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Hailed as “a master of her craft” (Maggie Shayne), one of the most trusted and innovative voices in paranormal romance, New York Times bestselling author Amanda Ashley, brings readers a sensually charged, witty and romantic novel about an ancient vampire searching for his perfect soulmate.
Giovanni Lanzoni may just be the world’s oldest male virgin. Or at least, the oldest male virgin vampire. Giovanni has clung to the vows he made a thousand years ago as a mortal priest—yet he is no longer either of those things. Others of his kind have settled down since claiming immortality, finding love, even raising children. Sensing his loneliness, Mara, Queen of the Vampires, eagerly sets out to find Giovanni the perfect mate. But only one woman, met by chance on a dark night, truly tempts him . . .
Cassie Douglas has never met a man she trusts as much as Giovanni. Yet the shocking truth he reveals makes her question their deep connection. There are other urgent obstacles too. Giovanni’s sire, an ancient, dangerously powerful vampire, is awakening after centuries of slumber, with vengeance on his mind. And in the battle unfolding around them, everything is at risk—their lives, their loved ones, and a passionate eternity together . . .
Release date: August 24, 2021
Publisher: Zebra Books
Print pages: 400
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She shook her head. “You won’t believe this, but I’m picking up some sort of weird vibe from Father Lanzoni.”
“The old priest? What kind of vibe?”
“Like he’s . . . lonely.”
Logan sat up. “Wait a minute? How the devil can you know that?”
“I have no idea. We’ve never exchanged blood. . . .” Her voice trailed off and she frowned. “Wait a minute. I think maybe we did, a few hundred years ago.” She shook her head. “Assuming I did, why would I suddenly be able to read his thoughts now, after such a long time?”
“Beats the hell out of me.” Logan grabbed her forearm as she passed by the bed, pulled her down on the mattress, and tucked her beneath him. He had known her for centuries, but he never tired of looking at her. Hair as black as ink tumbled over her shoulders. “Think about me instead.”
She looked up at him through sultry, emerald-green eyes. “I’m always thinking of you.”
“Good.” His hand stroked up and down her back.
In a move too quick even for him to follow, she rolled over, carrying him with her, until she was on top. “Later,” she said, nipping his earlobe. “I need to call Giovanni.”
“Don’t you think if he wanted help, he would call you?”
She scowled at him, then sighed. “You’re right. I need to think of a reason to get in touch with him.”
“I don’t know what it would be,” he muttered. “Everybody in the family is already married.”
“You’re not helping.”
“Mara, the man is more than old enough to take care of himself.”
“You’re right, but he’s not just lonely. He’s alone.”
Logan grunted softly. He knew what that was like. He and Mara had been lovers centuries ago. When she dumped him, he had wandered the earth, feeling lost and lonely for what had seemed like an eternity, until he ran into her again hundreds of years later.
“I think we need to find him a woman.”
“A woman! Mara, he’s a priest!”
She made a face at him. “He’s a man first. And a man needs a woman. Even if he is a priest.” She batted his hands away when he tried to caress her. “Stop that! I need to think.”
“Making love will relax you and help clear your mind,” he said, leering at her.
She glared at him. “Do you ever think of anything else?”
“Not when you’re this close.”
With a sigh, she stretched out on top of him. It was impossible to ignore Logan when he was looking at her like that, his black eyes hot and heavy-lidded with desire. She had known countless men in the course of her long existence, but she had loved none of them the way she loved this man. As a mortal, he had been arrogant, self-confident, and strong, characteristics that had served him well as a vampire.
“Hektor.” She threaded her fingers through his long, dark hair, then claimed his lips with hers.
Logan smiled. Hektor was the name he had worn centuries ago when they met. Rolling her onto her back, he buried himself deep within her sweetness.
The good Father’s problem would have to wait one more day.
Finding a companion for her old friend was still on Mara’s mind when she woke late the next afternoon. Pulling on a red velvet robe, she kissed her sleeping husband, then went downstairs. One of the perks of being an ancient vampire was the ability to endure the sun’s light.
Standing on the balcony of her Hollywood mansion, she gazed into the distance.
The first thing she needed to do was find a woman suitable for Lanzoni. No easy task, she mused, since she had no female friends other than those she considered family. And they were all married.
An ad on the Internet, she decided with a grin. Wanted, unmarried female, 25-30, preferably a virgin. Must be willing to sleep days. Object: matrimony.
She could always kidnap some lovely young thing as a last resort.
But before she went that far, maybe she’d get in touch with a few family members and see if they had any ideas.
Savannah frowned at her husband. “I can’t believe Mara wants our help in finding a woman for Father Lanzoni.”
“I wouldn’t put anything past her,” Rane Cordova muttered. “But if she thinks he needs a woman, she’ll find him one, whether he wants her to or not. You can bet on that. Pimping for a priest.” He threw back his head and laughed. “Now I’ve heard everything!”
Edna Mae hurried toward Pearl’s house, which was located across a narrow swath of grass, only to find her longtime best friend hurrying toward her.
“Did you hear the news?” they said in unison, then broke out laughing.
“I take it you got a phone call from Mara about Father Lanzoni,” Edna Mae said.
“Yes, dear! Can you imagine, trying to find a woman for a priest! What is Mara thinking?”
Edna Mae shook her head. “I’m sure I have no idea. She does realize we’re in New Mexico, doesn’t she?”
“Of course, she does. But when has a little inconvenience ever bothered her?” Pearl laughed again. “I can’t wait to tell Monroe! See you later, dear.”
Kathy looked askance at her husband as he set his cell phone aside. “What did Mara want? We haven’t heard from her in ages.”
Rafe Cordova shook his head. “You won’t believe this. She thinks our priest is lonely and needs a mate.”
“Well, every man needs a woman,” Kathy said with a grin.
“I can’t argue with that,” he said, pulling her into his arms. “But the man’s a priest. He’s been celibate for centuries. I don’t know what makes her think he’s looking for female companionship after all this time.”
“If you’d been celibate for hundreds of years, you’d be looking, too.”
“You got that right!”
She cuffed him on the shoulder, then kissed him. “I’m glad you didn’t wait centuries.”
“Me, too, darlin’. I hope Lanzoni really wants a woman, ’cause I’ve never known Mara to fail once she puts her mind to something.”
Abbey Marie looked at her husband and laughed. “You’ve got to be kidding.”
Nick shook his head. “She sounded dead serious to me—you’ll forgive the pun.”
“But a woman? For Father Lanzoni? He’s a priest!”
“He made those vows hundreds of years ago when he was mortal. I don’t think anyone will hold it against him if he breaks them now.”
“I guess not. But surely, he doesn’t need any help. I mean, he’s a great guy. And not bad-looking, either.”
“Well, it’s Mara’s problem.”
“Not really, Mr. Nick Desanto,” she exclaimed, arms akimbo. “You said Mara expects the family to help her find—how did she put it?—‘the perfect woman.’”
“Well, she’s out of luck,” Nick said, pulling Abbey into his lap. “Because I’ve already found her.”
“Your mother called while you were out,” Sheree informed her husband. “You won’t believe what she wanted to talk about.”
Derek Blackwood grunted softly. “When dealing with my mother, nothing would surprise me. What did she want?”
“She asked for our assistance.”
Taking his wife in his arms, he kissed her, long and slow and deep, before asking, “What does my mother, the infamous Queen of the Vampires, want from us that she can’t get for herself?”
“A wife for Father Lanzoni,” Sheree said, stifling a grin. “She’s calling everyone in the family for help.”
Derek stared at her, then threw back his head and laughed. “Heaven help the poor man. He’s as good as married!”
Giovanni frowned when he checked his phone and saw Mara’s name. He hadn’t heard from her in a couple of years, he thought as he answered and said hello.
“Giovanni, how are you?”
“Same as always,” he replied. “Is something wrong?”
“You tell me.”
“Everything’s fine here. So, to what do I owe the honor of this call?”
“I’ve been thinking about you quite a lot lately.”
“Oh?” He didn’t like the sound of that at all.
“Well, that’s not entirely true,” she said. “I sensed some of your thoughts a few days ago and . . .”
“You what?” he exclaimed. How the hell was that possible? And why now?
“You heard me.”
“What thoughts?” he asked, wondering what she was talking about. And then he knew.
“We just want to help.”
“We?” he exclaimed, wondering how many people she had discussed this with. “Who is we?”
“Just the family.”
Giovanni groaned as he imagined the whole family laughing at him, making jokes about the poor old priest looking for a woman.
“No one’s laughing,” Mara said quietly.
Time to start blocking my thoughts, he decided. Or, more likely, past time.
“To start things off, I put an ad on the Internet,” Mara said.
He groaned softly. “You didn’t. Tell me you didn’t.”
“I already got an inquiry. You’re to meet Adella tonight at ten at Club Raven.”
“Have you lost your mind? I’m not going to go meet some strange woman in a nightclub.”
“What are you afraid of? You’re a vampire, not some puny mortal who can’t defend himself.”
“I’m not afraid,” he said, which was a blatant lie. Not that he was scared of being attacked. Hardly. But he was desperately afraid of making a fool of himself. He had never had a date in his life, and he was far too old to start now.
“We’ll make it a double date,” Mara said cheerfully. “Logan and I will meet you there.”
“Ten o’clock, Giovanni. Don’t be late.”
Shoulders slumped in defeat, he tossed his cell phone on the sofa, then leaned back in his chair.
Adella. What was she like? Tall or short? Pretty or plain? He shook his head. Probably some lonely female as pathetic as he was. Who else would answer an ad on the Internet and agree to meet a complete stranger in a bar at ten o’clock at night?
In spite of his trepidation about meeting the woman, Giovanni arrived at Club Raven promptly at ten. He found Mara and Logan seated at a table near the door. They were alone.
Relief washed through him. Stood up, he thought. Thank the Lord.
He slid into the seat across from Mara’s. “From now on, stay out of my love life,” he growled. “If I want a woman, I’ll find my own.”
“I have the whole family looking,” she said with an airy wave of her hand.
“Did you hear what I said?”
“Of course. You’re tired of being alone.”
And likely to stay that way, he thought, scowling, as the minutes ticked by.
At ten-thirty, he stood. “Looks like she’s not coming. Let’s not do this again.” Head high, he left the club.
Mara stared after him, her expression pensive. “I guess I’ll just have to keep trying.”
“You heard the man,” Logan said. “Leave him alone.”
“Have you ever known me to quit?”
“First time for everything, love. Come on, let’s go home,” he said with a wink. “I’ve got an itch that only you can scratch.”
Giovanni strolled down the street, his hands shoved in his pockets. If he was honest with himself, he was both disappointed and relieved that his date hadn’t shown up. It might have been nice to spend an evening with a woman. Any woman. Then again, he would likely have made a complete fool of himself.
He’d never been good at small talk, wasn’t really up-to-date on the latest movies or music.
The whole idea of finding a significant other had been ridiculous. He didn’t know anything about the female of the species—at least not the human ones. He’d had little contact with humanity since becoming a vampire. Like most male vampires, he preferred to feed on the opposite sex, but mesmerizing a female so he could satisfy his thirst was hardly the same as engaging in flirtation. Or anything more intimate.
It had been a bad idea from the start, and when he saw Mara again, he’d tell he so, he thought. And then he scowled into the darkness. Mara had said the whole family was involved in finding him a date. Maybe he should just make himself scarce for a while. The more he thought about it, the better it sounded. He had gone this long without a woman. Why look for one now?
Maybe he should go to ground for a decade or two.
Maybe by then Mara would forget about him.
“What about Angelica?” Mara asked, propping another pillow behind her head.
“That vampire medium you introduced me to a few months ago? That Angelica?” Logan asked, frowning.
“Why not? She’s pretty and smart and single.”
“I don’t know.” He shook his head. “Maybe you should start with someone a little more . . . you know.”
“More what? I think she’s perfect. She’s been a vampire for a good long time, so she knows the ropes. She’s independent and very feminine. I’m going to call her.”
“You want to set me up with a fortune-telling vampire witch?” Giovanni exclaimed. “Are you serious? What could we possibly have in common? I’m a priest and she’s a . . . a . . . charlatan.” He stared at Mara, thinking he never should have accepted her invitation to meet for drinks.
“I happen to know she’s the real thing,” Mara said with asperity. “Not every medium is a fake.”
“Did you tell her about me?”
Mara picked up her wineglass, took a sip, and grinned at him over the rim. “She said she would love to meet you.”
He was about to tell her he wasn’t interested in the least, but he couldn’t help asking, “What’s she like?”
“That’s not what I meant.”
“Of course, it is.” She slid a piece of paper across the table. “Here’s her name and phone number. She’s expecting your call.”
Giovanni shook his head. “Forget it. I’m not interested.”
“Don’t you dare wimp out on me now! You’re going to call her and ask her out. I went to a lot of trouble to set this up! She’s a good friend of mine, so you be nice.”
“I didn’t know you had any friends,” he muttered.
“One or two,” she said dryly. “I met Angelica a long time ago in a Gypsy camp. She told my fortune. Everything she predicted has come true, which is how I know she’s the genuine article.”
Giovanni picked up the paper, folded it in half, and slid it into his shirt pocket. “I’ll think about it.”
Mara smiled at him, a knowing look in her eye. And then she was gone.
Angelica drummed her fingers on the arm of her chair, her brow furrowed as she pondered Mara’s request that she go out with Father Lanzoni. A priest!
She laughed softly, genuinely amused. In her day, the clergy had burned witches at the stake. They hadn’t dated them.
Still, it was an incredibly intriguing idea. All the ancient ones knew about Father Giovanni Lanzoni, the vampire priest who had clung to his vows for over a thousand years. What had changed, she wondered, that he was ready to abandon them now?
Giovanni picked up his cell phone. Put it down. Picked it up again. He had no idea what to say to Mara’s friend once he got past “Hello.” He had never had a date, didn’t know how to make small talk with a woman who wasn’t in need of comfort or spiritual help. The only female friends he had were all married women.
Who also happened to be vampires.
He drew in a deep breath, blew it out in a long, shuddering sigh, and made the call.
She answered on the second ring. “Hello, Father.”
“Yes. Mara said I might hear from you.”
He cleared his throat. “I . . . uh . . . thought we might . . . um . . . meet for drinks some night.”
“I’m free tonight.”
“Oh. I, um . . .”
“Shall we say nine at Florentine’s? Do you know it?”
“Yes. That would be . . . ah, splendid.”
“Until nine, then.”
Giovanni ended the call, then stood there, too stunned to move.
He had a date.
Giovanni stood outside Florentine’s. It was a high-end club that catered to the rich and famous. He straightened his tie, rubbed his hands on his thighs, took a deep breath, and opened the door. One drink and he would tell her good-bye.
He spied Angelica immediately. She was seated at the bar, looking like a rose in a patch of weeds. Her hair was the color of flame, her eyes the same deep shade of gray as a stormy sky. She wore a slim blue skirt and matching V-neck sweater that outlined every voluptuous curve. A slow smile spread over her face as he strode toward her. Just one look and he knew he was outclassed. She was self-assured, poised, and completely at ease.
She held out her hand. “Giovanni, I’m so pleased to meet you.”
He smiled faintly. “And I you.” Her skin was cool, her grip firm.
“Mara’s told me so much about you,” she went on in a well-modulated voice. He could easily imagine her bent over a crystal ball, he mused, spinning fortunes for the unwary. Without meaning to, he blurted, “She didn’t tell me enough about you.”
Her laughter washed over him as she handed him a glass of red wine, picked up her own drink, and led him to a table for two in a secluded corner.
He held her chair for her, then took the one opposite. He couldn’t stop looking at her, couldn’t believe he was sitting across from the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. She was way out of his league, he thought, with a sigh. This was obviously a pity date.
“Talk to me, Giovanni. I’m curious about your life. We all are. Only Mara really knows anything about your past. And even that is sketchy at best.”
He shrugged. “There’s little to tell. I was a priest for many years. I said Mass and united people in holy wedlock. I heard confessions, I administered last rites to the dying. Occasionally, I cast out evil spirits.”
“But that was only a small part of your life.”
Giovanni nodded. It had been less than five percent, yet it had left an indelible mark on everything that came after.
“Who turned you?” Angelica sipped her wine, her expression genuinely curious as she waited for him to go on.
“I never knew his name or saw him again after he sired me.”
“And yet you survived with no one to guide you. Few fledglings make it past their first year on their own.”
“I was lucky.”
“Do you remember nothing of the one who turned you?”
“He looked like a gladiator,” Giovanni recalled.
Angelica stared at him. “A gladiator?”
“He was tall and muscular, with short black hair and hell-black eyes.” He shook his head. “That’s all I remember.”
“Did he have a tattoo of a viper on the left side of his neck?”
“How did you know that?” Giovanni asked sharply.
A look of wonder crossed her face. “You were sired by one of the ancients. His name is Alric. Before being turned, he fought in the arena. He was never defeated and won his freedom.”
“He still exists?”
“As far as I know, although no one has seen him for maybe two hundred years.”
There was a longing in her voice that made him ask, “Do you know him?”
A strange expression flitted across her face. “I did. A long time ago.”
They’d been lovers sometime in the distant past, Giovanni thought. “Alric . . .” He murmured the name. It made no difference in the grand scheme of things, but it was nice to finally know the identity of the vampire who had sired him. “Hard to believe he’s existed for so long. I wonder if he knows Mara?”
“Everyone knows Mara. She’s the oldest of our kind. Even older than Alric.” Angelica laughed softly. “I feel like a fledgling compared to the rest of you.”
“How long ago were you turned?”
“Almost four hundred years.”
“Just a babe,” Giovanni agreed. He picked up his glass and let the contents slide down his throat. The wine was delightfully full-bodied, like the woman across from him. “Why did you agree to meet me?”
“I was curious, of course. I’ve always had a weakness for vampires, and Mara speaks very highly of you.” Angelica’s gaze moved over him, bold as brass. Mara had claimed he was handsome, and she was right. Warm hazel eyes, olive skin, wavy black hair heavily laced with silver at his temples. Was he truly a virgin after all this time? It didn’t seem possible that some woman hadn’t seduced him centuries ago. She smiled inwardly. Maybe she was the right woman for the job.
Had he been able, Giovanni would have blushed under her scrutiny. And yet, it was oddly flattering. Clearing his throat, he asked, “Who sired you?”
She smiled with the memory. “A delightful man. We were lovers before he turned me. We stayed together for almost a century.” Her smile faded. “He was destroyed by a pack of hunters.”
“So were they, when I found them.”
He didn’t have to ask what she meant, though it was hard to imagine the woman sitting across from him doling out blood and death.
“There hasn’t been anyone in my life since Rudolfo. Well,” she amended, “no one serious. And you? Is it true what they say?”
“It depends on what they say.”
“I think you know.”
Looking away, he said, “It’s true.”
“All this time?” She shook her head. “Vampires are notoriously sensual creatures. Are you . . . Let me phrase this as delicately as I can. Are you unable to please a woman?”
“I’m perfectly capable!” he exclaimed indignantly. And then he frowned. How was he to know when he had never even tried? Was Angelica the woman who would unleash his passion? “You claim to be a medium,” he said thoughtfully. “Do you see the two of us together?”
Frowning, she took his hand in hers and closed her eyes. A minute passed. Two, before she met his gaze. “No,” she said with some regret. “We are not meant to be. But there is a woman for you out there somewhere. I cannot see her clearly. But you will find her.”
Giovanni thought of nothing else after bidding Angelica good night. She had claimed he would find someone. But what if he did and he couldn’t perform? What if centuries of abstinence had left him both mentally and physically unable to please a woman?
As a young man, he’d had fantasies just like every other male. But he had never done any experimenting, never done more than kiss one of the village girls. Once he had spied on a neighbor’s daughter while she bathed. He had felt guilty for weeks afterward. Even after he went to confession for absolution, her image continually popped into his mind at the most inopportune moments.
And then he had entered the priesthood and done his best to forget such things. Until he met Maria Elena. He had loved her desperately, but he had been a young priest who had just taken his final vows and she had been betrothed to another. The first time he’d met her had been in the confessional, a moment he would never forget.
She had poured her heart out to him, sobbing because her father was forcing her to marry a man she didn’t love. A man more than twice her age. She had come to confession frequently, though after the first few times, their conversations had been less about repentance and of a more personal nature. And as the weeks passed, they had fallen in love.
Maria Elena had continued to come to confession every couple of days; they had few other chances to be alone. Things changed after her marriage. As an unmarried woman, it was unseemly for her to go. . .
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