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Don't Blackmail the Vampire
By Tiffany Allee, Robin Haseltine, Candace Havens
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2014 Tiffany Allee
All rights reserved.
The ski lodge pub-slash-restaurant was filled to the brim with people. Since it was the more casual dinner option on the premises, most of the patrons wore varying layers of snow gear, and by the sound of it, they were pretty much all headed toward a good beer buzz. Unfortunately, none of them was the person Rachel Davis was supposed to be meeting.
Her sister was late.
"What's a pretty girl like you doing in a place like this?" a deep voice asked playfully.
Seriously? She suppressed the urge to roll her eyes, and instead offered the man a polite smile. Light-brown hair flowed with sun-lightened locks around a face that edged just on the right side of handsome versus pretty, and bright white teeth flashed at her. The man was obviously one who could use the lamest of pickup lines, because he could easily fall back on his good looks and broad shoulders. A slight shiver ran down her arms at that smile, and the tiniest bit of regret touched her. It was too bad, really. If she could fall for a handsome stranger — even for the night — her life would be a whole lot easier.
"This pretty lady is drinking alone in a place like this," she said.
"A shame! A travesty, really —"
She waved her hand at the moderately entertaining man. "Seriously. Not interested. Go find another fish. I hear there are plenty in the sea. Especially for a pretty guy like you." Why was he even talking to her? She was 99 percent sure that her bun, poufy coat, and ski pants weren't exactly screaming sexy and available.
He cocked his head and gave her an odd look. Did he really get turned down so seldom? Whatever. Not her problem. She'd never managed to nail the social niceties in life, at least not enough to turn down a man in a bar any more gracefully than she just had. He would just have to learn to deal with disappointment.
"Did you just call me ... pretty?"
"You're a male version of Helen of Troy. Now run along. Find another something pretty that appeals to you." Maybe if she confided in him that she hated the cold and everything that came with it, with a fiery passion, he'd leave her alone. In her experience, snow bums didn't care for warm-weather fans.
"There's a problem with that idea. You're the only woman I'm interested in, ah ... fishing for here."
Her pulse jumped and her face heated. The guy was good. And he was persistent, she'd give him that. Fine. She had nothing better to do. She'd play, just not how he had planned. She spun her barstool around to face him and the crowd of people milling about in the bar, forcing him to step back or get kneed. He moved, quickly, dancing back a step.
"What's your name?" She scanned the lounge, not bothering to check him out again. His attractiveness was already cemented into her mind well enough. Besides, her thoughts were full of problems way more serious than her love life — namely, her sister's love life. She didn't have room in her head for this player, no matter how amusing he thought he was.
"Well, Charles no-last-name, I can see a couple of fish who are already staring at you, and who are, quite frankly, a couple steps up on the scale from me."
"Are they?" he murmured, but his eyes never left her. Her stomach tingled in response and she forced her gaze away from his.
"Yep. Take that blonde for example." She jutted her chin in the general direction of a buxom woman who couldn't be missed in her spike heels and tight dress. The woman sure didn't look like she'd been skiing all day, or like she was scared of the cold weather. "She's gorgeous. Sexy but not trashy." Though she was right on the line, in Rachel's opinion. But heck, if she were braver and had that body she might ride the line once in a while, too. Or maybe not. Playing dress-up had always been her sister's game, while Rachel had preferred to play in the mud. "And she's checking you out."
"Is she?" he asked innocently, but mischief danced in his icy blue eyes.
Damn. A man shouldn't be that attractive and get those eyes to boot. Just wasn't fair to the rest of the world. Probably he was as cold and heartless as the color of his eyes suggested; his charm certainly didn't make that less likely. And he knew that blonde was checking him out, but she answered anyway. "Yep. Go get her, tiger."
He coughed, not at all masking a surprised laugh. "Maybe I'll do that."
She grunted in response and turned back to her virgin daiquiri.
"Thanks for the tip," he said. "It's been ... interesting."
Rachel grinned around her straw before glancing back at him, her expression bland. "Just interesting?"
"I don't meet a lot of interesting these days. Take the compliment." With that he winked — actually winked — then turned and headed for the blonde. "We'll meet again. Promise."
Interesting. Huh. She guessed there were worse things than a hottie hitting on her and calling her something vaguely complimentary. The man certainly got her pulse racing. But she didn't have the time or the energy to deal with a guy like that. Mostly, she didn't have the interest. Even though he practically had the phrase "one-night stand" tattooed on his perfect forehead, and the few dalliances she allowed herself were little more than that. Luckily, he would lose interest in her after five minutes in the blonde's company. A stab of disappointment hit her, and she mentally shook it off.
Less than five minutes and the rest of her daiquiri later, Brent and Kristen walked in the door. Cole trailed behind them — Brent's yes-man and all around minion. Buddies since high school, the two were practically inseparable. Cole wasn't exactly a bad guy, but he was in serious need of a spine.
Just like most of the people Brent surrounded himself with.
Together, Brent and Kristen appeared to have stepped off the cover of a magazine. Both tall and good-looking and shiny. Brent was handsome and smart, if a bit less than motivated. He was too GQ, but his style was at least partially funded by her sister's trust fund. He was also an ass, and a cheater. And definitely no good for her sister.
The odd man out next to the other two, Cole looked like he might design the website for whatever magazine they'd walked out of. Not an insult in Rachel's mind, since that's exactly what she did for a living.
"Hey, sis," Kristen said.
Rachel jumped off the barstool to give her a hug. Perfume, pleasant and not overly strong, cloaked Kristen, and the familiar scent made Rachel's throat tighten. Kristen gave her a small smile when they pulled apart, and Rachel fought the urge to hug her again, possibly to distract her sister so she could bonk her on the head and drag her out of the pub. Fat chance of that working, even if they were alone. Partially because Rachel had never actually hit anyone, and would probably mess it up like she did anything vaguely athletic. Second, her sister had a good six inches on her, so she'd be tough to drag out.
And sadly, she knew exactly how that would end, anyway. She'd do her best to protect her sister, but Kristen would crawl right back into danger.
Right back to Brent.
True to form, Brent didn't acknowledge Rachel and she didn't acknowledge him right back. They had an understanding. A shared loathing. They were practically relatives already.
"Hey, Rachel," Cole said, giving her a quiet smile that she couldn't help but return.
"We'll get a table," Brent said, his gaze scanning the room, and he and Cole disappeared back into the crowd.
"So are you ready to hit the slopes?" Kristen asked.
"Absolutely," she lied. She was a passable skier, but it wasn't something she'd normally choose to do with her spare time. She was more of a "stay next to the fireplace with a good book" sort of girl. But remaining close to her sister was important, especially now, when Brent insisted on insinuating himself between them at every opportunity. She'd tried telling Kristen that was a classic sign of an abuser, but her sister pointed out that Brent had no problem with any of her friends — the few she had left after her fallout with Brent's ex-girlfriend and Kristen's former best friend, Alice. Not that all of Kristen's friends liked Brent, but they were a lot better than Rachel was at hiding dislike.
"Brent has some important business contact meeting him here, so I guess we'll be a fivesome on the slopes tomorrow and maybe for the rest of the week. I don't know about the guy we're meeting, but Cole is still single." Kristen's eyes twinkled and Rachel rolled her eyes.
"You're not setting me up. Especially not with Cole of all people."
"What's wrong with Cole? He's cute! He has that sexy nerd vibe."
She supposed he was cute enough. Not in the obvious way the man who'd hit on her a few minutes before had been — where had he gone, anyway? The blonde was nowhere in sight either. Not that she cared. Cole was a much quieter kind of attractive. But no way would she ever date anyone who actually liked Brent — not that she dated much. "Nothing's wrong with him. He's just not my type."
"Do you have a type? I'm starting to wonder." Kristen brushed her long, straight chestnut hair behind her shoulder. Hair that Rachel had envied all her life. How was it they had the same parents, yet her hair was so damnably curly and Kristen's ended up so perfectly straight?
"I do. Can't help it that I'm choosier than some people."
Her eyes narrowed. "Don't start. We're here to have fun, and I won't have you ruining it." Her voice lowered. "I'm trying to make this work. Be an adult and accept it."
That her hope to ruin Kristen's relationship with Brent was the reason she'd come — or, more accurately, to open her sister's eyes to the realities of said relationship — gave her a tiny surge of guilt. She quashed it. Kristen deserved better. And if she didn't do everything possible to prove that before Kristen married the jerk, she'd never get over it.
As to what she could do ... well, that part would come to her. Definitely. She hoped. Leaving home without a solid plan wasn't like her, but for the life of her she couldn't seem to summon any ideas that either weren't ridiculous or had any chance of working.
"Ladies, our table awaits," Brent said, pushing back through the crowd. "Nice, uhh ... sweater, Rachel."
Her sister immediately brightened and touched his shoulder. He smirked at Kristen, but she didn't seem to mind.
Yuck. Kristen must have told him to be nice to her. Or to attempt it. Brent was usually smoother than that, so it wasn't much of an attempt so much as a way to placate Kristen. Rachel couldn't stomach dealing with him just yet though, so she turned back to the bar to grab the second daiquiri she'd ordered.
She followed Brent and Kristen out of the pub area into the restaurant. The noise lowered to a rumble instead of a storm, and the mass of bodies thinned somewhat. The tension loosened in her shoulders, but the sight of a smiling face already seated next to Cole at the table ramped it back up again.
"Well, hello." Charles grinned at her, and her ears burned. Brent's business associate — he had to be. Had he known who she was when he spoke to her in the lounge? Probably some mean-ass joke that Brent had decided to play on her. Get the hottie he was working with to charm his soon-to-be sister-in-law's number from her frigid hands.
Anger rushed through her and she shot Charles a cool glare. He merely raised an eyebrow, but his smile faded at the edges.
"Charles," she said, voice as hard and controlled as she could manage. The urge to dramatically pick up a glass of water from the table and throw it was overwhelming, but she wasn't sure if she wanted to toss it more at him or at Brent.
"You two know each other?" Brent's eyes widened slightly, and he sounded almost ... nervous.
A wave of relief swamped her. It shouldn't bother her so much, but the idea that Charles had hit on her because Brent urged him to was strangely upsetting.
"Not really," Charles said, offering her a reassuring smile. "This lovely friend of yours just broke my heart a few minutes ago, but I'm afraid I didn't get her name."
"Rachel," she said, surprising herself.
"Kristen's sister," Brent added, tone dismissive. He sat and Kristen followed, leaving a chair open across from Charles. Uncomfortable, Rachel followed suit.
"Broke your heart?" Kristen asked.
"Wouldn't give me the time of day, I'm afraid. Despite some of my best lines."
"Your lines need work," Rachel muttered, and Charles grinned.
Brent quickly moved the conversation to other things, a touch of business chat and a lengthy foray into his personal hobbies. Oddly, he seemed eager — not his normally cool self. Charles, for his part, acted caught up in the conversation, not hanging on Brent's words like some of Brent's buddies always were, but he was attentive.
Whatever business dealings the two were scheming up, it had to be important to both of them. Not that it prevented Charles from giving her the occasional private grin that caused her body to tighten and her resolve to harden. The man was more than a little incorrigible.
But after they'd finished their meal, and were headed into a second round of post-dinner drinks, Charles excused himself, fighting Brent's efforts to get him to stay.
"I'm afraid I have to be up early for a business call," Charles said, rising. "But we'll chat more tomorrow. After these ladies show us up on the slopes." Another charming smile for her and Kristen, then he was gone.
Approximately one second later, Kristen turned to her, face alight with excitement. "I think he likes you," she hissed.
Hah. Fat chance. But "if you say so" was all she said.
Kristen frowned at her apparent lack of interest and returned to finishing her chocolate brownie ice cream concoction.
"Let's head into the pub." Brent swirled the last sip of beer in his mug.
"I'll meet you guys over there. I just need to cool off for a sec. It's way too hot in here," Rachel said. A good excuse even though it wasn't why she wanted to get away. Colorado nights got cold, but the fireplaces at both ends of the lodge restaurant warmed things up — not to mention that it was currently crammed with enthusiastic skiers and snowboarders.
The front doors that guests were technically supposed to use were too far away. She needed to breathe now. So she ducked out a service door she'd seen by the restrooms in the pub.
Quickly, she slipped into the relatively quiet night. The area was blessedly empty of other people.
She breathed the night air for a few seconds, letting the coldness of the Colorado winter seep through her coat and into her skin. A not-so-pleasant change from the heat back in California, but it felt good after the stifling atmosphere at the table.
This was a useless exercise. Had she really thought she could convince Kristen to leave Brent when she'd failed so many times before? Her sister was twenty-seven years old — old enough to run her own life — but Rachel couldn't help trying to mother her. She'd done that since they were young, in spite of the fact that she was three years younger than Kristen.
And her sister knew very well that Brent wasn't a good guy — she'd seen more than enough evidence, and she wasn't an idiot. But she was stubbornly convinced that Brent was her happily ever after.
Rachel just had to make Kristen see that Brent wasn't good for her — that she was more in love with the idea of Brent than the man. Somehow.
From somewhere beyond the Dumpsters, she heard something. She went still, not even breathing. Crap. What if it was a bear? Or a mountain lion? Did Colorado have mountain lions?
Another sound, only slightly louder than before. A low moan.
She almost turned around and fled into the restaurant, her mind full of images of a bear attack or something equally horrible. But the moan hadn't sounded exactly ... unpleasant.
Again, she almost turned back the way she'd come. Only the image of the smug expression on Brent's face if she made a scene and it turned out to be nothing kept her from going back in.
Not sure if she was being stupid to check, or a pervert, since that noise had sounded rather heated, she edged her way to the Dumpsters. She just needed a quick peek, to make sure no one was hurt.
What she saw made her stop in her tracks.
Even with his head turned downward and his hair covering part of his face, he was unmistakable. Charles. Standing behind a woman whose back was nestled against his front, they faced the direction Rachel had come from. He seemed to be kissing her neck. She made low, needy noises while he gripped her tightly against him. The blonde Rachel had pointed out to him earlier.
Rachel gasped and something clenched in her stomach at the sight. It was so wrong, yet she couldn't look away.
Excerpted from Don't Blackmail the Vampire by Tiffany Allee, Robin Haseltine, Candace Havens. Copyright © 2014 Tiffany Allee. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
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