Read an Excerpt
Take it Like a Vamp
By Candace Havens, Liz Pelletier
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2012 Candace Havens
All rights reserved.
"It's sad when your best friend makes your panties melt," whispered Casey as she pulled the Harvard sweatshirt over her head and threw it on the bathroom floor of her apartment. "I mean, how sex-starved do you have to be?" The mirror she stared into had no answer for her, so she yanked down her sweatpants and the Spanx she wore under them.
Turning sideways, she viewed the pouch. That's what she called the small bump below her belly button. No matter how many sit-ups she suffered through or flutter kicks she endured, the pouch never disappeared. And if that wasn't enough, there were her curvy hips. Skinny jeans need not apply. And the boobs. She could probably feed a small village with these puppies.
Casey was no troll, but she was nothing like the long-legged, no-hip, concave-chested super models Nick dated, and she never would be. Her penthouse neighbor and best friend never failed to have the most beautiful arm-candy. Only fair, since he was God's gift to women. Tall, dark, and super hot.
And so damn sweet he hurt her teeth.
Casey kicked her sweats to the corner of the bathroom, as if they were to blame for her sexual frustration. "You have to stop thinking about him that way."
Not that it showed, but she and Nick worked out together. They had Sunday brunch together. He even watched Night Angels, her favorite vampire show, with her every Wednesday. And he always gave her a hard time about the men she dated. He never approved, which was appropriate since she was a homing device for assholes.
Three months ago, she decided to take a more proactive approach and date only intelligent men, but even the Sheldons of the world turned out to be jerks.
Her latest was Larry, the computer programmer, who only wanted a girlfriend to get him beers while he was locked in epic World of Warcraft battles. Casey'd tripped in front of the TV — totally by accident — in her tightest, lowest-scooped T-shirt, and — totally by accident again — her boobs had distracted Larry from his elven crusade for all of twenty seconds. As a result, he claimed he'd lost his rank as Highborne or whatever, and she'd had to put the girls away. He drove her home and dumped her unceremoniously at the curb of her condo, where she did the walk of shame in front of her favorite doorman, Scooter.
Her walk of shame was different than most. It meant she didn't get any.
That happened a lot lately.
Seventy-year-old Scooter had opened the door for her and then patted her on the head. "Had the look of a serial killer, that one. You're better off without him."
If that hadn't been humiliating enough, Nick lectured her about holding out for the right guy.
The man just doesn't have a clue.
"You're a beautiful woman, with the kindest heart I know," he'd said as he handed her a box of tissues. With those mesmerizing eyes of his and that stupid perfect skin, there was no way he could understand what she went through on a daily basis.
She'd blubbered something about not being beautiful, and he'd shaken his head.
He was the kind one, and so thoughtful. Just last week he'd given her a first edition of Dickens's A Christmas Carol, one of her all-time favorites. He'd picked it up at some charity auction because he thought she might like it.
Why couldn't she find a man like Nick? He didn't need to be beautiful, just one who treated her ... with consideration. Was that kind of relationship restricted only to the friend category?
Granted, Nick never dated the same woman twice, but at least he always picked them over video games.
After flipping on the shower, she took the ponytail holder out of her hair and quickly brushed through her blond curls. Well, sort of blond. Her hair darkened over the winter to more of a dull taupe. She hated it, but the last time she'd tried to color her hair it had turned out the shade of a dirty brass doorknob.
Stepping under the warm spray, she tried to use the water in a desperate metaphoric attempt to wash away her melancholy. This happened every time she worked out with Nick in the fitness center of their condo building. When he ran on the treadmill and lifted weights, he looked like Adonis with his dark blond hair and chiseled chin. The man was so out of her league, it wasn't funny. His gleaming hard muscles, taut thighs, and bulging biceps called to her as she did her best to get rid of the pouch. To maybe give him something to drool over. Today, he'd wiped away sweat with the tail of his T-shirt and she'd glimpsed his perfect eight-pack of abs. Her fingers ached to —
Squeezing a dollop of shampoo into her palm, she fiercely lathered her scalp. The only reason she obsessed about Nick — perfect, perfect Nick — was because of her drama with Larry.
We're thinking positive. The law of attraction is a powerful thing. Think it and you can make it happen.
She'd been listening to a self-help book while she worked out. If Nick ever found out, he'd rib her for weeks.
Okay, law of attraction. Attract me a guy like Nick. Right now.
No genie appeared with a hunk of man for her, so she rinsed her hair.
Ten minutes later, as she reached for a fluffy white towel to dry off, she heard a noise. Cocking her head, she listened carefully.
She wrapped the towel around her and stepped into her bedroom — well, really former-Uncle-now-Aunt Teddie's bedroom. When Casey's parents were killed in a car crash nine months ago, Teddie had insisted she move into the condo with her. It didn't matter that Casey was a college graduate, had her own place (even if it wasn't much bigger than a rabbit hutch), and a job. Oh, and she lived across the country. At the time, Casey didn't have the energy to fight with her aunt. She had been close to her parents and their deaths left her hollow and sad.
Aunt Teddie constantly traveled from one ashram to another in a persistent search for her spiritual center. She'd come home to unpack every few months, hang out for a week, and then she'd be gone again. Having been an Internet billionaire as her male self, Teddie had the time and money to do whatever she wanted now. Her aunt had begged her to travel with her, but Casey was beginning to make a name for herself as a graphic artist at her new company. She had momentum, and she didn't want to lose it.
The apartment was spacious and Aunt Teddie had decorated it like a five-star hotel. Not the homiest place Casey had ever lived, but she loved the amenities. She could call room service twenty-four-seven to make whatever food she wanted. The huge walk-in closet was as big as her last apartment, and her clothes only took up a fourth of the space.
Another strange sound had her pausing in front of her closet. Was that the door?
She forced herself to calm down. No one could get past security in the building. Nick not only owned the building, his company designed it.
Probably Carmen, the housekeeper, who came in Monday through Friday. Teddie might have changed her sex, but her OCD stayed intact. She insisted the place be spotless at all times, even while she was traveling.
Casey adjusted the towel above her breasts and stepped into the hallway. "Carmen? Is that you?"
She rounded the corner of the living room. She squeaked and gripped her towel tighter when she spotted Nick standing by her front door.
His gaze dropped to the towel and back up. "Sorry," he said as he held a hand in the air. "I swear, I didn't see anything." He was in dark jeans and a dark T-shirt. Hair still wet from his own shower.
"What's up?" As much as she tried to act casual, her voice sounded husky — maybe even sexy. She cleared her throat.
Nick lifted up a bottle of wine. "I brought down a new wine for you to try. You're always so good about knowing when I should invest in things, and I'm considering this winery in Italy."
His gaze zeroed in on her legs, then flashed quickly back to her face. His eyes darkened to an impossible degree when he took a step back.
"Oh." She managed to say, blushing furiously. Awkward much? He looked like he'd just seen a ghost.
She closed her eyes and prayed the floor would open up and swallow her. When it didn't, she opened her eyes, and found Nick smiling at her like he always did. A friendly smile. Not an I-want-to-see-you-naked smile as she'd fantasized so many times in her dreams.
"You know where the opener is, I'll — um — yes. I'll put clothes on." She turned on her heel before he could answer, and shut the bedroom door. Leaning back against it, she caught sight of herself in the full-length mirror across the room and froze.
Holy hell. The small towel covered her breasts, and most of her belly, but the Red Sea had parted to show off her holy land. Her goodies had literally been on display while they had their conversation, and she'd bet a bigger towel that he hadn't been looking at her legs.
Oh, sweet baby Jesus. You have got to collect yourself. It wasn't as if he hadn't seen a vagina before. She was sure he'd seen plenty. And he'd been enough of a gentleman not to mention it.
She hoped he never mentioned it.
Properly clothed and as composed as she'd ever be, she found Nick in the kitchen. Teddie had spared no expense here. The room looked like something out of Architectural Digest and had all the latest gadgetry. Shiny steel appliances, a coffee maker a barista would die for, and two stainless steel refrigerators. Carmen kept the fridges filled with health-nut food, yet another edict from Teddie.
"Wow, I'm sensing deep thoughts," Nick said.
She forced a smile as he handed her a long-stemmed crystal wine glass. "Yes, deep thoughts concerning cupcakes and what cheese would go with this." She took a tentative sip of wine, and the heady liquid trickled over her tongue, leaving the flavor of oak, and something she couldn't quite place. It wasn't grapes ...
"Wait, it can't be," she said rubbing her tongue across the roof of her mouth. "Is that cherry?" She didn't know a lot about wine, but Nick had shared some of his immense knowledge about the subject over the last nine months.
Ever since their first tasting session he encouraged her to speak up if she didn't like a particular bottle. "Don't like something just because everyone else says it's good," he told her.
"Yes," Nick answered her about the fruit flavor as he put a tray on the counter between them. It had three kinds of cheese and a variety of crackers. He never brought the cheese. That was her thing.
The confusion must have shown on her face, because he shrugged. "I was at Grayson's Deli and they had one of your favorite trays made up."
"Oh, Nick. You are too good to me." She touched his arm lightly, and the muscle beneath her fingers tensed as he sucked in a breath.
He twisted and then coughed into his other hand. She felt her face heat up. He was probably as embarrassed as she was concerning the Holy Grail exposé. She should refrain from touching him for at least twenty-four hours — maybe a week.
"Bit into a peppercorn." He cleared his throat. "Those things can be murder on the throat."
After a tight smile, he held up his glass. "Here's to you making it two miles on the treadmill." He clinked his glass with hers. "You'll be running marathons with me in no time."
Casey snorted, doing her best to go along with the nothing-happened-here facade. "Yeah, right. The only reason I run on that stupid treadmill is so my three-pint-a-week Chunky Choc ice cream habit doesn't make me any curvier. Some people run for health, I run for food."
Nick chuckled. She loved how she could always get him to smile. Everything was so serious to him. He had once told her that she was the one person he could relax around.
She understood. Everyone seemed to want something from him since he was a bazillionaire. Granted, she did too, even though she'd never admit it. But her wants had nothing to do with money. While her uncle — er, aunt — had been wealthy, her parents were college professors. They had a good life, but it was nothing like the way Nick lived.
No ... she wanted something else entirely from him.
He leaned against the counter, the material of his T-shirt stretching over that mouth-watering eight-pack, and grabbed another piece of cheese.
When she was finally able to tear her gaze away from his torso, she noticed the small lines of tension around his eyes. He was upset about something. He once told her he didn't like to burden her with his problems. Instead, he liked to hear about her life, mundane as it was.
"So, I'm over Larry." She winked at him.
One of his eyebrows shot up. "That's good, since he was a complete ass, and you only went on three dates."
"Easy for you to say. If I don't get laid soon, I might combust. I mean, a vibrator only gets a girl so far."
Nick choked, and she patted him on the back.
"You, okay?" She thumped him a little harder and it hurt her hand. Damn, he was solid. She had the crazy urge to stop patting and rub her hand over the steely muscles, slip her fingers under his shirt, and glide across the velvety softness of his smooth skin —
He coughed again and brought her back to reality. She shoved her hands deep in her pockets, mentally chastising herself for feeling him up in the first place.
"I told you last night, you'll find the right guy soon." He sipped his wine.
"You keep saying that because you're sweet. But girls like me — I mean. You're so wanted all the time, you can't understand what it's like to be the crunchy Milk Dud in the pack."
He laughed. "What the hell does that mean?"
"You know," she said. "Every pack has that one piece of candy that, when you bite down, it feels like it's made out of stone."
"Can't say I've ever had one of those," he said casually as he placed a bit of Brie on a cracker and bit down. His teeth were so white, she'd always wanted to ask him what he used to keep them that way.
He was rich. They were most likely capped.
"Are you kidding? It kills me how deprived you are. We need to have a candy fest. The best is when you melt them and pour the gooey mess over popcorn."
He screwed up his face as if that were the worst idea he'd ever heard.
"Don't be a food snob. It's soooooo good." She closed her eyes and imagined the sugary goodness. "A bit of salty and sweet." She ran her tongue across her lips.
Nick coughed again, but the sound came from far away. She really hoped he wasn't coming down with a cold.
Her eyes popped open to find an empty space where he'd been standing. How had he moved so fast? Had she been so caught up in food porn that she hadn't heard him move?
"I'll be back in a bit." As he opened the door, he had a strange look on his face. "I forgot I had a call coming in, and I left my phone upstairs." His voice sounded weird as if he were struggling to speak, and those damned eyes of his ... she'd swear they were black as night.
She glanced up at the light fixture and frowned. Had a bulb gone out?
The door shut before she could reply.
Way to go embarrassing him with all the talk about vibrators and Milk Duds right after you flashed him. The way her mad skills with the opposite sex were working, she would probably soon be eating more Milk Duds than the pouch could handle and getting to know her vibrator much more intimately.
"Maybe I should name it." She popped a piece of Camembert in her mouth. Once the idea flashed in her mind, there was no way another name would work.
The giant, purple, vibrating dildo had a new name.
"Mr. Nick, it is."
Excerpted from Take it Like a Vamp by Candace Havens, Liz Pelletier. Copyright © 2012 Candace Havens. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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