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Thursday April 17th 2014

Mandy M. Roth

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Excerpt: Daughter of Darkness by Mandy M. Roth


Daughter of Darkness by Mandy M. Roth

Paranormal Dark Fantasy Vampire Romance

Good or Evil? How’s a girl to choose?

Gwyneth Stevens, born of magical descent and raised by humans, fully understands that creatures of the night exist outside of books and movies. When her job leads her to Necro’s Magik World & Supernatural Theme Park, she meets Pallo, an Italian vampire so captivating, so perfect and so familiar. Before she can fully explore her feelings for him, fate steps in, bringing with it a sexy bounty hunter who makes Gwen’s insides tighten and her body burn. Caleb instantly lays claim to her heart.
Torn between her love for two men, Gwen finds herself caught in a triangle shrouded in passion, lust and immortality. In a world where humans live in ignorance and supernaturals are a sub-culture, anything is possible.

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EXCERPT

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Prologue

I lay in the field of flowers taking in the glorious scents. Violas were littered around me acting as a warm blanket to shield me from the cool night. The beauty of the shades of glowing purple and yellow pulled me to them. I plucked one up, put it to my lips and took in a deep breath. Their fresh scent soothed me, making me feel at one with the earth.

Small white clouds formed against the sharply contrasting royal blue sky. I traced the edges of one with my fingers. I wanted to reach out, grasp it and cuddle it to my body.

Rolling onto my stomach, I propped my chin up with my arms. My hair got caught under my elbow, and I freed it to relieve the tension on my head. From the corner of my eye I caught the fluttering of a small butterfly. It hovered above me a moment and I put my hand out towards it. Perching lightly upon my wrist, it sat motionless.

The white cottony clouds that I had been so desperate to hold turned gray. Suddenly, the sky grew dark and ominous. A crackle of thunder made the earth beneath me vibrate. Wind circled around me, pulling at the tiny blue sundress I wore.

There was a sharp pain in my wrist. I looked down—a gold snake lay in place of the butterfly. Like two tiny daggers, its fangs were firmly planted into my skin. Most people would flick the thing off, right? Well, I’m not most people. Besides, this wasn’t my first go around with the dream. I’d been having the dream long enough to know what was to come. I braced myself. The ground below me gave way and I found myself spiraling into a bottomless pit. Darkness surrounded me, and I knew better than to bother to scream.

The familiar sound of a woman’s voice whispered to me. “You are the balance. You will bring light to the darkness.”


Chapter One

I pulled up outside of the main gate. The blood red sign that stood high in the air read “Necro’s Magik World & Supernatural Theme Park”. I hated the idea of being here but you do what you have to do to make a living. Prior to working as assistant to the City’s Chief Paranormal Prosecutor, I hadn’t been able to keep a job to save my life. I’d tried a little bit of everything, from being a marketing director to stripping.

Hey, a girl’s got to make a living, right?

My friend Sharon got me the job at the Paranormal Regulators Law Offices. She’d worked with my boss and now ex-fiancé, Ken, enough to pull some strings and get me an in. He hired me as his personal assistant, sight unseen. After a year of working for him, he caught on to the fact that I had some special skills. I wasn’t your ordinary girl next door—hell, I didn’t even qualify as human, though my exact label escaped even me.

Focusing on the task at hand, I took a look around Necro’s Magik World. It had only been open for business six years, but in that short time frame had managed to corner the market on ticket sales for theme parks. Someone had come up with the brilliant idea of having a theme park that revolved around the supernatural. By doing this the area had become a Mecca for the undead and magikal creatures. At the park, demons didn’t have to hide who they were. They were able to live among humans without fear of persecution and mass pandemonium. I’d even seen some of the “employees” walking around downtown one night. No one looked shocked to see a vampire roaming the streets—they just ran up and asked for his autograph.

Teenagers were heavy into imitating the undead, and of course, dead attire was all the rage. I wondered if creatures of the undead ever thought of sending thank-you notes to rock stars that ran around looking like death on stage. The more I thought about Hollywood and rock stars, the more I wondered how many of the images weren’t an act. I knew that there had to be a few celebrities who fell into the category of supernatural, I just didn’t know which ones they were.

Necro’s Magik World was huge, or so I’d been told. While the park spanned over four hundred acres, it wasn’t all developed yet since they’d left room for expansion. They’d picked the location wisely. They were close enough to the city to generate business, but far enough out to remain secluded and away from the watchful eye of others. People were eating up the idea of a supernatural theme park to the point that various spin-offs were popping up all around the world. There were restaurants, clothing stores, and, believe it or not, websites and social networking sites all devoted to helping the living challenged or human alternatives find love and happiness.

A computer literate vampire, funny thought. I still had issues text messaging on my phone and here they were surfing the net.

The park only operated during nighttime for obvious reasons. I didn’t know too many vampires willing to sit out in the sunlight to greet guests. Here’s your ticket, excuse me while I burst into flames.

I still wasn’t sure about the outfit I had chosen. I’d decided on a pair of dark blue flare bottom jeans that made my legs look longer and at five foot five I took all the help I could get. I’d debated on wearing long sleeves or short because of how cool the summer nights could get, and finally settled on a red short-sleeved top. I’d chosen jeans because I always felt most comfortable in them. I’d also been told that red brought out my best features—my eyes and my hair.

I was ticked I hadn’t brought a brush with me. I’d left the house in such a hurry that I hadn’t taken time to blow dry my hair. I fumbled around in my purse until I found a hair tie. Gathering up the front and sides of my hair, I pulled it loosely behind my head. Wrapping the tie around it several times, I did a quick check. Little black wisps fell from it and framed my face. That was just the way I liked it. I’d been thinking of cutting my hair off again. It seemed rather silly because every time I did it, my hair grew back to just above my rear end within two months. My hair liked to be that length and didn’t take kindly to my attempts at doing anything else with it.

Being awakened out of dead sleep by Ken’s phone call did not suit me. I looked like crap. Sure, I was grateful he’d ended the nightmare I was having, but peeved he’d wanted me to go out in the middle of the night to question a master vampire.

I touched my face and decided I didn’t have to fuss with much. I’d been blessed with flawless skin. It was, however, rather pale. I tried tanning beds and hitting the beach every day for a summer, but I couldn’t get myself to burn, let alone tan. I did my best to make up for the lack of color by adding a touch of blush to both cheeks and some lip gloss to my lips. I was so sick of everyone asking if I had collagen implants. I wanted to get a t-shirt printed that read, “Yes, I do see the light of day, and yes the lips are real too”.

Grabbing my purse from the passenger seat, I fumbled through it until I found my eyeliner. I was big on the whole lining of the top lid with black craze. Prior to its recent revival, I’d been seriously out of date with the look, but did it anyway. I loved the way it brought out my eyes, and I was into retro.

Satisfied it was as good as it was going to get, I got out of the car.

When I swung the door shut I thought the car had finally had it. It was an ‘84 Thunderbird and it had seen better days. The roof was dented beyond repair and it had no floor in the back right passenger side. Every time it rained, my seat ended up soaked because the seal on the door was missing. I tried to remember to lay a towel on the seat when I got out, but every now and then I would forget—resulting in a wet butt. My absolute favorite thing about the car was that I had to use my best judgment to find the right gears. When you put the car in park, you were really in reverse and when you put the car in reverse, you went forward. Parking had always been a guess because the spot for it was somewhere above the letters on the dash. The only thing the car had going for it was that it was paid for and it still ran. I was worried about getting my student loans paid off before I bought a new one. I figure I’ll be paying for my loans until I die at this rate, and considering the fact I’m pretty sure I have Fae blood in me that’s funny. Most Fae are immortal creatures of magik. The banks would just love me!

I walked towards one of the ticket booths. It was made to look like a mausoleum. Gray granite rock covered it and mythical creatures were carved into its molding. The boy sitting behind the counter resembled a zombie. The makeup slathered on his face gave him the appearance of rotting flesh and his costume looked as though he had just crawled from the grave—just looking at him made me smile. I assumed they had real zombies working here, but this kid was obviously not one of them.

“Ticket please.”

I tried not to laugh. He sounded so ridiculous. The makeup and wardrobe were one thing—the overdone enunciation of his words was just too much.

“Gwen Stevens. I’m here to speak with Pallo D’Alessandro.” I had to bite my lip to keep from busting out laughing.

He didn’t look amused as he turned to pick up the phone. He hung up and glanced back at me. “Mr. D’Alessandro will see you shortly. Go through the red doors and downstairs. Someone will meet you there.”

Giving him a nod, I headed in the direction he had pointed.

A gigantic limestone building loomed before me. The gray stone exterior formed a sharp contrast to the small, landscaped flowerbeds that lined the walkway leading up to it. They were full of what looked to be lemon verbena and green sage. I thought it odd that someone would grow only herbs in a spot made for flowers. Stone gargoyles stood in the center of each bed. I really didn’t like the idea of being at a place where they prided themselves on scaring the shit out of you, but Ken needed information… bad. I really hated the fact that I was his “girl Friday”.

It only took me a few minutes to reach the red doors. Standing around for a bit, I waited for Sharon or Rick to show. I’d already been at the park for half an hour so I decided to give them another fifteen minutes. Sharon was usually late. She seemed to be on a whole separate time schedule. At the office, we referred to someone who was late as running on “Sharon-time”. Rick, on the other hand, had a military background and was always five minutes early. The fact that he wasn’t here yet should have really bothered me, but it didn’t. I was getting pretty brave in my old age, or pretty stupid, depending on how you looked at it.

My patience level was low considering I’d gotten little sleep due to my-oh-so pleasant dream. The fact I was standing out here in the dead of night waiting for the people who should have been handling this themselves didn’t help much either. I gave up and used my cell phone to try to reach Sharon. I got her voice mail, so I left her a message telling her I was going to go ahead in and I’d talk to her later. I also informed her that if I didn’t call her back in an hour I was probably dead. That was my way of making light of the situation, but my gut told me that there was some truth to the comment.

I glanced up at the red door. The last thing I wanted to do tonight was go into a room full of vamps, but if I didn’t go now I’d lose my nerve. I turned the knob and pulled the door open.

Instantly, I was hit with the smell of dampness. Glancing around, I tried to get the nasty taste of stale air out of my mouth as I got my bearings. I stood at the top of a stairwell, which was lit by several torches sitting in sconces along the wall. The walls were stone and looked like the inside of a castle.

No, make that the entrance to a dungeon.

I wasn’t sure how anyone who owned and operated a multimillion dollar business ended up in a basement, but I trudged onward anyway. When I reached the end of the staircase I found myself in front of a large, heavy, metal door. The medieval theme was getting old, fast.

I knocked and the door opened quickly. A man stood there silently looking at me. His six foot five frame took up most of the doorway. White waves of hair spilled onto his shoulders and large green eyes stared back at me. His face was soft, with baby fine features. The sweet smell of honey filled my head.

I’d heard vampires smelled nice but this was ridiculous. I wanted to lick him just to see if he tasted as good as he smelled but I held back.

Good girl.

He was dressed like he’d just fallen out of the eighties. I half expected him to claim he was the guitarist for one of the big hair bands and not really a vamp at all. He had on black, painted-on leather pants. His white shirt hung loosely from his body and gaped open to the middle of his stomach. Even in the poorly lit stairwell I could see how smooth and pale his skin was. When I glanced back at his face, he was staring at me wide-eyed. He appeared puzzled and a bit surprised. Imagine that—I put a vampire off guard.

“I’m Gwyneth Stevens. Kenneth Harpel sent me down to speak with Mr. D’Alessandro.” I extended my hand to him but he just stared at it.

A few seconds went by in silence. I had the strongest urge to bolt back upstairs and out the door.

“Please come in,” he said, stepping to the side. “We do not get many new visitors here. I apologize for my lack of manners.”

I’d never met an honest to God gentleman before, so it took me a moment to respond. “Thank you. I’m sorry for coming at such a late hour, but Lydia phoned our office requesting I meet with Mr. D’Alessandro tonight.”

His green eyes widened. “Yes, Lydia, umm, come in please. I will get Pallo for you.”

“So, do you have a name or is Def Leppard mega-fan all right by you?” My voice dripped with sarcasm that was coated in a healthy amount of nerves as well.

“I am Caradoc.” He seemed taken aback by my attempt at humor.

“Caradoc, the name doesn’t sound familiar.”

“Should it?” he asked as I walked past him.

“No, I guess not. I just got the feeling I knew you from somewhere.”

Caradoc led me into a room with a large stone fireplace in it. Two red sofas sat across from each other. They were trimmed with beautiful gold leafing that made your eye follow the s-curve of the feet. A massive Serapi rug covered the floor. Cherry end tables flanked each end of the red sofas. Candles sat on them and dripped wax down onto the rich wood. I had half a mind to walk up and put a coaster under them to protect the integrity of the tables. I got the feeling that no one else here cared, so I let it be.

The room had several doors in it. I had no clue where any of them went, so I kept my back near the exit. I didn’t like leaving myself vulnerable, but the room didn’t leave me many options.

“Please have a seat.” Caradoc motioned to one of the couches. “Can I offer you anything to drink?”

I wasn’t sure how to answer that. I was afraid to say yes and get a big glass of blood, and afraid to say no and come off as rude.

He winked at me. I wondered if he was flirting or just had something in his eye. My money was on hair spray—that was of course if he held true to his eighties ensemble. “Would you like a glass of iced tea?”

“Yes, thank you.”

“Please make yourself at home.”

I watched him exit out the door to my right and sat with my hands folded on my lap. I turned and stared at the large fireplace. Tiny pixies and faeries were embossed in it. They were all naked and each one wrapped itself around the one below it. Standing in a Master Vampire’s living room alone when he obviously had a thing for naked creatures of magik wasn’t the best idea I’d ever had.

Gulping, I rubbed my palms across my jeans, trying my best to keep the nervous sweat that was building to a minimum.

The place let off a strange vibe, yet, oddly it felt more like home than the apartment I’d been living in for the last two years. I’d been in the place for less than fifteen minutes and I already felt like I could throw my feet up on the sofa and kick back awhile. I resisted the urge.

“Sorry to interrupt you, but Pallo will be with you in a moment.” I didn’t sense anyone in the room with me so I was caught off guard. When I turned around Caradoc was standing behind me. He bowed his head slightly. “Forgive me, I did not mean to startle you.”

“No, you’re fine. I’m sorry.” I felt a little silly with a man bowing in front of me so I put my hand out to him. If Sharon were with me, she would have shot me dead on the spot for being careless and trusting a stranger who also happened to be a vampire. I didn’t feel that he posed any threat to me.

The door to my left opened and a man entered. He looked to be in his early twenties but I knew that if he was a vamp he was more likely to be in the hundreds. His hair was short and blond with pink tips. It appeared as though he used gel to spike it. He wore black from head to toe. He had on a t-shirt, jeans and pair of army boots. He definitely had the James Dean look down pat. When he saw me, he froze in place. Gee, I was having that effect on a lot of people lately. He opened his mouth and stood silent for a second. As fun as it all was, I didn’t want to play the game anymore.

“Mr. D’Alessandro, I came here to speak with you regarding the hellhound homicides.” My ability to be all work and no play came so easy. I expected him to start pouring his heart out about what they knew. What I got instead was his face looking even more shocked.

“Blood and sand! Caradoc, she thinks I’m Pallo. What the hell’s going on here? If anyone should remember him, it’s her,” he said, his voice thick with a British accent as he pointed at me.

Shoot. I thought he had to be the head guy—guess I was wrong. That didn’t happen too often, so I was a bit nervous. I usually just knew things that other people didn’t. It had always proved to be an asset until about thirty seconds ago. Suddenly, it seemed rather useless now.

Caradoc stepped forward. It was clear he didn’t want to touch me and that was just fine by me. “I’m sorry, Ms. Stevens.” He put a lot of emphasis on my name and stared hard at the James Dean-looking vamp.

“This is Jameson. Master Pallo will be with us momentarily.”

Jameson, James Dean? I shrugged and laughed in my head at the irony. Jameson approached me with speed that no human possessed and extended his hand to me.

“Nice to meet you, Ms. Stevens.” With the amount of attention they were giving my name, I was beginning to wonder if they thought it was an alias. Yes, often I run around giving bogus names—geesh. Besides, I would have come up with something more original than Gwen. “Faerie with attitude” had a nice ring to it.

“Nice to meet you too, Jameson,” I said. His hand was cool to the touch. I pulled mine away slowly.

“James. I go by James.” He smiled wide at me and I saw no fangs. I’d never actually met a vampire up close before. I always assumed they walked around with these huge dog-like fangs showing. Guess I was wrong—again.

“Can either of you fine gentlemen tell me where Mr. D’Alessandro is? I’d love to spend another hour being stared at like a circus freak, but a girl’s got to get her beauty sleep you know. So, now that the pleasantries are out of the way, can someone find Mr. D’Alessandro for me?” I turned to face Caradoc. I could sense that between the two, he was higher up on the seniority ladder, but I wasn’t sure by how much.

“He cannot help you find him, but I am sure I can.” The deep exotic voice ran over the room and covered my body. It was familiar to me, soothing, sexy. I turned, expecting to see someone I knew.

A man walked out from behind James. He was around six feet tall and had a head of loose brown curls that hung almost to his shoulders. The guy leaked sexuality. Prior to this meeting, I hadn’t known that was even possible. His face looked as though it was chiseled from stone. His pale skin had only the faintest hint of coloring. He had a strong chin with a small dimple in it, and his lips were full. They looked soft, kissable.

I let my gaze slowly fall down his body. He wore no shirt. His shoulders were broad, and from where I stood it appeared as though tiny freckles covered them. Muscles rippled down his stomach, forming a six pack and forcing my eyes lower. He wore a loose pair of black pants that I wished were invisible. They looked to be pajama bottoms, but I wasn’t sure. I was too busy staring at the way his chest went from being completely bare to the start of tiny black hairs from his navel area down. He wore his waistband extremely low and I was positive he wasn’t wearing any underwear.

I glanced down towards the floor and saw that he was barefoot. I did a quick second look at his body as I retraced my steps back to his beautiful face. The most intense pair of crisp, dark-brown, almost black eyes stared back at me. When I was finished mentally undressing him, I noticed the expression on his face. Gee, what a shocker. He looked like he’d seen a ghost.

“Would you guys please tell me if I have a huge horn sprouting from my forehead?” I was tired and I was sure it was pushing at least three in the morning.

Caradoc spoke first. “No, Ms. Stevens, you’ve not sprouted a horn as of yet. Why do you ask? Is this something we should watch for?” His sincerity made me burst out into laughter. James and the mysterious tall sexy vamp laughed as well.

“Everyone I’ve met so far has stood there staring at me like a deer caught in headlights. What gives? Where is Mr. D’Alessandro?”

“I am Mr. D’Alessandro,” the drop dead gorgeous one said. “Pallo is fine. I am sorry if we’ve upset you, but you remind us of someone we once knew.” He tossed his hair out of his face with his hand and stepped towards me. “My apologies for looking like I just rolled out of bed, but I have been sparring in the gym. I wasn’t expecting any visitors.”

Sparring in the gym? The very thought of it made me drool. Was going weak-kneed and passing out an option? I hoped so, since it was exactly what I felt like doing.

When Ken told me that I was going to meet Mr. D’Alessandro, I pictured a six hundred year old vampire who still spoke like he was in the Old World. Pallo didn’t seem much into using contractions, but his English was perfect, accented slightly, but perfect nonetheless.

“I’d have thought that Lydia would’ve told you I was coming. She phoned and requested that someone be sent down immediately to speak with you. Two others were supposed….” I didn’t finish my last sentence. I wasn’t sure it was wise to spill the beans about being here completely alone with no sign of backup coming. My patience level was growing very thin. The only thing that helped me keep my grip was that I was surrounded by three of the sexiest men I’d ever had the pleasure of laying eyes on. Did I also forget to mention the fact that they could probably kill me before I knew what hit me?

Sexy and deadly, just the way I like them.

The room fell silent. Caradoc and James exchanged glances. Pallo was the first to break the silence. “I have not had a chance to speak personally with Lydia in some time now. My apologies. Please stay. I will answer whatever I can Ms…?”

“Ms. Stevens. Thank you.”

“Yes, of course, Gwyneth Stevens. I have seen your name in the Nocturnal Journal recently for your office being involved in the breakup of a Ghoul-fighting ring.” He took a step towards me, “Most impressive indeed, Gwyneth.”

This poster child for the “dead and doable” saying my name made me want to melt, and in some ways I did. I’ve heard that vampires could persuade members of the opposite sex to fall for them with ease. Knowing this should have prepared me for the way I was starting to feel, but it didn’t.

It would be easy to get lost in Pallo’s alluringly dark eyes. I wanted them to be looking down at me, staring at me while his body moved in and out of mine. I wanted to run my fingers through his wavy brown hair, to hold it while he brought my body to its climax. I wanted him now. I had to concentrate on not leaping across the room and straddling him. I pushed the desire down and for the first time felt how strong his pull was. Thankfully, I was stronger.

“Why are you fighting me?” Pallo asked.

“What do you mean?” I thought I’d play the dumb blonde routine for a minute.

“You are trying hard not to come near me, like I mean you harm.”

I guess the dumb blonde routine doesn’t work well, especially when you’re a brunette. “Look, no offense, but you could be a homicidal maniac for all I know. After all, you are a—” I stopped short of saying vampire.

“True. But why would such a lovely young woman come alone to a maniac’s house in the middle of the night?” His smile was so sexy that I had to fight with myself not to jump his bones then and there. Of course, I was willing to settle for a dry hump.

“Okay, you’ve got a good point. I must be crazy to come down here with a room full of vampires anyway, so why even bother with the shenanigans?”

“The ‘shenanigans’ you refer to were merely a test. I do not want any of my staff revealing information to someone not associated with the likes of us.”

I was well beyond the point of feeling the need to be polite. “Well, I’m so happy that I passed your little Club Bloodsuckers initiation test, we can gather around and throw up gang signs later. Right now, I would really like—”

His hand came up suddenly, motioning me to stop. Surprisingly enough, I did. He must have thought my last comment was amusing because he laughed. It was quite possibly the most perfect laugh I’ve ever heard.

“Well I’m so happy to be your entertainment for the evening, thank you, and good-bye!” I headed towards the door. Pallo stepped in my path. Under normal circumstances a vampire standing in front of me would scare the hell out of me. This time it just pissed me off.

He stepped close enough for me to touch. He put his hand out and brushed mine. I flinched a little. Even though I’d mentally psyched myself up for meeting vampires, I couldn’t bring myself to not be scared of what they could do.

I began to pull back, but his touch felt familiar to me. Sensual. Inviting. He lifted my hand to his lips and kissed it gently. Warmth flowed over my body. Suddenly, my insides felt like a thousand tiny fingers were moving throughout me, caressing me. Pallo’s hands never left mine, yet I could have sworn that he’d just rubbed my most vulnerable spots. I felt it again, the feel of fingers caressing between my legs. I gasped and my body reacted to him. Damp, and breathless, I felt my hair lift up and I saw his do the same. I yanked my hand back, as if I’d been scorched.

“Nice to meet you too,” he said, grinning at me. He’d planned that!

I smiled back, trying to look nonchalant, as if this sort of thing happened often. “Do you do that to all the ladies?”

He leaned in so close that I thought he would kiss my neck, or worse yet, bite it. I put my hands up and touched his chin. His skin was so smooth. Ken had always had a five o’clock shadow by ten in the morning. This guy was like touching a porcelain doll’s face. His cool breath ran over my neck. I wasn’t sure my legs were going to hold out if he got much closer.

Falling on my ass in front of the sexiest man I’d ever seen was not on my to-do list.

“That is reserved for the beautiful ones. And in my two hundred and seventy-five years on this earth I have only met two worthy of that show,” he whispered, his sweet breath promising of endless passion between the sheets. Moisture pooled between my legs and while the idea of a hunky stranger making me cream myself was a favorite fantasy of mine, I thought it unwise to do so with a vampire.

I gave his chin a little push, and he stepped back.

“Can we just get down to business?” I asked, feigning annoyance, but wanting another hair-raising experience. Who wouldn’t?

“I will get down whenever or wherever you would like, Gwyneth. You have but to ask.”

My heart skipped a beat. I was so mad at myself for letting this two hundred and seventy-five-year-old corpse smooth talk me. But God, he was a good-looking corpse. I moved closer to him, filling the tiny gap between us. Two could play that game. I slid my hand across his chest. I really hoped this plan didn’t backfire. If it did I would probably end up dead—so what the hell. They could write, “She couldn’t beat ‘em, so she caressed ‘em” on my headstone. All would know I died a happy death.

I like to think of myself as being semi-attractive, and if he insisted on playing the Mr. Sexy game, I’d play along and then get the hell out of there. I knew before I touched him that he had two tiny scars under his right nipple. This didn’t surprise me. I figured I could have caught a glimpse of them—he did have his shirt off after all. But I knew how he had gotten them.

“Been avoiding picking fights with sailors I hope? It always ended so nasty for you.” Words came into my head and they fell from my lips. I was used to getting random visions of events in peoples’ lives, but this was different. No vision had come to me. I just knew this to be true. I couldn’t explain it. I pulled my hand away from him quickly, completely freaked out.

He looked a little shocked, then smiled. I was beginning to really like that devilish grin, and was dangerously close to naming it his wet-panties smile.

“Yes Gwyneth. I learned my lesson.”

“A punctured lung will do that to you. It’s a shame that it took that to prove it to you.” I grabbed my mouth. For some reason, in my head, I thought this would solve my problem. I never claimed to be smart—just semi-attractive.

Pallo leaned into me, brushing his lips over the back of my hand. My knees grew weaker. Six months without sex had taken its toll on me. “Yes, one can learn almost any lesson if pain is involved.” His deep voice moved over me, around me, through me, caressing me to my core.

Oh, he was good!

He shrugged and smiled. He definitely knew something I didn’t, and he wasn’t about to let on to what it was. The cocky routine was beyond annoying. I was flirtatious by nature, but this was getting on my nerves. I wanted to ask about the hellhounds and go. I wanted to leave this place and never look back. I wanted to run my hand over his chest again and pray that he decided to flex for me. Hey, cut a girl some slack—it’s not very often that the poster boy for every woman’s deepest sexual desire takes an interest in you. The desire won out. I felt his smooth chest one last time and stepped back.

Pallo reached out and touched my hip. I pushed his hand away lightly, unsure who I trusted less, him or me. He smelled good enough to eat and that’s what I wanted to do. I wanted to swallow him up. Problem was, I knew what this guy was, and he would think of me as the main course.

Nevertheless, I wanted to know how it felt to have his body pressing against mine. I could feel his lust for me as well. I knew he was thinking of more than just pressing himself against me. I could see it in the way he smiled at me and in the way he moved. His movements were like ripples in water, so smooth, so sure of where they were going, so full of purpose, so making me horny.

I shook my head and cleared my naughty little schoolgirl thoughts. “I’m sorry, but I really just wanted to get some information in regards to some hellhound related incidents that we’ve had recently.”

That a girl—keep focused on work and not on Pallo’s glorious body.

He smiled, and I could tell that he wanted to pursue this newfound attraction more, but when he spoke, he’d apparently decided against it. “What is it that you want to know?”

I was shocked. He was going to give me some answers. “Well, for starters, do you know where we can find the Keeper of the Hounds? He’s managed to elude us so far.”

I caught James giving Pallo an odd look out of the corner of my eye, but decided to ignore it. Pallo’s head fell back slightly and he began to laugh. The sound of his laugh wrapped around my body and made me tingle in places that I didn’t even know I had. I shuddered and fought to maintain control. “I’m sorry, Pallo, but I really don’t see how people being slaughtered by some crazy guy and his puppy slackies is amusing.”

He glanced at me and grew quiet. “I am sorry. It is just that you seem very confident the Keeper is male. Are we really so destructive that you would automatically assume it was our doing?”

“I’m lost—you mean as a vampire or as a guy?”

“I am referring to men in general, Ms. Stevens.”

“Well, sorry to disappoint, but I really don’t have a low opinion of men. I’m not one of those women who run around all day male-bashing. I think you’re… err… they’re just great. I’m just going off of the information I was given, and sources on the street are saying male, so that’s what I’m sticking with.” My tone was definitely harsher than I had wanted it to be, but I was exhausted and horny—never a good combination.

Pallo appeared very smug and sure of himself. He kept pushing a strand of his curly hair behind his left ear. Never in my life had I thought such a scene would be erotic. It was. “Your informants are wrong and I would be very reluctant to listen to them further.”

As great as that sounded, the reality was that informants were getting harder and harder for the PR Dept. to come by. They were disappearing left and right, never to be heard from again. The few that Ken had left would have to do, simply because there were no others to turn to. I got the sense that Pallo picked up on this, because he motioned for James and spoke to me. “Come here tomorrow at dusk and I will tell you more about the Keeper of the Hounds.”

“Can’t we just do it tonight?” No part of me wanted to come back to this place again. There was some sort of funky sexual vibe that seemed to cling to the air and I was afraid it was catchy.

Pallo smiled and motioned upwards. “I’m afraid Mother Nature’s rising sun will prevent me from going into further detail with you tonight. Please come by tomorrow and I will speak with you then. James will walk you to your car, Ms. Stevens.” With that, he turned and walked out of the room.

Hmm, so much for good-byes. Secretly I was hoping for another handshake. Touching his skin made me feel alive. It was official—I really, really needed to get laid.

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