head at the kissing booth. “Not really,” Lucas said thoughtfully. “Though I was wondering . . . where’s the one for the women?” Stevens gave him a puzzled look. “Thought you all had good eyesight, Donlon. Those are women in that booth, and some fine-looking ones, too.” “No, no,” Lucas protested. “I mean, where’s the booth for women who want to get kissed by a handsome man?” Stevens hooted in laughter. “Never seen one of
those. You volunteering?” Lucas gazed down at the shorter human, his head tilted quizzically. He could feel Nick tensing up beside him, heard him draw a breath to speak. “Sire—” Nick started, just as Lucas laughed and said, “Do you think they’d let me?” “I’m sure they’d be thrilled,” a woman’s husky voice answered from behind him. “But you’re not for sale, my lord. Not your lips and not any other body part, either. Lucas spun around. “A cuisle,” he crooned, and pulled his favorite FBI agent in for a hug and a kiss of her very own. “Sorry,” he said, addressing Mayor Stevens over her shoulder, “my lady is very jealous of my affections.” “And your lady has a gun,” Kathryn reminded him. “That is so hot,” he murmured against her ear. He felt her face heat with embarrassed pleasure, and he grinned. “Let’s blow this joint. We can go home and blow—” “Lucas!” He laughed and nodded at Mason, one of his vampire guards, who rushed over to open the back door of a big black Suburban, which had pulled right up to the fairgrounds. Lucas slid into the backseat with Kathryn, then settled back as the vehicle left behind the lights of the festival, and
disappeared into the darkness, leaving behind all those unkissed women. But then, the only woman whose lips he was interested in kissing was sitting right next to him. And he’d be kissing a lot more than her lips before this night was over. The End
The Kissing Booth September 2013 Literary Addiction (Between LUCAS and ADEN) Author’s Note: Nicholas is lieutenant to the vampire lord Lucas, who rules the Plains Territory. This scene takes place after the novella HUNTED, and before ADEN. NICHOLAS GAVE THE blue-haired granny a gentle pat and a not-so-gentle mental push to go on her way. He was convinced he’d kissed every human of the female persuasion in the entire fair, from blue-eyed babies to blue-haired grannies and everything in between. He’d lost count of the number, but whatever it was, he was ready to quit. He dropped the drape over the window and sat down with a sigh. What the fuck had he been thinking? Hell, he didn’t have to guess. He knew. That damn Mason had dared him to work the kissing booth at the city’s winter festival, and being the competitive idiot he was, he’d taken the damn
bet. Nick was sure that Mason had gotten the idea from Lucas, though. The mayor had tried to recruit Lucas last year, but Kathryn had put a stop to that idea. Unfortunately, Nick had no convenient female to step up and save him. Damn. He wasn’t sure his lips would ever recover. “Jesus, Nick,” Mason commented. “That last one had to be eighty if she was a day. Someone’s sweet little grandmother.” Nick gave Mason a poisonous look. “That sweet little grandmother tried to give me tongue!” Mason laughed. “Not my fault. I gotta say, though. While I hate losing a bet, it was worth it.” “My lord,” a female voice gushed, and Nick turned to see the female half of the city’s kissing booth hustle up to him, her admirable chest heaving with enthusiasm. Nick stood, his former exhaustion forgotten. So, he was a shallow son of a bitch. So what? “Felicia, love,” he crooned, stroking the smooth skin of her bare arm. “You were spectacular tonight. The men of our small town are counting their good fortunes.” “My lord,” she breathed, casting her eyes down as a blush heated her cheeks. “You’re too kind.” “Yo, Nick,” Mason’s not at all breathless voice interrupted. “We’ve gotta get going. They’ll be
expecting us.” Nick nodded absently. There was a party at the blood house tonight. Lucas wouldn’t be there. He rarely set foot in blood houses now that he and Kathryn were together. But it was important to show the flag, so, as his lieutenant, Nick would be the one expected to attend. It was an invitationonly event, though, so chances were— “Oh! Are you going to the party at the blood house?” Felicia gushed, and Nick almost laughed out loud at the look of disbelief on Mason’s face. “I am,” Nick said, his voice low and intimate, meant for Felicia alone. “Will I see you there?” “Oh, yes, my lord!” “Excellent. I shall count the minutes,” he murmured, then backed out of the booth, giving her a final wink before the drape closed between them. “I shall count the minutes?” Mason muttered as they strode through the crowds to the SUV they’d parked behind the tents. “You’re just jealous. Besides, she appreciated it.” “She doesn’t have two brain cells to rub together.” “I’m not interested in her brain. Felicia can take one for the team tonight. A warm pint will go a long way toward making up for all those lips I kissed.” The End
Halloween Memories Paranormal Haven Halloween at the Haven—2013 (Between HUNTED and ADEN) CYN STEPPED INTO the private elevator and pushed the up button for the next floor. Actually it was the only other floor, since this elevator only had two stops—Raphael’s office and their private suite on the basement level. The doors opened and she paused in the act of shrugging into her jacket. Raphael was sitting behind his desk, reading, his dark head bent, soft light from the desk lamp caressing the sharp edges of his cheekbones, almost as if he’d been posed that way. He still took her breath away sometimes. He was just so beautiful. The elevator doors whacked her as they tried to close, and Raphael looked up, a brilliant smile crossing his face. That definitely took her breath away. Every damn time. She smiled back, unable to do anything else. “My Cyn,” he crooned, his voice a midnight purr that was uniquely his. “Are we going, then?”
Cyn laughed, hearing the unvoiced question behind his words. They were headed for a fundraiser this evening, which wasn’t something Raphael particularly enjoyed. Usually, she’d have given him a pass. Actually, she’d have liked to give herself a pass, too, but this one was for Jessica’s House, which was a shelter for runaway teens that had been founded by her friend Lucia Shinn. Luci always insisted that Cyn had founded it, too, but the work had all been Luci’s. The only thing Cyn had done was write a check for her share of the seed money. But, whenever Luci had a fundraiser, Cyn was there, and this time, she’d asked Raphael to come with her. She just didn’t feel like missing him tonight. A lot had been going on in the world of Vampire lately, and from what Raphael had told her, it was only going to get worse. She had a feeling things were going to get unpleasantly complicated before the end, and she wanted to take advantage of every relaxed minute they had left together. Raphael stood and came toward her, moving in that graceful, loose-hipped way of his, like a big cat on the prowl. It almost made her re-think her plans to go out. He knew it, too, the bastard. His smile grew. “Yeah, yeah,” she said, fisting her hand in his long-sleeved T-shirt when he got close enough. She
pulled him in and went up on her toes to kiss him. “You’re gorgeous and you know it. Who’s with us tonight?” Raphael put both hands on her hips, drawing her close for a second, longer kiss. Cyn’s breath ran out in a long sigh against his mouth and she leaned against his broad chest. If tonight’s event had been for anyone else, she’d have dragged him back into the elevator and had his clothes off before they hit the basement. “Juro and his brother will be driving us,” Raphael said, answering her question. He circled his arm around her waist and started for the door. “And I’m sure there will be others slipped in among the guests. You know how Juro gets about security.” “An extra gorgeous vampire or two hanging around the party,” she said thoughtfully. “Just think of them as party decorations. They’ll make all the rich ladies feel good about themselves, which means they’ll be more likely to write big checks. This is all good.” Juro met them downstairs near the doubleglass front doors, and Cyn could see his brother already outside, standing by the open driver’s door of the limo, waiting. “Lucia asked me if you were coming with us tonight,” Cyn commented to Juro as they passed the big vampire and went outside, heading down
the stairs to the limo. He didn’t say anything, but his eyes cut in her direction. There was a little bit of warning in that look, but something else, too. Interest. Cyn knew Luci had a thing for Juro, but she was pretty sure Juro had a thing for Luci, too. Unfortunately, they were both being very high school about it all. Cyn rolled her eyes and slid into the backseat. Raphael followed, immediately pulling her close and leaning in to murmur, “Leave him alone. He’ll get to it when he’s ready.” “Luci’ll be an old woman by that time,” she muttered, and Raphael laughed. The trip was as uneventful as any drive on the LA freeways could be, which meant there were only the usual traffic jams. The party was already in full swing when they arrived. Jessica’s House was exactly that—a big, old house in a formerly genteel neighborhood of upper middle-class homes. Most had been remodeled and turned into apartments, so no one had yelled too loudly when Luci and Cyn had bought and renovated one of the houses, turning it into a teen shelter. Parking was always at a premium on the street —worse tonight because of the party—but Juro didn’t worry about rules when it came to Raphael’s security. He double-parked the limo right in front of the house, and they all disembarked. Cyn and Raphael paused for a moment,
admiring . . . well, perhaps not admiring, but certainly noticing the decorations. Luci had clearly given her charges free rein, and they’d gone to town. The very attractive two-story home had been transformed into a classic haunted house, with draped cobwebs, a crone witch, and dim lighting on the raised porch. The perfectly nice lawn had been turned into a rutted graveyard, and several of the graves seemed to be in the process of regurgitating their occupants. And all to the sound of screams and howling ghosts. “No one knows we’re here, yet,” Raphael observed. “We can still go home.” Cyn sighed. Halloween had never been her favorite holiday. She didn’t have the fond memories that so many others had, of trick or treating, and wacky costume parties. The private boarding school where she’d spent most of her youth hadn’t bothered with such things, and by the time Cyn was old enough to make her own decisions, she’d decided costumes weren’t for her. She stepped back as a costumed couple started up the walkway to the porch. Watching them as they disappeared into the house, Cyn figured that while she wasn’t looking forward to the party, things could certainly be worse. At least she and Raphael weren’t dressed like pirates. “As long as we’re here, we might as well go in,” she said reluctantly. “We don’t have to stay
long.” Raphael leaned over and touched his lips to her temple. “Courage, my Cyn.” And she could hear the laughter in his voice. The house was crowded with partygoers, mostly in costume, and Cyn had to laugh at the look on Raphael’s face when a sixtyish man walked by, dressed as Dracula, complete with dripping fangs, a red-lined satin cape, and a suitably buxom blood slave companion. All that Cyn could think was . . . if these people only knew. The scariest guy in the house tonight was standing next to her, wearing a pair of nicely faded 501s, a black T-shirt, and a leather jacket. Of course, costume or not, it was impossible for Raphael not to draw attention, especially female attention. He was well over six foot, with broad shoulders, the face of an angel, and truly black eyes that looked at you and saw clear to your soul. What wasn’t obvious was that he was the most powerful vampire lord in North America, and probably the world. She wondered what the Dracula wannabe would think about that. She knew what his buxom slave thought, because the woman was all but drooling as she sidled closer to Raphael. Cyn stepped between them and looped her arm through Raphael’s, clearly staking her claim. He was hers and she was keeping him.
“Cyn!” Luci’s voice had Cyn turning to see her oldest friend coming down the stairs. Luci looked more like one of her teenaged charges than the responsible adult head of the house. Her straight, black hair hung in a fall down her back, and she was wearing a French maid’s outfit that accented her exotic looks and made her legs seem a mile long. Cyn slid a glance at Juro and saw him staring at Luci with an intensity he usually reserved for enemy vampires. She nudged Raphael in the side and noticed his mouth tightening slightly as he fought a smile. “Hey, Luce,” Cyn said, grinning. “How’s the schmoozing going?” “Cynthia,” she scolded. “Where are your costumes?” “How long have you known me?” she demanded. “Have you ever seen me wear a costume?” “Spoilsport,” Luci muttered as she hit the bottom of the stairs and came over for the requisite exchange of hugs. Luci believed in the power of hugs. Cyn . . . not so much. But she believed in Luci, so they hugged, and then Luci stepped back and nodded a greeting in Raphael’s direction. Raphael nodded back. “Well,” Luci went on, “you look very nice, anyway. Thank you for coming.” “As if we would miss this,” Cyn said quickly,
not quite trusting Raphael’s dry humor and what he might say. He gave her an amused glance, and she knew she’d been right. But then, she also caught Luci tilting her head to see behind Raphael. Cyn snickered. “Juro’s here somewhere. So’s his brother. A smorgasbord of hunky Japanese vamp.” Luci hissed a wordless warning, something she did quite well. Must be all that practice she got with a house full of teenagers. “Is Liz coming?” Cyn asked, dutifully changing the subject. Liz was the completely human sister of a young vampire whom Cyn had rescued recently. Mirabelle had been a held prisoner by Jabril, the vampire lord who’d made her a vampire as a way of controlling her substantial inheritance. Liz had been his prisoner, too, but she’d managed to escape on her own. Mirabelle hadn’t been so lucky. Jabril had turned her on her eighteenth birthday, thus barely skimming the edge of legality. Jabril hadn’t taken kindly to Cyn’s interference in Mirabelle’s life, but then, Cyn hadn’t taken kindly to anything about Jabril. And he’d made the mistake of assuming all women were as useless as the way he treated them. That had been his final mistake, as it turned out. “Liz is here somewhere,” Luci told Cyn. “She’s heading to NYU in January, you know.” “I heard. Mirabelle’s happy for her. She’ll miss her, but she’s happy for her.”
“It’s complicated with them,” Luci said quietly, with a glance at Raphael, as if this was something he didn’t know or understand. It pissed Cyn off. “We all understand that, Luce,” Cyn said, a little defensively. She leaned into Raphael’s side, and he slipped his arm around her, his long fingers resting on her hip. The truth was that Raphael understood the difficult situation with Mirabelle and her sister Elizabeth better than anyone, and he took his responsibilities for the sisters very seriously. It definitely was complicated that Mirabelle was a vampire, and Liz was not. Liz was the younger sister, but in a very few years, no one who saw them would recognize that. Mirabelle would forever look eighteen years old, no matter how long she lived—and she could very well live for hundreds of years, especially if she remained under Raphael’s protection. Liz, on the other hand, would likely marry, have children, grandchildren, grow old, and someday . . . die. The sisters loved each other, but that was a huge divide for them to cross. Cyn was sure it was one of the main reasons why Liz was going to college on the other side of the country. Mirabelle, on the other hand, had to remain in Raphael’s territory, preferably close to Raphael, himself. At least, for now. And, of course, she had to attend a college that made it possible for her to matriculate
at night. It was possible, especially when one had the kind of trust-fund money that Mirabelle did, but it certainly limited one’s choices. Mirabelle wouldn’t be going to NYU, even if she’d wanted to. But what amazed Cyn was that Luci, for all her natural empathy, underestimated Raphael’s ability to feel human emotion. Too many people looked at his public façade and thought that was the total of Raphael. Cold and unfeeling. But Cyn was the woman who lived in his heart, and she knew just how hotly he burned. They’d walked through the house and into the backyard where the main party was. Luci was still with them, and Cyn was about to remind her friend of Raphael’s obvious care for the sisters, when raised voices drew her attention to the other side of the patio. Raphael tensed just enough for Cyn to feel it, although all anyone else would have seen was him leaning casually against the porch support post, with one arm draped loosely around Cyn. But Cyn noticed the difference. She also caught the quick look from Juro to Raphael, asking wordlessly if he should intervene, and the tiny shake of Raphael’s head telling him no. Cyn frowned, wondering why Juro would think —Her thoughts stuttered to a halt when the crowds shifted and she saw the source of the shouting. Mirabelle had arrived, but she wasn’t the one making a fuss. That was the asshole standing in
front of her. Cyn hadn’t heard the beginning of his rant, but she heard the end of it. “. . . telling you, she’s a fucking vampire! Is that what you’re doing here? Feeding our children to that?” the jerk demanded, pointing an accusing finger at Mirabelle, before twisting around and searching the crowd for someone to agree with him. The jerk must have known Mirabelle from somewhere else, maybe school, because there was nothing to distinguish her as a vampire tonight. It wasn’t like she was standing there with fangs dripping and speaking in a Transylvanian accent or anything. Actually, she looked really good. She’d put on about fifteen pounds since Cyn had rescued her from Jabril, and she’d needed the weight. Jabril had kept her on a starvation diet, part of his control over her. But now, she looked healthy and happy, her long hair returned to its natural blond color, courtesy of Cyn’s own stylist. It was nearly impossible for blondes to remain blond when there was no sunlight to be had. A vampire either colored her (or his) hair, or settled for a permanent dull brown. But even more than Mirabelle’s physical appearance, it was her attitude that made Cyn’s heart warm. Gone was the terrified little mouse that Jabril had created. That Mirabelle would have been shrinking in terror from her asshole accuser. This new Mirabelle was beautiful and confident, her
eyes flashing, her smile wide as she politely responded to the jerk’s irrational rant. “Ms. Shinn and the others do no such thing,” Mirabelle said gently, her voice clear in the sudden silence surrounding her. “And, in your heart, you know that, don’t you? As for me, I’m here to support the wonderful work of Jessica’s House, just as we all are.” It all sounded quite straightforward, but Cyn caught the slight reddish gleam behind Mirabelle’s dark, blue eyes, heard the gentle rhythm of her words. In a flash, Cyn realized something. This was a test for Mirabelle. Raphael could have subdued the rude human without moving an inch or muttering a sound. Juro could have done so with a subtle word or two. But Raphael had clearly decided that they would wait and see if Mirabelle could handle it herself. The ability to manipulate humans in situations like this was a skill Mirabelle would need if she hoped to move up in the ranks of Raphael’s vampires. It had to be so subtle that no one, not even the human being manipulated, was aware. The idiot drew back with a sucked-in breath, and Cyn thought Mirabelle had failed, but then he raised his head and offered her his arm, with a murmured apology. Mirabelle looped hers through his. “Did you know my sister was saved by the team here?” she asked conversationally and steered
her accoster deeper into the crowded yard with its cobweb-draped trees. Rude guy covered Mirabelle’s hand with his own and smiled as he said, “Is your sister as beautiful as you are?” The crowd, which had been holding its collective breath—mostly because they didn’t want to miss a word—blew out a sigh of relief, and, with a few mumbled comments, quickly returned to their pre-confrontation conversational hum. “Crisis averted,” Cyn whispered, touching her lips to Raphael’s jaw. “Yay for Mirabelle.” “She’s doing well,” Raphael agreed. “But then, you knew she would. It’s the reason you brought her to me in the first place.” “I brought her to you because she needed someone strong enough to protect her from that asshole Jabril,” Cyn corrected. “But . . . you’re right. The minute she agreed to climb into my truck, I knew she had a backbone.” He was silent a moment, surveying the crowd, then he said, “If I write a check, can we leave now?” “It’s not only about checks, fang boy. I’m partowner. I have to show the flag.” “It’s a very big check.” Cyn laughed despite herself. The truth was, she didn’t think Luci would miss her. Cyn wasn’t any good at schmoozing, and, just passing through the
crowd, they’d been here long enough to be seen by anyone who cared. “Fine. What do you have mind?” Raphael leaned down and whispered what his plans were for her once they got home. And Cyn had to fight the urge to press even closer to him and rub her body all along his. “Right, then,” she said briskly. “Let’s go. We can take the side gate to the street. It’s faster. And don’t worry about the check. I’ll drop it off tomorrow.” And that was how Cyn and Raphael ended up creating a brand new, and quite spectacular, memory for Halloween. The End
Aden and Sidonie’s First Christmas December 2013 (Between ADEN and Vampire Vignette #16) ADEN MANAGED TO wait until the elevator doors closed before rubbing his forehead in a fruitless attempt to relieve some of the stress. Life had been so much simpler before he’d become Lord of the Midwest. Sometimes he wondered what the hell he’d been thinking. The elevator doors opened on his private quarters, and a rare smile crossed his face as he was reminded of the one reason he’d never regret coming to Chicago. He’d never have met Sidonie otherwise, and, although few people knew it, after centuries of bitterness, she’d made his life sweet. She was in the other room now, singing along with Christmas music on the radio. And she’d lit a fire. He could smell the aromatic smoke from the applewood she’d bought just for the holiday. After a slight detour to his private office, he followed the
sound of her voice to their bedroom and found her dancing around a small Christmas tree, hanging ornaments. He paused, leaning against the door jamb and watching her silently. She was graceful and beautiful, and she was his. Sidonie spun around at that moment and saw him standing there. A welcoming smile lit her face. A smile of such warmth and happiness . . . for him. It still surprised him sometimes. But tonight, the surprise was for her. “Aden!” She skipped over to greet him, going up on her toes, her fingers fisted in his jacket, face raised expectantly. He rested a hand against her lower back, fingers splayed as he pressed her closer. He brushed his lips over hers, once, twice, before crushing her mouth against his, wrapping her long, curly hair around his fist and holding her there. She moaned softly and his dick was instantly hard. “Good evening, habibi,” he murmured. “Did you miss me?” “Endlessly.” Her arm brushed against the gift he was hiding behind his back and her eyes lit up. “What’s in the box?” “What box?” Sidonie did a fair imitation of a vampire’s snarl, and he laughed. “It’s a present for you.” She made a playful grab for it, but he pulled it away. “It goes under the tree. Isn’t that how this works?”
“Only if you believe in Santa Claus. Too bad my brothers ruined that for me ages ago. Can I open it?” Aden pretended to consider her request. The truth was, he’d fully intended that she open the gift tonight, since it was something for her to wear two nights from now, when they had dinner with her parents. Aden didn’t give a damn whether her parents liked or approved of him. Sidonie was the only one who mattered. But he knew it was important to her, and he wanted them to know that she was important to him. If anyone hurt his Sidonie, parents or no, they would pay. “I guess you’re right,” he agreed. “Let’s sit over there.” Sidonie gave him an extra-long, lingering kiss, then snagged the elegantly wrapped box and hurried over to sit on the sofa, her face flushed with pleasure. Aden sat next to her, leaning back to watch in bemusement as she stroked the embossed silver foil and caressed the brilliant blue silk ribbon, before finally ripping it all apart and lifting the lid. It was a fair-sized box, big enough to hold a pretty party dress, or a warm jacket. But what Sidonie found was layers and layers of silver and sapphire tissue until finally . . . Her face paled, losing all of its color as she looked up at him in shock. “Open it, habibi.” He could hear her heart
racing as she opened the small velvet box. “Aden,” she whispered reverently, then gazed up at him, her blue eyes full of crystal tears. “But we’re already—” “Mated. But this is for you. For your family, so they’ll know you’re mine.” Sidonie lifted the stunning ring with shaking fingers. She looked up. “Will you . . .” Aden took it from her, then cradled her elegant hand in his huge paw and slid the ring onto her finger. He rubbed his thumb over her knuckle, then raised his eyes to meet hers. “Will you be mine, Sidonie?” Sidonie launched herself into his arms, gripping his neck so tightly, he could feel her heart beating against his chest. “Silly vampire,” she whispered. “I already am.” The End
A Council of War July 2014 (Between VINCENT and DECEPTION) NICK WALKED JUST ahead of Lucas as they moved down the wide corridor of the Chicago hotel. Chicago was Aden’s territory. Lucas and his people had flown in from Minneapolis right after sunset, staying there last night so that Lucas could have some time with his mate Kathryn, who was an FBI agent in the Minneapolis office. Aside from Lucas’s need to spend quality time with his mate, there was the fact that none of them had been too keen on spending their vulnerable daylight hours in another vampire lord’s territory, no matter that Lucas and Aden had been friends for over a century. It was one thing to party with a guy, it was another to trust your life and the lives of your people to his goodwill. The hotel hallway bristled with aggression. Vampires from two separate security teams already filled the corridor, with more emerging from their separate suites to stare with thinly veiled suspicion
at the new arrivals. A pair of double doors opened at the far end of the hall, and Aden’s lieutenant, Bastien, emerged, followed by a stunningly beautiful female vamp. The female was Emelie, Rajmund’s lieutenant. Word was that she was as vicious a fighter as any male, regardless that she looked like she should be walking a runway instead of guarding the back of one of the most powerful vampires in North America. Tension in the hallway drained abruptly as the team’s respective lieutenants headed Nick’s way, with Bastien smiling broadly. He and Nick knew each other well. Yet another result of Lucas and Aden’s longtime friendship. “Nick,” Bastien greeted him warmly. The two of them gripped hands and thumped shoulders in the acceptably macho way of big men. Behind Bastien, Emelie was rolling her eyes. “You’ll forgive me if I don’t slam bodies along with the two of you,” she said dryly. “How are you, Nicholas?” “How about a hug, then, Em?” Nick joked, laughing at the exaggerated look of horror Emelie threw his way. Bastien stiffened to attention with military precision as Lucas caught up with them. “Lord Donlon,” he said with a small bow. “Bastien,” Lucas drawled. “Is your boss
inside?” “He is, my lord.” “And Rajmund?” “Also inside, along with the ladies. This way, if you would.” Nick and Lucas exchanged a look, agreeing without words that it was safe for Lucas to proceed. Not that there’d been much doubt. The three vampire lords were meeting to discuss their mutual defense. They were allies of a sort, at least for now. Such an alliance went against centuries of vampire history, both on this continent and elsewhere. But when times changed, survivors changed with them. And one thing vampires had always been good at was survival. Nick and Lucas followed Bastien and Emelie into the elegant hotel suite. The rest of their team stopped at the entrance, remaining in the testosterone-filled hallway with the other security types while Nick closed the door so the meeting could begin. Turning from the door, Nick scanned the room quickly. Aden stood near a wall of windows, his head bent to listen to something his mate, Sidonie, was saying. Her mass of red curls sparked gold in the lights from the city outside the glass. Continuing his scan, Nick noticed someone moving around in the bedroom on the right, someone both female and human. Nick caught a
flash of blond hair and knew the person was Rajmund’s mate, Sarah. Nick’s gaze shot leftward as Rajmund rose from his seat on an uncomfortable-looking designer sofa to greet Lucas. None of the vampires in this room were small, with the exception of Emelie, and even she was six feet tall, albeit a very slender six feet. But Raj, as Rajmund preferred to be called, was bigger than any of them, well over six feet and probably close to three hundred pounds of pure muscle and meanness. Raj was said to be friends with Raphael’s former lieutenant Duncan, who was now a vampire lord in his own right, with his HQ in the human capital of Washington, DC. But in this room—given the friendship between Lucas and Aden—Raj was the odd man out, and he clearly knew it. “Lucas,” Raj said, his voice a deep rumble that conveyed no emotion at all, his gaze the icy blue of his Polish ancestors. “Raj,” Lucas responded with his usual easy and relaxed demeanor intact. Lucas was a force to be reckoned with on the battlefield, and not someone you wanted to cross, especially when it came to the people he cared about. But as for the rest of it . . . Lucas Donlon enjoyed life too much to get stressed over details. Until he did. And then all bets were off. Lucas nodded at the glass of vodka in Raj’s
hand. “Any decent scotch in this place?” “What would you know about decent scotch?” Aden said, crossing from his spot near the window to grip Lucas’s hand, the two of them bumping shoulders in much the same way Nick and Bastien had earlier. “I’ve had good tutors,” Lucas said cheerfully. “What’s available?” “There’s some forty-year-old Glenfiddich, if that suits,” Aden said, rounding the bar and pulling out a crystal tumbler. “Have a seat.” Lucas nodded, accepting Aden’s invitation for what it was, an attempt to get everyone to settle down and relax, never an easy thing with three vampire lords in the same room. Lucas sat on one of the two big chairs, lounging back as he always did, with Nick taking up station behind him. Aden handed him a glass filled more than halfway with a tawny gold scotch that had a wonderful aroma, or what the scotch snobs would call a nose. Nick wouldn’t be drinking tonight, though, no matter how enticing the nose was. Raj sat back down on the sofa, one arm stretched along the back, the other holding a crystal tumbler of vodka that was frosty with condensation. “So,” Aden said, taking the chair next to Lucas. “So, war is coming.” Raj said what they all
were thinking. Lucas nodded soberly. “Raphael thinks the Europeans will come at him first.” “Makes sense to take out our strongest fighter, if they can manage it,” Aden agreed. “He also thinks they’ll make their move soon,” Lucas added. “He’s sensing a disturbance in the force lately.” “Bet you’re glad I made you watch those movies now,” a woman muttered from the other side of the room, clearly forgetting about vampire hearing and not intending to be heard. Sarah should have known better by now. Raj glanced over at the bar where Sarah was perched on a bar stool next to Sidonie. The two of them were sipping fine champagne and giggling like schoolgirls. Sarah caught Raj’s amused look and gave a little wave of acknowledgment. She was a pretty little thing, short and curvy, with long, blond hair, and an admirable chest. Not that Nick would ever admire said chest. He valued his life too much to risk Raj’s displeasure that way. “So, we three have agreed to back up each other when the war comes,” Aden said, ignoring the amusing interplay between Raj and Sarah. “Duncan has said he’ll help out Anthony. But who helps Raphael?” “I do,” Lucas said quickly. “If he needs it.” “What if they succeed in taking out Raphael?”
Raj asked, voicing something none of them wanted to consider. “They won’t,” Lucas said clearly. “But what if they do?” Raj persisted. The already charged atmosphere of the room soared into the stratosphere as Lucas stood, power rolling off him in waves so hostile that Raj and Aden both leapt to shield their respective mates. This was one of those times when cool and relaxed Lucas disappeared. He wasn’t entirely rational when it came to Raphael, who was his Sire and the closest thing he’d ever had to a father. Although Nick was probably the only vampire in the room who knew that. “If Raphael dies, then we start killing,” Lucas snarled savagely. “And we keep killing until any of those fuckers left alive crawl back to the holes they came from.” With that pronouncement, Lucas spun on his heel and stormed for the door. The meeting was over. “Lucas.” It was Aden who spoke up, their century of friendship overriding Lucas’s rage. Lucas paused, one hand on the door knob as he turned to give Aden a decidedly unfriendly look. “We will all fight to the last man to protect what is ours, and that includes our friends. You know that.” Lucas nodded tightly, then pulled the door
open and strode out into the hallway, with Nick following. The security team fell in without a word. They remained silent in the elevator and through the crowded lobby, showing no regard for the humans who shuffled aside, staring at the fastmoving huddle of big, hard men. Had the humans recognized Lucas for what he was, Nick thought to himself, they’d have been cowering in the corners instead of gawking like tourists. Lucas didn’t say anything until they were in the SUV and heading back for the airport. “Something’s up with Raphael,” Lucas muttered for Nick’s ears only, explaining at least part of his furious reaction upstairs. “I don’t know . . .” “Can you call him?” Nick asked. Lucas shook his head. “Whatever it is, it’s happening right now. He doesn’t need to be distracted by me calling to worry like an old woman.” “Nothing’s going to happen to Raphael, Lucas. Even if he wasn’t the biggest badass on the planet, he has a whole security team full of hugely powerful vamps to back him up.” Lucas forced a grin. “I won’t tell Cyn you forgot about her backing him up.” Nick grinned back. “I didn’t forget. I was afraid to utter her name. She scares the hell out of me.”
Lucas chuckled, but it was a weak effort, quickly replaced by a worried scowl. “The war has already started, Nick. I feel it in my gut.” “Then we’ll fight, and we’ll win,” Nick said, his own gut tightening with worry and determination. “That’s what we do, Lucas. We win, and we survive. Because there’s no other choice.” The End
A Visit to the Haunted House Paranormal Haven Halloween at the Haven October 2014 (Just before VINCENT) Malibu, CA “I CAN’T BELIEVE you didn’t tell me about Juro.” Luci rolled her eyes as she and Cyn inched closer to the entrance of the haunted house set up in the outfield of a baseball diamond in Santa Monica. “Give it a rest, Cyn,” she said. “Raphael’s estate is like a big commune, everyone living belly to belly. Juro and I wanted to keep what we had private for a while.” “But I’m your best friend! You guys would never even have met, if not for me.” “You don’t know that.” Luci smiled as she handed over their tickets to a young woman
dressed as Elvira. “Cool costume,” she told the girl. “Thanks,” the girl said in a voice that was way too peppy for anyone dressed as the Mistress of the Dark. “I used to watch her show with my grandma.” Okay, well, that made Luci feel fucking old. Cyn laughed at the sour look at Luci’s face. “Don’t worry about it,” she told her as they passed through the gate. “Maybe she has a very young grandmother.” Luci snorted. “But speaking of old—” Cyn persisted, “— you absolutely did meet Juro because of me. How many vampires did you know before I started dating Raphael?” Jesus, Cyn was stubborn. It made Luci want to growl. That’s what Juro did when he got pissed. Of course, he also growled when—She quickly shelved that thought before it showed on her face, because Cyn was way too good at noticing stuff like that. “Dating?” she said instead, going for the distraction. “Is that what you and Raphael did?” “Oh, right. Because you and Juro have been doing nothing but taking long walks on the beach.” “As a matter of fact, we had several dates before we took any long walks on the beach.” “Uh huh. Long walks on the beach, in this case, being a euphemism for—” “Oh, look, it’s our turn!” Luci interrupted,
shoving her best friend toward the front door. “Coward,” Cyn muttered. “Snoop,” Luci murmured back. Cyn grinned, then scowled as the front door of the so-called haunted house opened with a noisy creak. “Why are we doing this again? Isn’t real life scary enough?” she complained, holding the door so Luci could enter first. “It’s a fundraiser for Teen Outreach,” she reminded Cyn, walking past her and into the mustysmelling depths of the house, before turning to glare at Cyn. “Hey! Why am I going first?” “This was your idea, babe. If anything jumps out, you’re my shield.” “Oh, for . . . I thought you were a badass chick.” “I am. I’m a living badass chick, and you know why? Because I don’t walk into haunted houses without a shield. I’ll hold your hand, though, if you’d like.” “Please,” Luci said, dragging out the word dismissively. “I hardly need—” Her denial was cut off as a zombie thing jumped out from the walls and she screamed, stepping on Cyn’s toes as she tried to escape. Cyn was laughing so hard, she didn’t even complain. “Good makeup,” Luci muttered. “Yeah,” Cyn snorted. “That’s what scared you.
The good makeup.” “Shut up. You go first now.” “Give me your hand, little girl,” Cyn said, smirking as they turned a corner. “Fuck you. I’m not holding your hand.” Luci shoved Cyn ahead of her. She felt something hard and lifted the front of her friend’s jacket. “Is that a gun?” Cyn twisted, jerking her jacket back in place and shushing Luci. “A little louder, Luce. Not everyone heard you.” “What are you doing with a . . .” She didn’t say the word, just widened her eyes meaningfully. “I always carry a . . .” Cyn forced her eyes comically wide in imitation. “I’m licensed for concealed carry in all fifty states.” “Oh, and I suppose your vampire boyfriend had nothing to do with that.” “Of course he did. And I’m sure Juro would do the same for you, if you asked. Especially now that you’re walking on the beach together.” “Give it a rest,” Luci started, then grabbed Cyn’s arm with a stifled scream as something big and furry scurried across the hallway in front of them. “What the fuck was that?” she swore. “Was that supposed to be here? Did that look like a rat to you?” Cyn flattened her lips in a desperate bid to
keep from laughing. “I don’t think there are any rats that big, Luce,” she choked out. “At least not on this coast.” “Shit.” “We can still bug out, you know,” Cyn said in an irritatingly soothing tone. “We already paid for the tickets, which is all that matters. We don’t really need—” “No way,” Luci insisted. “I told the kids I was doing this, and I’m—” Another scream ripped from her throat when a door flashed open in front of them and a bleeding woman stumbled out, gripping the arm of her wild-eyed and terrified-looking companion. “Go back,” the man urged, as he shoved past them and headed for the entrance. “Something’s fucked up back there.” Luci tried to grab him as he rushed past, but he was around the corner and gone. “Cyn,” she said quietly, squeezing her friend’s hand. “I think that was real.” Cyn nodded somberly. She loosened her fingers gently from Luci’s, then turned and pointed her in the direction of the entrance. “Raphael and Juro are out there somewhere. Find them.” “I’m not leaving you—” “Yes, you are. Something’s weird here, and you’re not a fighter. Find Raphael. Tell him what’s up. He’ll know what to do.”
“Cyn.” “Luce,” Cyn said softly, staring into her eyes. “That woman was bleeding. Real blood. There could be others. I need Raphael.” “You should come with me. We can—” “What if there’s someone else hurt up ahead? Just get Raphael for me, okay?” Luci met her gaze for a moment, then nodded grimly. “Okay. But if something happens to you, I’m going to—” “If something happens to me, Raphael will tear this town apart. So, don’t worry. I won’t let that happen.” Luci gave Cyn’s hand a final squeeze, then she turned and ran for the entrance. CYN WAITED UNTIL she heard the distant sound of the front door opening and closing with that obnoxious screech, before she pulled the Glock from her shoulder rig and started forward. Luci’s reaction to the gun had been weird. You’d think hanging around with Juro would have desensitized her a little by now, but maybe the big guy was one of those who protected the little lady from the realities of the cruel world. She snorted. Luci was hardly a “little lady,” not in that sense anyway. But, she did a lot of work with at-risk teens, which probably explained her aversion to guns.
Cyn heard a scream from up ahead. Male this time; a young guy, she thought. A teenager. And he didn’t sound scared as in “I’m having a great time.” It was more like “Get me the fuck out of this place.” She lifted her gun and pushed forward through a set of artistically tattered curtains, and then froze. “Dude,” she said, more in disgust than fear. She’d spent the last two and a half years in the company of vampires who could kill with a thought. One skinny vampire with a knife barely registered on her stress meter. Of course, the teenaged guy who had a knife pressed against his throat probably didn’t agree. “What the fuck?” Cyn snapped at the vamp holding the knife. “It’s Halloween.” The little creep actually bared his fangs and snarled. Like that was supposed to scare her. “Oh geez, really? Do you know who I am?” The vamp frowned, so puzzled by her reaction, or lack thereof, that he let the knife slip away from the teenager’s throat. Cyn didn’t blink an eye, simply lifted her gun half an inch and fired, spinning the vampire away from the kid and probably breaking every bone in the vamp’s shoulder in the process. The boy screamed at the sound of her gunshot, not seeming to register that the vamp had let go of him. But Cyn grabbed his coat and yanked him out
of reach. “Run,” she ordered, shoving him behind her and back toward the front entrance. The vampire was already climbing to his feet, pissed as hell. “Let the human meat go,” he sneered, barely giving the fleeing teenager a glance. “I’ll take you instead.” Cyn grunted dismissively. “Yeah, I don’t think so. First, because I’ll empty my clip into your chest before you take your first step—” The vampire laughed smugly. “Do you have any idea what I am?” “Yeah, asshole, I know. You’re a vampire. Woohoo. But you know the second reason why you won’t be taking me anywhere?” The vamp’s eyes went wide a moment before Cyn felt a soft movement behind her and heard her favorite two words in the universe. “My Cyn.” Cyn gave the soon-to-be-dusted vampire a shit-eating grin. “Hey, Raphael,” she said without turning. “Look what I found.” “My lord, I—” The vamp’s face turned an interesting shade of purple as he fell to his knees. And oh, yeah, he dropped the knife, too, since both of his hands were occupied scraping at his throat trying to find air. Cyn turned around and met Raphael’s patient stare. “This isn’t on me!” she insisted. “I was just
strolling through this nice haunted house, grilling Luci about Juro—at least when she wasn’t screaming at every damn thing that jumped out at her—when the genius here decided to join the party.” Raphael shook his head, but touched his lips to hers with a smile before his eyes went cold and he turned to regard the struggling vampire before him. “Do you know him?” Cyn asked. “No. He’s not mine. A new arrival probably, though he has so little power that I wouldn’t have taken notice had he lived quietly.” Raphael didn’t so much as blink, but suddenly the vamp crumbled into dust without a sound. “Huh,” Cyn said smugly. “Well. So much for that. The good news is that it’s dusty enough in here that no one will notice a little more.” “And what’s the bad news?” Raphael asked, turning her toward the exit with a hand on her hip, then hustling her ahead of him. Cyn pursed her lips thoughtfully and said, “I bet Juro’s gone all caveman on Luci by now. Which means I’ll have to wait until at least tomorrow to get all the juicy details about what’s going on with them.” “Does that mean we’re finished with the Halloween festivities for tonight?” Raphael asked, dropping an arm over her shoulder as they exited the house and his security people surrounded them.
“Hell, yes. I was only here because Luci insisted.” “In that case, lubimaya, I suggest we go home and create some juicy details of our own.” The End (for now!) (Please continue reading for more information
Please visit these websites for more information about D.B. Reynolds Author’s Webpage Facebook Twitter Please rate/review Vampires in America: The Vignettes – Volume 2 on Amazon.com Experience D. B.’s other titles from ImaJinn Books
The Vampires in America Series Raphael Kindle
Jabril Kindle Rajmund Kindle Sophia Kindle Duncan Kindle Lucas Kindle Aden Kindle Vincent Kindle
The Vampire Wars Deception Kindle Christian Kindle Lucifer
The Cyn & Raphael Novellas Betrayed Kindle Hunted Kindle Unforgiven Kindle Compelled Kindle The Cyn And Raphael Novellas: Betrayed, Hunted, Unforgiven & Compelled Kindle Relentless: A Cyn & Raphael Novella Kindle
The Stone Warriors Damian Kindle
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About the Author D. B. REYNOLDS arrived in sunny Southern California at an early age, having made the trek across the country from the Midwest in a station wagon with her parents, her many siblings, and the family dog. And while she has many (okay, some) fond memories of Midwestern farm life, she quickly discovered that LA was her kind of town and grew up happily sunning on the beaches of the South Bay. D. B. holds graduate degrees in international relations and history from UCLA (go Bruins!) and was headed for a career in academia. But in a moment of clarity, she left behind the politics of the hallowed halls for the better-paying politics of Hollywood, where she worked as a sound editor for several years, receiving two Emmy nominations, an MPSE Golden Reel and multiple MPSE nominations for her work in television sound. Book One of her Vampires in America series, RAPHAEL, launched her career as a writer in 2009, while JABRIL, Vampires in America Book
Two, was awarded the RT Reviewers Choice Award for Best Paranormal Romance (Small Press) in 2010. ADEN, Vampires in America Book Seven, was her first release under the new ImaJinn imprint at BelleBooks. D. B. currently lives in a flammable canyon near the Malibu coast, and when she’s not writing her own books, she can usually be found reading someone else’s. You can visit D. B. at her website DBReynolds.com for information on her latest books, contests, and giveaways.