ALAS, ‘TIS DONE: Psssst . . . . hey kittens . . . . over here . . . 8 Free E-Books, 8 hours to grab’em

alpharomeo_originalWanna score a free e-book?

My latest and greatest, Alpha Romeo, a contemporary Hollywood romance in the tradition of Danielle Steele and TMZ, comes out tomorrow, Wednesday, August 20, from Purple Sword Publications.  I know, right?  I’m so psyched, I can’t stand myself.  The only thing that would make me happier would be to know people are reading it.  People who already know me well enough and/or dig something I’ve written enough to actually be reading this.  People who will hopefully love it and might even be moved to review it at Purple Sword’s own website or Barnes & Noble or AllRomance.com or even our good old crazy uncle Amazon.  My publisher will send it out to dedicated review sites, and that’s awesome.  But I know when I’m choosing a pleasure read, I’m more likely to trust the reader reviews there on the site where I’m shopping.  So that’s what I’m looking for here.  You aren’t required to like it; you aren’t even required to review it.  But I would take it as a deeply kind personal favor if you did.

So here, as they say, is the deal.  Starting at 4 pm today, Tuesday, August 19, until midnight tonight, the first 8 people who send me an email at lucybluecastle@gmail.com will get a their very own PDF copy of the whole book.  Not an excerpt or a tease but the whole book.  I will cut off the giveaway after the first 8 (by my own personal count, and you’ll just have to trust me to play fair) or at midnight, whichever comes first, and only people who are officially following the blog here or my Facebook page will be eligible.  Don’t try to sneak in early; if your time signature on your email reads earlier than 4 pm EST, it’s ineligible.  And the only format will be PDF; if your device doesn’t support PDF and you don’t know how to convert it, don’t enter because I won’t be able to help you.  Don’t post “pick me! pick me!” in the comments and fail to send me an email because as much as I’ll adore you for asking, I won’t.

1 – Make sure you’re following the blog or “like” the Facebook page;

2 – Drop me an email at lucybluecastle@gmail.com (which includes your email address so I can send you the file);

3 – Be one of the first 8;

4 – Save yourself some cash on what I think is a damned fine trashy novel.

And just to entice you a little more, here’s the official blurb:

Scarlett Cross is the classic Hollywood princess.  Daddy is a movie star; Mama was a supermodel murdered when Scarlett was only four years old.  Now she’s eighteen pretending to be younger for the sake of her father’s image and starting her own career as the muse of a famous European auteur.  But bad boy actor Romeo Kidd is everything she’s ever wanted.  He makes her feel safe and loved and wanted for the first time in her life, and she’ll do anything to keep from letting him go.

UPDATE:  Thanks so much to everybody who played – your PDFs are on the way!  xoxo

Back to my regularly scheduled being a writer thing . . .

alpharomeo_original

Whatever happens with Amazon/Hachette and the rest of the terrified and terrifying world of publishing as we know it, I’m still writing books and still being lucky enough to get’em published.  My brilliant and beguiling editor/publisher, Traci Markou of Purple Sword Publications, emailed me this morning to say my next book, a non-paranormal contemporary romance called Alpha Romeo, is being formatted today.  So I thought I’d share a nibble.

Just to set the scene, my heroine, Scarlett Cross, is the daughter of a big-time Hollywood movie star who’s just starting her own career as an actress.  She is the second girl lead in a teen slasher flick that’s about to come out.  Romeo Kidd is the guy she loves, her co-star in the movie.  Sebastian, the male lead in the movie, is her half-brother, and Loki, the female lead, is her nemesis, a big star in her own right who was Romeo’s girlfriend first.

* * * * * *

The studio held the wrap party for The Funhouse at the Roosevelt Hotel in Hollywood.  But it wasn’t so much a party for the people who’d finished filming as a publicity stunt to let the crowds and the paparazzi on Sunset Boulevard get their first gawp at the fresh meat in the cast.  Sebastian and I arrived together in the back of a chauffeured limousine, and even though there was no official red carpet, the sidewalk was lined with photographers.  Sebastian jumped out like an old pro, but I hung back.  I had walked carpets with my father dozens of times, but I had always been in the background.  Nobody had ever cared if they got my picture before.

“Come on, Sissy.”  Sebastian gave me his hand and helped me out of the car.  A pair of studio handlers came hurrying over to flank us like something between bodyguards and ladies in waiting.  They didn’t even speak to us, just started herding us down the aisle.

I had just caught sight of Romeo ahead of us when for the first time in my life a photographer shouted, “Scarlett!”  Romeo turned around, and our eyes met at the exact same second the flash went off.  Two seconds later, I was surrounded by flashing lights and the shouts of strangers calling my name and giving me directions.  “Look this way! Turn around! Come on, honey, smile!”

I tried to get a tighter hold on my brother, but he was moving back, giving me room to pose.  I felt panicked, turning in a jerky circle like a doll on a broken music box, trying to hear what they were saying. I turned and saw Romeo again, and he smiled.

I smiled back.  I consciously relaxed my shoulders and turned back toward the cameras.  “That’s it!” one of the photographers shouted, and I turned my smile on him.  I was still terrified, but I wasn’t paralyzed any more.  I did a silly little twirl to make the frilly skirt of my party dress swirl out, then stopped and laughed.  The flashes went off even faster.  Photographers from further down the line were moving in to focus on me, jostling for position.  I reached for Sebastian again, drawing him close to me and cuddling up to his side, laying my head on his shoulder.

“Scarlett!”  I heard Loki’s voice right behind me.  I barely had time to turn around before she had caught me up in a hug like I was her long lost sister.  “Look at you!”  She drew back and framed my face in her hands.  The photographers went wild.  “You look beautiful.”  She touched her forehead to mine, a lipstick-safe kiss.

“So do you.”  She took my hand and turned to the photographers with a dazzling smile of her own.  She did look beautiful; her black Alexander McQueen made my blue off the rack look like a little girl’s birthday party frock.  “You always do.”

“Romeo!” she called, letting go of me to run to him.  She hugged him the same way she had hugged me, and Sebastian nudged me from behind, urging me forward.  Romeo caught my eye over Loki’s shoulder and winked, making me laugh.

“Hey Scarlett!”  I heard my name again over the general roar, this time coming from the crowd of photographers.  “Scarlett!”  A tall, skinny man in a white dress shirt buttoned all the way up had pushed his way to the front of the pack.  He had a press badge sticking out of his pocket and a camera hanging around his neck.  He saw me see him and raised the camera.  “Do you remember your mom?”

“Yes.”  His flash went off.  “Of course I do.”

One of the studio handlers moved in front of me, blocking his shot.  The other one touched me on the elbow.  “Come on, Miss Cross,” she said into my ear.  “It’s time to go inside.”

“What?”  I felt a little faint.  “Who was that guy?”

“Never mind,” the handler said.  She was trying to nudge me along, but my feet were planted.

“Why did he ask about Stella?”  I wanted to see his face again–something about him was familiar.

“Hey sweetheart.”  Romeo took my hand, gracefully brushing the handler aside.  “You okay?”

“Yeah . . . no . . . I’m not sure.”  Clinging to his hand, I pushed the other handler out of the way to look for the weird photographer, but he was gone.  I looked up at Romeo.  “I guess I’m okay.”

He squeezed my hand.  “Let’s go inside.”

As we walked through the lobby, I saw Sebastian talking to a smiling older couple dressed in casual dinner clothes–tourists staying at the Roosevelt, no doubt.  I waved as we walked by, and he waved back.  Loki was doing an interview just outside the doors to the pool bar where they were holding the party.  The whole patio was crawling with reporters.  “I see more press than actors,” Romeo said.  “And there are barely any crew guys here at all.”

“I know, right?”  I was glad I still had a grip on his arm.  I had never been interviewed before and wasn’t keen on it now.  “Sebastian said in the car it would probably be like this.  They’re really pushing to sell the movie.”

“Yeah.”  He didn’t sound any more enthused than I felt, and he was keeping a pretty firm grip on my arm, too.  “I reckon we’re the product.”

“Just the commercial.”  I had been hearing about the reality of being a movie star since I was four years old; I had just never thought about it as something that applied to me.  “But all we have to do is be beautiful.”  I smiled up at him.  “Trust me, you’ve got it covered.”

“Hey, you.”  He turned and wrapped his arms around me, and I giggled, sliding my arms around his neck.  He pushed me behind a potted palm and kissed me.  I could hear cameras hissing and see lights flashing even with my eyes closed, but I couldn’t have cared less.

“Hey kids!”  Sebastian appeared out of nowhere, reaching past Romeo to pull me back out into the open.  Loki was right behind him.  “No fair lurking in the shadows.  We have to circulate and be charming.”  Cole’s voice suddenly rose over the noise of the crowd–he was ranting at someone on the other side of the patio.  “Or we could just go watch the train wreck,” Sebastian snickered.

“Oh god,” Loki moaned.

“Relax,” Romeo said.  He and Sebastian were both grinning; they both thought Cole was a stitch.  “He’s just giving them a show.”

One of the producers, a friend of Calvin’s Sebastian and I had known since we were babies, came hurrying up to us, looking frazzled.  “Wanna help me save an idiot’s life?” she said, her cheeks flushed pink in spite of the chilly breeze coming off the pool.

Sebastian kissed her cheek.  “Relax, honey.”  In that moment, he looked and sounded exactly like our father.  “Cole’s just being himself.”

“That’s what I’m afraid of.”  She took my hand and squeezed it, and her palm was sweaty.  “Come distract him, kids, won’t you?”

“Yeah, of course,” I said.  I reached for Romeo, but Loki blocked me.

“You and Sebastian go ahead,” she said. “I’ve got some people I want Romeo to meet.”

I didn’t like it, but there wasn’t much I could do without causing a scene.  “I’ll see you later,” I told Romeo.  He had just enough time to smile and wink at me before the producer whisked me away.

The Black Knight can be a bitch!

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A tiny, sneaky peek at my WIP, my first medieval in forever.  The woman in this scene is most definitely not the heroine.  But even so, this new hero guy, John, can be mean as hell!

* * * * * *

“You can’t leave!”  The king himself had warned him that his mistress meant to make herself his wife, but John hadn’t believed it.  She was half a princess; he was only the nephew of an earl with no estates on the continent.  “I won’t allow it!”

“It is not for you to allow,” he said, still holding the tent flap open for her exit.  Other knights and their men were passing just outside.  “No law binds us, lady,”

“The sacred law of love–”

“Don’t be a fool.”  Suddenly he was tired and sore and sad and angry, and he had had enough. “You’ve no more love for me than I have for you, and neither of us has ever pretended otherwise.”  His sense of chivalry, battered as it was, cried out to him to keep silent or at least wait until they were somewhere more private.  But such a kindness at this point would only encourage her folly.  “‘Twas ever the greatest of your charms,” he finished, looking her straight in the eye.

“You have no heart,” she said, pale and trembling.  “Nor any soul.  Your wife was blessed to die so young.”

“As she is in heaven, you may be right,” he said, keeping his own tone even with an effort.  Just now he couldn’t imagine how he’d ever wanted this creature, beautiful or not.  “Now go, else you may be blessed yourself.”

She gasped at the threat.  “My brother shall hear of this.”

“No doubt,” he said.  “But you’d better hurry if you want to tell him first.”

She stormed out, the hem of her gown barely brushing his boots as she passed.

“That was gracefully done, my lord,” his squire said.  “Shall I gather some orphans so you may tell them their mothers never loved them?”

“Maybe later.”  He collapsed into a chair.  “But for now, I’ll just have another drink.”

 

WIP: Chapter 1 of Vamp

I’ve gotten to that point in writing  my new vampire novel where I could really use a nudge.  Anybody want to peek at Chapter 1?

Chapter 1

Rosalie left work at midnight.  Rain was blowing in gusts down the sidewalk.  Within a block, her umbrella was broken, and her flimsy excuse for a raincoat was useless.  By the time she ducked down the steps into the subway tunnel, she was soaked and shivering all over.  You can’t get sick, she told herself, hurrying through the deserted station toward her train from Manhattan to the Bronx.  If you get sick, Gladys will kill you.

For a few heady moments, she thought her luck had changed.  Her train wasn’t in yet, but the platform was deserted. But just as she heard the train approaching, there he was, the Masher, reeling out from behind a column like a killer gorilla in a nickelodeon short.  “Evening, girly,” he said, tipping his hat and giving her the leer she saw in her nightmares.  “Nice weather, ain’t it?”

“Hello.”  She had learned months ago that refusing to speak to him just made it worse, less than a week after she’d started this rotten job.  The train stopped, and she stepped aboard, catching hold of one of the handles just inside the door.  The car was empty, but he caught the handle just behind her, giggling like a schoolgirl.  Sitting down made it worse, too.  One night he had gotten her cornered; she had ridden all the way to the Bronx with his fat, smelly bulk pressed against her.  She thought about the dry fountain pen tucked in her purse.  One night I’ll have to do it, she thought.  One night I’ll have to stab him to get away, and it better be in the eye because the arm won’t even slow him down.

Just as the train was pulling out of the station, a second man came in from the next car.  No one could have been less like the Masher.  He was young and handsome with dark wavy hair and an impeccable black tuxedo.  His tie was undone and his overcoat and vest were both open as if he’d just come from someplace wonderful.  He was carrying a folded black umbrella like it was a dancer’s cane and a folded newspaper under his arm.  He was as graceful as a danger, too, moving down the rocking subway car with barely a sway.  He smiled and nodded to Rosalie in a gentlemanly way, and she saw he had perfectly even white teeth with slightly pointed canines, a touch of the cruel male animal behind a mouth as sensuous as any woman’s.  He sat down in a seat opposite her and the Masher, set down his umbrella, opened his paper, and began to read.

“Say, girly, tell me again,” the Masher said.  “What are you doing out so late, anyway?”

“I have a job as a telephone operator,” she said, turning away from both men to stare out the window dim, streaming light of the tunnel.  “I work at night.”

“Now that’s a shame.”  He swayed closer with the motion of the train, and she smelled his beer-rancid breath.  “That is a goddamned shame.  Pretty girl like you working nights.  What is that husband of yours thinking, anyhow?”

“I . . .”  For the hundredth time, she had to stop herself from telling him she didn’t have a husband.  Lies came hard to her.  “I’d rather not discuss it.”

“Oh, you’d rather not?” he said, mocking her inflection.  “You’d rather not?  You get that smart mouth with your boyfriend, girly?”  They were approaching a tunnel with no lights, and she began to tremble with more than the cold.  She had hoped the presence of the other man in the car might keep him in line a bit, but it seemed to have made him bolder and angrier, as if he enjoyed having an audience.  “Maybe he ought to smak you around and teach you better manners.”  The pitch black darkness was almost on them.  She turned and saw him wiping his mouth with the back of his hand.

“Excuse me.”  With no warning, the man from across the car was suddenly beside them.  His pale face and white teeth almost glowed in the sudden gloom.  Both the Masher and Rosalie gasped, and Rosalie staggered, letting go of the handle.  The stranger caught her easily, one arm around her waist for barely a moment as he lowered her into a seat.  The car emerged into gloomy light again, and she saw he was smiling.  “Are you all right?” he asked her.  He had beautiful brown eyes.

“She’s fine,” the Masher blustered.  “What’s the matter with you?”

A look of disgust came over the stranger’s face.  “Don’t speak,” he said, turning to the Masher.  “Don’t look at her.”  He was backing the fat man away from her, back toward the door at the end of the car.  “Don’t breathe your foul stink on her or look at her or even think about her.”  Their gazes were locked, and even though the Masher was just as tall as the stranger and outweighed him by half as much again, he looked deathly sick with fear.  “You think she doesn’et know what you think about  her, pig?”  She couldn’t see the stranger’s face any more, just his back.  The Masher’s piggy little eyes had gone flat, and his mouth worked like a baby’s working up to a scream.  “You think I don’t know?”  He thumped the Masher in the chest, and he fell back with a shriek.

“I’m sorry,” he said, almost weeping.  “I’m so sorry.”

“Don’t look at her ever again.” The Masher was nodding.  “Don’t think about her.”  The stranger had stopped moving, but the Masher continued to back away, stumbling, tripping over his own feet.  “If your filthy little brain dares to touch her again, your piggy little heart will explode.”

The Masher shot one final desperate look at Rosalie, then screamed, clutching his chest.  Rosalie reached into her purse as the Masher turned and staggered through the door out of the car.  She could hear him still screaming as he passed out of sight.

Her hands were shaking so badly she could barely take hold of the fountain pen.  Then the stranger turned around . . . and looked like the same perfectly pleasant young man who had first come into the car.  “Are you all right?” he asked her again.

“Yes.”  The train was slowing, pulling into her station.  “Yes, I’m fine.”

“Very good.”  With a nod, he retrieved his newspaper and his umbrella.  “I don’t think he’ll be giving you any more trouble.”

“No.”  She could see nothing about him that the Masher should have found so frightening.  When he’d been threatening him, there had been something terrible about his voice that had frightened her, too.  But now, facing his smile, she couldn’t remember why.  “Thank you.”

“Not at all.”  He tucked his newspaper under his arm as the train pulled to a stop.  “Will you be all right now?” She thought she detected a slight Irish lilt in his smart Park Avenue accent.  “May I walk you home?”

“No, thank you.  I’m sure I’ll be fine.”  She thought about taking him home to Gladys’ kitchen and didn’t know if she should laugh or cry.  “I have to stop off at the drugstore.”

“If you’re sure.”  He put a hand on the subway door to hold it open as she passed.  “Good night.”

She smiled, ducking her head.  “Good  night.”

———————————————————————————–

            Mike watched the pretty girl hurry toward the stairs to the street.  Poor kitten . . . how did the sweet ones like her ever manage to survive long enough to lose their looks?  He watched until her shapely little calves in their ugly brown stockings disappeared up the stairs.

He took the dirty handkerchief he’d stolen from the brute out of his pocket and sniffed it.  A cloying little whiff of verbena under the general stench.  Betcha he lived with his ma.  With a last rueful look at the stairs where the girl had disappeared, he stepped back onto the train.

The brute had made it through three cars before he had collapsed.  He was lolled back in a corner seat, his collar undone, an open silver flask clutched in his fist.  “Hiya, Piggy,” Mike said.  “Got a match?”

The mortal’s eyes snapped open.  “No.”  His face contorted with terror as he tried to scramble to his feet.  “You let me go.  I ain’t thought about that little bitch, not once!”

Mike smiled, letting his fangs extend to full.  “Little bitch?”

“I’m sorry!  Jesus Christ, I didn’t mean it!”  He was like a turtle trapped on its back, arms and legs flailing in vain.

“Don’t blaspheme to me, you worthless sack of filth.”  He grabbeed the brute by his lapels and yanked him to his feet.  “You meant to rape that innocent girl.”

“No—“

“If she’d fought you, you might even have killed her.”

“I wouldn’t!”

“Don’t lie to me!”  He had seen into this creature’s piggy little mind as soon as he’d stepped onto the subway train, seen his plans writhing like maggots in his head.  “But it’s going to be okay, Walter,” he said, picking the name from the creature’s thoughts.  “I’m going to save you from yourself.”  He clamped his fangs on the brute’s thick neck like biting down into an apple.  His brain was rotten, but his blood was sweet, and the vampire took every drop.

End of Chapter 1

Budapest

 Okay, kittens, here it is – the last preview tidbit from Tender Bites before it goes live on Amazon tomorrow. 

“Budapest” is the most contemporary story in the collection; I envision it happening pretty much right now.  In every vampire story I’ve done before, the vampires have either been isolated predators or, as in the case of the Bound in Darkness series, all connected to one another through a single quest or event.  In “Budapest,” I’ve played with the idea of a vampire society that isn’t exactly open but isn’t isolated, either, a system of connection between vamps and how that would affect their relationships with one another and the mortal world.  It’s one thing to say “I’ll love you forever” to someone whose body at least is going to eventually die; it’s something else when you and your beloved one are literally, physically immortal.  It’s not a new idea, obviously – I may be the only vampire writer on the planet who hasn’t gone here yet.  But this is my take. 

Budapest

Last Tuesday

Cat climbed out of her lead-lined coffin, stumbled, and nearly fell flat on her face.  It was barely sunset; she was still mostly asleep.  The pounding on the door started again, louder this time.  “Who is it?” she demanded, her eyes darting around the barely-familiar hotel room.  Where the hell had she put her sword?  She grabbed the gun with blessed bullets from the nightstand instead—less reliable, particularly against atheist vampires, but hopefully in Budapest, that wouldn’t be an issue. 

“Richard,” the door replied.  “Catriona, let me in.”

“Oh for pity’s sake . . .”  She fumbled the deadbolt open and reached for the handle.  “What are you doing here?”

“You’re not an easy girl to find,” he muttered, pushing past her.

“That was rather the idea,” she retorted. 

Richard was the oldest friend of her momentarily estranged lover, Indo.  In fact, rumor had it Richard was the oldest friend any vampire had, that he was the oldest vampire left roaming the earth.  She had never thought he looked the part.  Tall, thin, and blond with a patrician nose and the perpetual squint of a perpetual scholar, he always looked like an unmade bed.  Tonight he was even more rumpled than usual, his wrinkled coat far too thin for the chill winds of Eastern Europe in November.  Her nostrils flared, picking up the smell of blood, faded faint but still distinct, the smell of a powerful death – vampire blood, not human.  His black coat was covered with it.  This was not normal.  She had known Richard for three hundred years, and she had never once seen him take a living victim.  He had been the first vampire of her acquaintance to attempt to live on cow’s blood, and he was rumored to be one of the so-called “Blessed Nine” scientists and alchemists who had been working for decades on creating a synthetic.  If he were stained with vampire blood, something bad had happened.  “Richard, where is Indo?”

“I haven’t the faintest idea.”  Indo had left her six months before, swearing once again she was too wicked, too savage for bearing.  She had accidentally taken too much from a perfectly willing thrall and put the stupid girl in the hospital where she had recovered completely in the space of a day.  But Indo, Enforcer that he was, had completely overreacted, as he always did, and had taken off in a huff.  He always went to Richard when they had these fights.  Richard was his sanctuary, his monastery, his ashram, his calm.  But now Richard was covered in vampire blood, and he looked anything but calm.   He was prowling the room like a cat, peering into the bathroom, the closet.  “I suppose he could have gone back home to Tokyo.”  He yanked back the drapes, exposing her impressive view of the city.  “I honestly don’t know.”

“But he is alive.”  She put her hand on his shoulder.  “Richard?”

“Of course Indo is alive,” he said bitterly, his eyes searching the dark as if for predators or prey.  “If anyone ever truly threatened to kill Indo, I have no doubt some sort of samurai angel with a golden katana and a thousand tongues of fire would rush immediately to his defense.”

Cat suppressed an unbecoming snort.  “Did the two of you have a tiff?”

He gave her a look that could have wilted a cactus.  “You could say that.”

“Oh dear . . . . So what do you want me to do about it?”  She started to move away, but he caught hold of her robe, silk clenched in a dirty fist.  “What’s wrong with you?” she asked, worried all over again.

“I’m very tired, Catriona.”  He was looking at her in a way he’d never looked at her before.  Other men had, of course – humans who thought they were predators before they realized they were prey; vampires who mistook her delicacy for weakness.  It was a hungry look, a conqueror’s look.  It looked strange on Richard . . . strange because in the dim light of the hotel room, it fit his face so well. 

She reached down and disengaged his hand from her robe.  “Maybe you should tell me all about it.”

He clamped his hand around her wrist like he was grabbing a sword hilt, hard and sure and painfully tight–none of the adjectives she would ever have associated with being held by Richard.  She had never realized how big he was before, how powerful.  He had always seemed hunched, a spider, a scholar.  Now he was standing up quite straight, and she realized how broad he was at the shoulders, how big his hands were.  “No.”  For once he wasn’t squinting in the slightest.  She had never noticed how blue his eyes were, how intense his gaze could be.  “I don’t want to tell you anything about it.”  He dragged her closer, his free hand going to the draped closure of her robe.  “I don’t want to talk.”

The Artist

The penultimate preview peek at Tender Bites, my new vampire anthology – one more after today, then Saturday, it’s out.  Also, check back here on Saturday for details on a nifty new contest to go along with my first ever self-published e-book launch – it’s kind of like a wedding, something old, something new . . . .

As for this particular story, The Artist, I have a confession to make – I love’em all, but I think this one is the sexiest.  It’s my take on the classic vampire seduction with a slightly harder edge.  Want a taste?

The Artist

San Francisco, 1997

Dante wandered lonely as a cloud down the foggy San Francisco street, a black and brooding wisp of storm cloud that obscured and revealed each moonbeam pool of streetlight as he passed.  A subtle change had come over him lately, an ever-deepening malaise.  The vampire who had made him so many centuries before had warned him this would eventually happen, but he hadn’t believed it.  He had thought he would revel in his power for all eternity.  But lately, he hadn’t so much reveled as endured.  Nothing interested him; nothing excited him; even the taste of blood and the thrill of the kill had lost their spark. 

A happy cackle of feminine laughter danced out of an open doorway to rush to his defense.  Turning to the painted glass, he felt the cloud that surrounded him fading back into the fog . . .

The girl at the bar laughed again, one forearm resting lightly against her lover’s shoulder as he hovered by her stool.  Her clothes were as black and primitive cool as the vampire’s weary mood – black mesh shirt, black lace bra, black jeans so tight his eyes could trace the slit of her sex behind the denim.  But her black leather boots were nestled heel to terrifying heel on the bar at her elbow, leaving her little feet with their blue-polished nails bare to the scrutiny of the world.  And her red hair was as striking and utterly natural as her laugh.  A smile teased the corners of his mouth.  She was a darling, a cheeky little lamb tricked out in the black duds of the contemporary she-wolf.

In other words, just the ticket.

She leaned over to catch her mortal lover’s whisper and caught sight of the vampire watching from the window.  Her eyes widened as she made a droll face at him – waddya lookin’ at? the twist of her mouth demanded.  But her eyes weren’t nearly so tough or so funny.  When Dante continued to stare, unsmiling, unblinking, refusing to be moved, her eyes lost every defense.

“Francesca?” the man at her side asked, looking over his shoulder to see what had captured her attention so completely.  The vampire faded back from the glass, disappearing from their sight.  He watched the girl, Francesca’s expression cloud for a moment, vaguely confused and disappointed.  Then she turned back to her mortal beloved.  Francesca . . . don’t worry, he thought.  I won’t keep you waiting for long.

An hour later, he watched from a darkened doorway across the street as the happy little couple had a happy little argument on the sidewalk in front of the bar as their friends stood a discreet three or four yards away pretending to study the stars they couldn’t see through the San Francisco fog.  With a few well-chosen and deadly verbal assaults, Francesca and her lover negotiated a grudging peace as regards the rest of the evening, never dreaming a depressed and hungry vampire was hanging on every word.  They finally decided that he would go on with their friends and see another band while she took the car home and got some apparently pressing work done – a reasonable and sublimely convenient compromise, the vampire thought.  His smile would have made a strong man shudder had one been close enough to see it.

He closed his eyes and counted slowly, an ancient demon’s version of a mortal baby’s game.  Ninety-seven . . . ninety-eight . . . ninety-nine . . . one hundred.  He opened his eyes.  The sidewalk across the street was now empty except for a kid in an apron sweeping up cigarette butts.  Dante turned his face up to the moon’s caress and sniffed the air until he found her scent . . . crumbles of chocolate scattered amongst the crushed, wet petals of a rose . . .

He smiled again, fangs glittering in the dim, misty light.  Ready or not, sweetheart . . . .

Little Boy Lost

Day 3 of previews for Tender Bites, my anthology of romantic vamp stories officially releasing on Saturday, October 13, 2012, exclusively through Amazon.  This story is a little different from the others in that the romance at its center is between two men, and it doesn’t have a traditional happy ending.  It also has the scariest vampire bite I’ve ever written.  But for me, it is also one of the most affecting tales I’ve ever written.  I really hope you agree.

Little Boy Lost

 

Chicago, 1986

Zack watched with a mixture of fury and relief as the battered muscle car tore away from the broken curb.  As soon as it was far enough up the ramp to make coming back to kick the shit out of him more trouble than he was worth, he tossed the nearly-empty beer bottle he was holding after it.  “Assholes!”

Skating out of Tony’s party with somebody’s cokehead daughter had seemed like such a good idea at the time.  He lit a cigarette then stumbled toward the water’s edge, his slick-bottomed tuxedo flats sliding on the oily sand.  Take in a rave, taste a little forbidden fruit, reminisce about how the other half lived for a few hours.  Shake the dust of queenly good taste from his mane for a little while.  He ran a beautifully manicured hand through the sweat-damp spikes of his hundred-dollar haircut with a snort.  Kick it, Stallion, he thought, flinging the half-smoked stogie into the drink with a hiss of drowning fire.  Time to call Tony and beg forgiveness and a taxi home . . . God bless the calling card and the child who’s got his own.

Picking his way through the trash scattered on the grassy bank, he saw a pair of headlights appear about a quarter of a mile down the shoreline, a double beam that glistened like fairy dust on the water before swinging wide away.  Civilization! he thought with mock-dramatic relief.  Come, sahib –where there be cars, there be phones . . . Staggering a little, he headed for the disappearing lights.

And found exactly nothing.  Wherever the car had come from or gone since Zack saw it, the poor fucker must have been lost.  “Fuck!” he shouted at the seagulls, kicking at the sandy black dirt under his feet.  “Fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck!”

He flung himself down on the ground with reckless disregard for his spiffy new Armani–hell, he it was hardly as if he’d paid for it—and lit another cigarette.  This was just great.  This was poetic justice.  Here he was, everybody’s darling dear, alone at midnight in some derelict’s dream of a cemetery.

And where, pray tell, did that come from? he thought with a start, his eyes going wide.  Not a headstone in sight, all weeds, no flowers.  Still, the cold, damp air had a definite whiff of the crypt to it, and the ground seemed awfully loose, particularly just at his heels.

“Asshole,” he muttered, taking another drag on his cigarette.  The general air of gloom he had meant to escape by going raving had caught up with him, obviously.   Which was hardly surprising—the angel of death spent so much time in his neighborhood lately, somebody should charge the fucker rent.

He needed to get up and head back to the road.  He could hear the traffic in the distance; it couldn’t be that far.  But he was so tired . . . he had been so tired for weeks now, his brain running over and over the same tired track.  He had to get back to the road . . . he could thumb a ride into the city—now that’d be a blast from the past.  Maybe he’d hook up with an outbound trucker instead, climb in a strange rig and leave Chicago and her misery behind him.  The fact that he had maybe ten dollars in his wallet was no more than a minor technicality, right?  God knew he had gotten by on less.  Let somebody else hold Tony’s hand when the angel came calling again.  That was cold, yes—but hell, it wasn’t as if the money wouldn’t draw flies enough to replace him if he left.  Flies to feed on the corpse . . . his sudden tears stung like a son of a bitch.  His eyes were still sore from all the smoke at that fucking rave.  Sorry, love, he thought, dashing them away.  Sorry it happened, sorry I can’t fix it, sorry I’m such a selfish, shitty little prick . . .

This touching unspoken confession was cut off by the ground beginning to boil.  For a moment, he just stared at the tiny volcanoes of dust erupting between his shoes, unable to process the data his eyes were sending to his brain. 

Gotta be the coke, he decided, sliding backward on his ass, his heels digging dimples in the shimmying dirt.  “Oh shit.”  His cigarette burned to ash between his fingers as he watched, frozen, as a beautifully sculpted hand slowly reached up through the earth, white as moonlight against the black.  “What did that little bitch slip me?”  The idea that what he saw could be real, that someone was crawling out of the ground (the grave?) was too bizarre to consider.  He was tripping; stress had been working overtime on him for weeks with the Bolivian army at her back, and he was wigging the fuck out at last. 

“Too many funerals, not enough laughs,” he muttered as the hand became an arm, reaching upward, reaching for him.  Where had he heard that before?  Tony had said it, but when, and in what context?  His errant mind worked the pointless question like a sore tooth as the second hand appeared, clutching at the ground for something to pull the rest of what was still down there free.  “Oh yeah . . .”  His fingers were burning now, but he couldn’t blink, much less fling the butt away.  “I remember . . . I asked Tony why he came north, why he left Miss-Sippy—that’s the way he pronounces it even after thirty years in Chicago.  It’s an affectation if you ask me, but it’s cute, so who complains, right?”  The fingers crept closer, tearing up the grass.  “And that’s what he said home was like . . . too many funerals, not enough laughs—“

The hand clamped around his ankle, and his babble turned fast to a scream. 

Angelique

Another tasty morsel from Tender Bites, coming this weekend from Amazon.  This is the only first-person story in the batch, told from the point of view of Amadeo, the hunky vampire in question.  He goes to Paris during the Terror to do murder in the streets and ends up discovering his soulmate . . .

Angelique

Paris 1792

 

Chaos breeds vampires as a plague breeds rats; one feeds off the other so efficiently that matters of cause and effect become mere questions of philosophy.  Commit enough mortals to the cause of carnage, and the vampires simply appear; like the rat, we cannot choose but to respond.  And rarely had rats and vampires alike smelled such a feast as could be nosed in the madness of Paris after La Revolution. 

I hadn’t intended to partake.  I had entered one of those tiresome stages in a vampire’s eternity when the whole world seemed a pointless cesspool.  Born in the cruel savagery of the ancient world, I had watched the progress of civilization make art of madness, order from chaos, grace from the random superstition of human faith.  But over the course of the last century, I had seen this beautiful new world ripped apart brick by brick by its so-called great minds.  I was not a fan of revolution, even in the name of justice.  What is justice to a predator?  Paris had once been the jewel of the world, the center of learning and culture, my favorite spot on earth, more dear to me even than Venice or Rome.  Now the streets ran with offal, and great stinking apes more thirsty for blood than any vampire held sway.  But my friends insisted the hunting was too good to resist, and so I came.  And it was there that I met my Angelique.

Angelique Dumont was the daughter of two of the most pinched-nose blue bloods in France.  On the night I first saw her, she already wore a red ribbon at her throat in bitter remembrance of a father and two brothers sent to the guillotine.  She, her mother, and a single plump cherub of a sister were defiantly established in a flat within sight of the palace of Tuileries.  Like most of what remained of the aristocracy, she passed her days making desperate plans to escape to England with the family fortune and her nights in desperate gaiety, pretending flight was the furthest thing from her mind.

The ballroom at the city palace was not so grand as the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles, but it was dazzling nonetheless, lit by hundreds of flickering candles and packed from wall to wall.  So when the painted doll of a girl stumbled out into the midnight garden, her green eyes were as blind as an infant’s.  “Merde,” she swore, tripping on the hem of her gold-embroidered skirt as she dove gracelessly for the support of a nearby column.  Glancing back over her shoulder toward the ball, she didn’t see me in the shadows.  I watched in amusement, arms folded on my chest, as this delicate blossom of the uppermost crust vomited into a hedge.

“Too much wine, mam’selle?” I inquired politely, offering her my handkerchief.

She screamed another oath and straightened up so quickly her heavy powdered wig slipped precariously to one side.  But she collected herself quickly, giving her head a slight jerk that caused the wig to right itself as if by magic.  “Pardonnez-moi, monsieur,” she said as she turned around, smiling prettily. 

Then she saw my less-than-glittering attire.  The men she was accustomed to meeting in gardens wore jewel-encrusted silks and gold-embroidered velvet.  I would sooner have had a stake carved from the True Cross driven through my heart.  I was wearing leather and a servant’s broadcloth coat with my own hair pulled back in a simple ribbon.  I wouldn’t even pass for a footman.  “How did you get in here?” she grumbled, snatching the handkerchief from my hand and spitting the last of the sourness from her mouth into its plain linen folds.  “Go back to the stables where you belong.”

“Your gratitude warms my heart.”  Truth be told, her snobbery made me adore her at first sight.  She was all I could wish in a quarry, sleek and impudent as a vixen.  “No wonder votre famille is beloved by all in Paris.”

The color rose in her cheeks luridly enough to show pink through the heavy powder.  She raised her little hand to slap me, and I smiled, knowing when she struck me, I would take her.

But she did not strike.  “A thousand apologies, Monsieur Stableman,” she said, making a deep, graceful curtsey that must have been the envy of every royal ass-licker at court.  “I thank you for your kindness.”  She rose and turned away, leading me deeper into the garden, the last thing I expected.  And the one thing I have never been able to resist is a surprise. 

The Haunting of Goody Crum

So later this week, I’m releasing my first ever self-published e-book, Tender Bites.  It’s an anthology of vampire romance stories, some historical, some contemporary – kind of my private stock of vamp swoon.  As I’m doing the last little tweaks of pulling it together, I thought it might be fun to feature a snack-size nibble of each story here on the blogness, a sneaky-peek for my nears & dears. 

“The Haunting of Goody Crum” is probably the sweetest vampire story I’ve ever written.  Since it begins with the gruesome aftermath of a Native American raid on a Puritan settler’s cabin, that might sound kind of strange, but those of you who know me probably won’t be surprised.  Trust me, this vampire, Wil, has a soft, mushy center that shows up in a big way before the end.

North American Wilderness, 1757

The vampire smelled the fire as soon as he came out of the ground, cured pine logs  burned down to smoky embers under the unmistakable pig-stench of cooked or cooking human flesh.  He turned his face up to the wind like a wolf, his senses honing in on the smell as he moved silently through the trees.  The last tribe he had seen had been days ago – Pawnee, he thought, though he had chosen not to approach their fires.  Since returning to the forest from the more subtle wilds of Europe, this death spirit had preferred to do his talking in the dark.

He saw the clearing well before he entered it, but the sheer size of it made him stumble in amazement.  For more than half a mile ahead, every tree was gone, cut down to ankle-high stumps.  The fire smell was stronger, and even in the dark he could see a thick column of gray smoke rising from the other side of the blank space in the woods.

Then he smelled the living blood.  The scent called to him; the heartbeat pounded in his ears like a war drum, dancing through the frozen marrow of his bones.  He broke into a run.  This had become his favorite way to hunt this endless wilderness, running through the dark, scooping up his prey with no words passed, no pause for breath or prayer.  Sometimes he even took them into the sky in a hawk-like swoop, dropping their empty bodies back into the black woods far below as he flew, never looking into their faces.  Sometimes he stayed on the earth, praying over the dead in the native fashion, thanking them for the lives they had given up as if they’d had a choice.  It had begun as a joke, a mockery of his prey, the silent warriors who prided themselves on running as swift and silent as the deer they hunted.  But since his return from so-called civilization, he had begun to take it seriously, to crave the wild ceremony of the hunt almost as much as he did its crimson fruit.

The heartbeat was coming from the center of the burning stench.  As he drew closer, the smell of rot turned his stomach.  He stopped at the glowing embers that represented all that was left of what had been a fair-sized cabin, English or Français.  That explained the stumps, he thought.  The Europeans encroached further into the woods every year, but he had never encountered settlers so far inland before.  He was running out of places to hide.

But whoever had lived here wouldn’t be writing home for reinforcements any time soon.  The war party had made certain of that.  He found no sign of bodies in the wreck of the cabin itself, but the smell could not be denied.  Maybe they ate the settlers, he thought, dropping gracefully to a crouch as he moved around the edge of the fire, moving closer to the source of the rotten smell and the ever-beckoning heartbeat.  Some tribes had been known to turn cannibal for a good cause, and so much the better for him.  Demon he might be, but not even God could fault him for feeding himself on a cannibal left behind.

But the heart wasn’t native, and it wasn’t the heart of a warrior.  Another fire was burning itself out just at the edge of the trees behind the ruined cabin.  Strung over it was a gruesome bit of native art the vampire didn’t need to see any more closely to recognize.  As a human, he had been a Viking marauder; he had been a vampire for centuries since.   But what the red men could think of to do to the corpses of their enemies still never ceased to amaze him.  This man had been flayed and gutted, probably alive, before being strung up to roast.  Nothing was left of his hair or his face, but a few burned rags of clothing still clung to his half-consumed flesh and bloody bones. 

A living, breathing, sobbing woman was crouched on the ground nearby.  She was praying in English, snatches of the Our Father and bits of rubbish he didn’t recognize, the guttural singsong of the Puritans.  She seemed to be trying to tear up the sod with her fingers as she prayed.  Her back was turned to the horror over the fire, but the stench must have made her stomach roll.  Just take her, the vampire scolded himself.  What do you care if she’s praying?  She’s crazy, run mad with shock—to end her misery would be a kindness.  He lunged toward her without a sound, the wolf springing out of the darkness—

Then she looked up.

So I have a cover!

Here’s a sneaky peek at the cover of my upcoming anthology of vampire short stories – my hubby, Max Castle, did the layout & design, with some editorial assistance from my BFF & research goddess, Marcia Addison.  Pretty nifty, huh?