Welcome to Mandy's Madhouse

Home of Parnormal Romance Author Amanda Ashley

Buy it here

View the book trailer here

Audio CD


Romantic Times Book Reviews said:
4 1/​2 stars
"Ashley has a talent for making a class vampire story vibrant and contemporary as well as passionate. The characters are compelling, and you'll be hoping for their happily-ever-after, especially if it last forever. In a genre that has been overrun, Ashley keeps the classic vampire story uncomplicatged and a pleasure to read. Ashley's books are must-buys!" Reviewed by Terri Dukes

Romancing the Book said:
A thoroughly enjoyable read and one I highly recommend, especially to any reader who may not have dipped into the Vampire romance genre and wants an easy one to try out first.

Bitten by Love said:
One touch and is all it takes, for author Amanda Ashley to grace us with another decadent twist of her blood thirsty, sexy alpha vampire book.

Scandalizing addictive and incredibly romantic are the 2 main ingredients this book brought to my attention. Instantly, I was captivated by the sparks between Kaiden and Skylynn. What else made this book even better was Kaiden yearning to be human again. Despite the odds, he tried so hard to fit into Skylynn's world without her knowing, being there for her and loving her from a far.

As a hopeless romantic, this book brought a lot of the old fashioned gestures to my attention. His Dark Embrace should be another must read and must have by the talented and wonderful Amanda Ashley. As a loyal reader, I have all of her books and have not been disappointed by any of them, past or present.

My Overstuffed Bookshelf said:
Oh Ms. Ashley, how you love to tease me and indulge my vampire fantasy! I am a sucker (no pun intended) for a vampire romance. What truly makes a vampire romance stand out for me though is how they were written before the vampires became sparkly and soft. I love them bad, tough, secretive and edgy.

Author Amanda Ashley has never let me down with making a vampire romance a true dark and beautiful read. If you are looking for a darker and less sparkly vampire romance, then I urge you to give author Amanda Ashley a try. Not only does she do them well, but she has many to choose from for days of reading enjoyment.

Harriet Klausner said: His Dark Embrace is a warm engaging romantic urban fantasy starring two enticing protagonists. The fast-paced simplistic storyline grips the reader when the lead couple sees each other for the first time in almost a decade; their attraction could heat up New England for a winter or two. Fans who enjoy a straight forward vampire romance will appreciate Amanda Ashley’s ardent page-turner.

Chelsea's Paranormal Addicts said:
His Dark Embrace is a lovely sweet story. It is well balanced and I truly enjoyed it. The vampire lore in the story is pretty standard, but with a very nice twist. Intimate relations are very much behind closed doors. So if you like your romances with a little more love action, this book is not for you. But if you are familiar with Ms. Ashley’s writing you will already know that she writes sweet sensual romances not steamy hot burn your fingers type.

His Dark Embrace has a good plot with emotion, sensuality and intensity. Her character development is on the light side, but getting into their mind set is not hard. This is a very enjoyable read that kept me engaged but not gripped. I would recommend His Dark Embrace for a quiet evening when you just want to relax, lose yourself in a book and get away from the overly sexed novels out there. While this might not be a bodice ripper, it is still a lovely escape.

VampChix said :
His Dark Embrace is another sensual vampiric delight from Amanda Ashley, full of mystery, suspense, and just the right amount of romance. A rich writing style weaves two worlds together when humanity collides with the needs of vampires hidden in plain sight. Kaiden is drawn to Skylynn in a way he never dreamed possible, but sharing his secret could have devastating effects, especially with a hunter on the loose. What begins as friendship rapidly progresses to lust and passion, something Amanda Ashley does very well.

Skylynn has been fascinated with her grandfather's mysterious neighbor, Kaiden, for as long as she can remember, a childish crush that blossoms into full blown lust when she returns home to discover Kaiden is virtually unchanged after all these years. Skylynn has just escaped a terrible marriage, grieves for her family, and needs to find herself before rushing into a relationship. Kaiden is a vampire that has spent his life searching for a way around his bloodthirsty needs, collaborating with Sky's grandfather to create a secret elixir, and living what appears to be a typical human life. When the grandfather suddenly passes away, the formula is seemingly lost forever, and Kaiden is forced to recreate the elixir on his own, searching for the one secret ingredient that doesn't appear to exist. Skylynn apparently holds the key to this mystery, as well as holding the key to Kaiden's heart, and he must protect them both. Powerful enemies would like to see Kaiden eliminated, and Skylynn stands directly in the way.

HIS DARK EMBRACE


June 2012
Available at Amazon.com, Books-a-Milion, B&N, Kobo, Nook, and Target
A VAMPIRE’S KISS. A WOMAN’S SURRENDER.

Tall, dark, mysterious—and with a faint scar on his cheek that only makes him more gorgeous—Kaiden Thorne is one schoolgirl obsession Skylynn never forgot. Now, returning to her childhood home after eight years, she can’t believe her reclusive neighbor is still living across the street—and hotter than ever. Skylynn doesn’t know how Kaiden manages to stay so young, virile, and impossibly attractive. But she knows she wants him…even if he harbors a fearful secret he refuses to tell her.

When Kaiden sees the beautiful young woman Skylynn has become, he can no longer control the bloodlust that is his true nature. Once he pulls Skylynn into his arms, presses his lips against hers—and accidentally draws blood—he longs for more. Only she possesses what he wants and what he needs. Only she can save him or destroy him. But once Skylynn agrees to help Kaiden battle his darkest desires, there is no turning back…


Prologue

When Skylynn O’Brien McNamara came home to bury her grandfather and settle his estate, she was surprised to see that the house across the street was still vacant. The big, old, three-story house, surrounded by a high wrought-iron fence, sat on a half-acre lot. A covered porch spanned the front of the house. The place put her in mind of a giant among midgets, surrounded as it was by newer, smaller, more modern homes. Granda had once told her that Kaiden Thorne’s grandfather had refused to sell the place to real estate developers, and so they had built around him.

Kaiden Thorne had moved away shortly before Skylynn left for college. She thought it odd that he hadn’t sold the house when he moved. As far as she knew, the house had been vacant ever since.

He had been a strange one, Mr. Thorne. For years, he had collected his mail and his newspaper after dark and always mowed his front yard after the sun went down. He had gone to the high school football games, but only the ones held at night.

Sky had been five or six the first time she had seen Kaiden Thorne. She remembered it as if it had happened yesterday. She had been sitting on the front porch that summer evening, playing with her favorite Barbie dolls, when a moving van pulled into the driveway of the house across the street. Curious, she had watched two men in gray overalls jump out of the cab and begin unloading the truck. There hadn’t been much in the way of furniture, just a black leather sofa and a matching chair, a couple of glass-topped end tables, a dresser and chest of drawers, and a big-screen tv. The last thing the movers had unloaded had been a large oblong box.

Skylynn had frowned when she saw it. What on earth was in there? Her interest in the new neighbor soon waned when she realized there would be no playmates her age moving into the house, only a tall man with thick black hair. At five, she had thought of Kaiden Thorne as an old man. Looking back, she realized he had probably been in his late twenties or early thirties.

Her second distinct memory of Kaiden Thorne occurred on Halloween, Sky’s favorite holiday, except for Christmas, of course. Back then, everyone in the neighborhood decorated their houses, each family trying to outdo the other, but none of them could hold a candle to Mr. Thorne. His yard looked like something out of a Hammer horror movie. There had been a coffin that looked as if it was a hundred years old, a skeleton that looked so real, it had given Sky the creeps. Ancient torture devices had lined his driveway. A scary-looking clock that would have looked at home in a Vincent Price movie chimed the hours as assorted ghouls and monsters popped up out of old pirate chests and from behind weathered headstones.

Sky had been seven when her brother, Sam, took her trick-or-treating at the Thorne house. Sam had been ten at the time, and even though her brother could be a major pain, she had idolized him. He had told her, straight-faced, that Mr. Thorne was a vampire, but Skylynn hadn’t believed him because Granda had told her there were no such things as vampires, witches, ghosts, ghouls, or skeletons that walked and talked. But when Mr. Thorne opened the door, Sky had taken one look at his blood-red eyes, his gleaming fangs and long black cape, and screamed bloody murder. Her brother had teased her for months about the way she had turned tail and run back home just as fast as her legs would carry her. She’d had nightmares for weeks afterward, even though her grandfather had persuaded Mr. Thorne to come over and explain that he had been wearing an elaborate costume.

As time passed, Granda and Mr. Thorne spent more and more time together. They made an odd couple – her short, gray-haired grandfather and the tall, dark-haired Mr. Thorne. As far as Sky could tell, they’d had nothing in common. Granda was a retired doctor who dabbled in chemistry and alchemy in his lab down in the basement. He had often kidded her that he was looking for the secret of eternal life. As for Mr. Thorne, she didn’t know what he did for a living. For all she knew, he, too, had been retired. The two men had spent many a night locked up in Granda’s lab.

More than once, she had snuck down to the basement. With her ear pressed to the door, she had caught snatches of conversation, but Granda’s talk of plasma and platelets and transfusions meant nothing to her.

Occasionally, a strange man came to visit Granda. Sky never saw his face, never heard his name, but there was something about him that, even back then, had made her skin crawl.

The summer Sky turned twelve, she started spying on Mr. Thorne. She wasn’t sure why. Curiosity? Boredom? Who could say? She bought a notebook and made copious notes about his habits, the cars he drove, the clothes he wore. He rarely had visitors, but when he did, she wrote down the color and make of the car and the license number and descriptions of the people who came and went so infrequently. Sam thought he was a drug dealer or a hit man.

Sky had always had a flare for art and she drew numerous pictures and portraits of the elusive Mr. Thorne. A faint white scar bisected his right cheek. He had another scar on his back near his left shoulder blade. She had seen it one night during a scavenger hunt. The last item on her list had been to find an old newspaper and she had gone knocking on Mr. Thorne’s door in hopes that he could help. He had answered the door wearing a pair of swim trunks and nothing else. He had invited her to step inside while he went to fetch the paper, and she had glimpsed the scar when he turned away. As she grew older, she began to wonder how he had gotten those scars.

By the time she was thirteen, she had a full-blown crush on the mysterious Mr. Thorne. And then, when she was fifteen or sixteen, an odd thing happened. For no apparent reason, he stopped staying inside during the day.

She would never forget the Friday afternoon she had come home from school and seen him outside, mowing his lawn. Wearing only a pair of cut-off blue jeans and sunglasses, he looked sexier than any man his age had a right to.

But that had been eight years ago, and she was no longer the wide-eyed innocent child she had once been.


Chapter 1

Skylynn sat on the front porch swing, staring blankly into the distance. Yesterday, she had buried her grandfather in the family plot, alongside her grandmother and her parents. Now, sitting in Granda’s creaky old two-seater swing and listening to the clock inside strike midnight, she wondered if she carried some kind of curse. How else to explain that everyone she cared for left her. Her parents had been killed in a traffic accident when she was only three. Her grandmother had passed on a few years later, leaving Granda to raise Sky and her brother, Sam. He had been sent to Iraq nine months ago, shortly before her divorce. For the last four months, he had been missing in action, presumed dead. When he had first gone missing, she hadn’t slept for days. She had written to several of the men in his unit, asking for information, but they had all said the same thing. Their unit had been in a firefight. Sam had been with them one minute and gone the next. They had searched for him until enemy fire had driven them out of the area. Since then, there had been no word of Sam’s whereabouts. Not a day went by that she didn’t think of him, pray for him.

And now she was home again, with a failed marriage to her credit, a brother who was missing, and no family to lean on.

In an effort to shake off her meloncholy mood, she studied the three-story monstrosity across the street. They didn’t build houses like that any more. Heck, they hadn’t built houses like that in over a hundred years. She had always wanted to see the inside, but she had never been invited except for one Halloween night, and even then, all she had seen was the entry hall. As far as she knew, no one else in the neighborhood had ever even gotten that far. Mr. Thorne had been willing to let the kids on the block swim in his pool during the day, but neither the kids nor their parents had been welcome on the property after dark, and none had ever been allowed inside the house. She had often wondered what he was hiding in there. Maybe Sam had been right. Maybe Mr. Thorne really had been a drug dealer. That seemed far more probable than his being a hit man.

Thunder rumbled across the darkening sky, promising rain before morning. She shivered as a cold breeze rustled the leaves of the trees alongside the house. She should go inside, she thought, make a cup of hot chocolate while she tried to decide what to do with Granda’s house, what to do about Zack, what to do about the rest of her life.

Zack wanted to marry her, but after one failed marriage, she just wasn’t ready to try again, nor was she certain she loved Zachary Poteet the way he deserved. He had wanted to come home with her, but she had told him she needed some time alone. He hadn’t argued, just told her he loved her and he would be waiting when she got back to Chicago.

Sitting there, wrapped in layers of nostalgia, Sky wasn’t sure she would ever be ready to return to Illinois. She blew out a sigh. She had three weeks of vacation to make up her mind.

Wrapping her arms around her middle for warmth, she gazed at the house across the way again, blinked in surprise when the front door opened and a tall man stepped out onto the covered veranda.

Sky leaned forward, squinting into the darkness. Could it be…? A shiver ran down her spine as the man descended the stairs and crossed the street toward her. Dressed in black from head to foot, he almost disappeared into the night that surrounded him.

“Mr. Thorne.” His name whispered past her lips as he approached her.

He inclined his head. “Good evening, Miss McNamara.”

“You used to call me Sky Blue.”

“You were much younger then,” he murmured ruefully.

Skylynn studied him in the glow of the porch light. She hadn’t seen him in eight years and he hadn’t changed a bit. He had looked to be in his early to mid-thirties when she went away to college, and he still looked that way. His face remained unlined, his eyes were the same shade of dark, dark brown, his hair was still shaggy and black, his body long and lean and muscular. The faint scar on his right cheek, which should have detracted from his devastating good looks, only served to make him appear more mysterious. Standing there, his arms folded across his chest, he exuded an aura of raw sensuality and masculine confidence.

“I was sorry to hear about your grandfather,” he said quietly.

“His passing came as a surprise,” Sky murmured. “Or as much of a surprise as it can be, I guess, considering his age.” Still, Granda had been in good health when she had seen him at Christmas only last year.

“I’m sorry I didn’t get here in time for the funeral.”

Sky nodded. “Please, sit down.”

She had expected him to take the chair across fro
m her. Instead, he sat beside her on the swing, his thigh scant inches from her own. His nearness prickled along her spine.

“Are you planning to stay in Vista Verde?” he asked.

“I don’t know. I don’t think I can. I have a good job in Chicago. Friends.” And Zack was there. She blew out a sigh. “I hate to sell the old house, though.” Realistically, she knew she didn’t have much choice. She couldn’t afford to live in Chicago and pay the taxes and the upkeep on this place, too.

“Too many memories,” Thorne remarked. It wasn’t a question, but a statement of fact.

“Yes.” She laughed softly. “And too many goldfish and hamsters and birds buried under the palm tree in the back yard.”

His laughter, rich and deep and decidedly male, joined hers.
It felt good to laugh. “I guess you think it’s silly.”

“No.” He draped his arm over the back of the swing. “I keep that old house across the street for the same reason.”

“Don’t tell me your backyard is a burial ground for deceased pets, too.”

“In a way.” He gazed into the distance for a moment. “Did your grandfather leave anything for me?”

“Not that I know of. There was nothing mentioned in the will. Were you expecting something?”

“No, not exactly.”

She looked at him askance. “What, exactly?”

“Paddy had developed a rather unique vitamin drink for m
e that I found most beneficial. I’m very nearly out and I was hoping he’d left the recipe for me.”

“A vitamin drink?” she asked, frowning.

“More like a tonic,” he replied smoothly. “Something to thicken the blood.”

“Really?” Was that Thorne and her grandfather had spent so much time in the basement? “I’m sorry, Granda never said anything about that.”

“Perhaps you’d be good enough to look around in his lab when you have a chance?”

“Sure. Granda told me you moved away shortly after I left for college.”

Thorne nodded.

“Quite a coincidence, your coming back here at the same time I did,” she remarked, though, in truth, she didn’t believe in coincidence.
“Sometimes life is funny that way.”

Sky nodded, although there was nothing funny about the way he was looking at her, or the way her whole body vibrated at his nearness. It was an oddly sensual experience, as if every cell in her body had suddenly awakened from a deep sleep.

Unsettled by the intensity of his gaze, she looked away. What wasn’t he telling her? She thought it odd that Granda had never mentioned the mysterious tonic. And odder still that Kaiden Thorne, who looked as fit and healthy as a young stud horse, needed a tonic in the first place.
“I should let you go,” Thorne remarked, glancing at the dark clouds overhead. “It’s going to rain. And you’re cold.”

“What? Oh, yes, a little,” she said, and then frowned. She had stopped shivering as soon as he sat beside her. “Are you here to stay?” she asked, and held her breath, waiting for his answer.

“I’m not sure.” His gaze moved over her, as warm as a summer day. “Good night, Skylynn.”

“Good night.” She stared after him as he descended the stairs and crossed the street to his house. She felt oddly bereft when he disappeared inside.

It started raining as soon as he closed the door.

#

After turning off the inside lights, Thorne stood at the front window, his gaze focused on the woman across the street. In spite of the distance and the darkness, he was able to see her clearly. She had always been a pretty girl but now, in her early-twenties, she was exquisite. Her hair was a deep reddish-brown; her eyes, beneath delicately arched brows, were the rich warm blue of a mid-summer sky. She wore a long-sleeved, square-necked lavender sweater that emphasized the swell of her breasts. A pair of white jeans hugged her legs. He was sure he could span her narrow waist with his hands.

Throne had felt protective of Skylynn ever since she had been a little girl. Having no children of his own, he had enjoyed watching Skylynn grow up. She had been a sweet, chubby-cheeked child, a leggy adolescent, a truly beautiful teen. By the time she was seventeen, he started to feel like a dirty old man lusting after an innocent young girl, although it hadn’t been her body he lusted for. And even though he was still old, she was no longer young. Or innocent. She had been married and divorced and was now dating a man in Chicago who would never be good enough for her.

It hadn’t been coincidence that had brought Thorne home shortly after Paddy McNamara passed away. Paddy had asked Thorne to keep an eye on Skylynn while she was away from home. Thorne never knew why. Skylynn had always been a level-headed girl, able to take care of herself. Perhaps Paddy’s concern had merely been worry for a granddaughter about to be out on her own for the first time. At any rate, Thorne would have looked after Sky without being asked. And he had done so, without her being the wiser, until the day she married.

Of course, Paddy’s granddaughter hadn’t been the only reason he had stayed in touch with the old man. Thanks to Paddy McNamara’s remarkable potion, Thorne had been able to live a relatively normal life for the last eight years. But the sun would soon be lost to him again if Skylynn couldn’t find her grandfather’s notes.

#

In the morning, shortly after breakfast, Sky went downstairs to the basement, which was divided into three rooms. There was also a half-bath to the right of the stairs.

The largest room was Granda’s work room. It held every conceivable medical book known to man, as well as metal shelves crammed with beakers and test tubes and a plethora of other instruments. A small wooden table and chair were shoved into one corner.

A door connected his work room to his office. A state-of-the-art computer, a 24-inch monitor, and a printer took up space on an over-sized desk. A small tv was mounted in one corner. A bank of gray metal file cabinets lined one wall.

The last room was the smallest. Located to the right of the staircase, it held a number of wire cages in a variety of sizes. All were empty now. One of the first things Skylynn had done after she got home was drive out to the country where she released a half-dozen mice and baby rats. In retrospect, she wondered if that had been a smart thing to do, but it was too late to worry about it now.

Sky stood at the foot of the stairs for a moment, Granda’s keys in hand; then, heaving a sigh, she unlocked the door that held the filing cabinets and stepped inside. The basement had always been off-limits to Sky and she had never been down here except with Granda. It seemed wrong, somehow, to be there now, without him.

The drawers to the filing cabinets were all color-coded, labeled, and locked. The first cabinet held Invoices, Current Files, Old Files, Research Notes, and Tax Records. The next three filing cabinets contained Granda’s journals, with the first drawer labeled 1957 to 1962, the next 1963 to 1968, and so on.

The top drawer in the last filing cabinet was labeled Experiments. Did that cabinet hold the mysterious recipe Kaiden Thorne was looking for?
Sky glanced at the keys in her hand. Each key was color coded to match a particular filing cabinet.

She was about to unlock the drawer marked Experiments when the doorbell rang. Wondering who would possibly come calling so early, she pocketed the keys and ran up the stairs, her slippers flapping.

“Mr. Thorne!” she exclaimed when she opened the door. She felt a flush heat her cheeks. Had she known he was going to show up so early, she would have changed out of her Pj’s.

“I know, it’s early,” he said, somewhat sheepishly. “I just wondered if you’d had a chance to look around for that formula.”

“Not really.” She slipped a hand into her pocket, her fingers curling around the keys. “It must be important.”

“Only to me.”

She tilted her head to one side. “It must work. You look great.”
His gaze moved over her with undisguised admiration. “Thanks, so do you.” He rocked back on his heels. “I should go.”

“Would you like to come over later for lunch?”

“I’d like that.”

“Around one?”

He nodded. “I’ll be here.”

Sky watched him cross the street, admiring the way his jeans hugged his taut backside, his easy, long-legged stride, the way the sun cast silver highlights in his black hair.

Murmuring, “Oh, my,” she made her way back down to Granda’s lab.
She spent the next three hours going through his filing cabinets, sorting through old receipts and purchase orders for a variety of medical supplies, perusing copious memos written in her grandfather’s spidery hand, most of which she couldn’t decipher. The drawer labeled Experiments was filled with dozens of spiral-bound journals, the pages covered with notes, diagrams, and scientific jargon that made no sense to her.

Sitting cross-legged on the floor, she thumbed through his most recent entries, but found nothing that looked like a formula for a vitamin drink.
At twelve-thirty, she stood and stretched her aching back and shoulders. If there was a formula hiding in any of Granda’s notes, it would have to wait until tomorrow. She was going cross-eyed, trying to decipher his handwriting.

After locking the door, she went upstairs, found her cell phone, and ordered two large pizzas – one pepperoni, one sausage – two orders of spicy chicken wings, and breadsticks. While waiting for the pizzas, she made a fruit salad and a pitcher of iced tea, then set two plates, two glasses, two cloth napkins, and a pair of forks on a tray.

She kept glancing at the clock, her stomach fluttering with anticipation at the thought of having lunch with a handsome man. A man who hadn’t changed at all in eight years.

How was that possible?

#

Thorne prowled through the big old house, his thoughts chaotic. He shouldn’t have waited so long to come back to visit Paddy McNamara. It had been coincidence that had brought him back to Vista Verde after such a long absence. Had he kept closer tabs on the old man, he would have known McNamara didn’t have long to live.

Thorne raked his fingers through his hair. Dammit! If he had come back sooner, he would have had time to speak to the old man and obtain the formula that had so drastically changed his life.

Striding down to the wine cellar, he bypassed the coffin that rested in the center of the floor and moved to the wall safe on the far side of the room. After unlocking the safe, he withdrew a round cobalt blue bottle that was about five-inches tall. It held the last of Paddy McNamara’s unique tonic.

Thorne rubbed the bottle against his cheek. The glass felt cold against his skin. He had tried to get his hands on the formula before, but McNamara had refused to part with it. Thorne had tried coaxing the formula out of the stubborn old man, but that, too, had failed. One night Thorne had offered to bring Paddy across in exchange for the formula, but despite Paddy’s research into aging and longevity, he had no interest in living forever.

“Tis against nature, what you’re offering,” Paddy had said. “And though I’ve no wish to leave me darlin’ Skylynn, me wife is waiting for me on the other side.”

As a last resort, Thorne had tried reading Paddy’s mind, but the wily old fox had blocked him at every turn. And now it was too late. Eternally too late. Dammit.

After returning the bottle to the safe, Thorne went back upstairs. Maybe it was time to leave Vista Verde for a few decades. If he stayed much longer, people were going to start noticing that he hadn’t aged.
He glanced out the front window, his gaze lingering on the house across the street. No need to leave right away, he thought. At least not until he learned if Sky was going to stay in Vista Verde. Seeing her again made him realize how much he had missed her.

His inner clock told him it was almost time to join Skylynn for lunch. For a moment, he closed his eyes, dreading the thought of going back to his old diet, his old lifestyle. Right now, he had the best of both worlds. Dammit! Sky had to find that formula. After all the trial and error it had taken to get it just right, the old man must have written it down somewhere.

Skylynn. Being near her and not touching her would be a real test of his self-control.

#

Sky was a bundle of nerves when the doorbell rang. It was like one of her teenage daydreams come true, having Kaiden Thorne over for lunch. She just hoped the reality lived up to her girlish dreams.

Too late to worry about that now. She blew a wisp of hair from her forehead. So many of the things she had looked forward to when she was growing up had been disappointments. Her first real date. Her first kiss. Her first marriage. None of them had lived up to the hype.

Sky took a deep breath before she opened the door. And he was there.
“Hi,” she said brightly. “Come on in.” She pressed a hand to her heart as Kaiden moved past her. Lordy, the man was tall. And incredibly handsome. Well-worn jeans hugged his long legs, a shirt the color of red wine clung to his broad shoulders. “I thought we’d eat out on the patio.”

“Okay by me.” Lifting his head, Thorne sniffed the air. “Pizza?”

“I didn’t know what kind you liked, so I ordered one sausage and one
pepperoni.”

“Either one works for me.”

“Great.”

Smiling, she opened the fridge and took out the bowl of fruit salad and the pitcher of iced tea and added them to the tray.

“Here, let me take that,” Kaiden offered.

“Thanks.” Picking up the pizza boxes, she headed for the back door, acutely aware of Kaiden walking behind her.

“Just put the tray there, on the table.” She put the pizzas next to the tray, then poured each of them a glass of tea. “Please, sit down.” She handed Kaiden a plate and a napkin, and took the chair across from his. “Help yourself.”

Thorne drew in a deep breath as he lifted the lids on both pizza boxes, the scents of sausage, pepperoni, cheese and tomatoes tickling his nostrils. “Smells great.” He took a slice of each, a couple of chicken wings, and a generous serving of fruit salad. For a moment, he was oblivious to everything but the food on his plate.

“How is it?” Sky asked.

Thorne looked up, a wry smile curving his lips. “Sometimes I forget how good food can be.”

“Save room for dessert.”

“Not to worry,” he said with a wink. He was surprised he hadn’t gained a hundred pounds, the way he had been eating lately. But everything tasted so good. Fresh fruit and cheese, cake and ice cream. And was there anything better in all the world than a good, thick steak with the juices still flowing? Just thinking about it made his mouth water.

They made small talk while they ate, commenting on the weather, which had been unseasonably cold, the way the neighborhood had run down in the last few years, the number of foreclosures that were cropping up all over the city.

Sky served warm apple pie and vanilla ice cream for dessert.

“Did you make this?” Thorne asked, gesturing at the pie with his fork.

“No, I never learned to make a decent crust. It’s really good, isn’t it?”
He nodded as he lifted another forkful to his mouth. Apple pie had quickly become one of his favorites.

A last bite and he pushed his plate away.

“Are you sure I can’t tempt you with another slice?” Sky asked with a grin.

“I think I’d better say no.” Leaning back in his chair, he regarded her through hooded eyes. “I was sorry to hear about your divorce.”

“It was inevitable.” She shrugged, as if it was of no importance. “I married the wrong man at the wrong time for all the wrong reasons.”

“If you’d rather not talk about it…”

“No, it’s okay. I met Nick in a dance club shortly after Sam was sent to Iraq. I was feeling lonely and stressed out when Nicky showed up. He was all smiles and good-natured fun and I told myself I loved him.” She shrugged. “But I didn’t. And once the excitement wore off, I realized we had nothing in common and that when he was sober, I didn’t like him very much. We were divorced before the ink dried on our marriage license.” She hadn’t wanted anything to remind her of her disastrous marriage; as the soon as the divorce was final, she had resumed her maiden name

“I’m sorry, Sky Blue,” he said quietly, but it was a lie. The thought of her with another man was like acid in his gut.

She blew out a sigh, then smiled wistfully. “I guess I’ll just have to keep looking for Mr. Right.” She laughed softly. “A nightclub probably isn’t the best place to go looking for a man who’s interested in a serious relationship.”

“Is that what you’re looking for?”

“I don’t know. I guess so. I’m not getting any younger.”

“None of us is,” he murmured.

“What about you? You weren’t married when you lived here before. Has that changed?”

“No.”

“You’ve never married?”

“I never found a woman who could put up with me.”

“Come on, you don’t seem that hard to get along with, although you did scare me half to death one Halloween night.”

“I remember. I’m sorry about that.”

“I had nightmares for weeks.”

Thorne grunted softly. He recalled that night all too well. He hadn’t meant to frighten her, had, in fact, thought it was a couple of teenage boys who had been harassing him earlier in the evening. He would never forget the look of horror on Sky’s face when he opened the door, his eyes red, his fangs bared.

“Even after Granda assured me that vampires didn’t exist, and even after you came over and showed me those fake plastic fangs and red contacts, I still woke up screaming.”

“I’m sorry,” he said again.

“It’s all right,” she said, laughing. “But you sure know how to make an impression on a girl.”

“Hardly the kind I want to make when the girl is as lovely as you.”
His soft-spoken words, the smoldering heat in his dark eyes, stilled Sky’s laughter. A sudden rush of warmth crept up her neck and into her cheeks as a giddy wave of pleasure swept through her.

“Forgive me,” he murmured. “I didn’t mean to make you uncomfortable.”

“No, I’m flattered.”

He arched one brow. “But?”

“It just seems odd for us to be on an equal footing, that’s all. I always thought of you as being much older than I am, but…” She tilted her head to the side. “How old are you, anyway?”

“Thirty-nine.”

Her eyes widened in surprise. “Really? You haven’t aged at all since I saw you last.”

“Comes of living a good clean life and having excellent genes, I suppose.”

“Hmm, I guess that would explain it,” she replied thoughtfully. “Some people never seem to grow older.”

“You don’t sound convinced.”

“Well, Granda said he wanted to find the secret to eternal life…”
Thorne laughed softly. “And you think he found it and gave it to me?”

She laughed, too. “It sounds ridiculous when you say it out loud, doesn’t it?”

“Well, you can’t blame him for trying. Most people would give anything to be immortal, or at least young forever.”

“Maybe. I don’t know,” she said, her brow furrowed. “Would you want to live forever?”

“Definitely,” he replied. “If I could spend eternity with you.”

His words pleased her as much as they surprised her. Sure, she’d had a teenage crush on him, and there was no denying that he was still drop dead gorgeous, but she had never seriously considered him in a romantic way. At least, not until now.

Her cheeks grew warm as his gaze moved over her. There was no mistaking the look in his eyes.

He wanted her.

There was no mistaking the excited flutter in the pit of her stomach, either.

The one that meant she wanted him.