Secret Life of a Vampire

By: Kerrelyn Sparks

Acknowledgments

My world of vampires would still be a secret if not for the fabulous experts at HarperCollins. My thanks to executive editor Erika Tsang and the entire editorial staff; publisher Liate Stehlik; the art department for the best covers an author could ever wish for; publicist Pamela Spengler-Jaffee and the publicity department; and the staff of the marketing and sales departments, who work tirelessly behind the scenes to make each book in the Love at Stake series a success.
Closer to home, I have a personal support team that is always there for me. My love and gratitude to my husband, Don, and children, Jonathan and Emily; critique partners MJ, Vicky D, Vicky Y, and Sandy; travel buddy Linda Curtis; and the ever-supportive members of the West Houston and Northwest Houston chapters of Romance Writers of America.
And finally, my gratitude to all those incredibly smart people who read the Love at Stake books. My vamps continue to thrive thanks to you!

Chapter One
 

"I don't want to die… again," Laszlo groaned.
Jack knelt beside Laszlo's sprawled body. "Can I fetch you anything? A warm cup of Type O?"
Laszlo covered his mouth. "Don't talk about food."
"Mi dispiace." Jack patted the Vamp on the shoulder, the only spot on the guy's shirt that wasn't soaked with spewed Blissky. Poor Laszlo. He'd only drunk one glass of the whiskey-flavored synthetic blood when everyone had toasted the groom, but obviously the little chemist was better at making Vampire Fusion Cuisine than ingesting it. He'd promptly thrown up all over himself.
There wasn't much anyone could do for the poor guy, so the bachelor party had raged on in full force while Laszlo rolled on the floor, his face clammy and pale.
"Shall I help you move to the couch?" Jack asked.
"I might get blood on it," Laszlo mumbled.
Jack frowned at the rich upholstery on the Louis XV-style furniture. "It's already stained." What a mess. How would he ever clean this up?
He rose to his feet with a growing sense of doom. It had seemed like a great idea when he'd reserved an Edwardian suite at the Plaza on Fifth Avenue to celebrate Ian MacPhie's last night as a bachelor. But now he realized the hotel's housekeeping service would wonder how an innocent party could produce so many bloodstains.
Things had gotten out of hand after Dougal arrived with his bagpipes. Ian had insisted on teaching everyone a Scottish jig. A dozen tipsy Vamps hopping around with glasses full of Blissky had resulted in a few collisions and even more stains on the carpet and furniture.
And then the phone call had come. The ladies were at Romatech Industries having a bridal shower, though Jack had heard that Vanda was bringing a male stripper from her Vamp nightclub. The ladies' party had come to an abrupt halt when Shanna Draganesti had suddenly gone into labor.
Before teleporting to Romatech, Roman Draganesti had lamented that he was too inebriated to help his wife in her time of need. This had caused the other guys to rally around, declaring their undying support with a rowdy fight song. Then a dozen drunken male Vamps had teleported to Shanna's side to cheer her on to victory.
Jack grinned as he imagined Shanna's reaction, but the moment quickly faded. He had two hours before the sun rose to get this hotel suite back to normal.
A noise from the adjoining bedroom drew his attention. Had one of the guys stayed behind? Good, he could use the help. He strode into the luxurious bedroom and frowned at the naked VANNA lying on the bed, dripping Bleer on the satin comforter.
That had been Gregori's bright idea. He'd arrived at the party toting two Vampire Artificial Nutritional Needs Appliances, otherwise known as VANNAs. The lifelike rubber females were sex toys in the mortal world, but for Vamps, they'd been modified with a battery-operated circulatory system. Gregori had filled the two sexy dolls with beer-flavored synthetic blood, and then he'd invited the guys to have a bite. From the looks of the lacy clothes strewn about, the guys had had more fun undressing VANNA than nibbling on her.
A man's voice drifted from the bathroom. "Oh, yeah, baby. Take it off!"
Jack knocked on the bathroom door. "The party's over."
"The party's never over for Dr. Phang." The door opened, revealing Phineas McKinney. "What's up, bro?"
The young black Vamp looked debonair in his maroon velvet smoking jacket and white silk cravat, although the cavalier effect was marred somewhat by his SpongeBob boxer shorts. Like any vampire, Phineas didn't reflect in the bathroom's gold-framed mirror, but the second VANNA did. The dark-tinted doll was sitting on the white marble vanity, wearing nothing but red silk panties and a silly grin on her face.
Jack was distracted for a moment when he noticed the words on Phineas's shorts. Ladies dig the Sponge. "Ah, sorry to interrupt."
Phineas's face turned a bit red. "I was just practicing, you know. When you're the Love Doctor, you gotta keep your mojo in top condition."
"I understand."
"I bet you do." Phineas grabbed the black VANNA off the vanity. Her legs jutted stiffly forward like a Barbie doll, and he pushed them down. "I heard you're a real Casanova."
"So they say," Jack muttered. He could never escape his famous father's reputation. "I suppose you were too busy to hear, but Shanna went into labor. All the guys left with Roman. Except Laszlo. He's still sick."
"No shit?" Phineas strode into the bedroom with the black VANNA clasped under his arm.
"The sun will rise soon, so we need to clean up."
Phineas glanced at the white VANNA on the bed in a pool of Bleer. "Damn, bro. We need professionals for this. How about Vampy Maids? They clean Roman's townhouse."
"That would be great. Can you ring them?"
"Don't remember their number, but they're in the Black Pages."
They would never find the vampire version of a telephone book in the Plaza hotel. "Do you—" Jack was interrupted by a loud knock on the door.
"Expecting someone?" Phineas's eyes lit up. "Maybe some real women?"
"NYPD," a male voice shouted. "Open the door, please."
Jack sucked in a deep breath. Merda.
"Hot damn," Phineas whispered. "It's the po-po." He looked around frantically. "We're in deep shit."
"Relax," Jack whispered back. "I'll use mind control to get rid of them."
"I don't do well with the police." Phineas backed away. "I'm outta here, man."
"You're leaving?" Jack winced as the pounding on the door grew louder.
"Open the door now!" the police officer yelled.
"I'll be right there," Jack shouted.
"Look, man." Phineas tossed the black VANNA into the bathroom and shut the door. "I'll go to the townhouse and call the Vampy Maids. I'll come back later to help you, okay?" His body faded away as he teleported.
"Grazie mille," Jack muttered. He strode into the living room, considering his options. He could grab Laszlo and teleport away, but the police would still come in and see the bloody mess. The suite was reserved under his name, so they might want him for questioning. No, it was better to take care of this now and use vampire mind control to erase the police officers' memory.
Laszlo struggled to sit up. "This is terrible." Sweat beaded his brow. "I think I'm going to puke again."
"Hang in there," Jack whispered. "I'll get rid of the cops."
"I'll call the manager up here to open the door," the police officer yelled.
"I'm coming!" Jack cracked the door two inches and quickly assessed the uniformed patrolman. Young, nervous, easily handled with vampire mind control. His gaze swept to the second officer.
Santo cielo. He forgot to breathe for a moment. Not that lack of oxygen could actually hurt him. His first impression: she was stunning. His second impression: she was trying very hard to minimize her looks. Golden red hair pulled back severely in a tight French braid. Fresh, creamy skin, a few adorable freckles, and big blue eyes. She wore very little makeup. And she was still stunning.
Her eyes widened as she met his gaze. Her mouth opened slightly, drawing his attention to her pink, sweetly shaped lips.
"Bellissima," he whispered.
She came to her senses with a heart-pounding jolt that Jack could actually hear. Her mouth closed with a frown. Her chin tilted up. Her hands gripped her belt. No doubt, she meant to intimidate him with her hands so close to her sidearm and baton, but he was more impressed by the way her belt accentuated her lovely hourglass figure.
She should be draped in the finest silks. She should be displaying her curves like a goddess. The fact that she was doing the opposite, covering herself from chin to toe in a mannish blue uniform, was intriguing.
The world had changed in two hundred years. If this lovely police officer had lived centuries ago in Italy, she would have been sought after by every artist who wished to immortalize feminine beauty on canvas. But here she was, trying to look tough and powerful. Didn't she realize she was already powerful? A woman like her could bring a man to his knees and make him grateful for being there.
The male officer cleared his throat. "Sir, we received a call from hotel security. You and your friends have been way too loud and rowdy."
"We were having a party," Jack explained. "A bachelor party."
"Hotel guests from three floors were calling to complain," the male officer continued.
"It was a very good party." Jack smiled at the female officer. "I'm sorry you missed it. Perhaps next time?"
She wrinkled her nose. "I can smell the whiskey from here."
"Your neighbors complained about a bagpipe," the male officer said. "And some loud clashing noises. Someone thought you might be having a sword fight."
"There's nothing to be concerned about, officer. Everyone has left." Jack raised his voice when Laszlo let out a low moan. "It's very quiet now."
"I think I heard someone," the female officer whispered to her partner. "He sounds injured."
"Thank you for stopping by." Jack started to shut the door, but the male officer wedged a booted foot in the way.
He pressed a hand against the door. "We'd like to take a look inside, if you don't mind."
"I do mind." Jack unfurled a wave of psychic energy. Both of you are under my control.
The male officer's arms dropped down by his sides, and a blank look stole over his face. The lovely woman stumbled backward. She grimaced and pressed a hand against her brow.
I am sorry to cause you pain, he said mentally. What is your name, bellissima?
"Harvey Crenshaw."
"Not you," he told the male officer.
Laszlo moaned again.
The female officer lowered her hand. "I knew it! There's someone in there. Step aside, sir."
Jack's mouth fell open. What the hell? She was supposed to be under his control. You will not enter.
"We will not enter," Harvey repeated.
"Of course we will." The woman shoved at the door.
Jack was so shocked, he stepped back as the woman barged in. Nine circles of hell! "Wait. You can't come in here."
She spotted Laszlo on the floor and immediately clicked the transmitter on her shoulder. "We have a stabbing victim. I need an ambulance—"
"No! No ambulance," Jack protested, but she was already giving the suite number to the operator. Merda.
Now he'd have to erase more memories. And why the hell wasn't she obeying him?
He hurled a wave of psychic power at her. You are under my control.
She shivered as she knelt beside Laszlo. "Hang in there, sir. Medics are on their way."
"Oh God, no." Laszlo gave Jack a beseeching look. I can't go to a hospital! Make her go away I
I'm trying. Jack concentrated hard. You will leave this instant.
"I will leave this instant." Harvey stepped back into the hallway.
"Harvey!" The female officer jumped to her feet and jabbed a finger at Jack. "You stay put." She dashed into the hall and grabbed her partner's arm. "Harvey? What's wrong with you?"
He just stood there, his face blank.
She shook him. "Harvey! Snap out of it!"
With a sigh, Jack reeled back his power. Keeping Harvey under his control would only make the female officer more suspicious.
Harvey blinked. "What? What happened?" .
The female officer pointed at Jack. "Cuff him."
"What!" Now Jack wished he hadn't let Harvey go. "I didn't do anything."
The woman glared at him as she marched back into the hotel room. "We have a stabbing victim, and you're the most likely suspect."
"I didn't stab him." Jack aimed psychic energy once again at male officer. You will not cuff me.
Harvey halted next to him, the blank look once more on his face. Jack clasped his hands behind his back so the female officer would think he was handcuffed. She hadn't noticed, for she was kneeling beside Laszlo, ripping his shirt open. "Where were you stabbed, sir?"
"He wasn't stabbed," Jack insisted. "He just threw up."
"A pint of blood? Do I look stupid to you?" She glowered at Jack. "Where did you stab him? In the back?"
"I didn't stab him!"
I've tried controlling her, but it doesn't work, Laszlo told him mentally.
I know, Jack answered. She was every Vamp's worst nightmare. A beautiful woman who could not be controlled.
Perhaps she has psychic power, Laszlo continued. Or she could suffer from some sort of mental defect that's blocking our power.
"Did your mother drop you on your head when you were a baby?" Jack asked.
Harvey sniffed. "Yes, she did."
"Not you," Jack muttered.
The woman studied him suspiciously as she rose to her feet. "Harvey, watch that guy. Harvey?"
The male officer flinched. "What?"
"Watch him." She pointed at Jack. "Don't let him move. I'm going to check the rest of this place."
Harvey nodded. "Up against the wall."
Jack backed up so the woman couldn't see that he wasn't cuffed.
She scanned the area next to the wall-mounted flat-screen TV. "Someone was stabbed here. This is blood splatter."
"It's not mine."
She narrowed her lovely eyes. "Whose blood is it?"
"A friend's. He… cut himself accidentally." After guzzling down an entire bottle of Blissky, Angus Mackay had decided to become a blood brother with every guy in the room. He'd taken his Highland dagger to nick his wrist, but accidentally punctured an artery and spurted blood in a wide arc across the wall. He'd promptly wrapped a towel around his wrist and replaced his lost dinner with another bottle of Blissky.
"Right. An accident." The female officer stopped beside the crossed swords on the carpet. "And these are your weapons."
"They're not mine," Jack protested.
"Right."
"They're Scottish claymores," he told her. "They belong to the groom. And there's no blood on them. The guys were using them to do a Highland sword dance."
She studied the swords, frowning. "You could have cleaned them."
"I didn't stab anyone." At least not tonight.
She surveyed the room, and her gaze lifted. "What's this?"
Jack winced at the sight of VANNA White's red silk bra dangling from the chandelier.
The female officer climbed onto the coffee table and used her expandable baton to dislodge the bra. "There were women at this party?"
"I wouldn't call them real women."
"Female impersonators?" She gave him a wry look as she waved the bra in the air.
He scowled at her. "It's not mine."
She tossed the bra on the couch and stepped down to the floor. "What's in the bedroom?"
Jack squeezed his eyes shut as he bombarded her with all the psychic power he could muster. Do not go in there.
"Do not go in there," Harvey repeated.
She shivered. "It's damned cold in here." She slipped into the bedroom. "Oh my God!"
Jack groaned.
She stuck her head out the door. "Harvey. Harvey! Call for backup!" She went back inside.
Harvey shook his head. "Huh?" He gave Jack a questioning look. "Who are you? Where am I?"
"There's a body on the bed," the woman called from the bedroom. "Female."
"It's VANNA White," Jack explained.
"Oh my gosh, she… she's not alive," the female officer continued.
Harvey blinked. "You killed Vanna White? You bastard." He reached for his transmitter.
You will not call for backup, Jack told him.
Harvey lowered his hand and resumed his deadpan face.
"She was never alive." The female officer appeared in the doorway, holding the doll. "It's a sex toy." She tossed it on the floor and gave Jack a look of utter disgust. "You sick pervert."
"It's not mine," he growled.
With a huff, she headed back into the bedroom.
This had gone far enough. Jack focused on Harvey. You will leave this place and go back to your car. You will forget you were ever here. You will forget me and everything you have seen here.
Harvey nodded, then slowly wandered down the hall.
Now to take care of the beautiful but strangely resistant female. Jack followed her into the bedroom. "Miss—"
She whirled around, and her eyes widened at the sight of his free hands. She immediately reached for her gun. "I thought you were cuffed."
Jack stepped toward her. "There's no need to—"
She drew her weapon. "Stay back. Harvey! Where are you?"
Jack could hear her heart racing. "Relax. I only want to talk. And there's no need to yell for Harvey. He left."
Her pulse jumped. "My partner wouldn't leave me alone. What did you do to him?"
"Nothing. He simply left."
"I don't believe you." She lifted her gun an inch, aiming at his head. "More police are on their way."
"No, they're not. I didn't let Harvey call for backup."
She gulped audibly. "You didn't let… Who are you?"
He opened his palms. "I will not harm you."
"What did you do to Harvey?" she shouted.
"Nothing. He's on his way to the car. He knows I'm harmless." Jack lifted his hands and moved closer. "Think about it, Miss… ?"
She stepped back. "Officer Boucher."
She pronounced it the French way, like bouchey. It sounded pretty, coming from her, even though he knew it meant "butcher."
"There was no crime committed here. And while it is true that my friends were too loud and messy, I'll clean everything up and pay for any damages. You have my word on that."
She kept her gun pointed at him. "There's blood everywhere. A sure sign of violent crime. Just because I haven't found the body doesn't mean it didn't happen."
"There is no body."
She edged toward the bathroom. "I haven't finished checking everywhere yet."
He sighed. "Don't go in there."
She lifted her eyebrows. "Sounds like an invitation to me." She reached behind her to ease open the door.
She glanced back and gasped at the sight of VANNA Black sprawled on the tile floor.
With vampire speed, Jack lunged forward and snatched the gun from her hand.
She gasped again. Her eyes grew wide. He could hear her heart racing dangerously fast.
Merda. Did she really think he would kill her? "Bellissima, you wound me." He ejected the clip and handed it to her. "I would never hurt you."
She stared at him, then at the bullets in her hand. Her heart still pounded, but he could hear it slowing down.
She glanced at VANNA Black. "Another sex toy? How many do you need?"
He gave her a wry look. "It's not mine."
"Right."
He concentrated all his efforts on one last attempt to take over her mind. She stumbled back, knocked off balance by the strength of his psychic power.
You will leave immediately and forget you were here. You will forget you ever met me. The reality of that last command pricked him with a twinge of regret. He almost wished his mind control would fail.
With a grimace, she pinched the bridge of her nose. "Ouch."
He should be careful what he wished for.
She lowered her hand find gave him a confused look. "There's something really strange going on here."
"Tell me about it." In two hundred years, he'd never encountered this problem before.
"I thought I heard your voice—never mind." She stepped back, eyeing him warily. "Who are you?"
"I am Giacomo. My English-speaking friends have called me Jack for so many years, that I think of myself that way when I'm speaking English. You may call me Jack."
"I'm not your friend." She shivered from the cold psychic waves surrounding her.
He stepped toward her. "What is your full name?"
She stared at him, her eyes wide, as if she were completely entranced, but he knew she wasn't. He couldn't breach her mind. He had no idea what she was thinking.
A noise in the hallway drew his attention. He peered into the living room just as two paramedics rolled a gurney inside.
He shot a wave of psychic power at them. You will leave the hotel, go back to your ambulance, and have no memory of ever being here. Go now.
The two men turned and rolled the gurney down the hall.
"How did you do that?" Officer Boucher whispered.
He turned toward her. "I know none of this makes sense to you, but you must believe me. No one was harmed tonight. Nothing bad happened here."
She frowned. "What about the guy on the floor?"
"He's sick. I'll take care of him. You didn't find any wounds on him, did you?"
"No. But there's so much blood."
"I'll make sure it's all cleaned up." He offered her the empty gun. "Please go, Officer Boucher."
She accepted the weapon. "I—I don't feel right about this. I can't just act like nothing happened."
"There's nothing you can do but go. I'm sorry."
She stood there, chewing her lip and frowning. "This isn't right."
"Your partner is outside waiting for you. Good-bye, Miss Boucher."
She wandered toward the door and glanced at Laszlo. "You'll be okay?"
He waved good-bye. "I'll be all right. Thank you."
She paused at the door to give Jack a pointed look. "This isn't over. We have unfinished business, Jack." She strode down the hall.
A part of him, a very old and lonely part of him, hoped she was right.

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