Read Blood of the Maple Online

Authors: Dana Marie Bell

Blood of the Maple

Blood of the Maple
By Dana Marie Bell

A seduction-gone-wrong leaves vampire Parker Hollis with a new vegetarian lifestyle and on the run from a vengeful witch. Moving to small-town Maggie’s Grove, Parker meets a redheaded dryad with green, leafy blood that draws him in a way he hasn’t experienced in decades. His new neighbor smells divine, and it isn’t long before craving gives in to need.

In a unique community of supernaturals, tree-loving outcast Amara Schwedler has never quite fit in. She’s scarred by a traumatic incident and feared by the local townsfolk. She’s convinced Parker will look elsewhere for a mate once he discovers she’s not one of the O-positive set, and can’t believe it when Parker finds her irresistible.

When the witch who’s been plaguing Parker’s life discovers the newfound attraction between Parker and Amara, she takes out her anger on the town. Can the supernaturals of Maggie’s Grove accept Amara and band together in time to withstand the assaults of the enraged witch?

78,000 words

Dear Reader,

A new year always brings with it a sense of expectation and promise (and maybe a vague sense of guilt). Expectation because we don’t know what the year will bring exactly, but promise because we always hope it will be good things. The guilt is due to all of the New Year’s resolutions we make with such good intentions.

This year, Carina Press is making a New Year’s resolution we know we won’t have any reason to feel guilty about: we’re going to bring our readers a year of fantastic editorial and diverse genre content. So far, our plans for 2011 include staff and author appearances at reader-focused conferences such as the RT Booklovers Convention in April, where we’ll be offering up goodies, appearing on panels, giving workshops and hosting a few fun activities for readers. We’re also cooking up several genre-specific release weeks, during which we’ll highlight individual genres. So far we have plans for steampunk week and unusual fantasy week. Readers will have access to free reads, discounts, contests and more as part of our week-long promotions!

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Dedication

To Mom, who makes a face every time she sees me eat sashimi, but encourages me to bring it to our family dinners anyway. Someday I’ll get you to try it, and you’ll see what the big deal is. Of course, we might have to raid Dad’s homemade wine first.

To Dad, who suggested I send some homemade wine to my mother-in-law because he noticed how much she loved it when she came to visit. I’m awarding plenty of brownie points for that, even though I’m taking a lot away. P.S.: The “old fart” remote control car the boys had
tooting
in my face has met with an unfortunate, yet predictable, staircase accident.

Finally, to Dusty, who
still
manages to sneak up and scare me even after twenty years together. I’m sorry, but laughing when I smack you in retaliation doesn’t make me want to stop. Neither does calling me Super Grover, even if I
do
hit like a girl. Chocolate, on the other hand, works wonders.

Acknowledgments

The author acknowledges the trademarked status and trademark owners of the following wordmarks mentioned in this work of fiction:

Disney World: Disney Enterprises, Inc.

Taco Bell: Taco Bell Corp.

Ben and Jerry’s: Ben and Jerry’s Homemade, Inc.

YouTube: Google Inc.

XTube: VirageMedia Inc.

Prologue

The California Desert, Sometime in the 1960s…

“You know, my friend told me you were a witch, but I didn’t know he meant it literally.”

Parker clutched the bars of his cage and stared at the hippie chick he’d shagged a few nights before. Damn, she’d been a sweet piece too, tasty on the inside
and
the outside. A rare combination and one he’d planned on sampling again before moving on. She had the biggest green eyes he’d ever seen and a mouth that could suck-start a motorcycle.

Too bad she’d taken exception to his dalliance with the daisy-crowned flower child. He’d been caught with his fangs down, and now the witch was going to exact some freaky revenge. From the way her huge cauldron bubbled, he wouldn’t be surprised if she tried to boil him alive.

“I worked pretty hard to get you into my bed.”

Parker blinked, unsure if he should be flattered or terrified.

Never mind. He knew—terrified. She stirred the mess in the cauldron, and it was all he could do not to scream like a girl.
Okay, make that more terrified.
He might be a vampire, hunter of the night and all-around badass, but a woman scorned was fucking scary.

“You did?”

“Mm-hmm.” She tossed something into the bubbling goo. The stench was foul beyond comprehension. What the hell had she put in there? And was it going to touch any part of him? There wasn’t enough tomato juice in the world to get
that
scent washed off.

“I’m flattered.” He remembered first catching sight of her dancing around a bonfire during one of the numerous parties his friends had thrown. She’d looked utterly edible. “I remember you dancing.”

She smiled like he’d handed her a gilded rose. “Yes!” She drifted by, her voice dreamy, her expression serene. “I called you to me. You couldn’t resist my allure.”

Someone needs to stop taking the brown acid.
“Look, it was nice and all, but—”

“Nice!”

Parker’s ears were ringing. Damn, she could
shriek.

“I let you into my temple, and you desecrated it!”

Oh now, hold on a moment.
“You begged me to
desecrate
it!”

She pointed her white-handled knife at him. “You cheated on me.”

“You have to be in a relationship to cheat. All we did was party together. Horizontally.”

She sniffled, tears forming in her eyes. “I thought I meant something to you.”

Aw shit. Humor the crazy lady.
“You did.” He rattled the bars, unsure why he couldn’t turn to mist and drift through them. The one time he tried he’d almost passed out from the pain. “You could.”

The eager grin she was suddenly sporting scared the bejesus out of him. “Yes. And to make sure it
never
happens again, I’ve come up with a plan.”

Uh-oh.
“Excuse me?”

“Don’t worry, my love. You’ll never need to feed off anyone else again.”

“You know?” When he’d thought about being caught with his fangs down, he hadn’t meant it
literally.

He’d done everything he was supposed to. The feeding should have been a vague memory of a sharp nip; the only physical reminder, a tiny hickey.

Greg could have warned him. If her lack of memory loss was due to her being a
real
witch, then he never would have fed from her in the first place, but Greg, a witch himself, had never once mentioned that they were immune.

Oh wait. Greg
had
warned him to “stay away from the crazy.” Too bad he’d listened to his prick instead.

“That you’re a Nosferatu?” She turned back to the cauldron. The smell coming from it was truly vile.

He winced. “I prefer
vampire,
myself.” Nosferatu made him think of that spindly, ugly-ass guy in the black-and-white film. He might not be Tony Curtis, but he sure as hell wasn’t
that
guy either.

There was that smile that had led him to her bed, the one that promised all sorts of forbidden delights. “Of course. I’ll remember that.”

“Thanks.” He gave his attention once more to the iron bars of his cage. He twisted and pulled, bending them, but not nearly enough.

Damn it.
He’d been working on freeing himself for an hour or more. Normally breaking out of a simple iron cage wouldn’t be a problem, but she’d done something to it, something…magical? Whatever it was, the bars were extremely difficult to break. “So what do you have planned?”

“Nothing much. I’m going to change your diet.”

He froze. What she was suggesting was impossible. “What?”

She grinned over her shoulder, her whole body glowing eerily. It wasn’t a reflection of the firelight on her skin either. This was serious magic. “It’s simple, really. I’m going to make you unable to feed from anyone but me. Then you’ll never cheat on me again. Isn’t it a great idea?”

The idea was revolting. It was unnatural. It was against the vampire code of ethics or something. He couldn’t live off her; she wasn’t his
singele sotiei,
his blood wife. Only his
sotiei
could sustain him the way Terri was talking about.

She dipped a golden goblet into the green goo in the cauldron. “When I’m done, the only one you’ll ever need will be me.” She turned toward him, the goblet balanced between her hands. “It’s time, my love.”

“Oh fuck me.” Parker began kicking at the bars with all his might. The outcome of this could
not
be good.

“Here. Drink this, and we’ll be together forever.”

No way.
Odds were good she was carrying liquid death in her hands. His death. Parker knocked the goblet away, but the liquid sloshed over the sides. Some landed on him, some on her. The dark green was almost pretty against her skin.

She looked at him and smiled. “I love you.”

Then the pain hit, and he couldn’t do anything but scream.

***

Haight-Ashbury, Sometime in the 1960s…

“Oh Goddess. Oh Goddess. Oh
fuck.

Someone pounded on the restroom door. “Brother. What the hell are you
doing
in there?” A pair of ratty sneakers were visible under the tan door.

Parker clenched the sides of the toilet bowl and prayed for death. He didn’t even know he
had
these bodily functions anymore. Hell, he hadn’t taken a dump in two centuries!

This was all that bitch’s fault. “That is the last time I eat cactus.” He shuddered, cold sweat popping out on his forehead. It was bad enough he’d had to pick the fucking needles out of his gums, but this? This was the ultimate indignity.

The poor bastard waiting to use the toilet backed up, until Parker couldn’t see his shoes. “What did you say?” He probably thought Parker was high on something.

“Nothing,” he wheezed. When he found that bitch, he was going to
kill
her. Kill her dead. Deader than dead.

After
he got her to remove the goddamn curse.

“Oh Goddess!”

“What?”

Parker groaned. “I think I shit out my spleen.”

***

Boston, Sometime in the 1980s…

Parker pushed the shopping cart around the store and did his best to ignore the strange looks people gave him—or rather, his grocery cart. He’d gotten used to them over the last decade or so, but at least he had a better handle on what the witch had done to him. The experiments to find what he could and could not eat had not been pleasant. Memories of the infamous Cactus Incident haunted his dreams during the day.

A vampire cursed to drink nothing but the blood of plants. What the hell had she been thinking?

His butt cheeks clenched at the horrible memory of that day in the restroom.

Everyone knew cacti produced water, which was why he’d attempted to drink from it. What most people
didn’t
know was the water they contained also produced diarrhea, nausea and vomiting in anyone who drank it, like vampires who were stuck on a restricted diet.

Thank the Goddess for Greg, who’d helped him figure out what the hell he was living with. If not for him, Parker probably would have starved to death or, worse, gone feral and been hunted by his kind. Once Greg heard what he’d been through (and had stopped laughing long enough), he’d concocted a plan to help Parker survive without Terri.

At least he’d managed to avoid
her
the last few years. The last time she’d caught up to him had been the worst. He’d woken up to find her snuggled up against him, her spooky green eyes boring into him, her scent both tantalizing and repulsive at the same time. His fangs had descended in preparation for feeding, startling him. She’d had him by the balls, her nails lightly scratching the wrinkled skin.
“I’ve missed you,”
she’d crooned.

He’d never moved so fast in his life. He couldn’t believe he’d been forced to streak through New York City at rush hour. He was lucky he hadn’t been arrested and thrown in a nice cell block with Bubba the Butt Buddy. The sunburn had taken
days
to heal.

He finished his shopping and headed for the checkout. He placed ten bottles of all-natural maple syrup, a potted spider plant, a bouquet of carnations and a box of caramels on the counter.

The cashier looked at his purchase and frowned.

Parker shrugged. “What? I like caramels.”

She rang him up silently, much to his relief.

The light was on when he got back to the apartment, which meant Greg was probably there. Parker opened the door and picked up the grocery bags, his stomach grumbling. “Honey, I’m home!”

Greg West, his roommate and resident pain in the ass, sauntered out of the kitchen. A Kiss the Cook apron barely fit his athletic body. You’d never know he was both an accountant and a witch. He looked like a fullback for the Giants. “Knock it off with that
honey
shit, or I won’t feed you dinner.”

Parker held up the bags and grinned. He shook the right one gently, hoping to bribe Greg into a better mood. “I bought you caramels.”

Greg rolled his eyes and headed back into the kitchen. “Did you get the plant?”

“Yup.”

“And the syrup?”

“Uh-huh.” Parker followed Greg, more than ready for his dinner.

“Over there, then.”

Parker deposited the bags on the table. “What’s for dinner?”

Greg sighed. “The usual.”

“Yum.” Parker blinked. Was he beginning to
like
his curse? He supposed it was possible. One of the things he’d come to appreciate about his changed diet was the variety. O-negative might be different from O-positive, but in the long run, it all tasted like blood. Now he got to try all sorts of flavor and texture combinations he’d have been forced to vomit back up in the old days.

Greg snipped a piece of the spider plant and put it in the blender. Maple syrup was then added, along with some of the leaves off the bouquet of carnations. “Felt like a change?”

“Something like that.” Parker put the carnations in some water. It would help them live a few more days. Besides, he loved the scent of the flowers but couldn’t eat the blossoms, only the leaves.
Stupid curse.
When Terri had cursed him to drink nothing but green, leafy blood, she’d been serious. Greg had helped him figure out it took a delicate balance of human blood, tree sap and leaves. Too little blood, and Parker would begin to lose weight. Too much, and his body would try to reject the extra protein.

Greg shrugged and grabbed a knife, then pricked his finger and added some drops of blood to Parker’s dinner. He put the lid on and hit Liquefy.

No matter how many times the man had said
I told you so,
Parker owed him.

Parker’s mouth watered. “Have I mentioned how much I hate that bitch?”

“Every night at dinner.” Greg turned off the blender and poured the sticky golden-brown mess into a glass. He added a corkscrew straw and handed him the concoction. “Bon appétit.”

“Thanks, man. I really appreciate it.”

“Don’t mention it.” Greg went back to the steak he’d been sautéing. “How are the studies going?”

Parker took a long swallow. “Not bad, might go for my doctorate.”

Greg choked out a laugh. “You? A PhD?”

“Why not?”

“Sorry. I’m trying to picture you as Dr. Parker Hollis, professor of botany.”

“Yeah. Not exactly the way I’d envisioned my life after life.”

“I never expected I’d wind up living with a vegetarian geek vampire.”

Parker blew Greg a raspberry.

Greg leered back. “So. How much pussy does a botanist get anyway?”

Parker smirked. “Let’s see. There’s the regular pussy willow, the weeping pussy willow—”

“Man. Shut up. Idiot.” But Greg was laughing, which was a good thing, considering the bomb Parker was going to hit him with.

“I’m thinking about pursuing a minor too.”

Greg stirred the steak, adding soy sauce to the stir-fry. “In what?”

He coughed into his fist. “Witchcraft.”

“Parker,” Greg groaned.

“What?”

“First off, no respectable university offers witchcraft as a minor.”

Parker sniffed. “I never said it was respectable.” In fact, the dean of admissions had promised to do things to him that a porn star would consider disreputable.

“Second, what did I tell you about the crazy? Any place that hands out a degree in witchcraft is either a scam or up to the brim of their pointy hats in crazy.”

“But her—I mean
their—
work/study plan was excellent.”

Greg smacked him upside the head. “Tell Little Parker to shut the hell up for five minutes. He’s the one who got you into this situation, remember?”

“Little? I am insulted, sirrah.” Parker whipped out the straw and brandished it, waving it around like a deranged musketeer. “En garde!”

Greg lifted his spoon and assumed the position. “You are
so
on.”

The two dueled until, in a frenzy of soy-sauce and maple-syrup splatters, Parker lay on the floor, defeated. He lifted the broken straw and glared at it. “You failed me. Damn you, corkscrew straw.”

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