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FORBIDDEN NIGHTS WITH A VAMPIRE

Love at Stake Series, Book 7

Kerrelyn Sparks

To my mother Charly.

Hurricane Ike demolished your house, but it couldn't diminish your spirit.

After surviving another round of Deadline Hell, I wish to thank those people who helped keep me afloat. Many thanks to my husband and children; my critique partners MJ, Sandy, Vicky, and Vicky; my agent Michelle Grajkowski; and my friends at the West Houston and Northwest Houston chapters of Romance Writers of America. My thanks to Erika Tsang for being the most brilliant and understanding editor ever! Thanks also to all the professionals at HarperCollins for giving me the most awesome covers, marketing, and promotion. And finally, a big thank-you to all the readers of the Love at Stake series. Your letters and e-mails are like Chocolood for a hungry vampire.

CHAPTER 1

"Ye're late." Connor greeted her with a disapproving frown.

"So?" Vanda Barkowski returned the Scotsman's frown as she stepped into the foyer of Romatech Industries. "I'm not a harem girl anymore. I don't have to come running whenever the great Master snaps his fingers."

Connor arched a brow. "Ye were sent an official summons that clearly stated the East Coast Regional Coven Meeting would start at ten o'clock tonight." He locked the door behind her and punched some buttons on a security pad.

Was she in trouble? That «official» summons had worried her all week, although she hadn't let anyone know. She would have arrived sooner if she'd been allowed to use her Vamp skill of teleportation, but the summons had warned her not to teleport inside Romatech. Such an act would trigger the alarm, interrupt the meeting, and result in a hefty fine. So she'd driven from her nightclub in Hell's Kitchen with a detour first to Queens to pick up some costumes she'd had custom made. The traffic had been awful all the way to White Plains, leaving her much too tense. Damn, she didn't want to be here.

She took a deep breath and fluffed up her spiky, purple-dyed hair. "Big deal. So I'm a few minutes late."

"Forty-five minutes. Late."

"So? What's forty-five minutes to an old goat like you?"

"I believe it is still forty-five minutes."

Was that a glint of humor in his eyes? She chafed at the thought of being considered amusing. She was tough, dammit. And he should have been insulted that she'd called him an old goat. Connor Buchanan didn't look a day over thirty. She would have considered him very handsome if he hadn't fussed at her so much over the years.

She adjusted the black, braided whip she wore around her waist. "Look. I'm a businesswoman now. I'm late because I had to open the club and run some errands. And I need to get back to work soon." She had a meeting scheduled at eleven-thirty with all the male dancers so she could give them their new costumes for the month of August.

Connor looked unimpressed. "Roman is still yer Coven Master, and when he requests yer presence, ye're expected to arrive on time."

"Yeah, yeah, I'm quaking in my little boots."

Connor pivoted toward a table, causing his red and green plaid kilt to swing around his knees. "I'll need to search yer handbag."

She winced inwardly. "Do we really have time for this? I'm already late."

"I check every bag coming in."

He'd always been a stickler for the rules. How many times had he reprimanded her for flirting with the guards at Roman's townhouse? Well, just one guard. A mortal day guard who worked for MacKay Security & Investigation. A deliciously handsome day guard.

Connor worked for MacKay S&I, too, so he knew guards were never supposed to fraternize with their charges. As far as Vanda was concerned, that old rule needed to be tossed out. Ian had gotten involved with his mortal guard, Toni, and her love for him hadn't weakened her one bit. In fact, her love had empowered her, enabling her to kill Jedrek Janow in spite of the Malcontent's attempt to stop her with vampire mind control.

However, when it came to security at Romatech Industries, Connor had good reason to cling to his precious rules. Since the nasty Malcontent vampires hated the friendly, law-abiding, bottle-drinking Vamps, they also hated Romatech, where the bottled blood was manufactured. They'd managed to bomb Romatech three times in the past.

Vanda sighed. "I didn't bring a bomb. Do you think I would blow myself up? Do I look crazy to you?"

A glint of humor sparkled in his eyes. "I believe that will be determined at the coven meeting."

Damn. She was in trouble. "Fine." She tossed her hobo handbag on the table. "Knock yourself out."

Heat crept up her neck as he rummaged through her bag. God, she hated embarrassment. It made her feel weak and small, and she'd sworn never to feel vulnerable again. She lifted her chin and glared at Connor.

"What's this?" He pulled out a scrap of fabric that looked like a stuffed yellow tube sock with a large brass nozzle on the end.

"It's a dance costume. For Freddie the Fireman. That's his personal fire hose."

Connor dropped the thong like it was on fire, then resumed his search of her handbag. He pulled out a sparkly flesh-colored thong with fake ivy twisted around the tube. "I hesitate to ask…"

"Our theme for August is 'Hot Jungle Fever. Terrance the Turgid is doing an ode to Tarzan. He'll swing across the stage on a vine while he's stripping."

Connor tossed the male thong on the table and continued his search. "It does look like a bloody jungle in here." He pulled out a vine of large leaves.

"Hot Jungle Fever is highly contagious," Vanda said with a husky voice. "I'm sure we could find a fig leaf just your size."

He glowered at her.

"All right, a banana leaf, then."

With a snort, he fished her car keys from the pile of vines and dropped them into his sporran.

"Hey," she objected. "I need those to drive home."

"Ye'll get them back after the meeting." He crammed the costumes back into her bag. "'Tis shameful for Vamp men to dress—or rather, undress—like this in public."

"The guys enjoy it. Come on, Connor. You never wanted to take your clothes off in front of some pretty girls?"

"Nay. I'm too busy trying to keep Roman and his family alive. If ye havena noticed, we're at the brink of war with the Malcontents. And if ye havena heard, their leader Casimir is somewhere in America."

Vanda repressed a shudder. "I know. My club was attacked last December." Some of her best friends had come close to getting murdered that night. She tried not to think about it. If she did, the thoughts would mushroom into bigger, more horrid memories.

And she had no intention of reliving them. Life was simple and pleasant at the Horny Devils nightclub, where gorgeous men danced in skimpy costumes, and pints of Bleer could leave the coldest of Vamps feeling warm and fuzzy.

Each night could pass without pain as long as she concentrated on work and kept the past firmly locked in a mental coffin. Days were even easier, for death-sleep was painless and nightmare-free. She could go on like this for centuries if people would just leave her the hell alone.

Connor gave her a sympathetic look. "Ian told me about the attack that night. He said ye fought bravely."

She refrained from grinding her teeth. It was hard on the fangs. She grabbed her handbag and swung it onto her shoulder. "So what's the deal? How much trouble am I in?"

"Ye'll find out." Connor motioned to the double doors on the right. "I'll take ye to the meeting hall."

"No thanks. I know the way." Vanda strode through the doors and down the hall, her high-heeled boots clicking on the spotless and shiny marble floor.

     

 

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