Authors: Meljean Brook
She wouldn't. Not again. “What are you going to do?” She pushed at his chest.
“Taste you. Only your mouth, and only if you agree.”
Heat coiled through her stomach; he was like a fever inside her, a sickness. “What if I don't?”
“I'll carry you to my suite and do it there.” There was no apology in his tone now. “I don't intend to take your blood, Savi. I simply wantâ
âto taste you. I think I will die if I do not.”
She would not believe that; only poets and horny teenagers did. But her gaze dropped to his lips. Her fingers buried in the hair at his nape. So thick and soft.
“This must be because I'm drunk,” she whispered as she lowered her mouth to his. “I know better.”
“An emotional roller coaster for both the characters and the reader. Brook has penned a story I am sure readers won't soon forgetâ¦extraordinary work.”
“Intriguingâ¦the sex is piping hot.”
âRomance Reviews Today
“Brookâ¦creates fantastic death-defying loveâ¦extremely eroticâ¦with a paranormal twist.”
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A Berkley Sensation Book / published by arrangement with the author
Copyright Â© 2007 by Melissa Khan.
Cover illustration by Franco Accornero.
Cover design by Lesley Worrell.
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To all of the Missys out thereâ
may you never grow up
Special thanks to Megan Frampton,
slayer of semicolons and guru of music;
and to Jennfer-with-an-i, for everything
Pray do not press your Guardian dictum upon me again. “Appearances are almost always deceiving”âhow preposterous! I am beautiful and charming, and that is all my appearance promises. Any in Society who are disappointed when they do not find more cannot fault my countenance. The deception is not mine; they have deceived themselves. But let them continue to look, whether they are fools or no; I rather enjoy it
âColin Ames-Beaumont, in a letter to Dr. Anthony Ramsdell, 1813
No club should be so crowded at nine o'clock in the evening; drinking and dancing should never reach such animated heights until one o'clock. Two, if it were summer. Any earlier, and it gave the appearance that one came to drink and dance, as if such things were to be pursued for themselves rather than as a means to more pleasurable activities.
It was almost vulgar, and Colin Ames-Beaumont watched with no small measure of dismay as the early crush of people became a smash. Perhaps buying Polidori's had been a terrible mistake. Restoring the nightclub had been an obsession that had quickly burned out, and whatever lingering interest he'd had was quickly snuffed when a human woman with waist-length ebony hair and a horror of a black leather dress slithered up to his private table.
A techno beat pounded through the club, reverberated through his chest. Sumptuous golds and reds enfolded the lounges; the dance floors vibrated with energetic blues and greens. The music was good, the dÃ©cor excellent; becoming a clichÃ© was not.
Colin resisted the urge to glance down and confirm that his charcoal-gray trousers and ivory cashmere sweater had not been transformed into a tuxedo, complete with satin-lined cape.
And to think he'd been charmed the first time he'd seen Bela Lugosi sweep onto the stage.
A smile curved the woman's blood-red lips, but it failed when her gaze ran over his face. He heard the startled catch of her breath, the sudden increase in her heartbeat.
Colin loved it when they did that.
The male vampire who'd been observing her from one of the second-level lounges did not; Colin heard his growl between the pulses of electronic music. More black leather, a studded collarâhe blended with half of Polidori's human clientele, and most of the undead.
Though she didn't move, the woman in front of Colin seemed to flail about, trying to reclaim some of the seductive posture with which she'd started. He'd disrupted her without effort, without expression, but now Colin's smile came easily.
As he intended, she regained her confidence, if not her sense. Bracing her palms on the tabletop, she leaned forward and gave him a view of her ample cleavage. “May I buy you a drink?”
Oh, good God. Could they not have come up with something more original? How did they expect him to respond?
I never drinkâ¦wine
“No,” Colin said, “but if it's free, I will take a sip.” He slid his fingers across the back of her hand. She shivered, and his smile widened.
There was lust in her involuntary response, but also fear. Very good. It was foolish of them to approach him this way. Grasping her wrist, he pulled her around the table. After a brief hesitation, she sat on the cushion next to him. Her gaze never left his face, and her tongue flicked out to touch her lips. Her breathing deepened and slowed as she lifted her hair away from her neck.
Colin brushed his thumb over the pulse beating at her throat. “I can make it very good for you,” he said softly, and rasped his teeth against her skin. Her lips parted on a gasp. How long would it take?
Not long. The vampire abandoned his post in the lounge.
Only a short lesson, then. Colin's fangs sank deep. He controlled his descent, contained the pleasure of itâand sent the bubbling ecstasy back to her, let it course through her bloodstream. She stiffened and shuddered as the orgasm hit her, tiny cries breaking from her throat.
Ah, humans. Unable to experience the rapture in any way but sexual. He drew back before the bloodlust could rise, not bothering to close the punctures. Let her partner do that; he'd scent Colin on her skinâand hopefully, wouldn't forget.
Colin affected a bored expression as the vampire swept the still-quaking woman to her feet. After a furious glance at the streaming wounds, the vampire's head dipped, his mouth closing over the punctures. His dark head against her pale skin made a fascinating study in contrasts.
Colin sighed. It fascinated others as well, though for different reasons; the odor of blood was generating quite a bit of attention from the other vampires in the club. Perhaps it was for the best; he'd only have to explain this once.
“I could have ripped out her throat,” Colin said pleasantly. The male lifted his head to stare at him, shaking with rage; the woman's hands clenched on his shoulders as if to hold him back. Good girl. The flush of orgasm had left her cheeks, replaced by pale apprehension. “You don't know me, yet you sent her to me.”
The male's shame apparently left him speechlessâor he'd finally taken a good look at Colin. If it was the latter, Colin might have pity on him.
Her eyes luminous, the woman replied, “It was my idea. We'd heard you don't kill.” She swallowed. “Don't kill humans.”
Colin lifted his brows; his smile mocked them. “And from whom did you gather this intelligence?”
“Everyone knows,” she said, but some of her bravado deserted her. She glanced up at her companion, as if for assistance.
The vampire had been young when he'd been turnedâtwenty-five, perhaps. Judging by his late-1980's hairstyle, Colin estimated his transformation had been fifteen or twenty years previous. How unfortunate that so many of the undead clung to the fashions of their youth.
But then, so did humans.
“You are Beaumont, aren't you?” the vampire asked.
-Beaumont,” Colin corrected. “My grandmother bought the hyphen, and paid dearly for it delivering an earl; I should hate to see her sacrifice wasted.”
After a brief moment of disconcertment, as if he did not know what to make of Colin's reply, the male pulled out the chair tucked beneath the opposite side of the table. “May I?”
Amused, Colin inclined his head. The Goth faÃ§ade had dropped from the vampire in all but appearance; out came the Midwestern farm boy. The woman settled into his lap.
“I'm Paul, this is Fia.” He paused, and uncertainty flickered over his features.
Was he afraid that he'd inadvertently given Colin power over them by telling him their names? Alas, if only. Colin didn't deny or confirm his fear, though, and gestured for him to continue.
“We've recently returned to San Francisco,” Paul said, and clasped his hands over Fia's. “Last year, when theâ¦theâ¦”
It wasn't pity that led Colin to help him out. “When the nosferatu began slaughtering us?” he supplied, and grinned as terror spiked the psychic scents of the vampires around them. None of these had fought the nosferatuâif they had, they'd not have survived. Nor had they been inside Polidori's when the cursed creatures had set fire to it, trapping seventy vampires insideâ¦many of them the community's elders. But they would have seen how the nosferatu ripped their human victims apart; photographs from the rituals Lucifer and the nosferatu had performed had leaked into the news and online. A few might have witnessed firsthand their unbelievable strength and speed.
“The nosferatu. Yes.” The vampire's pallor deepened; both he and his human guarded their minds well. If not for the physical response, Colin would have had difficulty reading him. “Most of us fled seven months ago, right before they burned this place down.”
If fear of the nosferatu had inspired them to flee, they were more intelligent than the elders had been. “A wise decision, I daresay.”
“Most of us lost our sires,” Paul added, and Colin suppressed his grimace of distaste. One did not
vampires as if they were animals. Of course, the elders had acted as animals, allowed themselves to be herded into Polidori's and then massacred. Against the nosferatu, there had been no safety in numbers, and they'd only presented a larger target. “But you survived.”
“Apparently,” Colin said.
Fia shot a quick glance at Paul before she said, “There are rumors that you had protection from a demon. Perhaps a werewolf. You've frequently been observed in the company of a woman who isn'tâ¦isn't human, nor vampire.” She reached up and slid her hand self-consciously over her hair, and Colin almost burst into laughter. The dye and the leather had been an attempt to simulate Lilith's appearance?
He wasn't certain what was more ridiculous: their obvious assumption that the halfling demon was his consort, or that this human thought she had hope of mimicking Lilith in presence or personality.
“And you've been focusing your hunts on dark-haired women,” Fia continued.
They'd discovered that? But Colin's expression reflected none of his surprise as he said, “There is no such creature as a werewolf.”
A psychic ripple of disappointment and disbelief from the vampires met his statement. Had their elders taught them nothing? Then again, the elders might not have known the truth about their origins, or the other beings that stalked the Earth.
Very few did.
“But there are demons? And they can offer us protection if the nosferatu strike again?”
Colin's humor fled. “No,” he said flatly. “And entering into such a bargain with one would be more foolish than sending a human in an attempt to soften an unknown vampire.”
Embarrassment emanated from both members of the couple, but they were determined. Paul said, “We've also heard that a few vampires have been recruited by a government agencyâand that those vampires were all connected with you in some manner. With Polidori's.” He waved his hand in a sweeping gesture, as if Colin couldn't see the vampires around them, the club. “Do you intend to lead us? You are the eldest among us.”
Fia touched her neck and said quietly, “The most powerful.”
More vampires gathered near, and Colin's gaze swept over those assembled. Had they all planned this, or were they simply taking advantage of one couple's daring? He leaned back and rested his arm along the top of the sofa. A sword lay behind a panel in the wall; he hoped he would not have to use it.
Establishing superiority through bloodshed was as outdated as their clothing, and better suited to beasts.
Colin's gaze didn't move from Paul's, but he directed his statement to them all. “I am pleased that you noticed,” he replied. “Though I find it unfortunate that you assume my power has an obligation attached. Your elders were satisfied without having me as leader; you should follow their example in thatâif only that. In their constant fighting amongst themselves for position, they killed each other as successfully, if not as quickly, as the nosferatu did.”
Paul pressed his lips together and shook his head, clearly unhappy with such an answer. “But this club was the center of vampire activity before the nosferatu arrived. You've purchased and reopened it. For what purpose, if not to reestablish the community here in San Francisco?”
“John Polidori was a friend of mine; I didn't want to see his legacyâsuch as it isâin ashes. If you are seeking a leader, do not look to me. If someone else wishes the position, he need not fear I'll challenge him.”
“We don't need just anyone,” Paul said. “We need strength. The nosferatu massacred the elders, yet you remained in the city and lived. My consort was one of those killed; I won't lose another.”
Colin glanced at Fia. The only humans brought into the community were those a vampire intended to turn. A human could not be fed from daily for long; it became too dangerous. Yet she was comfortable among them, and obviously familiar to many. Either she had known of vampires before Paul had lost his partner, or she'd absorbed knowledge from him and entrenched herself in the community very quickly. “Then you'd best learn to protect her better. I've little interest in leading a group of vampires who would use a human as their weapon and shield.”
feed from them?”
And another had grown bold. Colin barely glanced at the speakerâdark and tall, shaven head, his leather vest exposing his muscular arms and a tattoo of a wolf. There were advantages to his extraordinaryâ
âspeed; Colin memorized the vampire's appearance in that swift look, though to the vampire, it would seem as if Colin hadn't given him the slightest acknowledgment.
As an insult, the cut direct had been much more effective in London's drawing roomsâinstead of being silenced the vampire's voice rose and rang with challenge. “You endanger all of us. The elders should never have allowed such as you to roam the streets.”
Such as him? Colin's amusement returned. “They attempted to stop meâ¦once. Will you try to do the same now?”
“You fought them?” Fia's question was echoed by uneasy murmurs.
Colin raised his heel to the sofa cushion, rested his elbow on his knee. His smile was as lazy as his posture. “I'd no need for such drastic measures,” he told her. “Would
kill such as me?”
Her lips parted as her gaze slid over his features. For an instant, she stopped breathingâ¦then shook herself out of it. “Yes. If you didn't follow the community's rules.”
Delighted by her response, Colin laughed softly. “Your elders found that they could not kill me. And why should they? When I first came to this city, there was no vampire community here, and worldwide the requirement of partnerships and bloodsharing was in its nascent stages; our numbers weren't high enough to warrant it.”