“A master of her craft.” —Maggie Shayne Holly Parrish has never met anyone like Micah Ravenwood: his dark eyes, his movie-star smile, the indefinable way he looks at her. Even when she thought he was no more than another client for her investment firm, her lust overpowered her logic. But she never expected this attraction to whisk her from her busy southern California life to a silent and eerie ghost town in Wyoming. Only vampires call the deserted place home—and one of them is Micah. He says he’s brought her to Morgan Creek for her safety, that vicious creatures are hunting her. But how can Holly trust him? One look and she can see the need barely restrained behind Micah’s polite words. The heat of his kiss, the pleasure of his touch—none of it can tell her whether he wants her as his lover—or his prey . . . “A classic vampire tale of sensual, spine-tingling suspense.” —Christine Feehan on Desire After Dark “Sexy, fast-paced, gritty, this is Amanda Ashley at her best! A must read! —Ronda Thompson on Dead Sexy
Release date: August 30, 2016
Publisher: Zebra Books
Print pages: 336
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Micah sat at the long ebony bar inside The Lair. He had been coming here long enough to recognize most of the patrons—women looking for a one-night stand, men looking for a woman—any woman—to ease their loneliness for a night or two. He had been in Southern California less than two weeks and had already reached the conclusion that coming to the City of Angels had been a mistake. He had been wandering from one goth hangout to another in hopes of finding a lady vampire, someone to take his mind off his loss, his loneliness, but if there were any vampires here, he hadn’t been able to find them. The state seemed to be filled with nothing but movie stars, wannabe movie stars, surfers, and beach bunnies.
He was about to leave the club when he saw her—a young woman who stood an inch or two over five feet. Long blond hair fell in soft waves over her shoulders. Even in the dim light, he noticed her eyes. They were an unusual shade of blue, almost turquoise. Contact lenses, perhaps? A gray sweater and a pair of blue jeans caressed a petite but perfect figure. He guessed her to be in her mid-twenties.
She glanced around the bar, obviously looking for someone. To Micah’s surprise, she lifted a hand in greeting when she saw him at the bar and hurried toward him.
“Joseph Burke?” she said, smiling. “Sorry I’m late. I’m Holly Parrish.”
“Pleased to meet you, Miss Parrish. Can I buy you a drink?”
“A vodka martini, please,” she said, taking the stool beside his.
Micah relayed her order and asked for another glass of wine for himself. “Holly,” he murmured. “I’m guessing you were a Christmas baby.”
“Good guess.” She smiled that enchanting smile again. “Mr. Gladstone is very anxious to have you on our team, Mr. Burke. He’s prepared to pay you twice what Lindor-Beakman is offering, along with the usual perks, of course—a company car, a three-week vacation, and the best health insurance on the market.”
Micah sipped his wine. “I must admit, it sounds like a very generous offer.”
She nodded. “You won’t find a better one.” Lifting her glass, she took a swallow.
His gaze moved to her throat, his nostrils filling with the warm, rich scent of her blood, the flowery fragrance that clung to her hair and skin, her perfume. The faint, musky scent of woman. She might be short and petite, he mused, but she was all female.
Setting her glass aside, she licked her lips. “So, if you’re willing to accept Mr. Gladstone’s offer, we can close the deal right now. I have the necessary papers in my bag.”
“I’d be more than happy to accept, Miss Parrish, if I was Joseph Burke.”
She blinked at him. “Excuse me?”
“I’m not Joseph Burke. My name is Micah Ravenwood.”
“But . . . you . . . why didn’t you stop me . . . ? You . . . you let me sit here and make a fool of myself.”
“Sorry,” he said, smiling, “but I was very much enjoying your company.”
Holly stared at him. She hadn’t paid any attention to his looks before. She was here on business, nothing else. Now, she wondered if there was something wrong with her, that she could sit next to such a handsome man and not even notice. Perhaps she needed glasses. Or a vacation! Micah Ravenwood was beyond handsome, with hair so dark a brown it was almost black. His eyes, too, were dark brown, with a hint of mystery. And his mouth . . . well-defined, sensual. She looked away when she realized she was staring. But who could blame her?
Suddenly uncomfortable, she mumbled her thanks for the drink, grabbed her bag, and slid off the stool, eager to put him and this night behind her.
“I’d love to buy you another round, Holly.”
His voice, deep and dark and as rich as Irish whiskey, stopped her in her tracks.
Holly glanced at the door and then at her watch. She would wait for Mr. Burke for another fifteen or twenty minutes, and then she was going home to soak in a hot bubble bath. Whiling away the time with Micah Ravenwood certainly wouldn’t be a hardship. It had been months since she’d been out with a man. What harm could there be in having one more drink with the most handsome guy she had ever met? So, she’d made a fool of herself. After tonight, she would never see him again. And sharing a drink with him sounded so much better than spending another Friday night alone in her empty apartment.
“You’re not married, are you?” she asked.
“Then I accept your offer,” she said, returning to her stool.
He signaled the bartender for two more of the same. “So, who or what are Lindor-Beakman?”
“You must be new in California.”
“Sort of. I haven’t been here for several years.”
“Oh. Well, they’re a rather well-known investment firm, and our biggest competitor.”
Micah nodded. “If I’m ever in the mood to invest, I’ll be sure to call you first.”
“I’d appreciate that.”
“So, what do you do when you’re not stalking clients?”
Holly shrugged. “The same things as anybody else. Take in a movie. Read a book. Go for a walk along the beach.”
Micah glanced around. “This seems like an odd place to do business.”
“I thought so, too,” she said with a grimace. “I know it’s all just make-believe, but seriously, why would anyone want to be a vampire?”
“Staying young and living forever might be considered a perk by some.”
“Maybe. But if vampires existed, which, thankfully, they don’t, no one would want that lifestyle. I mean, all the books say they can’t go outside in the sun and they can’t enjoy a good meal, and then there’s the whole blood thing,” she said, grimacing. “All that aside, what’s the point of living forever if you can’t have a family?”
“I guess you want a lot of kids.”
“Dozens,” she said, grinning.
He lifted one brow. “Dozens?”
“I’m an only child. I always wanted brothers and sisters. I don’t intend to let any kids I might have grow up without siblings.”
“That’s an unusual outlook these days, when people are marrying later and limiting their families to one or two.”
“I guess so. What about you?”
“What about me?”
“Do you want a big family?”
“I never thought about it,” he lied. He had come from a loving family. Once, he’d hoped to have a wife and children of his own. That was no longer possible. He sipped his wine, but it tasted sour on his tongue. “So, who’s the lucky man who’s going to father all those kids?”
“I don’t know,” she said, somewhat wistfully. “I haven’t met him yet.”
His gaze met hers. “Maybe you’re not looking in the right place.”
His voice moved over her like silk, making her think of tangled sheets and warm summer nights. Clearing her throat, Holly said, “Well, to tell you the truth, I don’t have a lot of time to look. I work all week, spend Saturdays cleaning my apartment, picking up my dry cleaning, doing the laundry. . . .” She shook her head. “By the time Saturday night rolls around, all I want to do is veg out in front of the TV.”
“So, what if I asked you to do all those things on Sunday instead, and go out with me tomorrow night?”
Holly lifted her glass and took a long swallow. Her first instinct was to say no. Other than his name, she didn’t know anything about Micah Ravenwood. He could be a rapist or a child molester or a con man. These days, only an idiot hooked up with a stranger she met in a bar, especially a bar filled with Dracula wannabes.
“I could show you my ID if that’ll help you make up your mind.”
“What would that prove? Those things can be easily faked these days.”
He nodded. “True enough. Can I call you sometime?”
“I guess so.” Taking a pen from her bag, she wrote her cell number on a cocktail napkin.
“Thanks, sunshine.” Rising, he took her hand in his and kissed it. “Good luck with the real Joseph Burke.”
Holly stared after Micah Ravenwood, stunned by the tingle of electricity she had experienced when his lips brushed against her skin. Nothing like that had ever happened before. But then Micah Ravenwood was like no man she had ever met. She couldn’t quite put her finger on what it was that set him apart. Oh, he was handsome as sin, his voice as seductive as a warm fire on a winter night, but it was more than that.
Bemused, she finished her drink, wondering if he would call her and what she would say if he did.
She was about to leave the club when her cell phone rang. Joseph Burke, no doubt, calling to apologize for missing their meeting, or, worse, Mr. Gladstone wanting to know how the meeting went.
She felt a sudden prickle of anticipation when she picked up the phone. “Hello?”
“So, how about that date?”
It was Micah. She would recognize that deep, mesmerizing, sexy-as-hell voice anywhere. “What did you have in mind, Mr. Ravenwood?”
“I’m willing to do anything you want.”
That voice. It made her think of a dozen things she would like him to do, none of them likely to happen with a man she had just met, sexy voice or not. Taking a deep, calming breath, she said, “There’s a movie I’ve been wanting to see.”
“Fine by me. Should I pick you up?”
“How about if I meet you there?”
He laughed softly, obviously amused by her prudence. “Just tell me when and where.”
“Tomorrow night, at seven, in front of the theater on Main Street.”
“I’ll be there. Sweet dreams, sunshine.”
Even over the phone, the sound of his voice sent a shiver of pleasure spiraling through her. She was smiling when she ended the call.
Holly thought about Micah on the drive home and while taking a shower, eating dinner, brushing her teeth, lying in bed. Who was he? What did he do for a living? How could she have forgotten to ask?
Was she making a mistake, going out with a man she knew nothing about just because he was incredibly handsome and had a whiskey-rough voice she could listen to all day long?
Holly shook off her fears. She had pepper spray in her bag. She knew a little karate. She would be surrounded by people in the theater.
She was worrying for nothing.
Smiling at the thought of seeing him again, she closed her eyes. No house cleaning tomorrow. She needed a haircut and a manicure.
And a new outfit. For a new man.
Holly smiled when she saw Micah waiting outside the theater on Saturday night. Clad in black slacks, a black shirt open at the throat, and a black leather jacket, he looked handsome and mysterious and just a little dangerous. He whistled softly when he saw her, which made the hours she had spent shopping for a new outfit and having her hair and nails done worth every minute. And every dollar.
He paid for their tickets and followed her into the lobby. “Do you want popcorn?” he asked. “Ice cream? Candy?”
“Popcorn, of course. It’s not a movie without popcorn. And a soda, please.”
“So, how was your day?” he asked as they took their place in the concession line.
“Busy.” Holly couldn’t help sneaking glances at his profile while they waited in line, noting, as she did so, that several other women were also admiring him.
His gaze moved over her. “I can see you didn’t spend the day cleaning house.”
“You’re very observant,” she said dryly.
“Well, you look great.” She wore a pair of crisp white slacks and a blue silk blouse that made her eyes sparkle like sapphires.
“So do you. Sort of like James Dean.”
Micah chuckled. “That’s me. Rebel without a cause.”
“Are you a rebel?”
“I can be.” He paid for the refreshments, trying not to grimace as the scent of butter and salt stung his nostrils.
Although the theater was crowded, they managed to find two seats in the last row. Micah handed her the popcorn, glad to be rid of it, then set the soda in the cup holder between them.
He hadn’t paid much attention to the title of the movie when he bought the tickets, and now couldn’t help grinning when he realized it was a horror film and that the monster was a vampire.
Leaning toward her, he whispered, “I never would have figured you for a horror buff.”
“You just don’t seem like the type.”
“Well, if you get scared, just let me know and I’ll hold your hand.”
“Really?” He flashed her a wicked grin. “Then I’ll get scared.”
Micah settled back in his seat as the theater went dark. After a number of trailers, the movie started. It was your typical monster movie, with the vampire being the villain, and not a suave, charming type either, but a ruthless killer who ripped out hearts and savaged throats. A team of vampire hunters chased him across the country, with the leader of the slayers predictably falling in love with the heroine. Of course, the vampire loved her, too, but he never had a chance.
About halfway through the movie, Micah reached for Holly’s hand, whispering, “Okay, I’m scared now.”
Holly looked at him and shook her head, but she didn’t pull away.
The movie ended with the vampire hunter saving the heroine from the nasty vampire by driving a stake into the monster’s heart, then setting him on fire.
Micah grimaced as the vampire went up in flames. There were few things he feared, but death by fire was one of them.
They remained seated during the credits, waiting for the crowd to disperse.
“So, did you like the movie?” Holly asked.
“It was all right,” he said with a shrug. “But it would have been nice if they’d let the vampire get the girl.”
“Seriously? He was a killer, a monster. He didn’t deserve a happy ending.”
“Maybe not, but he loved the girl, too.”
“Well, he had a funny way of showing it. Carrying her off to his lair and keeping her prisoner.”
“True, but she wouldn’t have stayed with him otherwise. Besides, given the chance, she might have made him change his evil ways.”
“Quite the optimist, aren’t you?”
“Not really,” he muttered. “Are you ready to go?”
She nodded and they left the theater.
“Would you like to go out for a drink or get something to eat?” Micah asked.
“I guess so. There’s a nice club just down the street.”
“What do you do for a living?” Holly asked as they strolled down the sidewalk. “You never told me.”
“I’m sort of between jobs at the moment.”
“What do you do when you’re working?”
“I was a computer programmer in a little town called Morgan Creek.” The lie rolled easily off his tongue.
“I’ve never heard of the place. Where is it?”
“Wyoming. It’s a ghost town now.”
Good question, he thought. Unfortunately, he couldn’t tell her the whole truth, so he settled for part of it. “Business fell off. When the owner left town, only a few people stayed behind. But now they’re all gone, too.”
“That’s so sad. I hate to hear about a business failing, but a whole town?” She shook her head.
“I hated to leave, but . . .” He made a vague gesture with his hand. “Things happen.”
“We’re here.” Holly paused in front of a large, redbrick building. A bright green neon sign in the shape of a guitar made the place hard to miss. The words CALIFORNIA COWBOY blinked off and on over the entrance.
Micah held the door open for Holly, then followed her inside. “So the girl likes horror films and country music,” he mused. “I find that an intriguing combination.”
“You don’t like country?”
“Hey, what’s not to like? Sad songs about cheating hearts and lost love . . .” He swore under his breath. Shirley had loved country music. They had spent many a night sitting on her front porch, listening to Lady Antebellum and Toby Keith and her favorite, Garth Brooks.
“Micah? Are you all right?”
“Yeah, fine. There’s an empty booth in the back. Come on.”
After ordering drinks, Micah asked Holly to dance.
She fit in his arms as if she had been made for him. He twirled her around the floor, keenly aware of her curvy little body brushing against his, of the attraction that sparked between them. Did she feel it, too? How could she not?
He was thinking of stealing a kiss when an unmistakable scent wafted through the air. Looking toward the entrance, Micah felt all his preternatural senses go on alert.
Taking Holly by the hand, he led her off the floor.
“Is something wrong?” she asked as he hurried her back to their booth.
“Our drinks arrived,” he replied, his attention focused on the man and the woman who had just entered the club. The woman was a vampire. He wasn’t sure what the man was. Not a vampire. Not entirely human.
Holly followed his gaze toward the couple standing just inside the door. “Do you know them?”
“Never seen them before,” he replied. But he didn’t like the looks of either one. An odd tang that reminded Micah of smoke and something he couldn’t quite put his finger on clung to the man. It smelled like death.
Micah watched the vampire and her companion glide across the room to the bar. The woman had been turned in her early twenties. She was tall and thin to the point of looking anorexic, although being one of the Undead made that technically impossible. She had hair so fine, so pale in color, it was almost invisible. The man was shorter, with spiked brown hair and an ugly scar along the left side of his neck. They sat side by side, their heads close together. Micah frowned when he heard the woman mention Saintcrow’s name.
“Holly, would you excuse me for a minute? I need to make a phone call.”
“Is something wrong?”
“No, I just need to check in with an old friend of mine. I’ll be right back.”
Micah left the club by the back door. In the parking lot, he pulled his cell phone from his pocket and punched in Rylan Saintcrow’s number.
The master vampire answered on the first ring. “Micah, where the hell are you?”
“California. Where are you?”
“In Morgan Creek. We got here late last night.”
“Everything okay?” Micah asked. “I thought you’d be gone another year or so.”
“Yeah, well, Kadie got tired of traveling so we came home for a while. What’s up?”
“I’m in a country bar. . . .” Micah grimaced at the sound of Saintcrow snickering. “There’s a couple here. The woman’s a vampire. Tall, skinny, pale blond hair. Looks like a refugee from a Nazi death camp.”
“Leticia Braga,” Saintcrow said, all amusement gone from his voice.
“You know her, then?”
“Yeah, I know her. She’s poison.”
“As bad as Lilith?” Micah asked. Lilith had turned him into a vampire against his will, thereby putting an end to his hopes of becoming an actor. Turned him and abandoned him. He had met Saintcrow soon after. The master vampire had taken Micah under his wing and taught him what he needed to know to survive his new lifestyle.
“I get the feeling there’s something you’re not telling me.”
“She’s been hunting me for a long time.”
“About two hundred years, give or take a few.”
“We had a little disagreement.”
“Little?” Micah snorted. “Must have been some hellacious argument, to last over two centuries.” Of course, for a vampire, a couple hundred years wasn’t all that long.
“Yeah,” Saintcrow said dryly, “it was. Maybe someday I’ll tell you about it.”
“Sounds like a good story. Is she as old as you are?”
“Not even close,” Saintcrow said. “Is she alone?”
“No, there’s man with her.”
“Built like a bull? Short dark hair, smells like smoke and wormwood?”
Wormwood, that was it, Micah thought. “I take it you know him, too.” No surprise, there. When you’d lived as long as Saintcrow—who had been turned during the Crusades—you were bound to have run into a lot of people, both alive and Undead.
“All I know is what I’ve heard,” Saintcrow replied. “His name’s Mahlon. He’s Braga’s bodyguard.”
A vampire with a bodyguard. That was a new one. “What is he?”
“I don’t really know for sure. Some say he’s a demon summoned by a witch. Some say he’s a Djinn. Others say he’s human but immortal.”
“Is that even possible?”
“I don’t know, but I’d steer clear of both of them if I were you.”
“Yeah, that sounds like good advice.”
There was a moment of silence before Saintcrow said, “I’m sorry about Shirley.”
Micah swallowed hard. “Thanks.” He wasn’t surprised that Saintcrow knew about her passing. The man had always seemed to know everything that happened in Morgan Creek, whether he was there or not. “How’s Kadie doing?”
“Prettier and sweeter every day.”
Micah groaned. “Sorry I asked.”
“How long are you planning to stay in California?”
“I’m not sure.”
“Well, if you want to come back here, you know you’re more than welcome.”
“Thanks.” Micah ended the call. He stood in the shadows a moment, his thoughts on what Saintcrow had said about the strangers in the bar, the deep affection in his voice when he spoke of Kadie. Micah had hoped he and Shirley would have the kind of relationship Saintcrow and Kadie enjoyed, but it was not to be. Micah would never admit it to anyone else, but it had hurt, knowing that Shirley hadn’t loved him enough to accept the Dark Gift.
With a shake of his head, he slipped his phone into his jacket pocket. Shirley was gone and he couldn’t bring her back.
Micah scanned the room when he returned to the bar. The vampire and her companion were nowhere to be seen, but the man’s stink lingered in the air. Why had they come here? A country bar hardly seemed like the kind of place the Braga woman would hang out. He grinned inwardly as he walked toward the booth where Holly waited. It wasn’t the kind of place he normally frequented, either.
Totally besotted, Holly smiled at Micah as he guided her around the dance floor. She feared her infatuation with him had more to do with the amount of alcohol she had consumed than anything else. But there was no denying he was gorgeous and sexy and a fantastic dancer.
She offered no protest when he brushed a kiss across her lips. Quite the opposite. She twined her arms around his neck and, heedless of the crowd on the dance floor, kissed him long and hard. And, oh my, could that man kiss. Never in her life had she experienced anything like it. His lips were cool and firm as he took control, his tongue sweeping across her lips, dipping inside. Every nerve and fiber in . . .
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