Read an Excerpt
Are you tired of nursing down that bottle of O+ all by your lonesome? Did you spend the last full moon drinking Cosmos and lusting over the American Kennel Club finals? Do you spend every eve - ning scarfing a Hungry Man (or woman) and watching TiVo?
If your first reaction was Uh- oh or How’d she know that? to any of the above, then you are cordially invited to a meet and greet dinner party, hosted by Dead End Dating, Manhattan’s number one matchmaking ser vice for vampires, humans and Others. Join fantabulous host (and incredibly well- dressed vampire) Lil Marchette for a night of dinner and dancing and romance in the pent house of the Waldorf Astoria. Disclaimer—DED is an equal opportunity dating service that does not discriminate based on race, sex, looks (or lack of) or appetite. Net worth, however, is an entirely different matter— i.e., don’t forget the checkbook, debit card and/or Visa Gold.
I propped up the framed copy of the engraved vellum invitation I’d mailed out to every appropriate single in Manhattan and tried to calm the butterflies in my stomach.
I’m the Countess Lilliana Arrabella Guinevere du Marchette (Lil for short), a five- hundred- year- old (and holding) born vampire. I’ve got super- fab taste in clothes, a to- die- for collection of MAC cosmetics and a hot, hunky, bounty- hunting boyfriend. I so had it going on.
Ix- nay the nerves, right?
I’m also the own er of Dead End Dating, Manhattan’s primo matchmaking ser vice for vampires, weres, Others and even the occasional human. As of five minutes ago, I had exactly one week to match up over a dozen paid- in- full clients, otherwise I failed to make good on my Find- your- one- and- only- in- sixmonths- or- get- your- money- back! guarantee.
Since I didn’t do refunds (not unless I wanted to return half my wardrobe and say bye- bye to my new iPhone), I had to pick up the pace. Pronto. Hence, my latest super- fantabulous brainstorm— the meet and greet dinner party about to happen right here. Right now.
I drew a deep breath (not because I had to, but, hey, when in Rome . . . ), straightened my green Roberto Cavalli dress (a floor- length, strappy chiffon number à la Rihanna) and finished setting up the hostess table. I added DED business cards, name tags, promotional pens, koozies and calendars, even a few pics and testimonials from previous clients. I sprinkled some rose petals and debated whether or not to hand out the Viagra samples in my bag or just spike the drinks when no one was looking. I knew none of the born vamps in attendance would need a little penis pick- me- up (our entire existence revolved around sex— we were conceived via the nasty, we stopped aging when we lost our virginity, we chose an eternity mate based on orgasm quotients and fertility ratings), but what about the dozens of Others out there? FYI: While I’d been spreading the love to the wealthy and weird for several months now, I’d led a very pampered, sheltered, elitist existence in all the 499 plus years before then (emphasis on elitist). In other words, I wasn’t exactly Dr. Drew when it came to mating habits of the various species.
The only thing I did know for sure? The hornier the clients, the lower the standards, the sooner everyone paired up.
I eyeballed the bag a split second before stashing it, complete with samples, under the table. What? So I’m a romantic. I freely admit it (to anyone except my ma, that is).
The frantic voice drew my attention and I turned just as a frustrated blonde rushed up to me.
Evie Dalton could man the phones, key in profiles, text multiple clients and suck down a steaming latte— all without smudging her lip gloss. She was the best assistant a vampire could ask for. She was also human, and completely unaware of my fanged and fabulous status.
The 411 on to night?
She thought it was just another movie theme party. Like the toga fever spawned by Animal House and the fifties sock hops à la Grease. To night’s brain candy? Contemporary monster mania courtesy of the barrage of recent horror movies such as 30 Days of Night and The Mist.
In honor of the occasion, she’d donned a silver jacket with eight sparkly “legs,” a sequined mini– smock dress and three- inch glitter sandals. She looked like Spidey’s wet dream. So good in fact that, with the exception of a fading bruise on her neck and some seriously rank breath, it was impossible to tell that just two short weeks ago she’d been possessed by a demon. And that she’d come this close to heading downtown (way, way down) to become Satan’s own personal bee- yotch.
I’d been so busy hiding her from the long arm of the Prince brothers (a hot, hunky trio of demon hunters who just so happened to be demons themselves) that I’d sort of let the rest of my work pile up.
The demon was now back in hell, the Prince brothers were back to making women drool and rounding up hell’s Most Wanted, Evie was back in the office (and munching Tic Tacs) and I was making up for lost time.
“Say cheese.” She snapped several pics with her digital camera before handing me a clipboard and a copy of the invitation. “I need you to take these and brief Nina while I get them to relocate the flambé table ASAP. The fangs on the ice sculpture are melting. Thankfully I got a picture for our brochure before they completely dissolved.”
Evie had decided that free donuts and coffee weren’t enough. We needed a high quality, full color brochure to pimp our ser vices. She’d found a rockbottom price (courtesy of her computer savvy/sexual deviant cousin— think small furry animals) and I’d jumped at the idea.
“Now,” she declared, turning and glancing around the crowded foyer. “Where the hell is that catering manager?”
“Why not just hike the air- conditioning down?” I suggested.
“Won’t the guests be cold?”
“They’ll be more inclined to pair up and snuggle.” She grinned. “I knew there was a reason you were the boss.” She handed me a small box with a corsage. “Make sure Nina puts this on, too. If you can find her. One minute she was at the bar sucking down a Bloody Mary and the next—poof—gone. Vanished into thin air.”
Or the nearest storage closet.
“I knew it,” I declared when I threw open a nearby door to find the MIA Nina.
Nina Lancaster— aka Nina One, the blond half of The Ninas, who’d been my best friends since birth— was the daughter of filthy rich hotelier Victor Lancaster, who owned the Waldorf along with several five star establishments throughout New York and Paris. Nina was rich, beautiful (big surprise, right?) and living with my middle brother, Rob. They’d been seeing each other since I’d hooked them up a few months ago. Judging by the spaghetti straps that sagged near her elbows and my brother’s untucked button- down shirt, they’d been about to see a lot more of each other in the next five minutes.
I glanced at Rob. His eyes were glazed and hooded. His fangs gleamed. A hungry growl vibrated the air. Okay, make that the next five seconds.
Anxiety rushed through me. “Can you please boff my brother on your own time?”
“I’m not boffing him.” She grinned and tugged her straps back into place. “Not yet.” She touched a hand to her mussed hair. “Besides, this isn’t your time. I donated the ballroom, so that makes it my time.”
She had a point.
I traded in pissed- off client for desperately needy friend. “But I need you to screen guests at the entrance.”
“Get Evie to do it,” she said as Rob leaned in to nibble at her neck.
“I’m sending her back to the office on a ‘dating emergency.’ I want her out of here before the party’s in full swing.” Which was why I’d purposely scheduled a new client this eve ning. My plan? To pretend I’d forgotten the newbie. I would then beg Evie to handle the profile meeting while I stayed and captured pics for the infamous brochure. “She’s the best assistant in the world. I can’t have her wind up as some vampire’s sex slave, or the midnight snack for a hungry werewolf.”
Or worse, realize that the fangs I was sporting were the real deal. I wasn’t ready to break the born vamp’s number one commandment— Thou Shalt Keep a Low Profile— and come out of the closet to Evie. My mother would kill me. Even worse, I wasn’t sure if Evie was ready to work for a vamp. So far, she’d been wonderful. But it was a lot to swallow and I just wasn’t sure whether she’d take me out for chocolate martinis to celebrate or call in the rowdy villagers. I hadn’t gone into mega credit card debt decorating my office to have the whole thing wind up torched. Rob kept nibbling and Nina all but swooned.
“Hello? Did you hear a word I said? I’ve got a nohuman policy happening here.”
“You’re talking,” Rob murmured, “but there’s nothing coming out.”
I leaned in and pinched my brother. He paused to glare and I appealed to Nina again. “Evie won’t be here. She can’t be. You have to do it.”
“Who says?” she asked as Rob resumed his nibbling.
“Your best friend in the entire universe.” I gave her a knowing smile. “We’re practically sisters. You know you’d do anything to help me.”
“Which is why I loaned you the ballroom for free.”
“And I totally appreciate it, but I still need this one teensy, tiny favor.”
“To night’s my night off.” In addition to being Daddy’s Little Vamp, Nina was also the hotel’s chief hostess. “I just showed up to tell you to make sure that nobody gets blood on the white settees. Daddy will kill me.”
“I’m willing to beg.”
“I’m a born vampire. We’re not ge ne tically wired for sympathy.”
“Are we ge ne tically wired for greed? Because I’m willing to pay.”
She grinned and shooed away Rob’s hands.
“What’d you have in mind?”
I did a mental of my most recent purchases, singling out the key items that I knew would melt her hard- ass resolve. “Ferragamo sunglasses?”
“I’ve got three pairs.”
“Michael Kors bangle bracelets?”
“Hermès lipstick compact.”
She shook her head. “There’s no such thing.”
“If you think so.” I shrugged a shoulder. “But I just happen to have one from the insanely small, limited edition collection purchased by a select few clients who have the right connections.” In this case, a bisexual sales assistant at Barneys who I’d glammed ages ago. I’d been scamming primo purchases ever since. “But if you’re not interested—”
“Okay, okay. I’m going.” She gave Rob an apologetic smile. “Sorry, babe. What can I say? I’m shallow.” He grinned and dropped a quick kiss on her lips. “Just one of the many things I love about you.” A wwww . . .
My heart swelled for about an eighth of a second before I remembered who was actually in the closet with Nina.
My very own flesh- and- blood brother.
Middle- born son of Countess Jacqueline and Count Pierre Gustavo Marchette of the French Dourdou Valley.
Descendant of one of the first (and snottiest) born vamp families in existence.
Propagator of the species and all- around playa playa.
And he’d just used the L word.
Before I could find my voice, Nina grabbed my hand and hauled me off toward the entrance to the ballroom. “What color?”
Rob. Nina. Love? “What color what?”
“The lipstick case.” She nudged me, shattering my thoughts. “What color is it?”
I shook away my sudden excitement and focused on the here and now. “Hot pink with rhinestones and Swarovski crystals.”
“And there’s even a tiny diamond inlay on the inside mirror near the Hermès logo.”
She squealed and snatched the corsage from my hands. A few seconds later, she had a single red rose pinned on the bodice of her Carolina Herrera original and the clipboard in hand. “I’m armed and ready. What do you want me to do?”
“Just greet everyone and check invitations. No one gets inside without one.”
“What if he’s cute?”
“It doesn’t matter. No invitation, no party.”
“Hand him a business card, talk us up and send him on his way.”
“Stick a name tag on him and send him in.” What can I say? This vamp had her priorities. After a few more instructions (pass out an extra pack of DED promotional mints to all weres, hand over cologne samples to every demon, ask blood type preference for vamps), I left Nina at the entrance and headed inside to see the end result of eight days of wicked stress and frantic planning.
The room was huge, with ornate frieze work and gleaming black marble. A large dance floor had been set up in the very center, the circular area surrounded by clusters of round tables covered in crisp white linens. A polished silver candelabra dominated the center of each table. A black napkin tied with gold filigree rope adorned every place setting. Candlelight flickered, making the china and crystal sparkle. Moonlight filtered through the wall of glass windows behind the small (I’m on a bud get, all right?) but tasteful band I’d booked for to night. The place oozed romantic ambience, and for the first time since I’d started planning the event, I actually believed that it might work. Up to that point I’d been running on sheer desperation and crazy hope. My gaze shifted to the far corner of the room and the huge silver fountain flowing with champagne. Next to that sat a Bloody Mary bar. Mary herself wasn’t in attendance (not yet anyway— my mother had sent her an invitation on my behalf), but there was plenty of AB−, vodka and Tabasco sauce to keep the vamps happy. Next to that sat a meat lover’s buffet sporting everything from roast beef to lamb chops. The food was barely cooked ( we’re talking rare) and plentiful for the weres. For the demons? Several gleaming silver tureens filled with split pea soup. Add a dessert bar with everything from fudge overboard to raspberry cheesecake for the few fairies who’d been invited, and there was a little something for everyone.
In fact, the entire room reminded me of the “It’s a Small World” ride at Disneyland. I had the sudden urge to sing “Kumbaya.”
Or, in this case, “Monster Mash.”
Everything looked absolutely perfect.
Which should have been my first clue of the coming disaster. I mean, really. A roomful of vamps, d-men, weres and fairies? Talk about a massacre just waiting to happen.
The first to draw blood? A hot- looking brother from down under. At least, I thought he was a demon since I couldn’t smell him (nix vamp), nor could I read his thoughts (forget human) and he didn’t look ready to howl at the moon (so not a were).
His name was Justin Something- or- other and he was über hot. I wasn’t sure where he’d come from (he wasn’t on my guest list), but I wasn’t about to argue with the whopping cash retainer he presented to Nina when he showed up at the door. Or the Visa Gold Card he flashed for incidentals. He was desperate to find a plus- sized made vampire and I just so happened to have the perfect woman for him. Esther Crutch was a nice, sweet, stylishly chic made vampire I’d met while getting a spray tan at my favorite salon. Unfortunately, the stylishly chic packaged a size 14 body and so Esther didn’t get as much nooky as the rest of her kind.
Made male vamps were so shallow.
Okay, so were born male vamps, but enough with the details.
Esther and Justin. Talk about a perfect match. I introduced them and stepped back to let Cupid do his thing.
One minute they were doing a hot salsa number and eyeballing each other and the next, they’d traded the ballroom for the sitting area. Go Cupid! I wasn’t sure what happened after that. I just knew, judging by the bloodstained sofa, that it wasn’t good. My heart pushed up into my throat as I stared at the crimson mess.
“I knew someone was going to spill a drink,” Nina said as she came up behind me. “Daddy’s going to take it out of my allowance for sure.”
“I don’t think this is a spilled drink,” I finally managed, my voice small and tight. I picked at a torn piece of Esther’s dress that had caught on the edge of a mirrored coffee table. The fabric was soaked with red, the edges jagged where it had ripped on the table. Or where someone had ripped it.
An image flashed and I remembered Esther, a strange expression on her face as Justin had led her from the ballroom.
I’d been five steps behind them because I’d wanted a pic for the brochure. I’d paused to calm down an overly excited were who’d been upset because we’d run out of au jus for the roast beef.
By the time I’d reached the sitting area— my camera poised and ready to capture an eternallyever- after in the making— they were gone.
“Holy shit,” Nina gasped as the reality of the situation seemed to hit her. Her nostrils flared and her eyes brightened. “That really isn’t wine, is it?”
“No.” My throat tightened around the word. “It’s Esther.” I forced a swallow. “I think she’s been kidnapped.” The ripe smell of fresh blood flooded my senses. Goose bumps crawled up and down my arms and a strange sense of doom settled in the pit of my stomach. “Or worse.”