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Texas, Present Day
He hadn't had sex in forty-eight hours.
While two days of deprivation was nothing for most men, Cody Braddock wasn't the average guy. He was a hell-raising, adrenaline-loving, nine-time Professional Bull Riders champion—known to the world as Cody "Balls to the Wall" Boyd—just weeks away from record-breaking buckle number ten.
He was also a vampire who fed off of blood and sex.
Cody was desperate for both as he walked into the crowded Sixth Street bar in the heart of Austin, Texas.
A Nickelback song blasted from the loudspeakers and vibrated the walls. A splatter of colored lights bounced off the sea of writhing bodies that filled the small dance floor. The air reeked of beer and stale cigarette smoke.
It was the kind of place people came to drown their troubles and forget. A bad day. A cheating spouse. An arrogant boss. A stack of unpaid bills.
A little liquid courage, a lot of sex, and all would be right with the world. Or so they thought.
He read that much in their gazes, and what he couldn't see when he made direct eye contact, he felt.
Lust and desperation swirled into a nearly irresistible aphrodisiac that filled his nostrils and lured him deeper inside the club. Body heat pushed and pulled at him from every angle. Dozens of heartbeats mingled together in a steady ba-bom ba-bom that echoed in his head and throbbed through his body. A strange awareness crawled up his spine and he glanced to the right.
His gaze collided with a pair of deep, unreadable brown eyes and he quickly realized he wasn't the only one looking for a little action tonight.
He didn't know the guy's name or anything about him. He onlyknew that the young gun wasn't human and that he'd come to feed. A long time ago, Cody would have been surprised at running into another vampire. They'd been few and far between back when Cody had been turned.
There were more. They existed side-by-side with humans, feeding on them when the need arose and tossing them when they were finished. They were the ultimate predators. Alluring. Persuasive. Powerful. Invincible. Deadly. The moral barometer had slipped away right along with the humanity. Forgotten like a bad day.
But Cody refused to forget.
He still remembered the last beat of his heart. The last draw of breath. The last flutter of life. The memories haunted him, driving him almost as fiercely as the hunger. To find the vampire who'd slaughtered his family that fateful night and destroy him once and for all.
Cody still had several miles to go before he reached his destination—a small town north of San Antonio, Texas. But he was a hell of a lot closer than he'd been when he'd first seen the copy of Motorcycle Mania featuring the trio behind Skull Creek Choppers, the fastest growing custom motorcycle manufacturer in the south.
One glance at the picture and he'd been pulled back to the moment when his life had changed forever. When he'd changed. In a fiery blaze, he'd lost everything that mattered to him—his mother, his sister-in-law, his nephew, his brothers, his home.
Not that Brent, Travis and Colton were dead like the others. His brothers had suffered a fate far worse than a mortal death—they'd been turned just as Cody had. They lived in isolation now, feeding off blood and sex, doomed to an eternity of hunger. One eaten up by guilt, one driven by anger, one so indifferent he didn't give a shit about anyone or anything.
And Garret Sawyer, the creative genius behind SCC, was the vampire responsible.
Cody could still remember the pain in his skull, the blackness. When he'd regained consciousness, it had been Sawyer who'd loomed over him, his fangs bared, his face and clothes covered in soot and blood. He'd held a knife in his hand.
The same knife he'd used to kill Cody's mother.
Cody's oldest brother Colton had seen Sawyer, as well. The same face. The blood. The knife.
It was Sawyer, all right. It had to be.
And Cody intended to make him pay for what he'd done. Maybe then the what-ifs would stop once and for all.
What if he hadn't left his brothers to head for town?
What if he'd ridden in a minute sooner?
What if he'd been there?
Cody forced aside the endless questions and concentrated on the task at hand—feeding and gathering his strength.
He shifted his attention back to the younger vampire. He gave a quick nod. The vamp replied in kind before turning back to the woman next to him. He smiled and the brunette practically swooned. A split second later, he steered her toward the rear exit.
Cody's gut tightened and his mouth watered, and anxiety rushed through him. His shoulder cried, reminding him of yesterday's practice ride on an ornery bull named Mabel prior to picking up the Motorcycle Mania issue. While vampires weren't susceptible to mortal injuries, they still felt pain. More so than the average human thanks to heightened senses. Translation—when he hurt, he friggin' hurt.
Not for long though.
He stared through the dim interior and met a pair of deep blue eyes rimmed in a quarter inch of black eyeliner.
Her name was Laura and this was the first time she and her new boyfriend had gone out on the town as a couple. She loved the guy who stood next to her with his arm around her waist, but she wished he wouldn't act so damned possessive. It wasn't like she was going to ditch him. Although she might consider it if the hot-looking cowboy staring at her gave the slightest indication that he had the same thing in mind.
The arm tightened around her waist and Cody shifted his gaze to her companion. His name was Mark and he worked on a road crew. He didn't like men looking at his woman and he sure as hell didn't like his woman looking at any men.
Cody tipped his hat and shifted his gaze elsewhere. There were too many available women to get himself stuck in a love triangle. Especially when he wasn't looking for love, or anything close. Not that such a thing existed. He'd been around over one hundred and fifty years and never in all that time had he seen anything close to such an emotion. Like? Yes. Lust? Hell, yes. But one man/one woman, to have and to hold, 'til death do us part love?
It just didn't exist. Not for a vampire like Cody, or the man he'd once been.
A man just like his father.
He ignored the thought. It didn't matter now. The only thing that mattered to him was sustenance.
His attention shifted to one of the bar maids loading her tray with longnecks. As if she sensed his attention, her gaze snapped to his and all of her secrets whispered through his head. Her name was Jenna. Her husband neglected her and so she'd started wearing her shorts shorter and her T-shirts tighter. She mainly flirted for bigger tips, but she'd been known to sleep with one or two if the chemistry—or the money—was right.
Ditto for number one.
She smiled and he tipped his hat.
And then he turned away because Cody had a strict Hell no! policy when it came to married women. They rated right up there with the innocent, naive types because, inevitably, they wanted more from him than a few hours of bliss.
They wanted a real relationship, and he wasn't in any position to stick around and deliver. His survival depended on knowing when to cut and run. Sure, he was riding a high with his rodeo career right now, but the end was fast approaching. Especially with Benny James hot on his tail.
James was a reporter for No Bull, a fanzine type magazine about the rodeo circuit. He'd put in through Cody's publicist for an interview several months ago, which Cody had declined. The reporter hadn't taken the news too kindly and he'd made it his mission in life to get the dirt on PBR's hottest star. He'd starting mentioning Cody in his monthly Who's Who column, calling him the Lone Ranger and stirring as much speculation as possible. About Cody's extremely private lifestyle. His uncanny athletic prowess. His high tolerance for pain.
Bull riding was a tough profession and there wasn't a rider out there who didn't wear the battle scars. Broken bones. Bruises. But not Cody. The only scar he had came from a case knife back during a particularly nasty raid on a Union general who'd been holding Confederate prisoners. He'd been a man then and vulnerable.
He was the ultimate riding machine now. Strong. Fearless. Invincible. Crazy.
Then again, he'd always been a little crazy. Impulsive. Wild. Not a good thing for a vampire desperate to keep a low profile.
James was onto him. While the man might not have figured out Cody's true identity or his bloodsucking secret, he knew something was up.
And now, thanks to the column, so did everyone else.
The entire rodeo world was questioning how long the infamous Cody Boyd could keep going at such a brutal pace. It was just a matter of time before a vampire slayer picked up on the speculation and put the puzzle pieces together.
Cody had been trying his best to keep his impulses in check, but the effort had made little difference. He needed to quit the circuit completely. Go back to being just plain old Cody Braddock and working the horse ranches the way he'd done for the past one hundred years. He would, just as soon as Balls to the Wall Boyd broke the PBR record for the most consecutive championships. One more season, and it was his.
His gaze shifted to the blonde standing near the corner of the L-shaped bar.
She had fast and fleeting written all over her. From the skimpy pink dress that outlined a pair of porn star breasts, to the hot pink cowboy boots that made her legs seem long and endless. Full, thick platinum hair framed her heart-shaped face and plunged past her shoulders.
She had bright sparkling eyes as potent as a bottle of Jack Daniels fringed with thick black lashes. An extra layer of pink lipstick accented her lush mouth and stirred an image so evocative that his cock gave a quick salute.
A reaction that tightened every muscle in his body and set off his internal alarm.
A definite first because he'd never been the least bit interested in a woman's mouth, no matter how attractive, or how experienced. Not when he'd been a man—young and wild and as horny as the day was long—and not now.
He didn't waste his time with soft kisses or gentle touches. He took the lead in bed, stirring and provoking until his partner exploded and he drank in the vibrant energy of her climax.
Not that he didn't try to get his O on every now and then, too. What red-blooded male—man or vampire— didn't want to come? But Cody always found himself getting caught up in the woman's big moment rather than his own, and once the beast was fed, he lost his enthusiasm. Which explained why he hadn't had an actual orgasm with a woman since he'd opened his eyes as a vampire.
He enjoyed himself. He fed. But he never came.
He had no doubt now would be any different. Even if the lust burning up his veins felt hotter than it usually did. More potent.
His gut clenched and his dick ached. It was all he could do not to cross the room, bend her over the bar, pull up her dress and sink into her hot, lush body.
She looked more than appropriate for what he had in mind. But while her body said do me, her eyes told an altogether different story.
Her name was Miranda Rivers and she was way out of her element. She'd never worn her hot pink cowboy boots. Never been to a bar. Never picked up a stranger. She'd never even drank more than one margarita.
She was working on her third and she wanted a man. And sex. She wanted to live out just one of her fantasies before she turned her back on all of them and continued down the straight and narrow path she'd been traveling her entire life.
This was her detour.
Her one chance to let her guard down and live out one of her many fantasies.
Wrong. While she had a body made for sex, she'd never had an actual orgasm with a man. That's what tonight was all about. Since she hadn't exploded with the few safe, boring men in her past, she'd decided to go for forbidden and exciting.
Unless the problem wasn't the men.
She was the common denominator. The one constant in each lukewarm encounter. What if she simply wasn't capable of an orgasm?
Her gaze collided with his and he saw the instant spark of lust. A surprising reaction because he hadn't sent any seductive thoughts her way. He hadn't enticed or mesmerized, or anything. She was attracted to him of her own accord.
Heat rolled through his body like a swig of whiskey and sucker punched him right in the gut.
He stiffened. While she might be attracted to him, the last thing he needed was to waste his time on a what if. He needed to turn around and walk the other way no matter how lush her body or how full her mouth or how desperate he was to taste her.
He needed a sure thing.
He started to turn away. But then she smiled and his hunger stirred, and he couldn't help himself.
Cody Braddock had been a slave to his impulses far too long to stop now.