Enjoy this exclusive excerpt from The Vampire’s Temptation: Bloodwite Book One, coming February 24th and on preorder February 10th. Cover reveal is on February 8th so be sure to join the private reader group for special giveaways that day! And if you haven’t read the free origin story, download The Healer’s Curse now.
Stone Haven, Pennsylvania
“I don’t do shots.”
Everyone began protesting at once—well, everyone other than Tom, who simply ignored her protest and ordered six Slippery Nipples from the bartender.
“Take it, Alessandra. It’s not every day you celebrate a new job—”
“Or abandon your colleagues.” Charlotte scrunched up her nose in mock anger. Everyone laughed, but Alessandra knew there was a bit of truth to her friend’s allegation. She was leaving them, after all. Who was she to deny her boss—ex-boss now—if he wanted to buy his teachers shots after their last day of in-service?
“Besides, this is more of a cordial than a shot,” Charlotte said as the bartender lined the drinks up on the bar.
The group looked at Charlotte as if she’d gone daft.
“It’s all semantics,” Charlotte said, “but Alessandra will only drink cordials, so . . .”
“Leave it to the English teacher,” Tom murmured. “Cordial. Shot. Call it what you will,” he said, lifting his glass. “To a successful school year, to the best teachers in the district, and to Alessandra Fiore—an excellent history teacher and soon-to-be excellent college professor.”
“Cheers,” her friends said one by one, lifting their glasses in a toast. Accepting defeat, she did the same, then drank down the guaranteed headache. As she swapped the empty shot glass for the beer someone else had bought her, Tom clapped her on the shoulder and turned to the new gym teacher, who’d barely made it out alive this year. The poor guy had fallen prey to so many first-year pranks, it was a wonder he’d still shown up to drink with them this afternoon. Or maybe it wasn’t so much of a surprise. She wondered how he’d fare next year, then realized again she wouldn’t be around to find out.
She looked at the familiar dark oak of the bar that had witnessed more teacher happy hours than she could count and wondered what her new colleagues would be like. There were only a handful of young professors at Stone Haven University, and none of the others would be in the history department with her. But if an inferior social life at work was the price to pay for her dream job, so be it. Plus, her friends would still be here, at Murphy’s Pub, every Friday like clockwork.
She jumped a little at the sound of Toni’s voice. Her roommate worked at a shop down the street and typically closed the place down on Fridays. Alessandra hadn’t expected her for at least another hour.
“What are you doing here so early?”
Toni took the ever-present hair tie from her wrist and, in one swift movement, drew her hair into a perfect messy bun. Red hair stuck out in more places than it didn’t, the bright color attracting as much attention as her welcoming smile. Toni’s hair was impossible to look away from. Unbelievably, it was entirely natural too.
“Birdie came down to close. I couldn’t miss your grand celebr—”
Her eyes suddenly went comically wide, focused on something over Alessandra’s shoulder. Alessandra started to turn in that direction, but Toni grabbed her arm.
“No! Don’t look.”
Rolling her eyes, she humored her friend.
“Holy hotness,” Toni whispered just loud enough for her to hear. “And he’s looking at us.”
Alessandra lifted her Corona Light to her mouth, and got a mouthful of lime. She’d forgotten to shove it down the neck. Grabbing a bar napkin, she caught a glimpse of Toni’s worshipful expression. Man, the girl had it bad.
“Is now a bad time to remind you of your boyfriend?”
“Be cool,” Toni said.
Alessandra had to laugh at that. “If anyone here is not being cool, it’s you. Seriously, what’s up with you? Let me get you a—”
She’d brushed off Toni’s hand and finally managed to get a look at the man who’d turned her friend into a bumbling mess. And Alessandra could certainly see what all the fuss was about.
He was looking at them. And not even attempting to hide it. Undeniably good-looking, his dirty blond hair and musician vibe were less intriguing than the way he was staring at Toni. That stare was intense and probing, as if he knew her, but Alessandra was certain she’d never seen him before.
“Her usual,” Alessandra said to the bartender, forcing herself to look away from the newcomer.
“You’re not buying me a drink,” Toni said, trying to push her aside. “This is your night.”
Before Alessandra could take another glance at the stranger, Tom stepped away from the stretch of bar they’d taken over. As their principal, he rarely stayed out for more than an hour or so.
“Good luck,” he said, hugging her as if this were goodbye for real. Stone Haven was as small a town as it got, however, and there was no doubt she’d run into him at least once a week. Here at Murphy’s or walking down their only Main Street. But the employer-employee bond they’d had was now over, and for that she felt a pang of sadness.
“Thank you,” she replied. “For everything.”
He smiled, saluted to the rest of the group, and left.
“Another round of shots,” someone called out. “To summer . . .”
She was so not doing another one. They gave her a pounding headache, and Alessandra had promised herself she would run in the morning. Or at some point tomorrow. She’d been putting it off for a week, and a day after indulging in bar food and too many drinks was the perfect time to get her butt in gear.
“They’re just getting started,” Toni said with a grin, lifting her glass in the air. “To new beginnings,” she said with a not-so-sly glance at the other end of the bar.
Alessandra followed her gaze.
He was gone.
Shrugging, she lifted up her bottle and clinked glasses, grateful for good friends and a summer with nothing to do but prep for her classes in the fall.
“To new beginnings.”
* * *
Lawrence was here.
Taking a sip of a gin and tonic, Kenton stared out into the distance from the second-floor balcony of his new home. A train’s whistle broke the blessed silence, though “silence” wasn’t truly silent for him, and hadn’t been for some time. In still moments, he could hear shop owners in town putting out their trash and preparing to close for the evening.
Even so, the view was relaxing—the line of trees across from him was broken by only one discernible building, the courthouse that stood guard on Main Street. The downtown area of Stone Haven was lined with brightly colored Victorian homes and townhouses. He’d considered purchasing one of the latter, only to dismiss the idea.
Now, it would seem, the decision had been a good one. If his senses were accurate, and they always were, his temporary lodgings were located just next door to his nemesis. Purchasing the mansion had attracted attention, but no matter. He would be long gone as soon as the deed was done.
He sat, making a mental note to request that his maidservant purchase cushions. Apparently the previous owner had not found wrought iron as uncomfortable as he did.
Kenton took another sip of his drink as darkness fell. The maid he’d hired from the previous staff—the mansion had been a bed and breakfast when he purchased it—appeared around the balcony to his right. She’d not spoken yet, but Kenton could hear her breathing.
“Send him up,” he said without turning toward her. “But from the outside entrance,” he added. “He may not go inside. Ever.”
Whether the woman was startled by his knowledge of her presence—because he already knew a guest waited below—or because of the vehemence of his request, Kenton wasn’t sure. Nor did it matter. What did matter was the man who even now made his way up the winding outside staircase.
As Lawrence entered the room connected to the balcony, it struck Kenton that he’d made a critical error. He should have killed the girl—woman, more precisely—before Lawrence had arrived. Now his purpose in Stone Haven would be more difficult to fulfill.
“Beautiful, isn’t she?” Lawrence asked, walking around to stand just next to him. He didn’t need to ask who. The man wasn’t talking about his elderly maid.
“I’d offer you a drink, but regrettably, you’re not staying.”
“How long have you known about her?” Lawrence Derrickson had the sole honor of being the only person to almost make him lose his temper in over seven hundred years, and it would seem he still had the ability to get a rise out of him.
“Longer than you, apparently.”
He knew the barb would hit its mark, and it did.
“Yet you haven’t killed her?”
Knowing it would anger Lawrence, Kenton took a slow sip of his drink and looked down at the town below them.
“A quaint little place. Didn’t expect as much, although I must admit, the only other time I’ve been to Pennsylvania, when—”
“I don’t give a shit when you were here last or what you think of the town that you plan to terrorize, Kenton.”
“Terrorize? A bit harsh, don’t you think?”
He didn’t give Lawrence a chance to answer. “Nice of you to move so close to me, though I wouldn’t have expected you to splurge on such a luxury.”
Two mansions sitting side by side in a town of this size. The irony wasn’t lost on him.
“I won’t let you kill her,” Lawrence insisted.
He laughed, not to taunt the other man, but it did have that added benefit. “I will enjoy watching you attempt to stop me.”
“She may not pose a threat. Will you for once listen to reason?”
Kenton shot to his feet in an instant, so close to Lawrence he could stun him into silence if he so chose. Centuries of fighting this very same man had taught him not to attempt to kill the Scot. It couldn’t be done. But he certainly enjoyed trying.
“She is a Cheld,” Kent
For Lawrence, that wasn’t enough. For him, it always would be.
“She is,” the Scot agreed. “But you don’t know—”
He rolled his eyes, annoyed by the tedious predictability of the argument. “Nor do I care.”
Lawrence narrowed his eyes and clenched his fists, telegraphing his intentions as clearly as if he’d punched him. “Are you alone?”
He could lie, but Lawrence would learn the truth soon enough—that his siblings were far away from this quaint little Pennsylvania town. Their kind could sense one another, an ability Kenton had more than most, so he did not need to ask the same question about Lawrence’s kin.
Clan Karyn consisted only of one man, for now. Odd, since Lawrence usually traveled with at least one member of his precious clan, although a four-person family could hardly be called a clan, truth be told.
Nothing like the hu
ndred men Lawrence once led.
“I am,” he said. “And so it seems we will have a bit of fun here in”—he waved his arms around him—“Stone Haven.”
Lawrence ground his teeth. “Fun? If you call the murder of an innocent woman—”
“Innocent?” Kenton lifted his chin. “She is a Cheld,” he repeated. “And for that, she cannot be allowed to live.” He lifted his glass. “A toast to our little secret. And to Alessandra Fiore’s last days on earth, poor thing.”
He downed the remainder of his drink in one gulp, then set the empty glass on the table. Droplets of red remained. Mary was none the wiser about the real contents of his favorite bottle of sloe gin. Stepping around Lawrence, he gripped the railing of the balcony and looked down below.
“Have fun attempting to save her,” he said over his shoulder.
Just as Lawrence turned to walk away, muttering a curse under his breath, Kenton added, “I hope you have better luck than you did in Caltabellotta.”
He wasn’t surprised when Lawrence pushed him from the balcony. Indeed, he allowed it. And laughed the whole way down to the ground despite the risk of discovery.
Taunting him had been worth it.
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