ONE KISS CAN SEAL YOUR FATE. . . Cara DeLongpre wandered into the mysterious Nocturne club looking for a fleeting diversion from her sheltered life. Instead she found a dark, seductive stranger whose touch entices her beyond the safety she's always known and into a heady carnal bliss. . . A year ago, Vincent Cordova believed that vampires existed only in bad movies and bogeyman stories. That was before a chance encounter left him with unimaginable powers, a hellish thirst, and an aching loneliness he's sure will never end. . .until the night he meets Cara DeLongpre. Cara's beauty and bewitching innocence call to his mind, his heart. . .his blood. For Vincent senses the Dark Gift shared by Cara's parents, and the lurking threat from an ancient and powerful foe. And he knows that the only thing more dangerous than the enemy waiting to seek its vengeance is the secret carried by those Cara trusts the most. . .
Release date: June 17, 2013
Publisher: Zebra Books
Print pages: 384
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Cara was homeschooled by Miss Louise Byrne until she turned twelve. On her birthday, Cara’s father informed her that she would be going to public school so that she might associate with other children. Cara wasn’t happy about that, but her father assured her that it was for her own good. She needed to learn how to get along with people her own age. To that end, Miss Byrne was dismissed and Frank Di Giorgio was hired. Mr. Di Giorgio had thick black hair going gray at the temples and gray eyes that, when he was angry, looked as cold as stone. He was built like a wrestler and had a face like a bulldog. It was his job to drive Cara to school and pick her up afterward.
Going to public school had been a trial. After spending the first twelve years of her life with adults, Cara had found it hard to relate to children her own age. It had also emphasized, once again, the differences between her parents and the parents of the other kids. Her mother and father didn’t attend parent-teacher conferences or school plays or any other functions, unless they were held at night.
Until Cara went to school, she had assumed that everybody opened their Christmas presents at night and hunted for Easter eggs after the sun went down. Thanksgiving was a holiday that was never celebrated in her home. Valentine’s Day meant a big candy heart from her daddy.
Cara’s favorite holiday was Halloween. She always dressed up as a witch, and her mother and father always went trick-or-treating with her. Her mom dressed as a witch, too. Her dad didn’t dress up, though he did wear a long black cloak that made the other kids ask if he was supposed to be a vampire.
When Cara turned sixteen, she was allowed to go out with boys, but only if they went out with a group or with another couple. To her chagrin, Mr. Di Giorgio was always nearby and Cara came to understand that he was no longer just her chauffeur, but her bodyguard as well, though she had no idea why she needed a bodyguard. Bodyguards were for presidents and rock stars, not for ordinary people.
She put the question to her mom and dad the night after it occurred to her.
Roshan DeLongpre considered his reply for several moments before he answered his daughter’s question. He wasn’t surprised by it, only amazed that it had taken her so long to ask.
“I’m a wealthy man,” he explained patiently, “and I have many enemies. Frank is there to make sure that no harm comes to you.”
“What kind of enemies?” Cara asked.
She digested that a moment, then asked, “Why don’t I ever see you or Mom during the day? Why don’t we eat together? Where do the two of you go every day, and why can’t I ever go with you?”
Roshan looked at his wife, one brow arched in a silent plea for help. He and Brenna had both known this day would come sooner or later, but how did a man tell his adopted daughter that her father and mother were vampires and, more than that, that her mother was a witch?
Brenna took her daughter’s hand in hers and gave it a squeeze. “Years ago, while traveling in Africa, your father and I contracted a rare disease. The sun is like poison to us now, so we sleep during the day.”
Cara nodded. She knew she was adopted. Her parents had told her that as soon as she was old enough to understand. It explained why she wasn’t affected by the same disease that plagued her mom and dad.
“Maybe we could eat dinner together?” Cara suggested. “Like other families. You know, like the ones on TV.”
Brenna and Roshan exchanged glances.
“Due to our ailment, your father and I are on a rather strict liquid diet,” Brenna said after a moment, “but we’ll be happy to sit at the table with you while you eat, if you like.”
“I’d like that very much,” Cara said, smiling. “At least once in a while.”
“Then that’s what we’ll do,” her father said.
“Are we very rich?” Cara asked.
“Yes,” her father replied soberly. “Very.”
“Do you think I could have a car?”
“When you’re eighteen,” her father said.
Cara sighed. “Lily got a new car for her sixteenth birthday. So did Jennifer. Why can’t I have a car now?”
Brenna looked at her husband, one brow raised as she, too, waited for his answer.
Roshan glanced from his daughter to his wife and back again. “We’ll compromise,” he said. “You can have the car of your choice when you turn seventeen.”
The car she chose was a baby blue convertible with black interior.
Cara was twenty-two years old when she finally discovered why her parents weren’t like everyone else’s.
Cara Aideen DeLongpre sipped her drink, too preoccupied with her own thoughts to pay any attention to the crowd and the noise that surrounded her. She had grown up knowing her mother and father weren’t like other parents. Once she had started going to school, she had discovered a whole new world. Other kids went on vacation with their parents when school was out. They went out to dinner and to the zoo and to Disneyland and Sea World. They had birthday parties at Chuck E. Cheese’s. Other kids had brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, and cousins and grandparents. When Cara asked why she didn’t have brothers or sisters or aunts and uncles, her father had explained that her mother couldn’t have children, and that he and her mother didn’t have any siblings, and that her grandparents had all passed away.
It was a perfectly logical explanation, but it didn’t make her feel any less lonely. It would have been nice to have an older brother, or a sister she could share confidences with.
What wasn’t logical was the fact that, in over twenty years, her parents hadn’t changed at all. She told herself she was being foolish, that she was overreacting, imagining things, but there was no arguing with the proof of her own eyes. They both looked exactly the way they had when Cara was a little girl. Her mother never gained or lost an ounce. Her face was as smooth and clear as it had always been. The same was true of her father. Roshan DeLongpre looked like a man in his mid-thirties, and he had looked that way for as long as Cara could remember. He had taken her to the movies one night last week and they had run into a couple of Cara’s acquaintances. Before she could introduce her father, her friend, Cindy, had taken her aside and asked how long she had been dating that “good-looking older man.”
Cara stared into her drink, wishing she had the nerve to ask her parents why Di Giorgio aged and they didn’t and why their lifestyle was so different from everyone else’s. She knew about their aversion to the sun and their liquid diet, but why did that keep them from other normal activities? Why did they encourage her to make friends but discourage her from bringing them home? Why did they keep the door to their bedroom locked during the day? What were they doing in there?
She looked up as a man sat down beside her. He smiled, then pointed with his chin at her drink. “Can I buy you another?”
“No, thank you.”
He lifted a hand. “Hey, no problem. You just looked a little down. I thought you might like some company.”
He had a nice voice, blond hair, and dark brown eyes. What harm could it do to share a drink with him?
“Are you sure you won’t change your mind?” he coaxed, as if sensing her indecision.
“Well, I would like another.”
“What are you drinking?” he asked, signaling for the bartender.
“A virgin pineapple daiquiri.”
He ordered her drink and a scotch and water for himself, then held out his hand. “I’m Anton.”
“Cara.” She hesitated a moment before taking his hand. Though she had been on her share of dates, she tended to be shy around strangers. She wasn’t sure why—maybe because she had never forgotten her father’s warning that he had “ruthless enemies.” Still, she told herself there was nothing to worry about. Frank was here.
Anton’s grip was firm, his skin warm. “Do you come here often?”
“No, this is my first time. I was just passing by and I heard the music and…” She shrugged. “I thought it might cheer me up.”
“If you tell me what’s got you feeling so blue, I might be able to help.”
“I don’t think so, but thanks for offering.”
Cara glanced out at the dance floor as the lights dimmed. The music, which had been upbeat, changed to something slow and sensual with a dark, sexual undertone. It called to something earthy deep within her.
“Would you like to dance?” Anton asked.
Again, she hesitated a moment before agreeing.
Anton took her by the hand and led her out onto the floor. “So,” he said, taking her in his arms. “Tell me about yourself.”
“What do you want to know?”
“Let’s see. What do you like to do for fun? Do you work, or are you an heiress? Who’s your favorite singer? And, most important of all, are you a chocoholic like every other woman I’ve ever met?”
She laughed. “Guilty on the chocolate,” she said, and then frowned as she realized she had never seen her mother eat or drink anything chocolate. Even the most rigid dieters cheated every now and then.
“Did I say something wrong?” he asked.
“No. I work at the library, and I don’t really have a favorite singer.” She didn’t tell him that she was, in fact, an heiress. After all, he was a stranger and she wasn’t a fool. Not that she had anything to worry about, not with Frank Di Giorgio sitting at the far end of the bar watching her like a hawk.
“You’re a librarian?” Anton exclaimed.
“Is something wrong with that?”
“No, no, but…well, you’re a knockout. I sort of thought you might be a model or an actress.”
Cara smiled, flattered in spite of herself. “Disappointed?”
“Not at all.”
When the music ended, he escorted her back to their seats. Their drinks were waiting for them. Cara sipped hers, thinking how glad she was she had stopped in here tonight. Di Giorgio had tried to dissuade her, but she had insisted. Once inside, she almost hadn’t stayed, it was such a strange place. For one thing, she was the only one in the place who wasn’t wearing black. Voodoo masks and ancient Indian burial masks decorated the walls. Tall black candles flickered in wrought-iron wall sconces, casting eerie shadows over the faces of the patrons; a good number of them wore long black cloaks or capes with hoods.
“So,” Anton said, “what do you think of The Nocturne?”
“I’m not sure. Why is everyone wearing black?”
“This is a Goth hangout.”
“Oh! Silly me, I should have guessed.”
He grinned at her. “I take it you’re not into the Goth scene.”
“Not really,” she replied, and then frowned, thinking that her father would be right at home in a place like this. He had an affinity for dark clothing, and he had a long black cloak. It was more than that, though. From time to time, she had sensed a darkness in her father that she couldn’t explain and didn’t understand.
Cara finished her drink, then looked at her watch, surprised to find it was so late. “I should be going,” she said reluctantly. “My folks will be worried.”
“Don’t tell me you still live at home with mom and dad!”
Cara shrugged. “I like it there.” And she did, although sometimes, especially when the days were long and the nights were short, it was like living alone.
“One more dance?” he coaxed.
“I don’t think so. I really need to go,” she said, and then wondered why she had to be home before midnight. She wasn’t a child anymore. Why did she still have a curfew? Lately, she’d had so many questions about the way she lived. Why did she still live at home? Why did she still need a bodyguard? She was twenty-two years old and no one had ever tried to kidnap her or molest her or so much as give her a dirty look. Of course, Di Giorgio was probably responsible for that. A man would have to be crazy to try anything with the Hulk lurking in the background. Still, maybe it was time to sit her folks down and ask the questions that had been plaguing her more and more in the last few months.
“Thank you for the drink and the dance,” she said, rising.
“Any chance you’ll be here tomorrow night about this time?” he asked.
She canted her head to the side, considering it, and then smiled. “I’d say the odds were good.”
“Great. I’ll see you then.”
Leaning back against the bar, Anton Bouchard watched his enemy’s daughter leave the bar, followed by a big bear of a man who looked as if he could easily take on every other man in the place without breaking a sweat.
Anton grunted softly, thinking how pleased his mother would be when he told her he had put the first part of her plan into operation.
Serafina Bouchard beamed when Anton told her that he had made contact with DeLongpre’s daughter. Serafina had waited over twenty years to avenge herself on DeLongpre and now the time was at hand, so close she could taste it. She wasn’t powerful enough to destroy the vampire or his witch wife, but destroying their daughter would hurt them far worse than any physical pain she could inflict, and they deserved to be destroyed. They had killed Anthony Loken, the only man she had ever loved, and Myra had been killed that same night. Serafina didn’t know how Myra had died, or who had killed her, but she was certain that, one way or another, Roshan DeLongpre had been responsible for her death.
Serafina smiled. She wasn’t sorry that Myra was gone. She had always been jealous of Myra, jealous of her power, jealous of her association with Anthony. With Myra’s death, the Wiccan Way Coffee Shop and Book Store had closed and the coven had been without a leader, but not for long. When no one else seemed inclined to take over, Serafina had stepped in and taken charge. She had opened a new bookstore on the other side of town and offered it to the coven for a place to meet. Now, twenty years later, she was the undisputed head of the coven and The Wiccan Heart was thriving. When Anton grew old enough to work, she had made him her partner in the bookstore.
Later that night, alone in her room, Serafina spoke to her beloved’s photo. “Soon, Anthony, soon your death will be avenged and you’ll be able to rest in peace.”
She pressed his picture to her breast. She had fallen in love with Anthony Loken the first moment she had seen him, so tall and blond, like one of Satan’s angels. She would never forget the day Myra had introduced her to Anthony. He had smiled at Serafina, and she had known that he loved her in return. One night, during a spring ritual shortly before his death, she had offered herself to him. Anton was the result.
Anthony had never known of her love for him or about the child she had conceived. By the time she knew she was pregnant, he was gone. She had raised her son alone, teaching him everything she knew about Magick and witchcraft, whispering to him late at night that he would be the instrument that would bring down the people responsible for his father’s death. And always, in the back of her mind, she clung to the sure knowledge that Anthony had loved her, assured herself every day that if he had lived, he would have married her and claimed Anton as his son. She believed it with every fiber of her being, her surety growing more unshakeable with every passing year, until she had convinced herself that Anthony had not only loved her, but married her before he died. If DeLongpre and his witch wife hadn’t destroyed her beloved, Anthony would have been hers for all eternity.
Even though her beloved was gone, Serafina refused to let him go. His clothing filled her closet. His books and journals were in a trunk in her basement. Each Beltane, she made a list of seven reasons why she loved Anthony Loken. When her list was complete, she drew a circle of power on the floor of her bedroom. She sat on one side of the circle and on the other she placed a life-sized rag doll that she had dressed in Anthony’s clothes. Sitting in the circle, she read her list. The reasons were different each year. When she finished reading her list, she took her make-believe Anthony’s hand in hers and said, “I will love you forever because you’re you.”
She kissed his image, then placed the photograph on her dresser. Soon his death would be avenged and when the deed was done, she would join him in the After World where they would finally be together forever.
With that thought in mind, Serafina crawled into bed, one of Anthony’s handkerchiefs clutched to her breast.
She would dream of him again tonight.
Roshan DeLongpre looked up as his daughter entered the room. She was a lovely child, he thought, though at twenty-two, he supposed she was no longer a child. Still, she would always be his little girl. Her hair, the color of ripe wheat, fell to her waist in soft waves. Her eyes were as blue as sapphires, her skin smooth and unblemished. How had she grown up so fast? It seemed like only yesterday that Brenna had found Cara’s mother in an alley giving birth. Roshan had spread his cloak beneath the girl; Brenna had helped bring the child into the world.
He remembered that night clearly, especially the look of wonder in Brenna’s eyes as she wrapped the tiny, newborn infant in her cloak.
“You have a beautiful little girl,” Brenna had said.
“Take her,” the mother said. “I don’t want her. I don’t want to see her.”
Brenna had looked up at him, her arms tightening around the infant.
He shook his head. “Don’t even think about it.”
“But she does not want it.”
“Brenna, what would we do with a baby?”
“No. It won’t work. There’s no way…”
The mother glanced at Brenna. “If you don’t take her, I’m just going to dump her in a trash can somewhere. I can’t take her home with me.”
“Surely the baby’s father…”
“I don’t know who he is.” The teenager was pulling on her discarded jeans as she spoke. Taking a deep breath, she stood up, one hand braced against the wall behind her.
“What are you doing?” Brenna asked.
“I’m leaving.” A sob rose in the girl’s throat. “Do whatever you want with the baby.”
How quickly that baby had grown, Roshan thought again. It was hard to believe he had not wanted her. Now, he couldn’t imagine their life without her. She was vibrant and alive and he loved her more than his own life.
“Did you have a good time tonight?” he asked as she sat down on the sofa beside him.
“Where did you go?”
“I went for a drive and then I stopped at a nightclub. It was a strange place.”
Warning bells went off in Roshan’s mind. “Strange?”
She nodded. “Everyone was dressed in black, like something out of an old horror movie, if you know what I mean. I met a guy there. He seemed nice.”
“What was the name of this place?” Roshan asked.
“The Nocturne. It was like Halloween inside, you know? Lots of people wearing black. The valet wore a black suit and a hooded cloak. And then, to get into the club, you have to walk under this black canopy, and then down some stairs. Talk about a creepy atmosphere! The door was carved with all these mystical signs. It was awesome. I’ll have to take you and Mom there sometime.”
Roshan nodded. It was all he could do not to demand that she never go there again. The Nocturne! There was no telling what kind of man she had met in that place. It was a hangout for vampires and other creatures of the night. Of course, he rarely let any other vampire remain in his town too long. Like all of his kind, he was a territorial creature, not disposed to sharing his domain or his food source.
“Where’s Mom?” Cara asked.
Roshan smiled inwardly. His wife was outside, dancing under the stars. She did that from time to time. He enjoyed nothing more than watching her, but tonight she had wanted to be alone.
“Why don’t you go up to bed,” he suggested. “I’ll find her and send her up to you. I know she’ll want to hear about your evening.”
“All right.” Cara kissed him on the cheek and then, humming softly, she went upstairs.
Roshan stared after her a moment and then, muttering, “I’ve got a bad feeling about this,” he went out the back door.
A wide path lined with night-blooming flowers wove its way through the yard. Wrought-iron benches were placed here and there along the way. A small white headstone occupied a small bower, marking the final resting place of Brenna’s cat, Morgana. He had expected Brenna to find another cat to take Morgana’s place, but when he had asked her about it, she had simply said that Morgana couldn’t be replaced, and that had been the end of it. Of course, they’d had their share of pets once Cara got old enough to want one. Dogs and cats, birds and turtles, mice and fish had all come and, thankfully, gone.
Roshan found his wife in the middle of the yard in the midst of a circle of tall trees. He paused in the shadows, watching her dance. It reminded him of the first night he had seen her. She had been dancing in the nude then, too. It was one of his favorite memories, burned forever in his mind.
Tonight, her fiery red hair shimmered like flame in the silvery light of the full moon. Her deep green eyes were flecked with gold and sparkled with delight as she twirled in the moonlight, her only covering the waist-length hair that fell down her back and over her shoulders like veils of crimson silk as she dipped and swayed to music only she could hear. A necklace of amber and jet circled her slender throat. She was the most beautiful creature he had ever seen.
After a moment, she stopped dancing, a seductive smile playing over her lips as she turned to face him.
“Come,” she beckoned, holding out one slender hand. “Dance with me.”
“Another time,” he said, stepping out of the shadows. “Our daughter is home and asking for you.”
“Oh.” Moving toward a stone bench, Brenna pulled a velvet gown the color of the midnight sky over her head and smoothed it over her hips in a sensual, feminine gesture. “Is she all right?”
Roshan nodded. They had ever been overprotective parents, but perhaps that was to be expected. Cara was their only child, the only one they would ever have. “She’s fine. She met a man.”
“At The Nocturne.”
Brenna stared at him in disbelief. “The Nocturne! What on earth was she doing there?”
“I have no idea.”
“Roshan, you have to talk to her. Tell her she mustn’t go there again. The Nocturne!” Brenna pressed a hand to her heart. The Nocturne. Merciful heavens!
“Go on up and tell her good night,” he said, kissing her on the cheek. “I’m going out to talk to Di Giorgio.”
The bodyguard lived in a small house in the rear of the property. He was a solitary man, seemingly content with his own thoughts and his own company. Roshan knew Frank Di Giorgio had been connected to one of the crime families in Italy when he was a young man, but that had been a long time ago.
At Roshan’s knock, Di Giorgio opened the door, gun in hand.
Grunting softly, Di Giorgio shoved the gun into the waistband of a pair of expensive looking trousers, then invited his boss inside.
The bodyguard’s report was brief. Cara had been sitting at the bar in The Nocturne when a young man approached her. He had bought Cara a drink. They had talked and danced one dance. The man seemed harmless enough. He hadn’t said or done anything out of line.
Roshan listened carefully, some of his worry ebbing as he listened to what Di Giorgio had to say. Bidding the man good night, Roshan returned to the house.
Brenna was waiting for him in the living room. She had turned the lights down low and started a fire in the hearth. Smiling, she patted the seat beside her.
Sitting down, he draped his arm around her shoulders.
Brenna sighed. This was her favorite time of the night. Cara was home and safely tucked into bed and all was right with the world.
A wave of her hand turned on the TV. She surfed through the channels until she found a movie she liked, then settled back once again, her head resting on her husband’s shoulder.
Roshan stared into the flames as scenes from the past paraded across his mind. He had fallen in love with Brenna Flanagan when he happened across her image in a book titled Ancient History and Myths, Fact or Fiction. It had been a small pen-and-ink drawing depicting a woman bound to a wooden stake, surrounded by a mob of angry men waving torches over their heads. The caption under the drawing had read: The Burning of Brenna Flanagan, Accused of Witchcraft.
He had become obsessed with that drawing, so much so that he had traveled back in time to the year 1692 where he had saved her from a fiery death. He had brought her back to his time, helped her learn her way around his world. She had blossomed here, free to practice her witchcraft if she wished to do so. While exploring the city, she had come across the Wiccan Way Coffee Shop and Book Store. It had been there that she met Anthony Loken, an evil warlock who had been obsessed with discovering the secret of immortality. Convinced that the blood of vampires held the secret of eternal life, Loken had frequented The Nocturne in search of vampires, luring them to his laboratory where he took their blood and their lives. Due to Myra’s treachery, Roshan had found himself strapped to a table in that lab, bound with heavy silver chains that had burned his flesh and weakened his powers. Only his concern for Brenna, who had also been Loken’s prisoner, had given Roshan the strength he needed to free himself. In the end, Roshan had forced Loken to drink his own potion. The warlock had died a horrible, excruciatingly painful death.
Feeling suddenly restless, Roshan went to stand in front of the hearth.
“What’s wrong?” Brenna asked, switching off the TV.
“I don’t know.”
Rising, she went to stand behind him; her arms slipping around his waist. “Is it Cara? Is there something you’re not telling me?”
“No.” He shook his head. “It’s probably nothing.”
“If it was nothing, you wouldn’t be so worried.”
Turning in her arms, he brushed a kiss across her cheek. “I’m going out for a while.”
“Where are you going?”
“Just out for a walk. I won’t be long.”
Grabbing his cloak, Roshan left the house. Standing in the shadows, he let his preternatural powers probe the night. Although he sensed nothing amiss, he couldn’t shake the feeling that danger lurked nearby.
Anton Loken Bouchard stood across the street from DeLongpre’s house. Hidden by the darkness, he watched the vampire walk down the long driveway and stop at the gate in the high fence that surrounded the property. Hatred rose up within Anton as he stared at the creature who had killed the father he had never known. Ever since Anton had been old enough to understand, his mother had told him stories of his father. Anthony Loken had been a great man, a wizard without equal. He had been on the verge of a. . .
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