How to Marry a Millionaire Vampire (Love at Stake #1) by Kerrelyn Sparks
Roman Draganesti knew someone had quietly entered his home office. Either a foe or close friend. A friend, he decided. A foe could never make it past the guards at each entrance of his Upper East Side Manhattan townhouse. Or past the guards stationed on each of the five floors.
With his excellent night vision, Roman suspected he could see much better than his uninvited guest. His suspicions were confirmed when the dark silhouette stumbled into a Louis XVI bombe chest and cursed softly.
Gregori Holstein. A friend, but an annoying one. The vice president of marketing for Romatech Industries tackled every problem with tireless enthusiasm. It was enough to make Roman feel old. Really old. "What do you want, Gregori?"
His guest whipped around and squinted in Roman's direction. "Why are you sitting here, all alone in the dark?"
"Hmm. Tough question. I suppose I wanted to be alone. And in the dark. You should try it more often. Your night vision is not what it should be."
"Why bother to practice my night vision when the city's lit up all night?" Gregori groped along the wall till he located the switch. The lights came on with a muted golden glow. "There, that's better."
Roman leaned back into the cool leather of his wingback chair and took a sip from his wineglass. The liquid burned his throat. God-awful stuff. "Is there a purpose for your visit?"
"Of course. You left work too early, and we had something important to show you. You're going to love it."
Roman set his glass on the mahogany desk in front of him. "I have learned that we have plenty of time."
Gregori snorted. "Try to work up some excitement here. We had an amazing development at the lab." He noted Roman's half-empty glass. "I feel like celebrating. What are you drinking?"
"You won't like it."
Gregori strode toward the wet bar. "Why? Are your tastes too refined for me?" He grasped the decanter and sloshed some red liquid into a wineglass. "Color looks good."
"Take my advice and get a new bottle from the fridge."
"Ha! If you can drink it, so can I." Gregori tossed back a good portion before slamming the glass down with a victorious sneer aimed at Roman. Then his eyes widened. His normally pale face turned a purplish red. A strangled sound vibrated deep in his throat, and then the sputtering began. Coughing, followed by choked curses, followed by more coughing. Finally he pressed his palms against the bar and leaned forward to gasp for air.
God-awful stuff, indeed, Roman thought. "Have you recovered?"
Gregori took a deep, shuddering breath. "What was in there?"
"Ten percent garlic juice."
"What the hell?" Gregori jerked to an upright position. "Have you gone mad? Are you trying to poison yourself?"
"I thought I'd see if the old legends were true." Roman's mouth curled into a slight smile. "Obviously, some of us are more susceptible than others."
"Obviously, some of us like to live too damned dangerously!"
Roman's attempt at a smile faded into oblivion. "Your observation would have more merit if we weren't already dead."
Gregori stalked toward him. "You're not going to start that 'woe is me, I'm a cursed demon from hell' crap again, are you?"
"Face the facts, Gregori. We have survived for centuries by taking life. We are an abomination before God."
"You're not drinking this." Gregori wrenched the glass from Roman's hand and set it down out of his reach. "Listen to me. No vampire has ever done more than you to protect the living and tame the cravings within us."
"And now we're the most well-behaved pack of demonic creatures on Earth. Bravo. Call the pope. I'm ready for sainthood."
Gregori's impatient look melted into curious speculation. "Is it true what they say, then? You were once a monk?"
"I prefer not to live in the past."
"I'm not so sure about that."
Roman clenched his hands into fists. His past was a subject he would discuss with no one. "I believe you mentioned some sort of development at the lab?"
"Oh, right. Sheesh, I left Laszlo waiting in the hall. I wanted to set the scene, so to speak."
Roman took a deep breath and slowly relaxed his hands. "Then I suggest you begin. There are only so many hours in a night."
"Right. And I'm going out clubbing later. Simone just flew in from Paris, and boy - "
" - are her wings tired. That was old a century ago." Roman's hands fisted once again. "Stay on the subject, Gregori, or I will be forced to send you to your coffin for a timeout."
Gregori gave him an exasperated look. "I only mentioned it in case you wanted to join us. It's a hell of a lot more fun than sitting here alone, drinking poison." He adjusted his silk black tie. "You know, Simone has always been hot for you. In fact, any of the ladies downstairs would love to cheer you up."
"I don't find them particularly cheerful. The last time I looked, they were all dead."
"Well, if you're going to be picky about it, maybe you should try a live one."
"No." Roman jumped to his feet, grasped his wineglass, and zoomed with vampire speed to the wet bar in one second. "Not a mortal. Never again."
"Whoa. That hit a nerve."
"End of discussion." Roman poured the blood and garlic concoction down the drain, then emptied the remainder of the poisonous brew from the decanter. He'd learned his lesson long ago. A relationship with a mortal could only lead to heartbreak. Literally. And he'd rather not experience a stake through the heart. What a great choice he had for companionship - a dead female Vamp or a live woman who would want him dead. And it would never change. This heartless existence would stretch on and on for centuries. No wonder he was depressed.
As a scientist, he could usually find something intriguing to occupy his mind. But sometimes, like tonight, it wasn't enough. So what if he was close to a breakthrough on a formula that would enable a vampire to stay awake during the day? What would he do with those extra hours? More work? He had centuries ahead of him for work.
The truth had hit him tonight. If he stayed awake during the day, there would be no one to even talk to. He'd only be adding more hours of loneliness to his so-called life. And that was when he'd given up and come home. To be alone in the dark, listening to the monotonous beat of his cold, lonesome heart. Relief would come at dawn when the rising sun would stop his heart, and once again he would be dead during the day. Unfortunately, he was beginning to feel dead all the time.
"Are you all right, Roman?" Gregori watched him warily. "I've heard that sometimes the really old ones like you get kinda down in the dumps."
"Thanks for reminding me. And since I'm not getting any younger, perhaps you could bring Laszlo in from the hall?"
"Right. Sorry." Gregori tugged on the cuffs of his snowy white evening shirt. "Okay, I wanted to set the scene. Remember the mission statement for Romatech Industries? Make the world safe for vampires and mortals alike."
"I'm aware of it. I believe I wrote it."
"Yes, but the major threat to peace has always been the poor and the Malcontents."
"Yes, I know." Not all modern-day vampires were ridiculously rich like Roman, and even with his company making synthetic blood affordable and accessible, those who were financially challenged would always be tempted to feed off a mortal for free. Roman had tried to convince them that there was no such thing as a free lunch. The victimized mortals tended to take offense. Then they would hire a few Buffy wannabes, and those vicious little killers would destroy every vampire who crossed their path, even the peaceful, law-abiding Vamp who wouldn't bite a flea. The sad truth was that as long as any vampire persisted in attacking mortals, no vampire on Earth would be safe.
Roman ambled back toward his desk. "I believe I put you in charge of the poor problem."
"I'm working on it. I'll have the presentation ready in a few days. Meanwhile, Laszlo had this brilliant idea for handling the Malcontents."
Roman sat heavily in his chair. The Malcontents were the most dangerous group of vampires in existence. The secret society called themselves the True Ones and spurned the more evolved sensibilities of the modern-day Vamp. The Malcontents could afford to buy the richest blood manufactured by Romatech Industries. They could afford the most exotic, gourmet blood from Roman's popular line of Vampire Fusion Cuisine. They could even afford to drink from the finest crystal. They just didn't want to.
For them, the thrill of drinking blood was not the blood itself. These creatures lived for the bite. They believed nothing could replace the intense pleasure of sinking one's fangs into the warm, pliant skin of a mortal's neck.
In the past year, communication between the Malcontents and modern Vamps had degenerated until an undeclared state of war hovered over them. A war that could result in many deaths - both mortal and vampire.
"Have Laszlo come in."
Gregori zoomed to the door and opened it. "We're ready."
"About time." Laszlo sounded upset. "The guard out here was about to perform a cavity search on our guest of honor."
"Och, ye have a bonnie lass there," the guard murmured in his Scots accent.
"Leave her alone!" Laszlo marched into Roman's office with a female clutched in his arms as if the two of them were doing the tango. Not only was the female taller than the short vampire chemist, she was noticeably naked.
Roman jumped to his feet. "You brought a mortal here?" A naked mortal?
"Relax, Roman, she's not real." Gregori leaned toward Laszlo. "The boss is a little nervous about mortal females."
"I am not nervous, Gregori. Every nerve ending in me died over five hundred years ago." Roman could see only the back of the false female, but her long blond hair and rounded derriere certainly looked real.
Laszlo set the female in a wingback chair. Her legs stuck out straight, so he leaned over to bend them. With each adjustment, her knees made a small pop.
Gregori squatted beside her. "She's very lifelike, don't you think?"
"Very." Roman eyed the curly hair, trimmed in a narrow, stripper style, between the false female's legs. "Apparently she's a dyed blond."
"Look." With a grin, Gregori nudged her legs apart. "She comes fully equipped. Sweet, huh?"
Roman gulped. "Is this - " He cleared his throat and tried again. "Is this some sort of mortal sex toy?"
"Yes, sir, she is." Laszlo pried open her mouth. "Look. She even has a tongue. The texture is incredibly lifelike." He inserted a short, stubby finger. "And the vacuum causes a very realistic sucking sensation."
Roman glanced down at Gregori, who was kneeling between the female's legs, admiring the view, then at Laszlo, who was slipping his finger in and out of the doll's mouth. God's blood. If he were capable of getting a headache, he'd have a migraine by now. "Shall I leave you three alone?"
"No, sir." The short chemist struggled to free his finger from the doll's greedy mouth. "We just wanted to show you how real she is." His finger was released with a small pop, then the doll's mouth relaxed into a frozen smile that seemed to indicate she was enjoying herself.
"She's amazing." Gregori ran an approving hand down her leg. "Laszlo sent for her in the mail."
"It was your catalog." Laszlo looked embarrassed. "I don't usually have mortal sex. Too messy."
And too dangerous. Roman dragged his gaze away from the doll's beautifully shaped breasts. Maybe Gregori was right and he should enjoy himself with one of the lady Vamps. If mortals could pretend this doll was alive, maybe he could do the same with a vampire. But how could a dead woman warm his soul?
Gregori lifted one of the doll's feet for a closer look. "This little babe is tempting, though."
Roman sighed. This mortal sex toy was supposed to solve the Malcontent problem? They were wasting his time, not to mention making him feel horny and damned lonely at the same time. "All the Vamps I know prefer brain sex. I assume it's the same with the Malcontents."
"Not possible with this one, I'm afraid." Laszlo tapped the doll's head, producing a ripe-melon echo.
Roman noted the doll was still smiling, though her blue glass eyes gazed straight ahead with a vacant look. "So she has the same IQ as Simone."
"Hey." Gregori scowled as he cradled the doll's foot to his chest. "That's not nice."
"Neither is wasting my time." Roman glared at him. "How can this toy possibly solve the problem with the Malcontents?"
"But she's much more than a toy, sir." Laszlo fiddled with the buttons on his white lab coat. "She's been transformed."
"Into VANNA." Gregori gave the doll's little toe a playful tug. "Sweet little VANNA. Come to Papa."
Roman gritted his teeth, remembering first to make sure his fangs were retracted. Otherwise a Vamp could accidentally pierce his bottom lip. "Enlighten me, please, before I resort to violence."
Gregori laughed, apparently unconcerned by his boss's anger. "VANNA is a Vampire Artificial Nutritional Needs Appliance."
Laszlo twirled a loose button on his lab coat, his brow furrowed with worry. Obviously, he took the boss's temper much more seriously. "She's the perfect solution for the vampire who is still compelled to bite. And she'll be available in whichever race or gender you prefer."
"You're going to make male toys, too?" Roman asked.
"Yes, eventually." The loose button tumbled onto the floor. Laszlo picked it up and stuffed it in a pocket. "Gregori thought we could advertise her on the Digital Vampire Network. You'd have your choice of VANNA Brown, VANNA Black - "
"And this would be VANNA White?" Roman grimaced. "The legal department will love this."
"We could take some promotional photos of her in a fancy evening gown." Gregori stroked the arch of her foot. "And some sexy, high-heeled, black sandals."
Roman gave his vice president of marketing a worried look, then turned to Laszlo. "Are you saying this doll can be used for the purpose of feeding?"
"Yes!" Laszlo nodded enthusiastically. "Just like a live female, she's capable of multitasking, satisfying both your sexual and feeding needs. Here. Let me show you." He leaned the doll forward and brushed her hair to the side. "I did the work back here where it wouldn't be so noticeable."
Roman studied the small switch and U-shaped cut. At the base of the U, a small tube protruded with a clamp on the end. "You put a tube in her?"
"Yes. It's specifically designed to simulate a real artery. We developed a circular pattern inside her." Laszlo ran his finger over her body to show the location of the false artery. "It travels through her chest cavity, then up one side of her neck and down the other, finally returning to the chest."
"And you fill it with blood?"
"Yes, sir. She'll come packaged with a free funnel. Blood and batteries not included."
"They never are," Roman noted dryly.
"She's easy to use." Laszlo pointed at the doll's neck. "You remove the clamp, insert the small funnel, select two quarts of your favorite blood from Romatech Industries, and fill her up."
"I see. Does she light up when she's running low?"
Laszlo frowned. "I suppose I could put in an indicator light-"
"I was kidding." Roman sighed. "Please continue."
"Yes, sir." Laszlo cleared his throat. "The switch here turns on a small pump inserted inside her chest cavity. A false heart, so to speak. It will cause the blood to flow through the artery and simulate a real pulse."
Roman nodded. "And that's where the batteries come in."
"Mmm," Gregori's voice sounded muffled. "She keeps going and going."
Roman glanced at his vice president and found him raking his teeth over VANNA's big toe. The red glow in Gregori's eyes served as a different sort of indicator light. "Gregori! Back off."
With a low growl, Gregori dropped the doll's foot. "You're no fun anymore."
Roman took a deep breath and wished he could pray for patience. But no self-respecting God would want to hear the supplications of a demon with a mortal sex toy. "Has she been tested yet?"
"No, sir." Laszlo flipped on VANNA's switch. "We thought you should have the honor of being first."
First. Roman's gaze swept over the doll's perfect body, a body that now pulsed inside with life-giving blood. "So at last, a vampire can have his cake and bite it, too."
Gregori smiled as he smoothed out his black dinner jacket. "The taste test challenge. Enjoy."
Roman arched an eyebrow at his vice president of marketing. No doubt, this testing was Gregori's idea. He probably thought his boss needed a little excitement to feel alive. Unfortunately, he was right.
Roman extended a hand to touch VANNA's neck. The skin was cooler than a real human's, but still very soft. Beneath his fingertips, the artery throbbed, strong and constant. At first, he felt the pulse with only his fingers, but then the pounding sensation crept up his arm and into his shoulder. He swallowed hard. How long had it been? Eighteen years?
The pulse spread inside him, filling his empty heart and all his senses. His nostrils flared. He could smell the blood now. Type A Positive. His favorite. His entire body throbbed in sync with the female. His rational thought seeped away, overpowered by a driving sensation he hadn't experienced in years. Bloodlust.
A growl vibrated deep in his throat. His groin hardened. He curled his fingers around the doll's neck and dragged her toward him.
"I'll take her." With lightning speed, he tossed her onto a velvet reading chaise. She lay still, her legs still bent and now sagging open at the knees. The erotic sight was almost too much to bear. The small amount of blood in Roman's veins cried out for more. More woman. More blood.
He sat and brushed her blond hair away from her neck. Her dopey grin was a bit disconcerting, but easily ignored. As he leaned over, he caught sight of a reflection in her blank, glass eyes. Not him, for his form could not be mirrored. All he could see were the red, glowing lights of his own eyes. VANNA had turned him on. He turned her face away to expose her neck. The pulsing artery within her sang out, Take me. Take me.
With a low growl, he pressed against her body. His fangs sprang out, causing a ripple of pleasure to surge through his body. The scent of blood rushed through him, stripping away the last shreds of self-control. The beast within was unleashed.
He bit her. Too late, his frenzied mind realized an unusual fact. Her skin might feel soft on the surface like a human's, but the inner texture was totally different. Tough, thick, rubbery plastic. If this was relevant, it didn't register, for the smell of blood shattered his thoughts. His instincts claimed victory, howling in his brain like a starving animal. He sank his fangs in deeper and deeper, till at last he felt that sweet popping sensation as he broke through the arterial wall. Heaven. He was swimming in blood.
With a long suck, the blood gushed into his fangs and filled his mouth. He gulped it down and greedily drank more. She was delicious. She was his.
He smoothed a hand down to her breast and squeezed. What a fool he'd been, content to sip blood from a glass. How could that possibly replace the hot rush of blood flowing through one's fangs? By the devil, he'd forgotten how sweet this was. It was a total body experience. He was rock hard. All his senses were on fire. He'd never drink from a glass again.
With another tug on her neck, he realized he'd drained her dry. Good to the last drop. But then a touch of clarity broke through the sensual daze. Bloody hell, he'd lost control. If she were mortal, she'd be dead. And he would have murdered another child of God.
How could this possibly advance the cause of civilized vampire behavior? This doll would remind every vampire how intensely pleasurable it was to bite. No vampire, even the most evolved, modern-day Vamp, could partake of this experience without wanting the real thing. All he could think about now was biting the first live female he came across. VANNA was not the answer to human preservation.
She was the death knell to their existence.
With a groan, Roman ripped his mouth away from her neck. Blood splattered onto the doll's white skin, and at first, he thought she'd sprung a leak. But no, he was sure he'd drained her dry. Damn, the blood was coming from him. "What the hell?"
"Oh my God," Laszlo whispered.
"What?" Roman looked at her neck and there, lodged in the tough plastic, was one of his fangs.
"Sheesh!" Gregori stepped closer for a good look. "How'd that happen?"
"The plastic - " More blood dripped from Roman's mouth. Damn, he was losing his lunch. "The plastic is too tough and rubbery inside. Not at all like human skin."
"Oh dear." Laszlo attacked another button with his nervous fingers. "This is terrible. The texture was so real on the outside. I didn't realize... I'm so sorry, sir."
"That's the least of our problems." Roman wrenched his tooth from the girl's neck. He'd explain his unfortunate conclusions later. For now, he needed his fang fixed.
"You're still bleeding." Gregori handed him a white handkerchief.
"The feeding vein that connects to the fang is open." Roman pressed the handkerchief against the gaping hole where his right fang should be. "Thit."
"You could use your own healing powers to seal the vein shut," Laszlo suggested.
"It would be clothed permanently. I'd be a one-thided eater for all eternity." Roman removed the bloody handkerchief from his mouth and reinserted his fang into the hole.
Gregori leaned over to look. "I think you got it."
Roman released his hold on the tooth and attempted to retract his fangs. The left fang did as it should, but the right one fell from his mouth and landed on VANNA's stomach. More blood seeped from the wound. "Shit." Roman stuffed the handkerchief back in his mouth.
"Sir, I suggest you go to a dentist." Laszlo picked up the fang and offered it to Roman. "I've heard they can put a lost tooth back."
"Oh, right." Gregori snorted. "What's he supposed to do, waltz into a dental office and say, 'Excuse me, I'm a vampire and I lost a fang in the neck of a sex toy.' They're not going to line up to help him."
"I need a vampire dentitht," Roman announced. "Look in the Black Pageth."
"The Black Pages?" Gregori zoomed to Roman's desk and began opening drawers. "You know, you're starting to lisp."
"I have a bloody rag in my mouth! Look in the bottom drawer."
Gregori located the black phone directory for vampire-owned businesses and flipped it open to reveal the white pages within. "Okay." He ran a finger down the advertisements. "Cemetery plots. Coffin repair. Crypt-keeper services. Custom-made crypts - fifty percent off. Interesting."
"Gregori," Roman growled.
"Right." He turned the page. "Okay. D's. Dance lessons - learn to move like a Latin lover. Dirt deliveries - sleep like a baby in topsoil from the Old Country. Dracula costumes - small to plus sizes."
Roman groaned. "I'm in deep thit." He swallowed hard and grimaced at the taste of stale blood. The meal had tasted better the first time down.
Gregori turned another page. "Draperies - guaranteed to block out that annoying sunlight. Dungeons - your choice of several floor plans." He sighed. "That's it. No dentists."
Roman slumped into a wingback chair. "I'll have to go to a mortal." Damn. He'd have to use mind control, then wipe the dentist's memory clean afterward. Otherwise no mortal would be willing to help him.
"We may have trouble finding a mortal dentist who's available in the middle of the night." Laszlo dashed to the wet bar and grabbed a roll of paper towels. Then he proceeded to wipe the blood off VANNA. He gave Roman a worried look. "Sir, it might be best for you to keep the tooth in your mouth."
At the desk, Gregori thumbed through the Yellow Pages. "Sheesh, there's a ton of dentists." He straightened with a jerk and grinned. "I found it! SoHo SoBright Dental Clinic - open twenty-four hours a day for the city that never sleeps. Bingo."
Laszlo let out a deep breath. "What a relief. I'm not sure, since I've never heard of anything like this happening before, but I'm afraid if your fang is not successfully implanted tonight, then it never will be."
Roman sat up. "What do you mean?"
Laszlo threw the bloodied paper towels in a trash can by the desk. "Our injuries are naturally healed while we sleep. If dawn comes and you fall asleep with your fang still missing, your body will close the feeding veins and the wound for good."
Shit. Roman stood. "Then it mutht be done tonight."
"Yes, sir." Laszlo fingered a button on his lab coat. "With any luck, you'll be in perfect shape for the annual conference."
God's blood! Roman gulped. How could he have forgotten the annual spring conference? The Gala Opening Ball was scheduled for two nights from tonight. All the major coven masters from around the world would be there. As master of the largest coven in America, Roman was hosting the big event. If he showed up, missing a fang, he'd be the brunt of jokes for the next century.
Gregori grabbed a piece of paper and scribbled down the address. "Here you go. You want us to come with you?"
Roman removed the handkerchief and tooth from his mouth so his directions would be clear. "Laszlo will drive me. We'll take VANNA with us so everyone will assume we're taking her back to the lab. You, Gregori, will go out with Simone as planned. Nothing will appear out of the ordinary."
"Very well." Gregori zipped over to his boss and handed him the address of the dental clinic. "Good luck. If you need any help, just give me a call."
"I'll be fine." Roman gave his two employees a stern look. "This incident will not be spoken of again, not to anyone. Do you understand?"
"Yes, sir." Laszlo picked VANNA up.
Roman watched the chemist's hand curve around one plump buttock. God's blood, with all that had happened, he was still hard. His body thrummed with desire, craving more blood and more female flesh. He could only hope that this dentist would be male. God help any mortal female who crossed his path right now.
He still had one fang, and he was afraid he'd use it.