Sexiest Vampire Alive (Love at Stake #11) by Kerrelyn Sparks
Simone tore the man's shirt open and skimmed her hand down his smooth, hairless chest and rippled abs.
"I have a hunger that cannot be denied," she murmured in her husky French accent.
The man turned his chiseled jaw to expose his neck. "Take me. My body, my blood - I'm all yours."
She trailed a finger along his carotid artery, then suddenly shoved him away. "No! I can no longer bear it!"
With a dramatic swish of her pink silk negligee, she rose to her feet. The voluminous skirt swirled around her long legs, allowing a peek at her matching pink stilettos.
She lifted a pale hand to her brow. "What is a vampire to do? For so many years I have endured the same taste. How I long for something different!"
She moved forward, lowering her hand with a graceful flutter. "I need something new, something rich, robust, and sophisticat - Ack!" She tripped on her nightgown and fell flat on her face.
"Cut!" The director cursed under his breath, then leaned toward Gregori and whispered, "Are you sure we have to use her?"
Gregori hid his frustration, like he normally did, and gave Gordon an encouraging smile. "She'll be fine. She's the most famous model in the vampire world."
"Yeah, you've mentioned that about five times. But she can't act. Hell, she can't even walk."
Gregori's smile faltered slightly as he inwardly winced. He thought he'd scored a coup, convincing the famous Simone to star in his commercial introducing the latest creation in Vampire Fusion Cuisine, Blardonnay. But after three hours of shooting, there wasn't a single successful take.
The director and film crew at the Digital Vampire Network in Brooklyn had already polished off the crate of twenty-four bottles he'd brought as a gift. The mixture of synthetic blood and Chardonnay was no longer strong enough for the director. Gordon tipped back a bottle of Blissky, then gave Gregori a sour look.
"The sun will rise in about ninety minutes," he muttered. "I'm calling it quits before my tortured crew runs outside to fry themselves in a blaze of glory."
"It's not that bad," Gregori assured him. "With some careful editing, we'll have - " Zip. "You'll still get paid for your time."
Gordon snorted and took another swig of Blissky.
Gregori adjusted his tie while he considered his options. He was the one who would have to answer to his boss for spending a small fortune on a commercial that wasn't happening. It wouldn't help matters if he criticized Simone. She might look frail and delicate, but, enraged, she could inflict a massive amount of damage with her superior vampire strength.
There was the time she'd destroyed a dance club in Manhattan when no one had recognized her. Gregori had used a huge amount of vampire mind control to wipe the memory of every terrified mortal who had witnessed her temper tantrum. Unfortunately he hadn't been around to clean up when a paparazzo in Paris had snapped her photo without her permission. She'd tossed the photographer clear across the Champs elysees. Le Figaro had speculated that her odd display of strength meant she was high on PCP. She'd retaliated the next night by ripping a street lamp out of the sidewalk and crashing it through the newspaper office's plate-glass window. Somehow, she thought she'd proved them wrong.
He adjusted his cuff links as he resigned himself to the only logical course of action: playing the role of the kind and sympathetic friend, otherwise known as major suck-up. Sheesh, the stuff he had to do for his job.
He stepped onto the set, which consisted of thick ivory carpet and an ivory satin settee. The male model sat sprawled on the settee, not even attempting to help Simone, who remained tangled in her negligee, wallowing on the carpet like a nearly starved, beached whale.
"Simone, sweetheart, are you all right?" He lifted her carefully to her feet. She was so thin, it was like propping up a broomstick in a strong wind. "It's not like you to fall down." Twelve times.
"It is these ridiculous shoes you made me wear. They're too big." She raised her voice so everyone in the studio could hear. "You know I wear a size five."
She wore an eight. Gregori knew because she'd begged him to buy her a pair of Jimmy Choo sandals last Christmas. He'd done it, not out of any special affection for Simone, but for business reasons. As marketing director at Romatech Industries, he knew the value of staying chummy with the most influential personalities in the vampire world.
"Is your gown too long?" he suggested. "We could have it shortened a bit."
"I like it long. It makes me look taller. And thinner."
Good God, if she was any thinner, she'd be two-dimensional. "You look beautiful, Simone. But . . . I'm afraid your concentration is off just a tad. Perhaps if we - "
"It's his fault!" She pointed a perfectly manicured pink nail at the male model who was busy taking off the shirt she'd ripped. "He's too ugly to work with."
Gregori glanced at the model. "He looks fine to me."
"Why, thank you, handsome." The male model winked.
Oh shit. "Simone, we can't keep replacing the guy for you. This is the eighth one. The talent agency is running out of guys, and we're running out of time, so do you think you could possibly bring yourself to work with this one?"
She stuck out her bottom lip in a pout. "He's repulsive. I shudder when I have to touch him."
The male model wagged a finger at her. "It's not like I'm enjoying it either, girlfriend."
"It's called acting, Simone," Gregori whispered. "You have to pretend to desire him. He could be as ugly as a turnip, but you make us believe he's stunning."
"But I am stunning." The model flipped his long blond hair over his shoulders.
Gregori groaned inwardly. It was impossible to whisper around a bunch of Vamps. They could hear everything. He grasped Simone by her bony shoulders. "Let's be honest about this, Toots. It's not the shoes, or the gown, or the guy on the couch - "
"The name is Pennington," the male model interrupted. "Pennington Langley, the Third. But please don't call me Penny for short. I would hate to sound cheap." He gave Gregori a flirtatious smile.
Suppressing a shudder, Gregori smiled back. Sheesh, the crap he put up with for his job. "Simone. I've seen you glide down a jillion runways as graceful as a swan. You can do this."
She ducked her head as she pressed her hands against his chest. "All right, I'll be honest. I-I'm afraid."
"Afraid of what? Failure?" He winced when her steel-like nails dug into him.
"I never fail," she hissed.
"Right. Right, I knew that." He grabbed her hands to keep her pink claws from ripping through his best suit. "What are you afraid of, then?"
Her bottom lip trembled against her fangs. "The sun will rise soon. I'm afraid of dying."
"Sweetcakes, we die at every sunrise."
"I mean real death! La mort finale!" She clutched his lapels with her fists. "I heard Corky's show tonight. Live with the Undead. She said we're all in grave danger!"
"You'll be fine, Simone. You'll be staying at Roman's townhouse where we have guards to keep us safe."
"Then Corky is right?" Simone shrieked and gave him a hard shake. "The mortal world knows about us now?"
He pried her bony fingers loose from his lapels. "Corky ought to know. She's the one who posted the damned video."
Three nights earlier, Corky Courrant had filmed the battle at Mount Rushmore that had climaxed with the death of her lover, the Malcontent leader, Casimir. While Gregori could understand why a woman might be a little miffed over the decapitation of her lover, he still thought Corky had severely overreacted. She'd posted the video on YouTube, claiming it was proof that vampires were real. That was an unforgivable, traitorous act in their world, and yet Corky was still employed at the Digital Vampire Network. Apparently her infamy was good for ratings.
Simone's eyes filled with tears. "She said the mortals will hunt us down and slaughter us in our sleep!"
"Oh my God!" Pennington sprang to his feet. "Is that true?"
The boom operator glowered at him. "Don't you watch the Nightly News? Stone Cauffyn said the secret is out, and it won't be long before the mortals decide to kill us off."
With a soft moan, Simone sank onto the carpet. Her tears, tinted with blood, left pink streaks down her gaunt cheeks. "La mort finale."
"It's the end for us all," the cameraman grumbled.
"We're doomed." The makeup artist sniffed and wiped tears from her face.
"The Vampire Apocalypse," Gordon muttered, then took another swig of Blissky.
Good God, no wonder the director and crew had jumped on that case of Blardonnay. "Get a grip, guys," Gregori told them. "Just because Corky posted a video that looks like vampires getting their heads cut off and turning to dust, that doesn't mean any mortals will believe it."
"Right," Gordon sneered. "Because mortals are always making home videos where they cut each other's heads off."
"If you look at the comments, a lot of people are calling it a hoax," Gregori said.
"It only takes one mortal with one stake to do me in," the boom operator mumbled.
"We're doomed!" The makeup artist collapsed on the floor, clutching an empty bottle of Blardonnay. "Doomed!"
"No, we're not! You guys got the official memo from Roman, right?" Gregori asked. Roman Draganesti was not only his boss and CEO of Romatech Industries, he was also Coven Master of East Coast Vampires. "He wants everyone to remain calm and go about your lives in a normal manner."
"Yeah, we know." Gordon upended his Blissky bottle, then scowled when he discovered it was empty. "That's why we all showed up for work today."
"We should be looking for some caves to hide in," the cameraman grumbled, then his eyes lit up. "I know! We could hide in mausoleums."
"Right." The boom operator scoffed. "Mortals would never think about looking for us in a graveyard."
"We're doomed - "
"Enough!" Gregori interrupted the makeup artist. "Chillax, people. It's going to be all right. Roman's got a strategy meeting tonight with a bunch of Coven Masters."
"Do they have a plan?" Pennington asked.
"I'm sure they'll come up with something." Gregori didn't know much about the situation except that Roman and the head of MacKay Security and Investigation, Angus MacKay, had spent the last two nights discussing the matter with Sean Whelan - CIA operative, newly turned vampire, and Roman's father-in-law. "The best thing for us to do is to behave normally and not bring any attention to ourselves. Just go to work, go home, drink your blood from bottles, and no one will ever suspect you're a vampire."
"That's easy for you to say," Gordon grumbled. "You and your buddies have security guards to watch over you during the day. We do our death-sleep in apartments that mortals could break into."
"We're doomed!" the makeup girl cried.
Gregori loosened his tie as he considered. Corky's damned video was probably inciting panic all over the vampire world. And the more the Vamps panicked, the bigger the chance that one of them would do something really stupid that made the problem even worse. They needed to feel safe.
He retrieved his smart phone from his jacket pocket. "I'll tell you what. I'll ask Angus MacKay to send a day guard here. We'll turn the building into an emergency shelter. Then Vamps can do their death-sleep here, knowing they'll be safe and protected."
Gordon jumped to his feet and swayed a little. "Are you serious? You can do that?"
"Of course." Gregori smiled. "I'll make the arrangements, so hurry up and announce it on air."
"Great!" Gordon dashed out of the studio.
The makeup artist eased to her feet and gave Gregori a shaky smile. "Thank you."
"Not a problem." Gregori selected Angus's number on his Droid while the rest of the crew thanked him. "Let's get ready for another try at the commercial, okay?"
"Yes, sir!" the boom operator shouted with a grin.
Pennington put on a new shirt, while the makeup girl applied new powder and lipstick to Simone.
Gregori breathed a sigh of relief. Maybe they'd get the commercial done after all. Angus's phone sent him to voice mail, so he left a short message explaining the need to turn DVN into an emergency shelter for frightened Vamps.
Gregori glanced up from a quick look through his e-mail to see Pennington standing nearby. "Yes?"
"I'd like to thank you for keeping us all safe tonight."
"Glad to help."
Pennington shoved his long blond hair over his shoulders. "And I'd like to thank you for giving me the opportunity to star in a commercial."
"No problem." Gregori didn't want to remind the model that he was the talent agency's eighth choice, and he wouldn't be here at all if Simone hadn't sent the first seven guys packing.
Pennington sidled up closer. "What I mean is I'd like to thank you . . . personally."
Yikes. Gregori stepped back. "No thanks. Sorry."
"But you're gay, right? I mean, you dress so well, and you were so nice and sensitive to . . . her." Pennington wrinkled his nose at Simone.
"A straight guy can't be nice?" Gregori muttered.
Simone snorted while the makeup girl brushed her hair. "Why do you continue with this charade, mon ami? You refused to have sex with me. You must be gay."
His mouth dropped open. The crew started whispering, latching on to this tasty morsel of gossip. Shit. "Simone, have you been spreading rumors about me?"
"No, of course not." She waved a hand dramatically. "I know how much you enjoy your reputation as a young playboy. But really, mon ami, you should stop acting so cowardly and admit the truth. You'll feel much better for it."
Cowardly? He reached into his pocket for a stress ball. Dammit, he'd left them all at the office.
It was true that he'd rejected Simone without giving her much of a reason, but it hadn't seemed diplomatic at the time to be honest. He simply wasn't attracted to her. And he wasn't gung-ho over the prospect of being lover number five hundred and sixty-three. Simone actually kept count in her journal. Along with a rating from one to ten.
She'd shown him the journal several times. It was rare, she'd pointed out, for a man to score over a five. That was why she was burdened with the sad task of trying out hundreds in order to find a few who were worthy.
He'd let her down as gently as possible since he needed to stay friendly with the celebrities of the vampire world so he could be successful in his career. And right now, success meant getting the damned commercial recorded. That meant he couldn't afford to insult Simone or Pennington, who was still regarding him with a hopeful smile. Damn, the bull crap he put up with for his job.
"I - " His Droid vibrated. Thank God. "I've got to take this. Excuse me." He paced across the studio. "Hey, Angus. Excellent timing. So do you have a day guard you can send?"
"Aye," Angus replied. "I asked Robby and some of the lads to teleport over there and leave Rajiv."
"Great. Thanks, dude."
"We're just about done here with our plan of action. Talk to you soon." Angus hung up.
They had a plan. Excellent! Gregori smiled as he pocketed his phone.
Gordon rushed back into the studio. "We aired the announcement. Vamps are already teleporting into the lobby."
"How many can you take in?" Gregori asked.
"Sly thinks we can take in hundreds," Gordon referred to Sylvester, the station manager. "We have six large studios and an enormous basement."
"Great!" Gregori gave everyone a thumbs-up. "You'll all be safe with Rajiv watching out for you. He's a were-tiger who can shift whenever he wants."
"A were-tiger?" The makeup artist's eyes grew wide. "Oh my. He sounds so . . ."
"Sexy," Pennington whispered.
Gregori winced. At least the Vamps would be dead during the day, so Rajiv wouldn't have to fight off a bunch of advances. He slapped his hands together. "So now that everybody's happy, how about we get this commercial done?"
The crew shouted a victory cheer.
"Places!" Gordon shouted, and everyone scurried into position on or off set. "Let's do it, people! Mark it."
"Take number seventy-two." A crew member clapped the sticks together on the slate.
Simone lounged on the ivory satin settee and leaned toward Pennington. Her eyes burned with hot passion. "I have a hunger that cannot be denied."
Pennington flipped his hair back to expose his neck. "Take me. My body, my blood - I'm all yours."
She ripped open his shirt. One of the buttons popped off and hit her in the eye.
"Ack!" She jumped to her feet, catching the boom operator by surprise and ramming her head into the large microphone suspended over them.
"Aarrgh!" She collapsed on the floor.
Everyone stared at her unconscious body for a few silent seconds.
"Cut," Gordon muttered.
"Am I interrupting anything?" Robby MacKay strode into the studio.
"No," the entire crew moaned.
"Rajiv is in the lobby." Robby did a double take at Simone's unconscious body. "We left a few cases of Chocolood and Bleer in the lobby so no one will go hungry."
"Chocolood?" The makeup artist ran from the room.
"Free Bleer!" The male crew members dashed after her.
Robby motioned to Simone. "Is she all right?"
Gregori sighed. "She will be. I'll teleport her back to the townhouse."
Robby shook his head. "Leave her be. Angus and Roman want you at Romatech."
"I'll drop her off on the way - "
"Nay," Robby interrupted. "They want you there now."
Now? The sun would be up in less than an hour. What was so important that it couldn't wait another night? Gregori turned to Gordon. "If Simone comes to, tell her I was called away. We'll try again tomorrow."
Gordon grimaced. "Must we?"
"Yes, I'll - "
"I said now," Robby interrupted Gregori and gave him a stern look.
"Okay! Don't get your panties in a wad." He glanced at Robby's green and blue plaid kilt. "If you even wear underwear."
Robby frowned as he grabbed on to Gregori's arm. "Let's go."
Gregori stiffened with surprise. He was being escorted? What was the big hurry - His thoughts cut off as everything went black.