Prologue

 

My mom always told me not to play with my food. I try to keep that in mind.

She never told me not to let my food play with me, however, so I would let tall, dark, and handsome—with gray eyes, a brilliant smile, and killer cheekbones—flirt with me to his heart’s content. Then I’d let him take me to his place.

Then I’d feed.

By the time he woke up in the morning, he’d remember having great, anonymous sex and nothing else.

That was the plan, at least. That had always been the plan.

Until things changed.

 

Chapter One

 

I was about to leave my apartment, when there was a knock at my door. I opened it, and Dotty, one of the second-floor tenants, burst into the room.

We weren’t friends per se, but she’d occasionally pop by for some girl chat. I’d told her I worked nights and that I needed my beauty sleep, so she wouldn’t disturb me during the day, but she’d never before come by after nine in the evening.

“I need your help.” She gasped for breath as she turned to face me, running a hand through her short, spiky black hair.

At nearly six feet tall, on the heavy side, and with a square jaw, Dotty never seemed to need anybody’s help.

“What can I do?” I secretly hoped whatever it was could wait until my stomach was full. Her outfit somehow made me doubt my hopes would be justified; she looked ready to go out.

As did I, which I prayed she’d notice.

She bit her lip, then said, “The sitter was with Mark until now, but she had to go, and my date—ummm. I invited him upstairs for a drink, and he’s waiting in the car.” She blushed and sucked in a gulp of air, before blurting out the actual reason for her visit. “Can Mark stay here for an hour?” When she took in my short leather skirt and bustier that left little to the imagination, she pouted. “I guess not.” With a sigh, she turned for the door.

Even though she turned slowly enough that I knew she expected me to stop her, I felt bad. “Okay, but only for one hour,” I said to her back. I’d looked after him before, and he wasn’t horrible.

The words had barely left my mouth when she opened the door again and let Mark, her pudgy six-year-old son, inside. “I owe you big-time,” she told me over her shoulder, blew Mark a kiss, and rushed out before I could change my mind.

“Why aren’t you wearing pajamas?” the boy asked, tilting his head to the side. “Did you just come back, like Mommy?”

I swear he would have had a brilliant career with the Spanish Inquisition, had he been born back then. Since I always believed in treating children like adults, I opted for the truth. “Nope. I’m going out as soon as your mommy picks you up.”

“Why are you going out after dark?” His thin eyebrows were furrowed, the sharp expression looking out of place in the adorable roundness of his face.

“Why not?” I asked innocently. Ha. I beat him at his own game.

“My daddy says only bad people go out after dark.” He crossed his arms in front of his easily breakable chest and looked at me smugly.

I understood why his mother never asked her ex-husband to babysit. “Your mommy was out until now,” I said with a saccharine smile. “Is she bad?”

He apparently took offense, because he stomped his foot. “No.

“Well, then, your daddy is wrong.” There. I’d had the last word. How would he beat that argument?

“But it was day when my mom went out.” Smug again.

I was tempted to try my brainwash gaze on him but thought better of it. Instead I said, “If you don’t talk again until your mom comes to get you, I’ll give you ten bucks.”

He squinted at me. “Twenty.”

I should have started lower, but it was too late for that now. “Fifteen, and you never tell her about our deal.” Hey, I said I’d looked after him a couple times; I never said I was good at it. I’d have to find another way around his questions next time, though. He was getting expensive.

Dotty wasn’t late to pick him up. She was disheveled and grinning like the Cheshire cat, but not late. I grabbed my keys, stuffed them in the front of my bustier, all but tossed Mark to her, and was out of there.

 

****

 

The Gridlock was one of my favorite bars, which meant I visited it only every couple of months. It wouldn’t do to be seen leaving with a different man every night, especially if said man didn’t remember me the following day.

Spacious and dimly lit, the Gridlock was decorated in black and shades of red. Drapes separated a few private stalls, and the upper floor housed the supersecret VIP area. Get your minds out of the gutter; the place wasn’t a sex club. The VIP area was only secret because celebrities often chose it to unwind when they needed to stay away from the public eye for a while—no orgies took place there as far as I was aware.

What added most to the bar’s appeal was its patrons—young professionals, not out to get wasted. Pretty people, who took care of themselves and looked and smelled good, relaxed on leather armchairs. A smorgasbord of dining possibilities, and the music was to my taste.

As was the bartender, but he was off limits.

Heads turned as I entered, but I maintained my cool. The outfit I’d chosen was at odds with the surroundings, but by the time I left home, I was in a hurry, and the club I initially had in mind was too far away. I might have gone through the trouble of finding another place that suited my attire, but a phone call earlier that evening had jarred me—always, always change your cell number after breaking up with someone, or they can bug you for years.

I looked cheap for the place, but it was too late to do something about it. Holding my head high and keeping from swishing my butt more than necessary, I made my way inside and pretended not to notice the glares a group of businesswomen in their thirties with impeccable hair, threw my way. I was there for a reason.

I moved toward the bar with deliberately slow steps. Gaze not lingering on a face for more than a split second, I tried not to broadcast that I was looking for someone to fulfill my needs for the night.

I spotted the perfect guy within twenty-five seconds of scanning the room. I’d never seen him around before. Believe me, I’d remember if I had. A head taller than everybody else, and with shoulders as wide as my bed, he leaned casually against the bar, holding a bottle of beer. Even at a distance, I could see his eyes were the same charcoal gray as his shirt, and fringed with long, dark eyelashes. And his gaze was locked on me.

The first phase of the plan was complete—the prey had seen me and was attracted.

Phase Two consisted of me feigning disinterest until he made a move. If I took the first step, he might deem me too easy, and as I’d discovered in the past, that wasn’t always enough of an ego booster to make a man take me home. Although, if I played my cards right, it might be more than enough to make him follow me into the ladies’ room.

With the rent deadline approaching, I needed money tonight almost as much as I needed blood, so a quick hit wasn’t an option.

Oh, the blood thing reminded me there’s something I should have said earlier.

My name is Cherry, and I’m a vampire.

Sadly, since L. A. wasn’t brimming with job openings for an aspiring porn star turned vampire, I often found myself in need of cash. When that happened, I looked for someone to serve as more of a sponsor, rather than a blood donor. For the day, not indefinitely.

I’d been in a couple of adult movies; I wasn’t a sex-worker. Most of the guys I fed on got nothing other than the promise of sex. If I was into them, I might do them as I fed, but I never did it because I thought I had to. Letting someone cover my expenses in the long run would change that dynamic.

As would falling in love with someone. A breathing someone, with a pulse and an expiration date.

It would screw things up majorly, which was why I never slept with the same human more than once since I became part of the living dead. The living dead. It sounds so very ominous, but some of us are nice.

And… I’m digressing.

One of the coolest vampire powers is mind control, which some swear is the best way to a healthy relationship. Personally, I prefer not having to wipe my lover’s brain clean every so often. A steady, living boyfriend from whom I’d have to hide my true nature was therefore out of the question.

As for dating a vampire? No thanks. Too many relationship issues. The way I see it, knowing you’ll be around for a very long time can make you extremely picky as to whom you want by your side.

Also, male vampires are patronizing, controlling assholes with superiority complexes.

And they cheat.

I admit to only knowing one of them that well, so call it an educated guess.

I approached the side of the bar farthest from the guy and ordered a Bloody Mary. Silly private jokes like that give me a weird sense of accomplishment. I know; I need therapy.

Drink in hand, I tapped my foot to the rhythm of the music and observed the crowd dancing—slowly swaying, to be more precise—while I mentally counted the seconds it would take for him to approach me. When he hadn’t moved any closer after a whole minute, I turned and gave him the squint.

The squint is a leftover from my short days as a catalog model, before I decided on a major career change and made my first of two adult films. To achieve it, you narrow your eyes enough to make your gaze look focused and promising. Overdo it, and you look myopic. Combine it with a slight pout, and you have guys eating out of your hand.

Or flashing you a smile, as was the case now.

His smile was dazzling. Straight, white teeth—I’m a vampire; we pay attention to teeth—and a lower lip that begged me to nibble on it. And oh those cheekbones…

I clenched my jaw and made a show of turning away. You want me, buddy? You have to come and get me.

He didn’t, but a fifty-something man with alcohol-laced breath and red-rimmed eyes appeared out of nowhere and cornered me against the bar. Just my luck. There was one person in the establishment who hadn’t bathed for a couple of weeks, and of course he decided to make a pass at me.

“Can I buy you a drink, honey?” His words were slurred, and he stood too close for comfort.

I could have ripped his head off his shoulders within seconds, but I don’t generally like violence. Placing a hand on his shoulder, to keep him at arm’s length, I indicated my glass. “No, thanks. I’m set.” I smiled, allowing a bit of fang to show. He couldn’t possibly have enough credibility to expose us.

The drunk stumbled back, hands held up in the universal giving-up sign, at the same time the yummy male specimen made his way to us. Yummy’s face fell. Aha. Hero complex.

“I was coming to save you,” he said, “but I see you handled him yourself.” His voice complemented the rest of him. Deep, masculine—the voice you’d want whispering dirty things in your ear.

The ball was in my court. “Maybe you should stick around, in case I can’t handle the next one.” I smiled. No fangs.

His grin gave me a better look at his pearly whites. Yup, still flawless. “I’m Alex. Alex Marsden.”

“Cherry.” No last name for me. There was no reason.

Up close, he looked even better. I figured he was in his late twenties, thirty tops, and worked out. His fingers, which I got a good look at when he raised his beer to his mouth, were long, and I couldn’t help but imagine how his big hands would feel on me.

“So, what do you do?”

His question threw me. People didn’t usually care what I did when I was dressed in leather and thigh-high boots. I wondered how he’d react if I said I was a lawyer.

I took a sip from my overpriced, alcohol-laced tomato juice. “Used to model. I’m between jobs now.” Had been for a long time, since my maker hadn’t bothered to ask about my future plans before turning me. At first I’d been really pissed off to wake up dead while at the peak of my career.

Meh. I may as well be truthful. I hadn’t been at the peak, rather at the beginning. I’d filmed two highly erotic movies as an extra and had just been given the starring role in a third one. And the main reason I’d been pissed off for the better part of six years was that I’d been turned before getting the lipo and boob job I’d planned on pampering myself with for my twenty-fourth birthday. Now I was doomed to go through eternity without the flat belly and double-D breasts Dr. King had promised me.

Alex nodded and looked me up and down. “You look familiar, and I don’t follow fashion. Have we met before?” To his credit, his gaze didn’t pause anywhere but on my face during his perusal.

Classic pickup line, although he might have seen me before. I couldn’t really ask him if he liked porn, so I shook my head. “What do you do?”

“I’m a cop. Detective.” He shrugged like he was saying nothing special.

A detective. This could be bad. These guys have good memories as a rule, and he might have seen my missing-person report. Still, I wouldn’t panic. I’d gone from blonde to redhead for Knotting Cherry Stem—hell, I’d changed my name for it—and had bangs now and forever. No, he wouldn’t recognize me.

And no, I’m not telling you my real name.

“Sounds exciting,” I drawled, all wide-eyed. “You should tell me more.” To stress how interested I was, I ran the tips of my fingers down his bicep. Nice and firm. Yum squared.

As if he didn’t notice, he began saying something about my eyes. Most guys would be all over the chance to touch me back, but not him. I could see he was the type to really take his time with a woman, and it intrigued me. Would he take his time with everything?

I cut him off, pointing to the speaker booming overhead. “It’s too loud in here. Maybe we should go someplace quiet?”

He arched his left eyebrow but put his palm on the small of my back. The touch gave me goose bumps, and that’s a real feat when talking about a dead girl. “My place is quiet.” Ah, he got the hint. Smart man.

As soon as I left my drink on the bar, he caught the bartender’s eye and paid for us both. I didn’t offer to cover my half, but I made a mental note to thank him properly once we were alone.

“Do you have a car?” he asked as I let him lead me to the exit. “You can follow me in it, or I can drive you back here…” His voice drifted off. What would he say? What could he say? Later? After? His sentence was better left unfinished.

“No car. I took a cab.” Not all vampires can fly, but only because some can’t fathom lifting off the earth and therefore won’t focus their will enough to achieve it. I can. I’d flown to the bar, but I couldn’t tell him that.

“Are you okay with taking my car? Riding with strangers, and all?” He was so thoughtful, and I had to try not to swoon until he added, “We could go to your place, if you’d feel more comfortable.”

No no no no no. No. Bad enough that I was still going through with my plan though he was a policeman—but he was so hot, who could blame me? Bringing him to my apartment would take risky to a whole new level.

“I wanna see how a cop lives.” A bat of my heavily made-up eyelashes, and the deal was closed.

 

****

 

The drive to Alex’s place was long enough to get me wondering if he was some psycho killer, looking for a place to have his wicked way with me. If that was the case, he was so in for a surprise that I felt bad for him. Although the possibility of that being his agenda made me feel less bad for what my agenda was, which in itself was weird.

I’ve never felt shame or guilt for feeding off unsuspecting victims. Never ever. It’s not like I do them any harm. Nothing like the harm that was done to me, anyway.

I’d met my maker at a party.

His name was Willoughby, and he’d been gorgeous and polite. Nothing like the grabby crowd my agent usually brought me into contact with. When he’d suggested driving me home, I’d been all up for it. Maybe the mention of a limo had added to the appeal.

We never reached my home. We started making out in the car—I remember giggling too much, because of the champagne—and things got heated fast. My sequined dress, extremely short to begin with, was bunched around my waist, and he had his hand between my legs, when I felt a sharp pain at my neck. I never liked hickeys, and I’d been supposed to begin shooting Knotting Cherry Stem the following day so I’d tried to push him away, but to no avail.

The shooting of Knotting Cherry Stem had been canceled, of course. I wasn’t sued for breach of contract because nobody was able to locate me. Willoughby had dumped my lifeless body in an alley.

Alex didn’t seem like the kind of man to dump someone in an alley. Maybe that was why I felt a pang at the thought of using him. A pang, mind you, not guilt. We, creatures of the night and all, don’t feel such puny emotions. Just a pang when he opened the passenger’s door for me; another when he didn’t try to cop a feel while grasping the gearshift; another when he asked where I was from, how old I was…

Turning sideways in my seat, I took in Alex’s profile. He reminded me of a Greek god—nose a bit too large, adding a masculine tone to a face that would otherwise be too pretty with the long-lashed eyes and pouty lips, and hair just long enough to curl over the collar of his shirt. The streetlights gave the black curls a shine that tempted me to run my fingers through them.

He pulled into a driveway, and I focused on the scenery outside for the first time since we got into his car. A nice street in Monterey Hills, with single and two-story houses. Not the kind of neighborhood I’d associate with a cop.

Then again, the house the driveway led to didn’t look like what I’d expected a cop’s house to be.

He seemed apologetic while telling me there had been a gas leak in his city apartment. “My mom’s away for a few weeks and said I could crash here until it’s fixed.”

His mom? He’d brought me to his mom’s? Okay, so she was away and his place wasn’t habitable at the moment, but hadn’t he heard of hotels? And how would I even enter the place? “She won’t mind you having company over?” I asked, trying to decide whether to stick with him and see if I could go inside, compel him to take me somewhere else, or cut my losses and find another guy to get me through the night.

“Nah. I grew up here. It’s as much my home as it is hers.” From where I stood at the threshold, I saw a wistful smile grace his lips. “Plus it’s always tidy and with a full fridge.”

It was the smile that sold me. This place was special to him, and something deep inside made me want to see it. If he turned out to be a momma’s boy after all, I wouldn’t stick around for it to matter. That was one problem solved.

He gave a half shrug and held the door open for me. “Come in.”

I lifted my foot over the threshold and met no invisible barrier. Phew.

Gesturing to his right, he indicated the living room. “Make yourself at home. I’ll get us something to drink.”

I couldn’t get comfortable with all the frilliness and floral patterns surrounding me, but I tried. I sank into the huge sofa, crossed my legs demurely at the ankles, and waited for him.

An uh-huh came from the kitchen, followed by, “I knew she had liquor here.” Alex poked his head out of the doorway that separated the kitchen from the living room. “What’ll it be?”

My turn to shrug. “Do you have beer?” I didn’t feel like making him prepare me a cocktail.

“Beer?” He mock scowled. “What kind of drink is that for a lady?”

I chose to believe he was kidding, and made a show of looking around. “Lady? Where?” If that wasn’t an invitation, I don’t know what would be, but Alex laughed. It was a nice laugh—deep, like his voice, rich, and hearty.

“All women are ladies until proven otherwise,” he said with a wink before disappearing from sight.

I could explain why that was old fashioned and a tad sexist, or I could be proven otherwise. I seriously didn’t want to be a lady tonight. Other than having the serious munchies, I was more attracted to him than I’d been to anyone since I broke up with my last boyfriend almost four years ago.

Alex brought me my drink and sat in the armchair to my right. That wouldn’t do.

“Why so far away?” I asked. “And aren’t you drinking?”

He shook his head. “I’ve had enough for one night.”

He didn’t explain his seating choice, and I was confused. He wouldn’t have brought me here unless he was attracted to me, so why wasn’t he doing anything about it? “So… are you seeing someone special?” I didn’t know why, but I wanted to know the answer. And I wanted it to be no.

He took some time to reply. The look in his eyes made me antsy; it was too serious. Maybe he was seeing someone. Maybe he was married, despite the lack of a wedding band on his finger, or he lived with his girlfriend, and that was why he’d taken me to his mother’s house. It would explain why he was reluctant to make a move.

It felt like forever until he spoke again. “No.” He sighed. “I couldn’t be more single. You?”

“I don’t do relationships anymore.” Not since I found Constantine in bed with his maker. Constantine, who promised to love me forever and then broke my heart.

Silence again. I hate silence sometimes. This was one of those times.

He opened his mouth, closed it again, and rubbed his temples. “I may be about to say the stupidest thing, but… I’d never pay for sex.”

I looked at him, mouth agape. My first instinct was to go over our interactions and find what I’d done, to give him that impression, but I held back. It wasn’t my fault he jumped to conclusions. He was an asshole, pure and simple, and the only thing that saved him from a full-on angry-vampire attack was that said angry vampire was too shocked to react.

“It’s not about my job.” He leaned forward, elbows on his knees. “I’m not going to arrest you or lecture you, though going after someone you know is a cop is stupid. I just thought we could talk.” After a pause, he added, “I’m not paying for that, either.”

I wanted to slap him, but that might end with his head flying into the wall and I’d hate to ruin the beige tapestry with bloodstains. “I don’t charge,” I said through gritted teeth.

“Come on, Cherry.” He touched my knee in a brotherly fashion. “The clothes, the attitude…”

I hated the tears that sprang unbidden to my eyes as I jumped up and turned toward the door. “I’m leaving,” I said. “You’re an asshole.” My taste in men seemed consistent, if nothing else.

He was fast for a human. And strong. He grabbed me by the arm and spun me to face him. “You’re telling the truth.” The incredulity in his voice gave my anger a fresh boost.

“A woman can’t go out at night by herself to have a drink? She can’t see a man she likes, and—and want him, without being a prostitute?” If I’d fed, I be beet red by then.

“Cherry, I’m sorry. I—all the leather and the way you came on to me… I thought—”

“What you should have thought was that you were about to get incredibly lucky.” I shook off his hand. “Not anymore.”

I kept glaring, even after he grabbed me again and lowered his lips to mine. Glared for all of a second before melting into the kiss. His lips were soft and moist and apparently magical, because while they were attached to mine, I forgot all about how he’d insulted me.

When I remembered, I pushed him back hard enough to send him flying into the chair he’d recently vacated. “Oh, now that you know it’s for free, you want it?” I leaned over him and grabbed the arms of the chair, trapping him. “Well, you can’t have it.” I said the words slowly, my tone even. I can say with certainty that vampires can’t kill with our eyes, since Alex survived the daggers thrown by mine.

“I wanted it from the start.” He got in my face. “Just not the way I thought it was offered.” His voice gradually lost oomph, until the last few words were whispered, his face a study in misery. “I am an asshole. You looked so pretty and so out of place, and I couldn’t believe that you—” He ran his palm over his face. “I’m an asshole. And I’m so very sorry. Both for insulting you and for screwing this up. I’ll drive you to your place, and you can forget we ever met.”

There was no doubt in my mind he felt bad about what he’d thought and said, but he’d really insulted me. I should accept his apology and walk away. But maybe I shouldn’t be hasty. I mean, he said he was sorry and called me pretty. Too pretty for him to believe I’d genuinely been into him. That had to count for something, right? Most importantly, though, I shouldn’t care what he thought of me. I should feed, have fun, and get out of here.

This time I kissed him.

I wasn’t in the mood for softness and hadn’t been for a while. I pressed my lips against his violently and invaded his mouth with my tongue.

After his shock wore off, he took over, his languid pace lulling my sense of urgency. He cupped my face and withdrew enough that his breath merely caressed my lips.

I tried to kiss him again, and he chuckled. A mewling sound came from my throat. That snapped me out of my lustful haze long enough to push his hand away and crawl onto his lap. I wasn’t the prey, I was the predator, and it was about time Alex knew that. Knees framing his thighs, I undid his belt and pulled hard enough that it came out, ripping a couple of loops in the process.

He unzipped his pants one-handed, bunching the fingers of his other hand around my thong and pulling it aside. Stretching awkwardly to reach his back pocket, he fished out a condom.

Since I couldn’t explain why there was no need for it, I took it from him, ripped the packaging with my teeth, and slowly rolled it down his cock. I took my time touching and stroking his long, hard shaft, enjoying his gasps. He was hard for me, gasped for me, and that made me want him more. I had the sort of power over him that had nothing to do with physical strength or vampire thrall, and I relished it.

He grasped my wrist, stopping my movements. Time held still for a second, as our gazes locked. I could get lost in those eyes, and that was dangerous. I squeezed my eyelids shut, shifted my grip, and guided him inside me. I didn’t want to look at his face; that might make this more than sex.

He closed his hands on my hips, lowering me onto him slowly. Inch by agonizing inch, he entered me, and I wanted nothing but to take all of him in. I couldn’t be patient. The void inside me ached to be filled.

Alex wouldn’t be rushed. “God you’re beautiful. So beautiful.” He caressed my hip bones with his thumbs, and I got goose bumps all over. “I want you so much. Feels so good being inside you.”

His words wouldn’t let me focus on the feeling of his cock. I kissed him, to shut him up. I didn’t want to hear the pretty words, when he wouldn’t remember saying them later. I just wanted to ride him until I saw stars.

He thrust upward, and I hissed. He was big, stretching me this side of pain.

I liked it, but it wasn’t enough. “More.”

He fisted his hand in my hair and pulled my head to the side, to graze my neck with his teeth. “I didn’t prepare you,” he whispered.

He hadn’t needed to. I’d been wet since his fingers made contact with the skin of my lower back at the club. I tried to swivel my hips, to show him, but he held me still.

“There’s no rush. Let me make it good for you.” He pulled me backward and lowered his lips to my collarbone, his free hand fiddling with the laces of my top.

I couldn’t imagine how he’d make it any better than this. Every nerve ending in my body felt exposed. His breath on me set my skin ablaze. “Fuck me.” I slid a hand inside his shirt and dug my nails in his shoulder.

He bucked his hips and growled, but wouldn’t move other than that. “Let me make it good for you,” he said again, uncovering my breasts.

My keys fell with a happy jingling from where I’d stashed them in my cleavage; I’d left the house thinking there would be no undressing. Handbags, clutches, and the sort aren’t easy to handle during an emergency takeoff.

Unaware of my self-ass-kicking, Alex fastened his lips around one nipple and rolled his hips. I could do nothing but moan as he pumped inside me slowly, his shallow thrusts synchronized with the pulls of his mouth. His tongue flicking my nipple sent a tingle down my spine, but it was his cock driving in and out of me that sent jolt after jolt of pleasure to my core.

His thrusts turned deeper, harder, stoking the fire he’d lit inside me. He turned his attention to my other breast, and his warm mouth made me shiver. I arched my back in abandon, offering more of me to his wandering mouth, his hold on my hip the only thing keeping me from falling backward.

I clawed the air, seeking purchase against his shirt and failing. The silky material evaded my fingers, until I stopped trying. I couldn’t focus on anything but the pressure building between my legs.

Alex pulled me up by the shoulders and gathered me to him. The angle changed, and he rocked his hips faster, every stroke sending me higher on a seemingly endless spiral of pleasure.

His chest was sweaty against my breasts. My tender nipples throbbed as they rubbed against him. I nuzzled his neck, nibbling on the smooth skin over his pulse point. I wanted to penetrate him like he was penetrating me. I wanted to taste his blood. I wanted more of him inside me than I already had.

I ran my tongue down the column of his neck and loved the goose bumps that rose when I blew on it.

He bit me.

Blunt, human teeth dug into my shoulder at the same time he raised my hips and slammed me down on him again. His balls slapped against my ass, and I couldn’t hold back under the sensations assaulting me. My body tightened, and the tension in my belly uncoiled in every direction, wiping out logic and turning me into a creature made of pure need. A scream of delight burst through my open lips, before I fastened my mouth on Alex’s neck and pierced his skin with my fangs.

I tried to be gentle—if done right, a vampire bite can be painless—but his fierce thrashing under me and plunging inside me made me lose my mind. I drank and drank, drawing more of Alex inside me with every sip. Each pull on his blood made my pussy spasm and drew out my orgasm, his moans music to my ears.

For a few moments, it was like I was floating. My lips felt dry. I opened my eyes and had to blink a couple of times before my vision cleared. What had just happened was… wow. My fuzzy brain couldn’t come up with a more appropriate word.

I licked closed the wound on Alex’s neck. Then I cleaned my lips with my tongue and raised my gaze to his, getting ready for the moment that canceled the whole night—the moment to erase me from his mind.

He smiled and held me tighter, oblivious to what I’d done. His chest heaved with panted breaths. His heartbeat pounded in my ears.

I hated that I liked it.

I started to stand on leaden legs, letting his softening cock slip out of me, but his grip felt made of steel despite the blood I took from him.

“Stay,” he said. Though worded as an order, it sounded like a plea.

“I can’t.” If I did, there might be no turning back.

He kissed me leisurely. Intimately. It was too much.

I gave in. “Only for a little while.”

He shifted me sideways in his lap and gathered me to him, tucking my feet snugly between his thigh and the armchair. “I wish there was a blanket down here,” he said. “Or do you want to go upstairs?”

Upstairs. Where the bedrooms had to be. Where he’d want me to stay longer. I should go. Right now.

I shook my head. “I like it here.”

Laying his cheek on my head, he whispered, “I like it too.”

I stayed here, cuddling with him, for longer than I should have. Unwilling to let go of his warmth, I listened to his heart rate slow to normal and his breath even out. Once he was asleep, I thought it’d be a shame to wake him and wipe his memory. Instead I watched him, until the angles of his face, the curve of his lips, and the smoothness of his brow were imprinted on my mind. I dropped my gaze to his neck. My bite mark was nothing more than a couple of dots, like pinpricks. I kissed my mark and inhaled Alex’s scent, to complete my mental picture of him.

I never allowed myself to fall asleep anywhere but in my basement apartment and had to be there before dawn. The sun coming up doesn’t make us narcoleptic, but it can make us nice and crispy, so I always made a point of checking the sunrise time online before going out.

Well… almost always.

I fell asleep.

 

Chapter Two

 

I awoke with a jolt. Sharp pain sliced through my right side. My arm hurt like it had been carved to the bone. I tried to lift it, see what the damage was, and had to bite back a scream. The pain became sharper, deeper, as if the flesh was peeling off.

The curtain, flimsy as it was, had blocked some of the sunlight, but not enough to keep it from burning the skin of my right shoulder and as much of that side of my back as wasn’t covered by the armchair and Alex’s arm. It stretched and felt about to tear open with every move I made.

I shrieked—an honest-to-God shriek I’d thought could only be accomplished by teenage drama queens—and jumped off Alex’s lap to crouch between the armchair and sofa.

Alex snapped his eyes open. “What—”

“Room without a window?”

Why was he looking at me and not replying?

Alex.

His eyes cleared and became more focused after I barked out his name.

“Is there a room without a window in the house?” I hated to think of what would happen if there wasn’t one. The sun was low enough now, but soon it’d be streaming in through the glass panes. Even if I managed to find a spot where it didn’t directly hit me, I’d feel like I was in a furnace.

Cop instincts must have kicked in, because he stood, fully alert now, and pointed to the back of the house. “Second door to your left. Takes you to the basement.”

I took off, leaving him to run after me.

“Cherry? What’s wrong?” I doubted he realized he was yelling.

An unfiltered, stray beam of light found my foot when I paused to fumble with the door. My flesh sizzled, and I cried out.

Alex was by my side now, close enough to see my fangs.

Whenever vampires are threatened enough for instinct to overcome logic, our fangs pop out. It can prove immensely helpful when fighting another of our kind but is all kinds of inconvenient when dealing with the sun and a human bystander.

As I finally opened the door, I saw Alex’s hand fly to his neck. Yup, this wasn’t one of those times when auto-extending fangs would help. “You—you’re… What are you?” he asked.

I slammed the heavy door in his face.

He called my name, then tried to push his way in. Yeah, good luck with that. The door locked from the inside, but even if I hadn’t pressed in the lock button, all I had to do was sit on the steps behind it and lean my back against it, and it wouldn’t budge an inch.

“What the fuck is happening, Cherry?” Kicking now.

I tried to check my shoulder burn but couldn’t. Not because of the darkness—every story you’ve heard about vampires having night vision is true—but because of the position of the damage. It didn’t matter; I knew it’d be healing. I’d fed well, and my constitution was good even without that. “Nothing. Don’t worry,” I yelled back. Well, that was convincing.

He grumbled something about his gun and a lock. Then silence.

Sadly it didn’t last. His voice, calmer now, drifted to my ears. “Come on, Cherry. Open the door. I don’t know what’s wrong, but we’ll figure it out.” A pause. “Please.” The word didn’t sound like one he had much practice saying.

I haven’t needed air in years, yet I still inhale all the time. Like at that moment, when I decided lying wouldn’t help me. I took a deep breath. “I can’t come out. The sun burns me.”

“Are you photophobic?” It made sense for that to be his first thought.

It was my way out, and I should take it. I didn’t. I respected him too much to lie—or maybe I’m the kind of woman who loses her mind when a gorgeous man offers her mind-blowing sex and then cuddles her until morning. “That too,” I said. Before I chickened out, I added, “I’m a vampire.”

The reaction I’d expect from someone after such a revelation would be to burst into laughter. Alex sighed. “A vampire?” He cleared his throat. “Seriously? Tell me more about it.”

Wow. That was open-mindedness I didn’t see coming. “Well, not much to tell.” He didn’t doubt me. He wanted to get to know me better. I tried to put my thoughts in order. “I need blood to sur—” Realization dawned. “You don’t believe me.”

He tapped his fingers on the door, an impatient sound. “I’m sorry, it’s… No. No, I don’t.”

What an ass. Instead of letting him think I was crazy, I decided to prove I was telling the truth. “Move away from the door,” I said.

“Why?”

“Can you please just do that?”

I heard him take a step back, and I opened the door enough to show my face and slide my unscathed arm through the opening. I waved at him, then bit my lip and put my hand straight in the sunlight’s path.

The burn was tolerable for a split second but soon made my eyes water. My flesh felt about to fall off.

Alex stared wide-eyed at my blistering knuckles, then my face. I clenched my jaw against the pain and lifted the corners of my mouth in a forced smile, letting my canines elongate.

He jumped away, knocked over a lamp that looked too expensive to be on such a tiny table, and fell on his ass.

I snatched my hand back and held it to my chest before closing the door again. “Let me stay in here until sundown,” I yelled. “I promise I’ll leave as soon as possible, and you’ll never have to see me again.” This time I was lying. He would see me one more time, so I could return his state of blissful ignorance by taking away his memory of the last few hours.

Nothing.

I listened. Surely I’d have caught the sound of feet running to the nearest exit. Unless he hit his head when he fell…

I was about to open the door again, when he said, “So it’s Bram Stoker more than Stephenie Meyer?”

I couldn’t contain a very eloquent, “Huh?”

“Your hand.” As if that explained everything. “Stoker had the vampire thing down better than Meyer, right?” He sounded like he really wanted to know the answer.

Only a dead and buried person would have missed the buzz the latter’s works had caused, and the former was a legend. “Stoker’s definitely closer. I mean, sparkling? Seriously? Neither is completely right, though.”

“What is he wrong about?”

I sighed. I shouldn’t be telling him anything about my kind, but I’d buy some time by keeping him talking. He was a cop; his word had gravity. If he decided to tell people about me, someone might check his story out. I couldn’t have that, so I had to keep him within reach until I could wipe him, and the best way I saw to do that was to convince him I wasn’t a monster. I’d stall till sunset, leave the basement, and wipe his memories of me with the least amount of trouble.

Plus I hadn’t really talked to someone in a long while.

“Um, where to start? We don’t turn into wolves, bats, or mist—not to my knowledge—and we don’t have a thing against God or anything religion related.”

His gasp pissed me off. Here I was, trying to keep things between us civil, and he was upset one of the ways of hurting me was off the table. “Yeah, you can’t use a cross on me.” My tongue dripped venom—not literally; we don’t do that either. “Pity, huh?”

“Don’t be stupid,” he said, adding to my ire. “Vampires seem to be repelled by crosses in most books and movies. I was surprised that, of all things, the religion part is a lie.”

Were we really having a theoretical discussion about my vampireness? I shrugged it off and picked at the scab forming on my foot. “Also, we don’t feel compelled to follow the orders of any head vamp.” I thought that over again. “Well, there’s a council that issues laws, but they don’t micromanage.”

“Hmmm.” Typical can’t-think-of-anything-to-say reaction.

“Yeah…” Typical reaction to can’t-think-of-anything-to-say reaction.

Five, ten, twenty seconds went by, and then he said, “Do you kill people?”

“No.”

“But don’t you—”

“I’ve never taken a life.”

I expected some expression of relief on his part, but he shot his next question. It wasn’t an easy one. “Do you have mind-control powers?”

Unfortunately our superhuman speed does not include speed of thought. I could hear the wheels in my head turn as I tried to find the safest way to respond.

I must have taken too long, because his next words came out in a high-pitched voice I couldn’t quite associate with his husky tones until then. “Did you… hypnotize me? Is that why I brought someone I thought was a prostitute to my mother’s?”

He had no sense of danger; I could snap his neck, and if he kept accusing me of things, I probably would.

I don’t use my mojo to get a guy to take me home. I’ve never needed to do more than swish my hips and smile lasciviously, or stretch and let my boobs do the flirting. His gall was incredible.

“No, Einstein. That was all you, wanting to talk. I didn’t need thrall, to get in your pants.”

“How do I know you’re being honest with me?”

I couldn’t believe we were having such a stupid dialogue. He couldn’t know. And I had no reason to keep being honest. But being me got lonely from time to time, and since we were talking anyway, I wanted to be real. “Because if I’d used thrall, we wouldn’t be talking about it at all.”

“But you bit me.” There went the upper hand. I’d lost it. Buh-bye, upper hand.

Begrudgingly I muttered, “Yes. Had to feed.” Why was I hanging my head? I really did have to feed. “I tried not to hurt you.” That was the closest thing to an apology any of my donors had ever gotten.

“You didn’t.” His voice lost some of its edge. “I thought it was a”—he cleared his throat—“an expression of passion.”

I ghosted my fingers over the door in the wish-it-were-my-guy-instead-of-the-wooden-surface rom-com way. For a second, I allowed myself to believe he wanted it to be just that, and maybe I’d get a chance for a do-over.

But I was a snack.

I got defensive, though his tone hadn’t been angry. “I chose you, okay? I slept with you.” I jabbed the air with my index finger, like he could see me. “I don’t fucking do that.” I barely resisted punching the wall to stress my point.

“Am I going to become like you now?”

“No.” Maybe I should open the door and use my mind trick after all. Nothing else seemed likely to get him off that interrogation line.

“How do I know that?”

Again with the stupid questions. “It doesn’t work like that. There’s more to turning someone, and I’m not allowed to do it, anyway.”

“Why?”

I didn’t have to keep answering but decided to stick with it. “I was the last person to be turned before the new regime banned turning altogether.” I was also the reason for the banning, since my asshole of a maker didn’t realize I was sort of recognizable and had a family, unlike most people chosen for turning, so there was the possibility my resurrection wouldn’t go unnoticed.

“You’re the youngest vampire?” He huffed. “When were you made?”

Turned,” I said. “Six years ago.”

“That makes you what? Thirty?”

“No.” I added dumbass in my head. “It makes me twenty-four, forever.”

I caught a buzzing sound, and soon he was on the phone. I didn’t bother listening to both sides of the conversation—it’s good that we can tune our senses up or down depending on our needs, or the abundance of stimuli would drive every last one of us crazy. My relief when I heard him say, “I’m coming over now,” was indescribable.

He hung up and told me he had to go see a contact and then run by the police station. I found the fact that he explained both odd and endearing.

“I shouldn’t trust you with the place,” he said, “but I guess I don’t have a choice.”

My day just got better, except for one thing. “Will you tell people about me?” I hated how small and worried my voice sounded.

“Of course I will. Nothing says captain material more than a cop claiming he has a vampire locked in his basement.”

“You know, you were a lot nicer before I put out.” That shut him up as expected, so I continued refusing to acknowledge the fact that his attitude had changed after my revelation, and not after the sex.

Just before the front door slammed shut, I heard him mutter, “You better be here when I get back. This isn’t over.”

This couldn’t have been more over, but I said nothing. When he got home, I’d wipe him and fly out of there, never to be seen by Alex Marsden again.

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