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Fanged & Fabulous
By Michelle Rowen
Grand Central PublishingCopyright © 2007 Michelle Rowen
All right reserved.
Chapter OneJogging is great exercise. Running for your life-even better.
At least that's what I tried to tell myself.
It was the new jogging suit that did it. I felt all J. Lo in my fuchsia velour (admittedly a little outdated, but happily purchased for half price) out for a quick, late-afternoon jog. Feeling good in the cold but fresh February air with my newest pair of very dark sunglasses firmly in place.
I guess I shouldn't have smiled at the cute young guy by the hot dog cart outside of my apartment building. Firstly, because, hello? I'm taken, thank you very much.
Secondly, because of the whole "fang" situation.
Fangs never seem to go over very well with vampire hunters.
Next thing I know, instead of getting a modest workout-surprisingly enough, a diet of diluted blood is not calorie-free-I was hightailing it through a nearly deserted park with a hunter on my Reebok-clad heels.
I shot a look over my shoulder. "Leave me alone!"
"Stop running, vampire!" he hollered.
I eyed the wooden stake he had in his right hand, and then picked up my pace, darting past a couple of speed walkers who didn't bother to give us a second glance.
Almost an entire month had gone by without seeing a single hunter. A very good month. Enough for me to let down my guard way too much.
"I'll catch you!" the hunter shouted from a few steps behind me. "So why don't you stop running and save me some time?"
I jumped up as we passed an overhang of evergreens and grabbed at the nearest icicle. Then I stopped abruptly and spun around to face him with the sharp piece of ice clenched in my hand.
He skidded to a halt, almost slamming right into me, and looked at me with confusion. "You stopped."
"I'm trying to be more proactive these days. Come near me and this-" I indicated my drippy weapon "-is going through your eyeball."
My heart was beating so hard and fast I thought it might burst out of my chest like the slimy creature in Alien. Vampire hearts beat just as hard as human hearts. I never thought they did before I became one. I used to think that vampires were undead. But they aren't. They're just another kind of alive. Heartbeat mandatory to stay that way, otherwise what difference would that famous wooden stake make?
Hunter-boy was actually kind of cute. Probably in his early twenties, with fashionably shaggy dark hair, a thin but attractive face, and brown puppy-dog eyes. He wore a black leather jacket over ... beige Dockers?
I could totally take him.
"Proactive?" He raised an eyebrow and shifted the stake to his other hand. The frozen air puffed out of his mouth with every breath he took.
I shivered, and it wasn't just from the temperature. "Yeah, that's acting in advance to deal with an expected difficulty. I looked it up. It means that instead of running like a chicken with my head cut off-pardon the cliché-I will confront my attacker and deal with the situation in a calm yet forceful manner."
"You're smart for a vampire," he said.
I raised my eyebrows at that. "Really?"
"A vampire who's about to die."
I tensed and curled my other hand into a fist. I'd been going to self-defense fitness classes with my best friend Amy for a couple of weeks. It was true that only a few hour-long lessons probably weren't going to earn me any major ass-kicking awards, but I felt a little more confident about my current woman-in-jeopardy situation. A little.
Proactive with a capital P. That's me.
Okay, now I was shivering and sweating. I take it back. I wasn't confident. Not in the slightest.
Hunter-boy was going to stake me. Easily.
"What's your name?" I blurted out.
"Is that short for anything?"
"Yeah, it's short for 'I'm going to kill you now.'" He frowned. "Why are you still talking?"
He kicked the icicle out of my hand. It hit the ground next to me and shattered. I blinked at it.
I held my shaking hands up in front of me. "Look ... Chad, just walk away now. You do not want to mess with me." What was I going to do to get out of this alive? To defend myself? I'd go for the groin. Always a good place to start. And end.
"Let me tell you a little something ..." he paused expectantly and raised his eyebrows.
"Sarah," I offered, without thinking. Stupid.
"The only reason you're still talking, Sarah, is because I'm allowing it. I might not look it, but I've dusted over a dozen vamps, this year alone."
I swallowed hard and felt a trickle of perspiration run down my spine.
"Well, if you've killed that many," I said, even less confident now if that was possible, "you should know it's not really dust. It's more like goo."
"Whatever." He looked down at the stake, ran his thumb along the sharp tip, and then glanced over at me. "Now let's get this party started."
Hell, he looked fairly harmless what with the Dockers and all. Guess you can't judge a man by his casual, stain-resistant pants anymore.
I turned and tried to run farther into the park along the snow-covered, cobblestone path, but before I got more than a few steps, I felt his hand clamp down on my shoulder, stopping me in midflee. He spun me around, then shoved me so hard that I stumbled back and fell to the ground in a heap. I scrambled back a few feet on my butt and looked around frantically. We were all alone. Why were we all alone? Where were innocent bystanders when I needed them?
"I'll make it quick." Chad winked at me. "If you stay nice and quiet for me."
Yeah, like that was going to happen. "Are you aware that you're the bad guy?"
That stopped him, but his stony expression didn't change. "What?"
I shuffled back a little more, feeling the cold snow against my bare hands. "Vampire hunters are evil, homicidal bastards who kill for the fun of it. They're the bad guys. Vampires are completely harmless. Like adorable, pointy-toothed bunnies."
He laughed a little at that and stepped closer. "Yeah, right."
I held a hand up in front of me to stop him from getting any nearer and slowly and shakily rose to my feet.
Keep him talking, I told myself.
I tried to smile and felt my cheeks twitch nervously. "Let's talk big picture here, Chad. Do you know what you'd be doing if you murder me?"
"Slay, you mean."
I shook my head. "Don't try to make it sound all Hollywood. You'd be murdering me. Just because you think I'm a monster. But I'm not a monster. I'm just a little dentally different than you."
He studied me for a moment, his expression growing uncertain. "You drink blood, don't you?"
I made a face. It sounded so gross. "This is true. But it's provided by willing donors. There's kegs of the stuff, hopefully sanitized and homogenized or whatever they do to make it clean and disease-free."
"You're an undead creature of the night." He frowned and jabbed the stake in my general direction.
I looked up and pointed at the sky. "Sun's still up, isn't it? And I'm breathing. Heart's going all pitty-pat. Seriously, you need to read up a little on the topic. Take some notes."
Chad sighed heavily. "You're saying that everything I've been told all my life-everything I've ever believed-has all been a lie. That I haven't been doing my job as a protector of mankind by ridding it of bloodsucking monsters, I've actually been killing innocent people."
I nodded enthusiastically. "Bingo!"
He stared at me for a moment and then snorted. "You're funny. That's almost enough for me to let you live, but you know what? Not going to happen."
I tried to scramble away from him, but he grabbed my fuchsia-covered leg and pulled me back until he was completely on top of me, pinning my arms under his knees so all I could do was thrash from side to side like a wounded seal. He grabbed my face and squeezed, making my mouth open up so he could inspect my fangs. He ran a thumb over one of them.
"I usually take these from the young ones I slay. Got myself a nice necklace now."
I sank my teeth (fangs included) into his hand as deep as I could, and he pulled away with surprise and a sudden yelp of pain.
He smacked me across the side of my face. "Shouldn't have done that, vampire."
"You touch me again and my boyfriend is going to rip your lungs out," I hissed.
"Yeah?" He smirked and looked around from his position on top of me. "I don't think I see your boyfriend anywhere. Or anyone else for that matter. It's just you and me."
"He's a master vampire and he's not a big fan of hunters. Lungs? Ripped out? Do I need to repeat myself?"
That got his attention. "A master vampire? In Toronto? There's only one that I've heard of."
"That's him. Do I need to mention the ripping out of lungs again?"
His raised stake lowered slightly, and his brow furrowed. "Did you say your name was Sarah?"
"So what if I did?"
I struggled to get out from under him but he had me pinned too firmly. "Get off me, you bastard."
Surprisingly, he did. As if there were wires attached to his body like a marionette, he sprang to his feet and stared at me with a deep frown while I slowly got up and brushed myself off.
"Sarah Dearly," he repeated. "The master vampire's girlfriend."
I glanced at him warily. "How do you know my name?"
His eyes widened. He breathed in a deep breath of cold air and let it out slowly before he spoke again. "Everyone knows about you."
"The Slayer of Slayers." He said it under his breath and took a step backward.
"The what of the what?"
"Last month ... the massacre at the vampire lair. You killed so many hunters ... so many ..." His voice trailed off and he brought a hand to his mouth.
What in the hell was he talking about?
He took another step backward and hit the thick trunk of a tall oak tree next to a park bench. "I ... I ... should never have ..." His eyes shifted back and forth and I noticed the hand that held the stake was now shaking. "Please, spare me. That whole thing earlier, me acting all tough ... that was just an act. The other hunters ... they're so mean, and they all think I'm weak. I was just out for a hot dog and a Coke, that's all. Please, don't hurt me. I was kidding about the fang necklace! Really!"
Last month, there had been a hunter/vampire showdown at the Midnight Eclipse, my boyfriend (sounds like a silly thing to call a six-hundred-year-plus-old vampire, but that's what he was) Thierry's secret vampire bar.
It was true that the night in question was a major deal, that a lot of people got hurt, both hunter and vampire, and that I may have ... possibly ... sort of ... had to kill a hunter named Peter, jerk that he was. But that had been pure self-defense-and something I was still feeling great gobs of greasy guilt from, even though he'd majorly deserved it. And it had been with a gun, not with my bare teeth as Chad seemed to indicate with the fearing-for-his-life expression on his now-sweaty face.
Now everyone knows my name?
The theme song from Cheers suddenly began to play in my head.
I took a step toward him and he fell to his knees, the stake falling to the ground. He put his hands together and began to pray in barely coherent whispers. With a trembling hand he reached inside his shirt to pull out a heavy silver cross, which he then held up to ward himself against me.
I sighed. Let's just nip this in the bud, shall we?
I closed the remaining distance between us, reached forward, and grabbed the cross to show him that it didn't hurt me at all. It was quite pretty, actually. And shiny. His eyes widened in fear.
Then I grabbed his shirt and pulled him up to his feet-easy to do since he was like a rag doll now-then brought him close enough that our eyeballs were only inches from each other.
"I will let you live ... today," I said, calmly and dangerously. I used to aspire to become a world-famous, well-paid actress, so I just called on that questionable ability to give my words a little extra weight. "But if you or your friends come near me again, I shall bathe in your blood."
Ew. Did I just say that? How disgusting.
But it seemed to get my point across. Chad was now the one scrambling backward, nodding like a lunatic, saying, "Yes, yes, I promise," over and over again. Then he got shakily to his feet, and with a last look of fear-the intense kind one might have just before losing total bladder control-he turned and ran from the park like the proverbial bat out of hell.
I leaned over and picked the stake up from where Chad the Vampire Slayer had dropped it and studied it for a moment. I had to go find Thierry, tell him what had happened here, and ask him what I should do about it. If anybody would know, he would. He just wasn't going to be too happy about it.
Slayer of Slayers, huh?
I threw the stake into a nearby garbage can.
That new little nickname was so going to come back to bite me in the ass.
I first tried calling Thierry's cell phone, but it immediately took me into voicemail, which was frustrating at the best of times. He wasn't at his townhome, either. So I'd gone back to my apartment to change, then paced back and forth impatiently until eight o'clock when I knew somebody would be at his new vampire club. It didn't open for another hour, but some of the staff would already be there setting things up.
It had only been one week since Haven opened. I didn't like the place as much as Midnight Eclipse. Instead of being hidden behind the façade of a tanning salon, the entrance to Haven was a plain-looking door located along an abandoned alleyway. No bells, no whistles. Just an ugly, three-hundred-pound vampire bouncer named Angel (unfortunately, no relation or even a passing resemblance to David Boreanaz) who sized up vamps who came a-knocking.
Typically the entrance was also monitored by Barry Jordan, the manager of the club. He was extremely short and usually dressed in a tuxedo as well as a sour and annoyed expression. The guy hated me with a passion. Can't say I was all that thrilled with him either. Unfortunately he recently married my best friend Amy, who seemed to like him just fine for some odd reason.
Barry had a really annoying habit of calling Thierry "the master," which was very Renfield, and kind of creepy. And he seemed to have a big problem with those who did not refer to him that way. Namely, me.
Barry wasn't at Haven tonight. It must have been his night off.
The club was small, intimate, with dark walls, ornately carved cherry wood tables and chairs. A splash of color came from the blue and teal ceramic tiled floor, which had a swirling pattern like a whirlpool. Actually it looked more like a flushing toilet, if you ask me. Modern chandeliers dripped from the ceiling, filling the club with a soft, flickering light that filled me with anything but ease. I was way too stressed out by the time I got there.
"Where's Thierry?" I blurted out as I entered the club.
George was lighting a candle on a nearby table and he looked up at me. "Do you realize how often you enter a room saying that?"
I blinked at him.
"You could come in here with a 'Hi George, how are you doing George,'" he continued. "But, no. It's all about Thierry."
I felt a wave of anxiety. "I need to find him. I have a major problem."
He rolled his eyes. George was a waiter at the club. He'd also worked at Midnight Eclipse, and I considered him one of my very best fanged friends. Totally gorgeous, too. He had shoulder-length sandy blond hair, a square jaw, high cheekbones, full lips, and bedroom eyes. A body like a Chippendales dancer, or one of those hottie male models on the covers of romance novels. Yeah, George was damn hot.
Too bad he played for the other team.
"Marco dumped me," he announced.
"My boyfriend." He frowned. "You knew that already."
I shrugged, feeling too distracted to fully concentrate on what he was saying.
"He was one of the construction workers who worked on the club," he said.
"Oh. Well, I'm sorry. I'm sure you'll ... I don't know ... meet somebody else." I glanced around the dimly lit club. "So where's Thierry?"
He sighed and leaned against the table. "Your lack of compassion for my acute depression is duly noted. What's your trauma du jour, anyhow?"
I quickly explained what had happened, starting with the jog and ending with my new nickname. George whistled.
"Well, that explains all these crazy rumors I've been hearing," he said. "About some badass vampire in town. I never realized it was you. No offense."
My anxiety increased another notch. "There are rumors? Already? What am I going to do?"
He appeared to think about it. "You should probably talk to Thierry."
I felt a rough tap on my shoulder and I turned around. A husky man wearing a dark blue ski jacket presented me with a fang-filled grin. "You Veronique?"
I stared at him blankly. "Not even remotely. Who are you?"
"I'm her ride to the airport."
Excerpted from Fanged & Fabulous by Michelle Rowen Copyright © 2007 by Michelle Rowen. Excerpted by permission.
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