"Ashley should be on your must-buy list." -- RT Book Reviews "A master of her craft." --Maggie Shayne For beautiful heiress Sheree West, vampires are more than a fantasy. They are an obsession. Night after night, she dresses in black and immerses herself in L.A.'s goth club scene. Searching for a lover who is more than a man. A creature of the dark who lusts for her blood. A legend who lives in the shadows and not just her dreams. Then, one fateful night, she meets him. . . Derek Blackwood is no ordinary vampire. Descended from a bloodline as old as Cleopatra, and blessed with unearthly powers of seduction, he is everything Sheree wished for--and more. When he takes her in his arms, she is powerless. When he kisses her neck, she is his. But when the full moon rises--and passions flare--something is unleashed in Derek that he's never felt before. Something wild. Something dangerous. Something no vampire can control or stop. . .even for the woman he loves. "Amanda Ashley is a master storyteller." --Christine Feehan
Release date: February 4, 2014
Publisher: Zebra Books
Print pages: 352
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Seeking a few minutes of solitude, Derek went out on the balcony of his mother’s home in the Hollywood Hills. Taking a deep breath, he gazed out over the moon-shadowed valley below. He enjoyed being alone from time to time. Enjoyed the peace and quiet, something that was sorely lacking just now.
Derek glanced over his shoulder. His relatives were gathered inside, here to help his parents celebrate their twenty-fifth anniversary. He grinned faintly. He had a family like no other. Of course, they weren’t kin in the usual sense of the word. Roshan and his witch-wife, Brenna, slow danced cheek to cheek in the middle of the kitchen. Their adopted daughter, Cara, sat in the living room, chatting with her husband, Vince, who had been turned by Mara. Cara and Vince’s twin sons, Rafe and Rane, were watching a baseball game in the den, while the twins’ wives, Kathy and Savannah, sat in the kitchen with his mother. Vampires all, born or made.
Watching them, hearing their easy laughter filled him with an aching loneliness, made him wonder, not for the first time, if he would ever find a woman to share his life.
Suddenly restless, he headed for the garage. Sliding behind the wheel of his brand-new convertible, he backed out of the driveway and headed for his favorite hangout.
Driving down the twisting narrow road to the highway, he contemplated his past. Although he had known early on that he was a vampire, he was still coming to terms with who and what he was. As a child, he had been like any other kid, able to run and play outdoors, eat mortal food. Unlike other children, he never got sick; when he was injured, he healed immediately. His only restriction was that he needed to wear sunglasses during the day.
When he reached puberty, his life changed drastically. One day he was a relatively normal teenager; the next he was overpowered by a desperate need for blood. A need that could not be ignored, or satisfied by anything else. He discovered the sun was no longer his friend, though he could endure it for short periods of time if necessary. He could drink anything he pleased, but solid food made him violently ill.
Turning onto the freeway, he put the pedal to the metal.
The night was growing short and he was thirsty.
Sheree Westerbrooke stood in the front of the full-length mirror in her bedroom, admiring her new Goth look. It had taken her days to find just the “right” ensemble, but it had been worth it. If one wanted to fit in, one had to look the part. After all, she couldn’t just waltz into a vampire club looking like a tourist. She needed fake fangs, some black Goth-style clothing, shoes, and jewelry. She had debated dying her shoulder-length dark blond hair black, but decided to buy a long black wig instead. Her own mother wouldn’t recognize her. Neither would her best friend, Shirley, she thought with a grin. Perhaps she’d send her a photo.
Sheree smiled at her reflection, pleased. She had always loved vampires—the ugly ones with pointy ears and hairy hands, like Nosferatu; the suave, handsome ones, like George Hamilton, Gerard Butler, and Frank Langella; the comic ones who spoke with funny accents, like Leslie Nielsen; the scary ones, like Gary Oldham and Christopher Lee. She loved them in comic books and movies, in novels and fantasy magazines.
She had vampire posters on her walls, a collection of vampire figurines, a Lady Dracula costume she wore on Halloween. She had seen every movie and play about the undead she could find, read every book of fiction and nonfiction about them in the local library. She had even tried her hand at writing vampire poetry, which, you should pardon the pun, sucked.
It didn’t matter that Sheree’s parents and friends told her there was no such thing. They insisted that vampires by any other name—Nosferatu, undead, Dracula, vampyr, bloodsucking creatures of the night, whatever—simply didn’t exist except in low-budget horror movies and gothic novels.
But Sheree refused to accept that. People had believed in vampires for thousands of years. Since the beginning of recorded history, every culture and civilization had its own vampire legend. Surely, if vampires were only a myth, any interest in them would have faded away long ago.
Ergo, vampires must exist. There were vampire chat rooms online, vampire nightclubs and hangouts. Out of all those hundreds and thousands of people who were pretending to be vampires, there had to be at least one who was the real deal.
And Sheree was determined to find him—or her—no matter where he or she was hiding.
Being rich, single, and bored, Sheree had decided to visit every vampire hangout between California and New York until she found what she was looking for. Hence, her new look.
Taking a deep breath, Sheree picked up the new Ferragamo black leather bag that held her make-up, cell phone, wallet, and a sharp wooden stake.
She plucked a small bottle of holy water from her dresser, then dropped it into her bag. “Don’t leave home without it,” she said with a grin. A last quick glance in the mirror and she hurried out the door.
Drac’s Dive, located in Hollywood, California, was Sheree’s first stop. She paused inside the entrance, letting her eyes adjust to the dim lighting. At first, it looked like the place was empty, but, gradually, she realized it looked that way because the walls were painted black and everyone in the place—waitresses, bartenders, the band and patrons—was attired in black clothing.
The air reeked of alcohol, perspiration, and incense.
As soon as she took a seat at the bar, three men approached her, all wanting to “get to know her better.” The first was tall and thin, with greasy blond hair, close-set brown eyes, and a long, thin nose. The second was short, with brown hair, blue eyes, and regular features. The third had short black hair and dark brown eyes. And fangs that were obviously fake when he smiled at her.
She declined each invitation. After thirty minutes and several more questionable offers, which she also refused, she left the club. So, she hadn’t found a real vampire at Drac’s Dive, but there were other clubs out there that catered to the Goth crowd. And what better place for a vampire to hang out than in the midst of a bunch of undead wannabes?
After pulling a slip of paper from her pocket, she perused the list of names she had found on the Internet: Blood and Wine; The Black Rose; Nosferatu’s Den; Demon’s Delight.
A check of the addresses showed Nosferatu’s Den was only two blocks away. Maybe she would have better luck there.
Derek sat at the bar, his gaze moving over the crowd, considering and rejecting one patron after another. Many were familiar to him. He had dined on a few. It never failed to amuse him the lengths humans would go to make themselves look like vampires, though he had rarely known a real vampire with skin as pale, or lips as red, as those of the wannabe bloodsuckers in attendance. The men were all dressed like Bela Lugosi: black suits; crisp white shirts; long black capes, some lined in red, some in white. A few even mimicked Lugosi’s accent. The women also wore black—mostly long flowing gowns with plunging necklines that displayed their cleavage, real or enhanced.
He had never understood the human fascination with vampires. His kind were, for the most part, merciless hunters of mankind. Some, like the members of his family, resisted the urge to kill their prey. Knowing how tempting it was to drain mortals dry, to drink their blood, their warmth, and their memories, he admired his family’s determination to take only enough to survive.
He was thinking of changing his hunting ground to Hollywood Boulevard when a bewitching scent tickled his nostrils, drawing his gaze toward the entrance and the slender woman who stood framed in the doorway. Like the others, she wore black, from her hooded cloak to her high-heeled boots. When she lowered her hood, he saw her hair was also black. Dyed, he thought, or perhaps a wig. Her eyes were a deep golden brown beneath thick lashes.
His gaze followed her progress into the club. He noted that she had attracted the attention of several other men, as well.
She sat at the other end of the bar, the slit in her skirt parting to reveal a slender calf clad in black silk.
In spite of the music and the low rumble of conversation, he heard her order a Bloody Mary, which she sipped slowly as she glanced at the club’s occupants. Was she looking for someone in particular, he wondered. Or just looking?
During the next half hour, he watched her reject the advances of one man after another, finally agreeing to dance with a tall, dark-skinned man with an Italian accent.
Derek stared at them through narrowed eyes as they swayed to the music. Seeing her in the arms of another man aroused an unexpected stab of jealousy. It was a new emotion for him and he examined it closely, wondering what had provoked it. He didn’t even know the woman.
Almost before he realized what he was doing, he crossed the floor to cut in on the woman and her partner.
Sheree offered a tentative smile to the man who took her partner’s place on the dance floor, felt a jolt, like an electric shock, sizzle through her as he gathered her into his arms.
Startled, she looked into his eyes—deep gray eyes that seemed to pierce her very soul.
“Good evening, lovely lady,” he murmured. “I hope you don’t mind my cutting in.”
“Uh . . . no. I guess not.”
He smiled, revealing even, white teeth. “Have you a name?”
“Of course,” she replied tartly. “Everyone has a name.”
“Care to share yours with me?”
She stared at him, unable to shake the feeling that it would be dangerous to tell this stranger who she was.
He lifted one brow, his expression amused. “It’s just a name.”
“Names have power.”
“Only if you’re a witch.” He cocked his head to the side. “Are you a witch?”
“I think not.” His gaze moved over her from head to heel. “A dark angel, perhaps.”
Sheree smiled in spite of herself. “No, but you’re getting warmer.”
“Ah. A vampire?”
She batted her eyelashes at him. “Why, however did you guess?”
He laughed softly. “Just a hunch, darlin’. Let me see your fangs.”
“I’m sorry, but I left them home tonight. Can I see yours?”
“Maybe later. Can I buy you a drink?”
Sheree intended to say no but found herself accepting instead. She wasn’t sure if it was because he was without doubt the sexiest man she had ever seen, or if it was his smile, or if it was the way her heart had skipped a beat when he called her darlin’. She grinned inwardly, thinking all of the above.
When the music ended, Derek led her to a table, excused himself to get their drinks. She had asked for a Bloody Mary and he decided to make it two, though his drink of choice was something warmer. And redder.
She was swaying to the music, her eyes closed, when he returned.
For a moment, he found himself staring at her. What was it about this woman, he wondered, that enchanted him so? She was pretty. She smelled good. She had a winning smile and she laughed easily. But it was more than that. What more, he had no idea.
“Here you go,” he said, placing her drink on the table.
She opened her eyes and smiled as he sat across from her.
“A toast?” he suggested, lifting his glass.
“All right.” She lifted hers as well. “What shall we drink to?”
“New beginnings,” she repeated, and touched her glass to his.
Her scent tantalized him, as did the steady beat of her heart, the sight of the pulse throbbing in the hollow of her slender throat. He clenched his hands when his fangs brushed his tongue. Damn. He needed to get away from her, needed to feed now, before he did something reckless.
“Will you be here tomorrow night?” he asked, his voice tight.
“Are you leaving?”
He forced a note of humor into his voice. “It’s feeding time.”
“Oh, of course,” she replied, playing along.
“Tomorrow night.” He had intended to return to his own home in Sacramento sometime tomorrow, but that could wait a few days. Pushing away from the table, he brushed his knuckles across her cheek. “Ten o’clock.”
Before she could answer, he was moving toward the exit.
Sheree stared after him, then shook her head. She was either drunk or seeing things, but she could have sworn she’d seen a faint red glow in his eyes.
Mara sat on the sofa in front of the fireplace, reminiscing about the past. She told herself she wasn’t waiting up for Derek. He was a grown man. He no longer needed her to look out for him, nor would he appreciate it. But she waited anyway.
It was an hour before dawn when he entered the house. He scowled when he saw her.
“Dammit,” he hissed. “I’m a big boy now. I don’t need my mother waiting up for me.”
Mara lifted her head, nostrils flaring, but said nothing.
“I didn’t kill anyone.”
She smiled faintly. “All things considered, I could hardly condemn you if you did.” How could she? She had killed more than her share of mortals in the long centuries of her existence.
Derek dropped into his favorite chair and stretched his legs out in front of him.
“You smell of perfume and alcohol,” she remarked.
“I met a woman. I didn’t feed on her.”
“But you wanted to.”
He didn’t deny it. “Do you mind if I stay here for another few days?”
“Of course not. The others are all going home tomorrow night.”
There had been a time when the DeLongpres and the Cordovas had maintained homes in Oregon, but they had all moved shortly after Derek’s birth. Now, they lived in California, though not all in the same town. Derek made his home in Sacramento. Roshan, Brenna, Vince and Cara had homes in San Jose. Rane and Savannah owned a ranch-style house located on several acres near Auburn, while Rafe and Kathy lived in Red Bluff. Mara owned a home in Northern California, but this house in the Hollywood Hills was her favorite.
“Where’s Logan?” Derek asked.
“He went out for a run.”
Derek nodded. Long ago, Logan had been known as Hektor. Mara had turned him over nine hundred years ago. Derek knew of no other vampires who had lived as long, or possessed such strength and power. His own preternatural abilities were almost as strong, bequeathed to him through his mother’s ancient blood.
Like his stepfather and his mother, Derek could run for miles, faster than the human eye could follow, and never get tired. He would never be sick, never age beyond what he was now. Not a bad life, if you didn’t mind existing on a warm liquid diet. Not that he didn’t enjoy hunting as much as the next vampire, but he remembered all too clearly the taste of mortal food: hamburgers and French fries, chicken and mashed potatoes smothered in gravy, beans and rice, apple pie. Sometimes he thought he would willingly trade fifty years of his existence for a steak, thick and rare.
“Tell me about the girl,” Mara said.
“She’s young, pretty.” He grinned wryly. “She likes vampires.”
“How nice for you.”
“Yeah.” Blowing out a sigh, he gained his feet, then kissed her on the cheek. “I’m going to bed.”
Mara watched him climb the stairs to the second floor. He remained a miracle in her eyes, the child she never should have had. She had never wanted a baby, never intended to keep him. She had never had any experience with children, no idea how to care for one. Yes, she had been certain giving the baby away was the right thing to do.
Until she had held him in her arms. One look at her newborn son and she had known why women throughout the ages were willing to endure the pains of childbirth. One look and her heart had swelled with a rush of love unlike anything she had ever known or imagined. One touch, and she had known why mothers fought like grizzly bears to protect their young, why they were willing to live and die for their children. Why she couldn’t give him away.
She had watched him grow, marveling at each new accomplishment: his first tooth, his first step, his first word. His first day of school.
His first taste of blood.
Mara remembered it well. She had received a phone call from his kindergarten teacher. A little girl had fallen on the playground and cut her arm. The teacher had found Derek comforting the girl, and licking the blood from the wound.
Later, at home, Mara had taken him aside and explained that he must never do that again, that mortals would not understand. He had looked up at her through dark gray eyes—eyes wise beyond their years—and nodded that he understood. For a short time before he reached puberty, he had developed a sudden craving for raw hamburger, or for steaks so rare Logan had opined there was little point in cooking them at all.
She had taken Derek hunting the first time, and wondered, as she watched him stalk his prey, if, indeed, it was his first time. There had been no hesitation when he summoned his prey, no sense of uncertainty as he bent the young woman over his arm and buried his fangs in her throat.
He would have taken it all had she not stopped him. Even now, Mara could clearly recall the way he had glared at her, lips drawn back, fangs dripping blood, eyes blazing red with anger as he surrendered his prey.
Unchecked, untutored, he would have been a savage predator.
She had seen no sign of that brutality in the years since then, but deep in her heart, she feared the danger still existed.
Sheree rolled onto her side and stared out the bedroom window, her thoughts immediately turning to the man she had met last night. She had never known a man who intrigued her as he did, nor one as breathtakingly handsome, or as blatantly sexy.
Almost, he looked too good to be real, as if some benevolent genie had read her mind and conjured a man who was everything she had ever dreamed of. Long dark hair: check. Dusky skin: check. Dark gray eyes: check. Tall and broad shouldered: check. Long muscular arms: check.
She loved the way he looked, with his high cheekbones and eyes that were slightly slanted, the way he moved, as if his feet hardly touched the floor, the way he held her when they danced, the way he looked at her, as if she was the most beguiling woman he had ever met.
Slipping out of bed, she stretched her arms over her head, wishing it was nine at night and she was about to get ready to meet her mysterious stranger instead of nine in the morning on her way to the dentist.
Sheree had arrived at Nosferatu’s Den at nine-thirty that night. She had waited as long as she could, but there was just no way to ignore her eagerness to see him again. She had thought the day would never end. It wouldn’t have been so bad if she’d been able to go to work. At least that would have been a distraction. But she’d been laid off weeks ago. She could have gone job hunting, but none of the ads in the paper appealed to her, and she wasn’t qualified for the ones that did.
Donning a pair of shorts and an old T-shirt, she had plunged into her usual weekend chores: dusting, vacuuming, changing the sheets on the bed. She cleaned the bathroom, did two loads of laundry, and was done by noon. A quick lunch, and the day stretched endlessly before her.
With hours to kill, she had gone shopping for something new to wear that night. Wanting to stand out from the crowd at the Den, she had bought a long silver sheath with a slit up the side her mother would have found scandalous, new underwear—just in case—and a pair of heels.
Back at home, she had showered, shaved her legs, washed her hair, and been ready to go by eight-thirty.
And now it was a quarter after ten, the club was crowded, and he still wasn’t there. Maybe he wasn’t coming. She had just decided to go home when something drew her gaze to the entrance. And he was there, striding toward her, oozing testosterone. He wore black slacks and a black silk shirt, open at the throat.
Warmth spread through her as she watched him draw closer. And then he was close enough to touch, his smile caressing her as he took her hands in his.
“Sorry I’m late.”
She shrugged. He was there now; that was all that mattered.
“You look very pretty this evening, shining like the sun at midnight.”
Cheeks flushing, she murmured, “Thank you.”
“Not playing the vampire tonight?” he mused, gesturing at her gown.
“Not at all. There are enough fake fangs and black wigs in this place already.” He lifted a lock of her golden hair and let it slip through his fingers. “Don’t you know you’re prettier as God made you?”
He guided her to a booth in the back, slid in beside her, his thigh brushing hers, sending little frissons of anticipation rocketing through her. “So, will you tell me your name tonight?”
“If you tell me yours.”
“A lovely name for a lovely lady. So, what are you in the mood for?”
You. She bit back the word, the heat in her cheeks growing warmer as her gaze met his. She breathed a sigh of relief that she hadn’t spoken out loud, that he couldn’t read her mind.
He lifted one brow, a mysterious glint in his eye. “Can’t decide?”
“I don’t know. I always order a Bloody Mary but I think I’d like to try something different tonight.”
“How about a Vampire’s Kiss?”
She stared at him. “A what?”
“A Vampire’s Kiss. It’s a French martini.”
“I don’t believe you.”
She eyed him skeptically. “What’s in it?”
“Finlandia Vodka, Korbel Champagne, Chambord, and a bit of sugar tinted red for the rim of the glass.”
“It’s a black raspberry liqueur. It gives the drink its dark color. For a more realistic look, some bartenders drizzle red syrup or grenadine on the inside edge of the glass so it looks like blood dripping.”
“Have you had it before?”
He nodded. “It’s an elegant drink. Really quite good. Are you game?”
She hesitated. Something in the way he said “game” conjured a quick mental image of a fawn being brought down by a hungry lion.
She realized the waitress had arrived and was waiting for their order. “I think I’ll just have a glass of chardonnay.”
Derek smiled at the waitress. “Make it two.” He leaned back, his arm resting on the top edge of the booth. “Not feeling daring tonight, after all?”
She laughed, suddenly self-conscious without knowing why. “I don’t think I want to drink anything that looks like blood.”
Disliking the silence that fell between them, she said, “What do you do for a living?”
“I play the stock market from time to time.”
“Seems like a risky way to make a living. Especially these days.”
He shrugged. “I do all right. And I can afford to lose.”
Leaning forward, he whispered, “My parents are very rich.”
Lowering her voice, she murmured, “So are mine.”
He wasn’t surprised. Everything about her screamed money, from her shoes to her handbag. “You don’t work, then?”
“I used to. I was laid off three weeks ago. You don’t know anyone who wants to hire someone with absolutely no skills, do you?”
“Why do you need a job?”
“A girl has to do something with her time. The only thing is, I’m not really qualified for anything.”
She shook her head. “I majored in folklore in college. Not exactly in demand these days.”
“I guess not. You should have been taking classes in aerospace engineering and computer programming.”
“Tell me about it.”
Derek smiled at the waitress when she delivered their order.
Sheree noticed the tip he left was more than the cost of their drinks. A good sign, she thought. She had dated a lot of guys who claimed to be wealthy, but expected her to pay for dinner.
Sheree took the glass he offered her. “Last night we drank to new beginnings,” she said. “What shall we drink to tonight?”
His gaze moved over her, blatantly bold. “Getting to know each other better?”
Everything female within her responded to the heated look in his eyes, the sexual i. . .
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