Accidentally Married to ... A Vampire?
By Mimi Jean Pamfiloff
Grand Central Publishing Copyright © 2013 Mimi Jean Pamfiloff
All rights reserved.
Present Day. Mexico
Arms pumping, Helena Strauss chased the smoke-spewing bus down a narrow dirt road through the jungle. "Wait! I'm here! Wait!"
She suddenly sucked in a mouthful of gnats and then gagged and stumbled. She hacked violently, almost losing the remnants of her meager lunch: crackers and apple juice. She doubled over to catch her breath, cursing with every exhale as her ride evaporated right before her watering eyes.
"Dammit. God-effing-dammit! Worst vacation ever!"
She'd left her backpack on that bus—wallet, cell phone, water, and all—with the nice retired Tucson woman with the straw hat and orange muumuu. Helena had clearly told the driver she'd only be un minuto before she hopped off at the last second; she needed to use the facilities one more time before the three-hour drive back to her hotel south of Cancún. With the sweltering heat and gallons of water she'd downed to keep cool, Helena had spent more time seeing the restroom than the ruins. Muumuu Woman even asked when Helena was expecting.
Okay, she did look a little plumper these days—comfort food and lots of it—despite all the exercise. But pregnancy was last on her worry list. I'd need to have a boyfriend or, at the very least, have had sex. Once.
Well, today, that was the least of her problems. Now she'd been left behind without pesos or bug spray, and that rotten bus had been the last tour of the day.
Helena looked up. The sun was already seated behind the thick tree line, and the sky was a deep burnt orange, veined with shades of purple and gray. Oh, hell! Almost night.
She doubled over again, her head spinning and waves of nausea washing over her. She'd been feeling odd and unable to think straight ever since she'd arrived at the remote ruins.
Everyone kept warning her last night not to have the mega-margarita with lots of crushed ice, but she figured the tequila would kill any micro-critters in the water.
Not the mighty amoeba, she reminded herself. You studied evolutionary biology. You should know better.
But last night, she'd already had a few—okay, four—beers before the Big Gulp–sized margarita came calling and she began howling to the bar crowd, "Who the heeell is this Montezuma bonehead anyway? If he wants revenge, bring it on!" The crowd cheered as she pounded down her drink and proceeded to get an apocalyptic brain freeze.
Helena shook her head. If Darwin were alive, what would he say?
"Between last night and leaving your backpack on the bus," she mumbled to no one, "you may actually be too stupid to live."
Well, hopefully it was the heat making her woozy and losing her wits, not some Aztec gastric curse.
After a moment, her blurry vision cleared. She slowly stood and then pivoted on her heel several times, turning her head from side to side. The road, encased by two walls of thick vegetation, looked the same in either direction.
Jungle. Jungle. More jungle. But which way is the ...? Oh, hell. This can't be happening. How could she lose her bearings down a single-lane dirt road? The nausea had her completely disoriented.
"This way. The ruins and trinket shack are back this way." She nodded toward the long stretch of road to her right and began walking. Intermittent waves of blurriness struck her as she trudged along the darkening road, twisting her ankle in an obscured pothole every few steps.
She stopped, scratching her sweaty neck with one hand while swatting the unrelenting mosquitoes with the other. "This can't be happening. I think I'm going the wrong frigging way."
Don't panic, Helena. Just go back.
But something wasn't right. She couldn't think straight. And now she was panicking. She'd seen all the Indiana Jones movies, and only bad things happened when he went near jungles and ruins: voodoo priests, giant spiders ... Germans—all sorts of scary things.
As darkness descended, fear continued hammering on the cracks of her rational mind. Even the critters had decided to ratchet up the volume. Great. A creepy nature soundtrack for my own personal nightmare.
"How about some Tomb Raider music, people!" she barked at the clicking bugs and hidden squawking animals. But only the shadows answered, suddenly taking on a life of their own—engulfing the trees, erasing any distinguishable textures and shapes. Leaves became blackness. Branches became blackness. The length of road disintegrated in front of her. The ominous night swallowed everything but her frantic breaths and the nose on her face.
She ran her hands through her damp, sticky curls.
It could be hours before anyone noticed the missing, slightly overweight twenty- four-year-old from Santa Cruz, California, who was sightseeing alone because her hungover best friends, Anne and Jess, had decided to stay beachside and gape at the Italian water polo team in town for some tournament.
Why did I come on this stupid tour? Because she didn't save her money for two whole years just to get a hangover in Mexico. She wanted to see the remnants of one of the greatest civilizations ever. That's why.
Just then, Helena spotted a glowing light through the dense brush. Was there another road in that direction? Was that a car?
No. Too slow.
She suddenly remembered that the tour guides, mostly locals from a nearby village, had been carrying large flashlights to point out glyphs inside the temples.
Could it be ...?
"Hey! Over here! Aquí!" The moving light was fading fast. "No, no! Wait!" Helena swallowed her fear and pushed through wall after wall of stubborn vegetation, determined to find salvation. "Wait! Espera!" she screamed as the light faded to a minuscule flicker.
Helena kicked it into high gear for all of ten steps before she stumbled and performed a belly flop, landing with a thump! Pain ripped through her knee. She rolled over and sat up, wincing as she bent her leg. No structural damage, but a warm trickle of blood slid down to her ankle. Sadly, she'd worn only cargo shorts and her favorite white tank with built-in bra. Otherwise, she'd tear off her shirt and apply pressure.
She waited for the initial sting to subside before she stood up. The light, and whoever had been toting it, was long gone. Now, she was truly screwed.
"Come to me," she heard a deep male voice suddenly whisper.
Helena froze and swallowed her scream. "Wh-who's there?" She held her breath, praying her imagination had conjured the dark, smooth voice. "Who's there?" she repeated loudly. Crap, I sound like a lame knock-knock joke.
"This way. Waited so long for you ..." This time, the voice was hypnotic: raw male strength intertwined with gut-wrenching need. Beauty dipped in layers of savage intent.
Clenching, unfathomable, bottomless desire penetrated her ears. Her mind suddenly felt like ropes of warm saltwater taffy.
"Come to me," he called once again.
Every ounce of tension dissolved from her body. Control went with it.
Entranced, Helena glided effortlessly through the blackness toward the voice. She no longer felt the fear of being lost in the jungle or the pain in her knee; she felt only need. The need to be with ... him.
"Sì, sì. I can feel you. This way. Just a bit farther," the voice whispered, carried by the humidity-drenched breeze. "I can feel your essence. Everything I've ever hoped for."
When her hands hit a wall of cold, rough stone, she had no clue what sort of structure she'd touched or where she was, but she instinctively knew what to do. Her fingertips traced along the wall until they found a deep groove between the stones. She wedged her trembling hand into the crack and pushed with her index finger. The stones separated with a loud grinding, revealing a narrow, torchlit passage.
She wanted to run, to brave the darkness of the jungle instead. But she couldn't answer the call of her own warning bells or command her very own body.
She crouched through the doorway and stepped inside the dimly lit rectangular passage. Oddly, there were no cobwebs. The torches looked bright and fresh. Someone had been there recently. Merry Maids?
Step by step, she made her way. The narrow passage abruptly hooked to the right and then opened up into a spacious chamber with a high ceiling. Towering golden statues of ancient warriors, piles of polished gold coins, and jewel-encrusted treasure chests were heaped in every corner as if hastily deposited by a greedy pirate on the run with a wheelbarrow.
There was a hot-pink flashing neon sign stuck to the wall that spelled Piggy Bank. Right below it was a Wheel of Fortune slot machine and a lonely car bumper with two stickers. One read, Live Free or Die, and the other, I Brake for Garage Sales. And was that an exercise cycle next to a Thighmaster?
What the hell is this place?
Then Helena's eyes focused on something else she couldn't quite grasp. In the middle of the room, lying across a stone altar, was a naked man with dark symbols tattooed down the length of one arm. But he was not just any man. He was a male so perfect that words would catfight each other just for the honor of describing him. He was a god. A bona fide deity. He had to be. Because a normal man wouldn't give her the urge to fall on her knees and worship at his feet. Or drool.
The torchlight licked his sculpted cheekbones, angular jaw, and full, sensual lips. Every capacious curve and ripple of hard muscle looked to be packed with raw power, and his size left no doubt that he'd been built in another time. A time when giant warriors roamed the earth, looking to rescue lame tourists wandering the Mexican jungle at night.
In my dreams. Wait ... this is a dream! It has to be.
"Move closer, my sweet, delicious woman." The deep voice radiated from every direction, filling the room.
Helena's blood pressure crashed to the floor. She gasped as the weight of her body slammed back against the cold chamber wall to keep from falling.
"Hel-hello? Can you hear me?" Fists clenched, Helena waited for a response, her eyes continuing to soak him in. Every inch of him.
Was he real? No, he must be a statue. Too perfect. His full lips were built to nuzzle a woman's neck. Specifically, her neck. And that hair—thick, long waves of black satin—was the kind a woman could grab fistfuls of while being driven insane by those lips.
Then there were the diamond-cut grooves of his abs, his perfectly shaped navel, the fine dark hair adorning his lower belly that trailed down to his awe- inspiring man gear. The size and thickness, even in its slumbering state, was something women dreamed of and scores of artists throughout history attempted to immortalize in marble. He was every woman's fantasy, she thought. And by every woman's, she meant hers ... 'Cause I'm not gonna share.
"Kiss me, Helena," the seductive voice rumbled.
Had the man said her name? No. Clearly his lips hadn't moved. The margarita amoebas were attacking her brain, and she was losing her mind.
"Kiss me, woman. I command you," the voice echoed, this time compelling her to obey.
Helena's survival instincts gave her a hard kick, jarring her back into the horrific reality of the situation. But as she tried to regain control of her body, her tongue slipped from her mouth and wet her lips.
Traitorous tongue. Backstabbing lips. What the hell are you doing? Her body inched closer.
"Sì, that is it, my love. I can smell your blood."
Blood? What the ...? Every nerve in her body fired on all cylinders, but she couldn't run, even if her hair had been on fire. It seemed the harder she fought, the stronger the force controlling her became.
"Brush it against my lips, my love. I want to taste you when you kiss me."
Without realizing it, her hand stretched down to coat her fingertips with the thick, nearly dried blood from her knee. Trembling, she smeared it over his lips.
"Now, kiss me, my love. Awaken me, my bride."
"No! No! Let me go!" Helena struggled, but her body's betrayal persisted. Her head dipped, and her lips rested on his sensuous mouth. In that instant, the compelling force dissipated and her entire body lit up into one glorious pyre of life.
Had she been asleep the last twenty-four years? Because she could swear she'd just taken her first breath. Ever.
Holy hell, what was that?
The torches flickered, and the wind kicked up around her.
The altar was empty.
She crumpled to the cold, dusty floor. A pair of rough hands touched her shoulders.
"Oh, Christ. You ... you're behind me, aren't you?" she whispered.
The deep, dark voice replied, "Sì, my love. Stand, and let me see my mate."
Helena slowly rose to face the naked god behind her.
Arms limp at her sides, knees shaking, Helena found herself staring straight up a cliff of solid muscles into the face of the most masculine creature she'd ever seen. She'd been impressed by the sight of him lying there dormant. But awake? That was another story completely, one to tell her wine-tasting slash historical-romance book club buddies—the Wino Wenches.
"The expression displayed on your lovely face," he said with a hint of amusement in his eyes, "indicates you are as confused as I. Let us make proper introductions. Then we shall sort through the particulars of our situation." He made a slight bow of his head and then kissed the inside of her wrist. "I am Niccolo DiConti. Very pleased to meet you."
His touch sent a sharp jolt through her arm, causing her insides to liquefy.
She snapped her hand back and scuttled against the cold, damp wall, trying to assess the situation. She'd never seen a man take up so much space. He didn't simply eclipse her five-foot-four frame; he engulfed her with his presence.
Was he a threat? If yes, then why did she want to throw herself into his arms and treat him like her favorite boardwalk ride? I could stay on that dang Tilt-A-Whirl all day long.
Her skin felt flushed, the muscles deep inside fluttered and constricted, and her nipples perked. For darn certain, that other sensation (which she was not going to think about) was her body telling her the time had come to give away that virginity of hers—just like those size 7 jeans in the back of her closet.
How unkind to keep something someone else could put to good use. Greedy, greedy girl.
But she was not going to think about that. She should run. Everything about him screamed danger.
Her eyes made another sweep over his entire bare length. Darn it. She couldn't help herself from looking. She'd never seen a man like him.
His dark eyes twinkled as he crossed his arms over his broad chest and arched one sable brow. "Pleased by what you see, then?"
"No." She shook her head. "Who the hell are you?" Her eyes continued basking in every scrumptious detail. Is that? Is he? Oh ... yes, he is. Helena felt her face turn red-hot. She quickly looked away as erotic images involving his erection flooded her imagination. What was happening to her? Her mind wasn't normally in the gutter, or in this case, Lady Pervert Land. On the other hand, this situation felt far from normal. Definitely disturbing. Maybe Lady Pervert Land was her happy place. She'd always wondered where it was.
"Your eyes and body betray your words. Why do you deny your desire?" His dark gaze bore down as he studied her with curiosity.
Dammit. She needed to clear her mind, but who could think with that heavenly smell wafting through the air? She could taste him on her tongue. Was that vanilla? Cinnamon? God save her, the man smelled like cookies. Gooey, warm, fresh-out-of-heaven man cookies. (Continues...)
Excerpted from Accidentally Married to ... A Vampire? by Mimi Jean Pamfiloff. Copyright © 2013 Mimi Jean Pamfiloff. Excerpted by permission of Grand Central Publishing.
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