Nina Bangs is “sinfully delicious” (Christina Dodd) and “utterly unique” (Booklist).
Wicked Fantasyby Nina Bangs
Goddesses kick butt when you tick them off—Conall O’Rourke learned this the hard way after killing an Irish deity’s favorite in battle. His punishment? He’s cursed to protect Kavanagh descendants down to the last arrogant/b>/i>
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From New York Times bestselling author Nina Bangs comes the third novel in the Castle of Dark Dreams series.
Goddesses kick butt when you tick them off—Conall O’Rourke learned this the hard way after killing an Irish deity’s favorite in battle. His punishment? He’s cursed to protect Kavanagh descendants down to the last arrogant jerk. Now there’s only one left, and Conall thirsts to claim his freedom after centuries of servitude. But who knew the remaining Kavanagh would be so beautiful...
Gerry Kavanagh has dedicated herself to tracking down bad guys of the nonhuman variety. Unfortunately, she finds more than the wereweasel she’s after at the Castle of Dark Dreams. The most despised member of the O’Rourkes expects to shadow her every step so he can “serve and protect” her. Nope. Never going to happen. Too bad he takes hot way beyond sizzling...
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Praise for Wicked Nights
“Paranormal romance filled with humor and sex . . . and with the right touch of suspense . . . Action-packed. Readers will enjoy this wicked tale and look forward to novels starring Eric’s siblings, a demon and an immortal warrior, that will surely sparkle with fun.”—Midwest Book Review
“Intriguing.”—The Eternal Night
... and the novels of
“Sinfully delicious.”—Christina Dodd
“The key to Ms. Bangs’s clever . . . novels is the cast never does what the reader expects. [She] combines vampires, time travel, and . . . amusing romance that will lead the audience to read it in one enchanting bite.”
—Midwest Book Review
“Bangs puts a . . . darkly brooding hero together with a stubborn heroine; adds an amusing cast of secondary characters . . . and then mixes in several different paranormal elements and equal measures of passion and humor to create . . . [a] wonderfully creative, utterly unique romance.”—Booklist
“A witty, charming, sexy read.”—Christine Feehan
“Sensuous and funny . . . A true winner.”—Romantic Times
“A sizzling story . . . With steamy love scenes and touching characters, Ms. Bangs brings readers into her world and sends them away well satisfied with the power of love.”
“I know I can always count on Nina Bangs for an exceptional read! A pure stroke of genius.”—The Best Reviews
Berkley Sensation books by Nina Bangs
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(with Janelle Denison and MaryJanice Davidson)
(with MaryJanice Davidson and Janelle Denison)
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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content.
A Berkley Sensation Book / published by arrangement with the author
Berkley Sensation mass-market edition / May 2007
Copyright © 2007 by Nina Bangs.
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“You are so burnt toast without butter, hot bod.” Sparkle Stardust aimed her most ferocious-but-still-sexy glare at the man leaning his hip against her candy counter. And a spectacular hip it was, attached to an equally yummy torso topped off by broad muscular shoulders beneath his white T-shirt.
The grim reaper tattoo on his right bicep was a cool touch that added to his whole dangerous-dude image. Sparkle loved dangerous men.
Too bad he had scrambled eggs for brains. “Question to self: Who in their right mind would dare insult me to my face?” Sparkle tapped her chin with one perfect nail, rolled her eyes to the top of her head, and pursed her lips in fake thought. “Um, no one with the sense of a beetle.”
“You have no idea who I am.” His glance was dark defiance.
“Damn right. I don’t have a clue who you are. I just know the Big Boss sent you here to learn at the totally perfect knee of the best. That would be me, the undisputed number one at creating sexual chaos throughout all of humanity.” Why the hell had the Big Boss sent her someone with a big, fat attitude? Deimos might have been a little immature, but he’d at least been malleable.
Stupid Guy’s smile was slow and sensual, almost as sexy as hers. But beneath the smile something shadowy lurked, something that chilled her. Sparkle frowned.
“I’ve been a cosmic troublemaker for a lot of years, lady, and I don’t need anyone to teach me about erotic energy.” He leaned closer. “Or its uses.” His amber eyes set off little squiggles inside her that usually only did their thing with Mede. “I sort of resent that the Big Boss sent me here for training. How hard can messing with humans’ sex lives be?”
Rage darkened his eyes. He might sound almost playful, but the eyes didn’t lie. This guy was trouble. What a waste. His lips were made for kissing every inch of a female body, and his thick tawny hair begged for a woman’s fingers. He had a lot to live for, but he was definitely working on a death wish.
“So beautiful . . .” Huge fake sigh. Sparkle did regretful sighs well. Okay, so she did everything well. “So dumb. Let’s get things straight. You were sent here to take the place of Deimos—who had an unfortunate obsession with action heroes—because I’m simply the best at creating wicked sexual situations. So are you up for being mentored or not?”
“I’m up for lots of things, but being mentored isn’t one of them.” He lowered his thick lashes and gripped that luscious lower lip between perfect white teeth. He glanced down in case she couldn’t figure out what part of him was “up” for lots of things.
“Then you can leave.” Where did he get off thinking he could compete with her, the woman who’d reigned as the queen of sex, sin, and seduction in the cosmic troublemaker world for thousands of years?
His gaze turned thoughtful. “You think you’re so great, then how about a little contest, hmm? I bet you’re working on a project right now.”
“Contest?” The whole concept of “contest” was foreign to Sparkle. She’d been at the top of the sexual heap for so long that it never occurred to her there might be other troublemakers who thought they were good enough to take her place. Well, beating up on this jerk might be amusing. “What’re the stakes?”
His shrug was casual, but Sparkle didn’t miss the gleam of battle in his eyes. He’d probably cheat. She certainly intended to. Not that she needed to. Ever. But cheating was fun.
“Here’s the deal. Whichever one of us hooks up a happy couple first gets to mentor the loser. And this can’t be one night of sex and out. Too easy. To win, you have to prove your couple is having an ongoing sexual relationship.” His smile promised she’d enjoy any lessons he taught her.
Under different circumstances, she’d be tempted to explore possibilities with him. Not this time, though. He probably thought he was manipulating her, but he’d learn soon enough that you didn’t bait Sparkle Stardust and survive to brag about it. “Sure. Why not?” She allowed herself a small secret smile. “In fact, I have the perfect twosome for you. I was going to tackle them myself once I hooked up the people I’m working on now. But hey, if you’re as good as you think, you won’t even break a sweat.”
“Uh-huh. Details?” He looked suspicious, as well he should.
“A wereshark is working in the Castle of Dark Dreams. Banan . . . Remind me to find out his last name when I see him. Anyway, he doesn’t have a mate.” Sparkle hoped her smile didn’t look as sinister as it felt. “He’s just a good old boy looking for some love. And lucky Banan, Destiny Moya just checked in. She’s into fish. They’re perfect for each other.”
His expression said he figured there were a few things she wasn’t telling him.
Sparkle jumped in with a question before he could ask for more info about Banan and fish-woman. “So what should I call you, Mr. Tall, Delish, and Delusional?”
It was his turn to frown. “Didn’t the Big Boss send my résumé to you?”
“Nope.” Now why would the Big Boss choose to keep things from her? Sparkle didn’t think for a minute that he’d forgotten about the résumé, because the Big Boss remembered everything, including how many times each troublemaker cursed him each day. “Tell me about yourself.”
“Edge. No last name. Guess you don’t need to know who I was, just what I’m going to be—the mentor to Sparkle Stardust.” Grinning, he pushed away from the counter and walked to the door. “By the way, you have a nice setup here. With the candy store right next to a theme park dedicated to adult fantasies, you must get lots of . . . business.”
“Edge? What’s with the über alpha name? And yes, Live the Fantasy supplies me with lots of customers.” All so sadly lacking in satisfying sex lives. “I just expanded my operation. I opened a small club in the park’s most popular attraction, the Castle of Dark Dreams. Stop by for a drink when you need something to dull the agony of defeat.”
His quick smile acknowledged her hit. “You have no idea how much of an über alpha guy I am. Don’t underestimate me. I sure won’t underestimate you, even with the Sparkle Stardust thing going on.” His smile widened. “By the way, the nail color’s chipped on your big toe.”
Sparkle didn’t even notice when he left because she was staring down in horror at the toe exposed for all to see by her strappy Jimmy Choo sandals. Damn. She’d just put that color on last night.
When she finally dragged her gaze from the offending toenail, she stared at the door Edge had left ajar. Her instinctive shiver had nothing to do with the cool breeze drifting over her bare arms—weird, because Galveston in September didn’t have any cool breezes. He knew her. He’d understood that chipped nail color would upset her. She, on the other hand, knew squat about him.
Then she took a deep, steadying breath. She’d find out all there was to know about Mr. Sexy and Mysterious right away. Yeah, something about him set off warning signals, but she chose to ignore them. No one could beat her in head-to-head, mouth-to-mouth, or any other matching body part competition. Certainly not a nobody named Edge.
Choosing a chocolate cream from her display case, she slid her tongue across all that sensual sweetness and then sucked the cream slowly into her mouth, savoring the almost orgasmic pleasure. Mmm, yes. Chocolate always put things in perspective.
She wondered what Edge would do when he found out that Destiny Moya was a shark hunter?
“Heard from the bitch goddess tonight.” Conall threw back a shot of whiskey and then placed the empty glass firmly on the counter. He ignored the words of seduction in every language known to man—and some probably not known to man—carved into the wood. “The curse lives.”
What Conall really wanted to do was fling the glass through the mirror at the back of the bar. The mirror with all the erotic scenes etched into it. But then he’d be facing seven years of bad luck. He’d already lived through centuries of hell, and he didn’t need any extra years tacked on. “Morrigan paid me a visit in her crow form. She perched on the edge of the sink while I was shaving. Where’re all the cats when I need them?”
“Let me guess. She figured you’d enjoyed life too much lately, so she found another Kavanagh for you to serve and protect.” Eric’s smile showed fang, a sure sign he didn’t like the goddess.
Who did? Morrigan wasn’t a lovable kind of deity. “She stopped by to tell me the last living Kavanagh would be here tonight. Not married and no kids.” And if Conall had his way, there wouldn’t be a next generation of his hated enemies.
Eric frowned. “You should’ve called me. I might not be able to take down a goddess, but I could sure let her know you have friends in high places.” He pushed his untouched glass around on the bar as he transferred his bad temper to the painting on the wall opposite him. The one with the almost-naked men and women doing what almost-naked men and women usually do when they hook up. “What was Sparkle thinking when she decorated this place?”
Distracted for a moment from his anger at Morrigan, Conall glanced at the painting. “She was thinking about sex. You don’t name a club Wicked Fantasy and then put cherubs on the walls. But if she gets any more explicit, Galveston’s finest will be knocking on her door.”
Eric nodded and then shifted back to the main topic. “No chance Morrigan will reduce your sentence for good behavior?”
“Nope.” Conall felt Eric’s anger at Morrigan as waves of outrage. Eric’s friendship warmed him, as much as he could be warmed after interacting with the Irish goddess of war. Too bad Morrigan trumped even the power of an ancient vampire. “Thanks for the support, but there’s not much you can do. I pissed her off eight hundred years ago, and she’s got the memory of an immortal elephant.”
Eric shifted his body a little to the right, making sure he wasn’t in line with the bar’s mirror. Most of the club’s customers were too into their partners or drinks to notice that one of the guys at the bar was a no-show in the reflection department, but Eric couldn’t take a chance. Mortals stampeding from the club screaming “Vampire!” might cut into Sparkle’s profits. And next to sex and shoes, Sparkle was all about profits. Conall smiled grimly at the thought of a ticked-off Sparkle Stardust. She might be a pain in the ass, but she was also dangerous.
“Maybe if all the nonhuman entities in the castle united, we could chase Morrigan’s vindictive butt back to Ireland.” Eric grinned. “I’d pay hard cash to see Sparkle go a round with her. And what about Asima? Snooty messenger of Bast or not, she’s got a goddess in her corner.”
Conall shook his head even as he scanned the shiny new club Sparkle Stardust had opened in the hotel lobby of the Castle of Dark Dreams. He ignored the darkly lush sexual décor in favor of searching out the reason for both the whiskey and his depression. “Even if we got rid of Morrigan, it wouldn’t end my curse.”
Eric followed his gaze. “Will you know this Kavanagh when you see him?”
“Yeah. All of the rotten, lousy, cheating, thieving”—pause for deep breath so he could continue his list—“conniving, manipulating, arrogant, lecherous bastards look the same. I’ll know him.” Conall just hoped this Kavanagh stayed in Galveston so he wouldn’t have to leave the friends he’d made at the castle.
“Think he’s here yet?” Eric was staring at a small table tucked into a corner of the intimate club. “You said all the Kavanaghs you’d served were men. Wonder why?”
Conall glanced at the door where a couple had just entered. “Nah, no sign of him. I’m always assigned to protect the oldest of the jerks, and the Kavanagh men live longer than the women. They’re too mean to die.” He looked to see what had caught Eric’s attention.
A woman sat at the table talking to Sparkle, a woman who sucked the breath right out of him. Conall leaned forward so he could see better in the club’s dim interior.
“Want me to describe her? I have enhanced vampire vision, remember?” Eric didn’t try to hide his amusement.
“I can see just fine. And you’re married. Don’t look.” The anticipatory tightening of his body surprised him. He’d thought he was too focused tonight on Morrigan and the curse to notice a woman. Evidently his body didn’t give a flip about evil goddesses or curses.
Eric slapped him on the back. “Go over and meet her. Maybe this Kavanagh won’t even turn up tonight. Don’t waste your time drinking with me.” He glanced at his watch. “Besides, I have to go. Promised Donna we’d walk on the beach tonight.” He slipped off the stool. “I’ll have my cell with me. Give a shout if this guy shows.”
“Walking on the beach?” Conall grinned. “You’re so whipped.”
Eric offered him a glare before stalking away.
Conall felt his smile fade. He wouldn’t call Eric. He’d handled his curse for eight hundred years, and he’d keep on keeping on. He got off the stool and headed toward the woman at the table.
Gerry Kavanagh had come here to catch a snake, but she’d caught a Sparkle Stardust instead. She preferred the snake. Who had a name like Sparkle Stardust anyway? Gerry rubbed the spot between her eyes where a headache would’ve been forming if she could still get them.
“Look, Sparkle, I love your club, and I appreciate that you sat down to keep me company. And huge thanks for the heads-up on what I need to do to make my outfit more sensual. But I’m here on business, so I’d better get on with it.” She glanced at the nearby tables. Whoever had e-mailed the anonymous tip had promised that Jinx would be here tonight. “Uh, have you seen a guy that sort of looks like a snake?” Did that sound dumb or what? Besides, Jinx in human form looked more like a happy ferret.
Sparkle raised one perfectly arched brow. “Snake? Why? I mean, if you’re going to hit on a guy, pick one who’s decadently gorgeous and built for sex. Like him.” She pointed toward the bar so Gerry wouldn’t mistake exactly which “him” she meant.
“I’m not here to hit . . .” Gerry glanced at the bar. Whoa! Would you look at that. There were a bunch of men at the bar, but only one worthy of a “whoa!”
He was a visual hot fudge sundae and a major wow on her personal sizzle meter. Not only was he tall—hard to judge sitting, but he had to be six-four or six-five—he had the broad shoulders and muscular body to make that height seem formidable. Dark, shaggy hair and a hard, uncompromisingly male face pushed every one of her buttons from her neck all the way down to . . . wherever. She was totally unbuttoned.
She coughed to clear her heart out of her throat. Snake. She was after a snake. That’s all she needed to concentrate on right now. Play wasn’t on her agenda tonight. “Yeah, he’s spectacular, but I don’t mix business with pleasure.” She fixed her gaze on Sparkle. Absolutely no pleasure allowed. Damn.
Sparkle made a small moue of disappointment. “How shortsighted. And your business would be?”
Okay, important decision here. She had to find out if Sparkle knew anything about Jinx without—
“Hi there, sweetie. We were just talking about you.” Sparkle reached up to grab the arm of the man who’d walked up silently behind Gerry and was now hovering over their table. “Sit for a while.” She urged him into the seat between them.
Gerry met his intense stare. Gray eyes. Hard, like the rest of him, but softened by a thick fringe of dark lashes. Uh-oh. Business and pleasure were about to collide with enough force to rain down pieces of her good intentions onto her hapless head. How could she concentrate on Jinx when Mr. Whoa was only inches away? She firmed her lips; she’d find a way.
Sparkle leaned toward him and slid her fingers the length of his arm. Gerry lived the moment vicariously—the feel of the smooth silky shirt over flexed muscles and warm flesh.
“Gerry and I were talking men. She was looking for some guy who looked like a snake, and I thought that was pretty pathetic. So I pointed you out as an alternative to the snake.” Sparkle’s smile was a sly lifting of her lips. “She thinks you’re hot.”
Gerry forced herself to glance around the club again. If she didn’t look at him, maybe . . . Hot? “I didn’t say he was hot.” Okay, so she’d used the word spectacular. But spectacular didn’t have the same sexual connotation as hot. Fine, so he was hot, but Sparkle didn’t need to put words in her mouth.
“Meet Conall McNair. He helps run the Castle of Dark Dreams. So if you wake up in the middle of the night with an insatiable appetite for something sweet, make sure you call Conall.” Just in case Gerry didn’t “get it,” Sparkle slid her tongue across her lower lip while her strange amber eyes gleamed with the joy of her wicked suggestion. “He’ll cure any woman’s craving for sweets.”
Sparkle was so outrageous that Gerry couldn’t help herself. She grinned. Then she made a major mistake. She looked at Conall. He returned her smile, but his was a lot more effective. It was slow heat set for long, leisurely loving until she was fork tender.
Gerry swallowed hard. Snakesnakesnake.
“Sweet?” He looked offended. “I might be a lot of things, but sweet isn’t one of them.”
He was right. Conall’s overwhelming physicality—a smooth-muscled body that was so there it screamed sexual animal—combined with the hard eyes of a man who’d seen too much violence and the sensual mouth of a man who’d seduced too many women, delivered a one-two punch of erotic desire.
Violence? Her imagination was officially out of control. She broke eye contact to sweep the room again. No Jinx. Stiffening her spine, or whatever part of her body needed stiffening, she looked back at . . . Sparkle. Coward. “It’s been great meeting you and Conall, but I really have to find this guy—”
“Why?” Conall leaned forward, his large hands resting open on the table.
Body language? Leaning forward, aggressive. Open hands, nonthreatening. Which signal to believe? “Because it’s my job.” There, she’d said it. Now how to explain what she did in a way that wouldn’t have them making a call to the nearest mental health facility.
“Not to repeat myself, but your job would be . . . ?” Sparkle tapped one perfect nail on the table. Definitely threatening.
“I’m like a cop, but I work for the private sector.” The private sector as in all those entities that officially went bump, grind, or boo in the night.
“You mean you’re a PI?” Conall looked confused.
“Uh, not exactly.” She glanced at the floor for inspiration . . . and spotted Jinx slithering along the baseboard in his little green snake form. He was wearing a megawatt diamond ring around said sneaky form. Well, hell. “Oops, gotta go.”
Gerry pushed away from the table and rushed in pursuit of the snake. She didn’t know whose ring he’d snatched, but she wanted to catch him before the victim discovered it was missing. Hysterical shrieks and confusion would only aid Jinx in his escape. Humans rarely looked down when they were pursuing a thief.
As Gerry wound around tables, trying to keep her attention totally on the snake, Jinx spotted her and slithered faster. He was heading for the restrooms. Gerry grinned. She had the little bling bandit. He’d probably stashed his clothes in the men’s room. As long as the room didn’t have an open window, Jinx had nowhere to go. Besides, he’d need a few seconds to change back to human form. She’d pounce on him as soon as he changed forms.
But fate intervened, as fate had a way of doing. No one came out of the men’s room so that Jinx could slither inside, but someone did leave the ladies’ room. Jinx didn’t have time to be choosy. He slithered inside just as the woman let the door swing shut.
Gerry charged in after him . . . and came to a skidding halt. Five women jockeyed for position in front of the mirror.
“Ugh, I can’t stand it. Look at these lines in my forehead. Good thing I have my plastic surgeon on speed dial. I feel a Botox moment coming on.” The woman leaned closer to the mirror, the better to view the horror.
“God, I hate these lights. They show up every little thing. Look at these grooves next to my mouth. I look like Pinocchio.”
Gerry coughed to get their attention. “Umm, has anyone seen my pet snake? He slipped in here—”
Oomph. The women shoved her against the wall as they all stampeded from the restroom like the wrinkle fairy was in hot pursuit. The two women still in the stalls screeched as they lifted their feet off the floor.
“Is it poisonous?” This from the stall nearest the exit. Sounded terrified. “If I tiptoe, can I slip out the door?”
“Who the hell would bring a snake into a club anyway?” The middle stall. Sounded really cranky. “I bet it’s illegal. Where’s my cell phone? I’ll ask my lawyer.” Rooting-around-in-purse noises.
Uh-oh. Gerry had to keep them there until she cornered Jinx. He’d be waiting for the first woman to open the door so he could slither out. “Leaving is so not a good idea. Jinx attacks anything that moves. Stay still. And keep your feet off the floor. He loves ankles. Can we say bloodthirsty predator? He enjoyed the last ankle he bit so much that he left his little fang embedded in it. Don’t worry, though, the fang grew back.”
Silence. Okay, that had worked out semi-nicely. Gerry figured it wouldn’t take her long to locate Jinx and then—
Someone flung the restroom door open. Damn. Jinx’s body was a green blur as he made a break for freedom. “Stop him!” If she didn’t catch Jinx, she may as well flush her budding career down any one of the room’s toilets. What were her chances, though, that any woman walking through the door would collar Jinx?
But the hand that reached down with blinding speed to scoop Jinx up was very male. And very familiar. “I think you have some explaining to do.” Conall’s sexy mouth was drawn into a grim line.
He glanced at the stalls. “I have the snake, ladies. You can come out when I leave. Be sure to talk to Sparkle Stardust. The club will want to make up for all your mental anguish.”
“Mental anguish? Give me a break.” Gerry blinked to keep from rolling her eyes.
“Mmm. Every club should have a sexy guy in the ladies’ room for little . . . emergencies that come along.” Eyes peered at Conall through the cracks in the stall doors. The middle stall was in a better mood now.
Conall held Jinx by his tail. The ring slid from the snake’s body and into Conall’s open hand. He studied the ring before handing it to Gerry. Then without speaking, he pulled open the door and waited for her to walk past him.
Once in the hallway, he studied the little green snake still dangling from his fingers and then speared Gerry with a tell-all-or-die glare. “Talk.”
What People are Saying About This
Nina Bangs is “sinfully delicious” (Christina Dodd) and “utterly unique” (Booklist).
Meet the Author
Nina Bangs is the New York Times bestselling author of the Castle of Dark Dreams series.
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Feuding Conall O'Rourke kills Sean Kavanagh, which should have elated the warrior. However, he learns the price of slaying someone cherished by Irish deity Morrigan, Conall. She curses him with the worst punishment he could imagine to protect the descendants of his despised enemy Sean.------------- Eight centuries later, Conall remains diligently at his task, but sees an ending coming soon. There remains one Kavanagh left and once this one dies, Conall will be free. At the Castle of Dark Dreams, fate plays havoc with his dream when he realizes that Gerry Kavanagh is a female, when all her protected were stupid guys, but also she is an immortal vampire. Although a rookie bloodsucker having changed less than two years ago, Gerry, she is also a Paranormal Undercover Field Force Agent who is trying to stop an otherworldly serial killer who looks more serpentine than human. Conall reluctantly must assist her to keep her safe even as he finds he is attracted to her a feeling that has eluded him since Morrigan visited him. ------------------- As always the return of Sparkle is a delight, but the tale belongs to Conall and the last Kavanagh, an immortal he must protect. The lead couple is an inspiring teammate as the hero falls in love with his enemy (her surname to Conall is like the Abbot and Costello routine Niagara Falls) while the courageous vampiress finds the hunk irresistible although she cannot understand why he seems upset over her DNA. Readers will enjoy the irony of this fabulously wicked contemporary romantic fantasy with its tongue in cheek (and elsewhere) story line.------------------ Harriet Klausner
As always Nina Bangs does NOT disappoint. The series is the Castle of Dark Dreams is a must read. Basically anything goes, you have warriors, cosmic trouble makers and vampires oh my! In a castle made for your every dream to come true, who could ask for anything more.