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He smelled like sex.
Rich. Potent. Mesmerizing. Like a creamy dark truffle mousse with a drizzle of imported white chocolate, a dollop of whipped raspberry cream and a sprinkle of cinnamon-crusted pecans.
The crazy thought struck as she stood in the middle of The Iron Horseshoea rough and rowdy bar just off the interstateand stared at the man who sat at a nearby table.
Crazy because Viviana Darland didn't normally think in terms of food.
She didn't do chocolate or whipped cream or pecans. She didn't do anything edible, period. She was a vampire who thrived on sex and blood, and so her thoughts rarely read like a transcript of the latest Rachael Ray episode.
But sheer desperationcoupled with the past two days spent holed up at the Skull Creek Inn, watching the Food Network and trying to work up her courage to approach Mr. Luscious and Ediblewas new to her and so it only made sense that she would act out of character.
After all, her days were numbered.
A wild, rebellious southern rock song poured from the speakers and vibrated the air around her. Her heart beat faster, keeping tempo with the steady ba-bom ba-bom ba-bom of the drums. A neon Harley Davidson sign glowed above the bar and various motorcycle memorabilia from studded leather chaps to an Easy Rider poster decorated the walls.
Several truck drivers, their big rigs parked out back, sucked down a round of beers at a nearby table. A group of leather-clad bikers clustered around a dartboard in the far corner. A handful of men sporting long hair, beards and Golden Chopper Motorcycle Club jackets chugged Coronas at the massive bar that spanned the length of one wall.
The loud clack of pool balls echoed above the music. Cigarette smoke thickened the air. The sharp smell of Jack Daniels hovered around her.
It was a far cry from the latest "it" bar down in West Hollywood. She swallowed against a sudden lump in her throat.
You're a vampire. You adapt to any place, any time, any situation. Stop making excuses, walk over and just tell him what you want.
The command echoed in her head and urged her forward. Unfortunately, her body didn't obey any more now than when she'd first spotted him a few days ago.
The memory rolled through her as she turned left and headed for the bar. She angled herself between two big bruisers and ordered a house beer.
She'd been on her way into the desperately small Texas town when she'd seen the hunky guy parked outside the city limits on the side of the highway. Wishful thinking, or so she'd thought.
But Garret Sawyer had been more than a figment of her imagination.
He'd been flesh and blood and oh, so real.
As real as the day she'd first met him. Touched him. Kissed him. Loved him.
Talk about opportunity. Forget tracking him down and arranging a chance meeting. She could dispense with formality and cut right to the chase.
At least that's what she'd told herself when she'd climbed out of her car and approached him.
But then she'd glimpsed the surprise in his gaze, the anger, the hurt and her resolve had crumbled. She'd barely managed a "Long time no see" before she'd hightailed it back to her car.
She hadn't seen him since.
But she'd asked around.
With Skull Creek being the quintessential small town, she'd gotten an earful from everyonefrom the clerk at the Piggly Wiggly, to the fry guy at the Dairy Freeze.
She'd learned that Garret was the skill and expertise behind Skull Creek Choppers, the town's one and only custom motorcycle shop. He'd opened his doors a few months ago and bought a small ranch just outside the city limits. He had two business partnersJake McCann handled the design and Dillon Cash monitored the software and computer system.
Garret bought coffee at the local diner every evening and subscribed to the Skull Creek Gazette. He also sponsored a local little league team, donated to the senior's center and served on the board of the Skull Creek Chamber of Commerce.
Exactly what she would have expected from a thirty-something businessman trying to establish himself in a new location.
Exactly what she wouldn't have expected from a two hundred-year-old vampire who'd always avoided hanging around too long in any one place.
"It's on me," the bruiser to the right said when she slid a five across the bar to pay for her drink.
Her head snapped up, and she found herself staring into a pair of interested brown eyes.
The man had long, black, greasy hair and a thick beard. He reeked of beer and cigarettes and sexual frustration. He missed his wife. But not because she'd been a fine upstanding woman who'd taken her vows seriously. No, she'd been the opposite. A slut who'd slept around on him every time he'd pulled out of town.
What he missed was having a warm body to turn to in the dead of night. He'd never been much of a player, and so he hadn't actually dated much before he'd met his missus. He wasn't even the type of man who offered to buy a woman a drink.
Viv read the truth in his eyes and felt his desperation. And suddenly it didn't matter that he wasn't the most attractive man she'd ever met. All that mattered was the sexual energy bubbling inside of him.
Her own hunger stirred, reminding her just how long it had been since she'd fed. Her chest tightened, and her stomach hollowed out. Her hands trembled, and it took all of her strength not to reach out and take the man up on his blatant offer.
But this wasn't about getting a quick fix and fulfilling some stranger's fantasies.
This was about fulfilling her own.
"Thanks, but no thanks." But you might try with the blonde over there in the corner, she added silently. I think she likes you.
He fixated on Viv for a few long moments before the message seemed to penetrate. Finally, his eyes sparked, and hope fired to life inside of him. He turned toward the woman who sat nearby, nursing a margarita and eyeballing him.
Viv took her beer and shifted her attention back to the real reason she'd come to the Iron Horseshoe in the first place.
He sat facing her, his back to the wall, his feet propped on the table in front of him. He wore faded jeans that outlined his trim waist and muscular thighs. A frayed black T-shirt, the words Easy Rider emblazoned in neon blue and silver script, hugged his broad chest and sinewy biceps. Black gloves, the fingers cut out, accented his large hands. A tiny silver skull dangled from one ear. The only thing about him that didn't scream bad-ass biker was the black Stetson sitting on the table near his beer and the black cowboy boots that covered his feet.
She eyed the scuffed toes of the boots before dragging her gaze back up, over his long legs, the hard, lean lines of his torso, the tanned column of his throat.
Her attention stalled on the faint throb of his pulse, and her mouth went dry. Despite the crying guitar and pounding drums, she could hear the steady pump of his heart. The sound called to her, inviting her closer, while fear held her stiff.
Her fingers flexed on the ice-cold bottle of beer. Her gaze stalled on his face, and she licked her suddenly dry lips.
He had short, cropped brown hair and the rugged features of a man who'd spent more than one day in the saddle. A day's growth of stubble darkened his jaw and outlined his sensuous lips. Pale blue eyes collided with hers.
There was no flicker of surprise, no glimmer of pain. Just pure, unadulterated lust.
As if he'd been waiting for her, wanting her, as much as she'd been wanting him.
A fierce longing knifed through her, and for the first time in a very long timeone hundred and eighty years to be exactshe felt her legs tremble.
The reaction fortified her courage. It also erased any lingering doubts about her decision to leave L.A. and her freelance career as a tabloid photographer, for a small Texas town and an assignment with a regional travel magazine.
She'd ditched it all for sex.
Because Garret Sawyer had been the first man to give her a mind-blowing orgasm.
The only man.
And Viviana Darland wanted one more before her past finally caught up with her, and she bit the dust for good.
He had to be dreaming.
Another full-blown, heart-stopping, aching hard-on fantasy.
Because no wayno friggin' waywas she really here.
She eased off the bar stool and stepped toward him, and reality sank in.
That's what his head said. But his damned traitorous body wasn't nearly as pissed.
His muscles tightened. His spine stiffened. Heat swept through him, firebombing his dick until it throbbed to full awareness. His eyes drank in the sight of her, roving from her head to her red-tipped toes and back up again just as she reached his table.
She looked different now. So damned different.
Instead of being pulled back, her long black hair hung in soft waves around her face, accenting her bright blue eyes and full pink lips. A fitted navy blue jacket molded to her lush breasts and tiny waist. A matching skirt outlined her curvaceous hips. High-heeled sandals made her legs seem that much longer than the full skirts and petticoats she'd worn way back when.
Different, yet she still had the same glimmer in her eyes. The same confidence in her stance.
His nostrils flared, and he drank in the same warm scent of apples and cinnamon that he remembered so well.
"Is this seat taken?" Her soft, familiar voice slid into his ears and jump-started his heart. Before he could reply, she pulled out the chair opposite him and folded herself into it.
The music blared a fast ZZ Top song that kept time with his racing pulse. "What are you doing here?" he finally asked after a long, loud moment.
She held up a bottle of Lonestar and gave him the faintest smile. "Thought I'd sample some of the local brew."
"Not here at the Horseshoe." His gaze narrowed, colliding with hers. "Here. This town."
She shrugged. "I'm on assignment."
That's what she said. But her eyes. Those bluer-than-blue eyes said something much different. He didn't miss the flash of desperation. Or the glimmer of need.
"We haven't had any alien abductions or Elvis sightings in a while," he said, sarcastically.
"I'm not working for The Gossip Guru anymore," she said, referring to the national tabloid that sat next to the cash register at every grocery store and gas station in town. "I'm freelancing now. I'm doing a travel article on small towns." Her gaze collided with his. "Sexy small towns."
Her words stirred a rush of memories he'd buried a long, long time ago. Memories of the two of them having wild and crazy
Garret hit the brakes and made a U-turn before he wasted another second going down the wrong road.
He'd traveled that path once before, and he'd crashed and burned in a major way. Sure, he couldn't help a wet dream every now and then. But that was pure fantasy. An escape from the monotony of living year after year after year.
He sure as hell wasn't stupid enough to go for the real thing.
Not ever again.
He leaned back in his chair and folded his arms. "It's dusty here. And hot. And it smells like cow shit when the wind blows due south. We're smack dab in the middle of ranch country. There's nothing sexy about it."
"Not to you because you live here. But if you were stuck in New York or Chicago or Detroit, it would be a different story. There are quite a few people who would love to escape the daily grind of civilization and get back to nature. In a small town, you can do that. There's no traffic congestion. No pollution fogging the air. No concrete jungle. Just lots of birds and trees and rolling countryside." She smiled. "Come on, you have to admit the view around here is pretty incredible."
She paused to lick her lips, and he couldn't help but follow the motion with his gaze.
His stomach did a one-eighty, and the words were out before he could stop himself. "I suppose it's nice enough. But sexy?"
"It can be. If you're with that special someone. There are couples all over the world eager to find an old, quaint small town with friendly people and lots of local color for a romantic getaway."
"You've just described every town from here to the Rio Grande. That still doesn't answer my question why this particular town?" My town? His gaze collided with hers and he found himself wishing he could read her thoughts the way he could read those of humans.
But she was a vampire.
She always had been.
A knife twisted in his gut, and he stiffened. "Why Skull Creek?" he pressed.
She didn't say anything for a long moment. Instead, she licked her lips again. Once. Twice. If he hadn't known better, he would have sworn she was trying to work up her courage.
But he knew better.
Viv had never come up short on courage. She was a bloodsucker who took what she wanted. And discarded what she didn't want.