Read an Excerpt
By Amanda Ashley
ZEBRA BOOKSCopyright © 2010 Amanda Ashley
All right reserved.
Chapter OneDaisy O'Donnell's compass wasn't much good for finding north or south; but then, she wasn't lost or trying to navigate her way around the world. She was hunting vampires, and her little silver compass with its bright golden needle worked perfectly fine for that. Although it wasn't really a compass. More like a GPS for locating the resting places of the Undead. All she had to do was drive down the street and follow the needle, which turned bright red when she was within a few feet of an occupied lair.
There was no dearth of locations for vampires to hide in the greater Los Angeles area these days. She had found lairs inside shallow caves up in the hills, in dusty attics and cobwebby basements, in ancient cemeteries, abandoned buildings, and foreclosed tract homes.
Daisy felt a rush of satisfaction as the needle shimmered and quivered, telling her she was getting close to the daytime resting place of one of the Undead. The vampire she was currently hunting had made its lair inside an old wine cellar in an abandoned restaurant in downtown LA.
Daisy paused outside the lair, her nose wrinkling with distaste as she sprayed herself with Scent-B-Gone, a concoction guaranteed to mask her distinctive scent from all but the most powerful vampires. The spray itself evaporated within an hour or two, leavingnothing behind.
The door to the wine cellar creaked like something out of an old Vincent Price movie as Daisy pried it open with a crowbar. Leaving the crowbar outside, she stepped through the doorway, turned on her trusty four-cell flashlight, and cautiously made her way down the rickety wooden stairs. She swept the beam from right to left, uttered a soft sound of satisfaction as the light disclosed a pale pink casket in the far corner.
Her feet made hardly a sound as she walked across the dusty cement floor and raised the lid. The vampire, a young female, slept inside. Her name was Tina. Daisy recalled a well-known maxim that claimed old age and treachery would overcome youth and skill. She didn't know if that was true among mortals, but it definitely applied to vampires. They got stronger and meaner as they grew older. And unlike their young counterparts, really old vampires weren't completely helpless or unaware of what went on around them during the day, which made hunting the old ones doubly dangerous.
Although Daisy had done this sort of thing many times before, it always startled her to look at one of the Undead at rest, because they looked very dead indeed. The vampire lay on her back, her arms folded over her breasts. Her hair was dark brown; her skin beyond pale. Had Daisy been a bounty hunter who destroyed the Undead instead of a Blood Thief, she would have had to obtain proof of her kill, either a sample of blood, or-grisly thought-a hand or a finger. Of course, if the destroyed vampire was very old, the hunter had to gather its ashes, since that was all that was left after the ancient ones were dispatched.
After tucking the flashlight under her arm, Daisy pulled a large syringe out of one of the deep pockets of her jacket, several small plastic bottles out of another, and got to work. There were vampire hunters who drained the Undead of their blood for fun and profit and then took their heads, and other hunters who destroyed vampires simply because of what they were.
Daisy didn't have the stomach for bounty hunting. Taking a head or driving a stake through the heart of an unconscious vampire was a nasty, messy business, and she couldn't forget that, no matter how horrid she thought vampires were, they had once been human. Still, there was good money to be made as a Blood Thief. She had earned a tidy fortune by selling vampire blood on the Internet. Do you have an injury that refuses to heal? Rub a little vamp blood on it. Got a cold that simply won't go away? Take two aspirins and a spoonful of blood mixed with the drink of your choice. Want a high that lasts all night? Vampire blood will do the trick with no ugly aftereffects, as long as you don't imbibe too much. An ounce enhances all the senses. Anything over that, and you probably won't wake up in the morning.
Daisy herself had never indulged. The mere idea of drinking blood, even if it was mixed with something more palatable, like a glass of fine red wine, was totally repugnant.
Daisy took a pint or so from a vein in the vampire's left arm, enough to fill her current orders, and tiptoed out of the cellar with the sleeping vampire being none the wiser. When Tina woke that night, she would know someone had siphoned some of her blood, but Daisy would be long gone by then.
After retrieving her crowbar from outside the cellar door, Daisy returned to her car. She stowed the bottles in the ice chest in the backseat, slid behind the wheel, and headed home. She didn't feel the least bit of guilt for what she had done. Why should she? Selling vampire blood wasn't against the law, and since vampires had no human rights and no legal recourse, there was nothing the Undead could do about it.
Unless they caught you.
And then all the laws and ordinances in the world weren't worth the paper they were written on.
Chapter TwoTina usually roused with the setting of the sun, her mind and body alert. Tonight, she was overcome with a feeling of lethargy. Had she been mortal, she would have blamed it on not getting enough sleep, but she was a young vampire, compelled by a force beyond her control to rest from sunrise to sundown.
There could only be one answer to the overwhelming sense of weakness that engulfed her. The Blood Thief had preyed on her while she slept. A glance at the partially open door at the top of the cellar stairs confirmed her suspicion that her lair had been violated. She would have to find a new resting place. Craig had been pestering her to move in with him. Maybe it was time she did. He would protect her during the day.
Rising, she sniffed the air, hoping to catch the scent of the mortal who had dared enter her resting place uninvited, but there was no hint of anything out of the ordinary, no trace of soap or cologne, no human scent at all.
Feeling defiled, Tina left the wine cellar and went to visit her current mortal lover.
Craig didn't seem the least bit concerned when she told him what she thought had happened.
"You probably just imagined it," he said with a shrug. "After all, we went at it pretty hard before you left last night." He grinned at her. "I expect even a vampire would be a little tired after that."
"Maybe. But that doesn't explain the door. Someone forced it open. I didn't imagine that."
"If you're all that worried, why not mention it to Rhys?"
Tina nodded. Rhys Costain was her sire. He had brought her across two years ago. Her feelings toward him were somewhat ambivalent these days. The only reason she had asked for the Dark Gift was because she had fancied herself in love with Rhys, and because she had believed he loved her, too. She knew better now. Rhys had never loved her. He didn't love anyone but himself. But he was still her sire, sworn to protect her with his life, if necessary. And even though she hated to admit it, she still harbored feelings for him. How could she not? Of course, being a little older and a little wiser now, she realized that what she really felt for Rhys was lust, not love. Even though he was an old vampire, you couldn't tell it by looking at him. He had been turned a week shy of his twenty-first birthday. Tall and slim, well muscled without being bulky, he had short, spiked blond hair and dark brown eyes, eyes that never let you know what he was thinking or feeling.
Tina nodded again. "Maybe I will."
"You can talk to him later," Craig said, dragging her into his arms. "We've got better things to do now."
Tina smiled as Craig bared his throat. She would drink from him, and then he would drink from her. And after that ... she closed her eyes as her fangs pierced his flesh. After that, they would make love all night long.
Chapter ThreeThe Crimson Crypt was the most popular Goth club in the greater Los Angeles area, especially on a Friday night. In addition to the ever-growing Goth crowd and LA's dwindling Undead population, the Crypt had become a popular hangout for up-and-coming Hollywood starlets, producers, musicians, and fans of the same.
Erik Delacourt grimaced as he made his way toward the bar, which was unique in its circular design. Made of polished black onyx, it stood in the center of the floor ringed by black leather bar stools. Three bartenders, all clad in black muscle shirts and tight black leather pants, waited on the customers at the bar; a handful of waitresses wearing black tank tops and short black leather skirts took orders from those sitting at the booths that lined two of the walls. A small square dance floor took up space on one side of the club; half a dozen pool tables were scattered near the back wall. Subdued lighting offered a measure of privacy to the rich and famous who sought anonymity in the club's dark corners.
Erik found an empty seat at the bar and ordered the house special. Glancing around the room, he spotted several celebrities holding court, as well as the drummer from a popular Irish band. Unlike Erik, the drummer, who was known only as Cougar to his fans, made no attempt to hide the fact that he was a vampire. Instead, he used the inherent charisma of their kind to his advantage. Many mortals, females especially, were drawn to the air of mystery and danger that clung to members of the Undead community.
Erik sipped his drink. It satisfied his physical thirst, but he found no pleasure in it. It was like hungering for milk and being given water, though in reality, he had no taste for either.
He had just ordered a second glass when a woman entered the club. A pretty woman in her midtwenties, with lightly tanned skin and heavily lashed green eyes. Her hair, a deep reddish brown, fell halfway down her back. She wore flat-heeled white boots, blue jeans, and a long white leather jacket over a white shirt. His nostrils flared as she passed by him on her way to a vacant stool not far from his.
Erik frowned. She was human, but she smelled of vampire. No doubt she was one of the dozens of human females who frequented the club, getting their kicks from rubbing elbows with the soon-to-be famous and the infamous. Or maybe she got off on letting vampires feed off her. Drinking vampire blood was all the rage now, though only the very rich could afford it. The thought of her feeding off him stirred his desire; the thought of him feeding off her aroused his hunger. He ran his tongue over the tips of his fangs, imagined himself bending over her neck, licking her skin, tasting her life's essence.
As if sensing his thoughts, she whirled around to face him.
She was lovely, young, ripe. Erik put aside the glass in his hand, no longer interested in its watered-down contents. Not when there was a possibility he could score something better. Something hot and fresh, directly from the source.
Daisy stared at the man sitting at the bar, felt a rush of heat engulf her from head to foot when his gaze met hers with such intensity, it was almost physical. Dressed all in black, he was long legged and broad shouldered, with thick black hair and the kind of rugged countenance that made a girl look twice. But it was his eyes that captured her attention. Deep, dark eyes that seemed capable of penetrating her innermost thoughts, of probing the depths not only of her heart, but her very soul.
Shaking off her fanciful thoughts, she took a seat at the bar and ordered a strawberry daiquiri. Even though she was no longer looking at the dark-haired man, she could feel the weight of his gaze resting on her. Without moving her head, she slid a sideways glance in his direction, felt a jolt of desire sweep through her when her gaze again met his. Never in all her life had she felt such a strong attraction to a complete stranger.
Her stomach knotted as he rose smoothly to his feet and walked toward her, although walked didn't really describe the way he moved. More like a jungle cat stalking its prey. The thought made her mouth dry and her palms damp. Her gaze darted toward the exit, but it was too late to escape. He was already standing in front of her. He was tall, she thought, looking up. Very tall.
His voice, as deep as ten feet down, raised goose bumps on her arms.
He gestured at her glass. "May I buy you another drink?"
"No, thank you." Was that pitiful whimper her voice?
"Are you sure?"
Daisy nodded. What was wrong with her? She was behaving like some teenager who had just met her favorite rock star.
His gaze moved over her face, warming every place it touched. When he smiled, her heartbeat kicked up a notch.
Pull yourself together, Daisy, she chided. It's not like you've never talked to a handsome man before. So why did this one have her tongue tied in knots?
"I suppose a dance is out of the question?"
She felt her cheeks grow hotter as she imagined being in his arms. She was about to decline when she heard herself say, "I'd like that."
He looked as surprised as she was.
And then there was no more time for thought. He held out one large, well-manicured hand. After a moment's hesitation, she placed her hand in his. A shiver of awareness coiled in the pit of her stomach as his fingers closed over hers, and then he was leading her toward the small dance floor, drawing her into his arms. Long arms. Strong arms that made her feel protected and endangered at the same time.
She had watched numerous scenes in movies where couples danced and everything else faded away-Kathleen Turner and Michael Douglas in Romancing the Stone, Michael J. Fox and Julie Warner in Doc Hollywood, Amy Adams and Patrick Dempsey in Enchanted. As much as she had loved those scenes, she had always found them hard to believe. Until now. She wasn't aware of the music or the other couples on the floor; she wasn't aware of anything but the man holding her close. Too close, she thought, but feeling his body brush against hers felt so good, she had no inclination to object. He was tall and dark and decidedly masculine. Being in his embrace made her achingly aware of her femininity, of the delightful differences between male and female, of the way their bodies had been created to fit together, complementing each other.
Her only regret was that the music ended too soon. Or maybe just in time, she thought, because as sure as she knew her name, she knew what was coming next. He was going to ask her to go to his place, and she didn't think she was strong enough to refuse. Just thinking about being alone with him made her ache in places no man had ever touched.
Murmuring, "Thank you for the dance," she pulled her hand from his and all but ran out of the Crypt. She knew it was only her imagination, but she could have sworn she heard the sound of his amused laughter following her all the way home.
Daisy thought about Erik all the next day. In the shower. In the kitchen. At her computer. At the post office. His beguiling image seemed branded in her mind. The sound of his voice, low and sensual, played over and over in her head, as relentless as the theme from "It's a Small World" at Disneyland, although there had been nothing childish or fanciful in the way Erik's decidedly deep masculine voice had caressed her. Just thinking about him made butterflies dance in the pit of her stomach and brought a flush to her cheeks.
Admit it, Daisy thought, you're as giddy as a high school girl with her first serious crush.
She wished her best friend and confidante, Jennifer, still lived in LA, because she definitely needed someone to talk to about Erik, but Jennifer had married the love of her life last month, and after an extended honeymoon in Europe, would be moving to France with her new husband.
Excerpted from Everlasting Kiss by Amanda Ashley Copyright © 2010 by Amanda Ashley. Excerpted by permission.
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