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September 2015

Aspiring actress Abbey Marie Cordova knows more than most people do about vampires—she was born among them, the only human child in a centuries-old family of the undead, and determined to stay that way. But a chance encounter with dark, mysterious Niklaus Desanto rocks her to the core. Nick is a vampire, and he’s the only man who has ever made her feel so beautiful, so cherished, and so passionately desired …

Nick has spent hundreds of years on his own, and the decadent pleasures of the world have lost their appeal. Rumor has it the vampire who made him has regained her humanity—the temptation to find her and demand to know the secret is overwhelming. But one glance at innocently alluring Abbey changes everything. Drawn to her with dangerous, consuming passion, Nick will need more than a lifetime to love her…

My editor said: Abbey is a wonderful heroine, such an interesting contrast to Nick’s former lover. That was a great conflict you set up. I particularly enjoyed Edna and Pearl, who provided such fun humorous scenes to mix in with the darker, more dramatic vampire moments. Nick is the perfect vampire hero.

Chapter 1

Abbey Marie Cordova stood on the balcony of her small New York apartment. Gazing at the bright lights of Broadway, she admitted what she had suspected for some time - she wasn’t cut out to be an actress, great or otherwise. All those acting classes had been a waste of time and money. She just didn’t have the necessary drive or the ruthless ambition to claw her way to the top, nor was she willing to surrender her morals for a bit part in a movie.

She could have asked Uncle Logan to grease the way for her. He had produced a dozen hit movies, even won an Oscar. He wielded a lot of influence with several major Hollywood producers and directors. But she didn’t want any favors, not from her family or from anyone else.

Standing there, she knew giving up her childhood dream was the right decision. She had heard too many horror stories of talented young actresses who had made it to the big time, then slid down the slippery slope of fame and fortune into drug addiction, or worse. She had seen their photos splashed across the nightly news, read their obituaries.

Twenty-six years old, Abbey thought with a sigh, and what did she have to show for her years of study? Nothing. No career. No job. No special someone in her life.

Truth be told, she had been feeling blue ever since attending Derek’s wedding last month. The whole family had been there – the DeLongpres, the Blackwoods, the Cordovas - all of them looking blissfully happy and deeply in love.

All of them vampires.

Until the wedding, Abbey hadn’t been home for three or four years and it had been a bit of a shock, seeing her parents and the others and realizing that she now looked the same age as her father; in time, she would look older than her mother.

At the reception, her father had taken her aside and asked, without actually saying the words, if she had given any thought to becoming a vampire.

As a teenager, Abbey hadn’t thought much about accepting the Dark Gift. After all, she was young and healthy. She had plenty of time to decide if she wanted to be a vampire. But she wasn’t a young girl any longer. She aged with every passing day. Did she want to wait until she was in her 30’s? Her 40’s? Her 50’s? She suppressed a shudder. Who wanted to look old forever? Of course, she didn’t have to get a day older. Her mother or father would gladly bestow the Dark Gift on her. The whole family took it for granted that Abbey would eventually become one of them. The only thing was, she wasn’t certain it was what she wanted.

Going into the bathroom, she studied her reflection in the mirror. Her skin was still taut and smooth and clear. Her hair, the color of dark chocolate, fell past her shoulders in thick waves. She ran her hands over her breasts and down her hips. Her figure was still firm, but for how long?

Frowning, she switched off the light, her steps heavy as she went into the bedroom. After changing into her favorite sleep shirt, she crawled into bed. But sleep wouldn’t come. Every time she closed her eyes, she saw her hair thinning and turning gray, her skin growing wrinkled and spotted, her energy waning, until, in the end…

She bolted upright, her breath coming in ragged gasps. She told herself people weren’t meant to live forever, that growing old and passing on was the natural order of things. The way life was meant to be.

Unless you were a vampire….

Chapter 2

He had been a vampire for over two thousand years. As such, he was one of the oldest of his kind. Only Mara, the so-called Queen of the Vampires, had survived longer.

For centuries, he had searched for her, but to no avail. He had to admire her skill at eluding detection, whether by hunters or from those of her own kind.

She was a legend among the Nosferatu – fearless, stronger, more powerful and more cunning than any of them. It was rumored that she had regained her humanity, that she had given birth to a child, but he had dismissed both possibilities out of hand. Such things were impossible, even for the Queen of the Vampires. No doubt she had spread the rumors herself, knowing it would only add to her mystique.

But he couldn’t ignore the niggling voice in the back of his mind that wondered if it could be true.

He stared at the goblet in his hand, at the thick red liquid it held. What would it be like to be able to consume something besides blood after so many centuries? To sample the various foods and drinks he saw advertised on TV and in magazines? To eat something that required chewing? He often sat in restaurants, sipping a glass of wine, watching men and women as they ate, envious of the culinary pleasure he read on their faces. Just once, he thought, just once he would like to bite into a thick, juicy steak.

Mara was the answer. If she had truly found a way to regain her humanity – no matter how briefly – he wanted to know how she had accomplished it.

And if it was impossible, what then?

He leaned back in his chair and closed his eyes. He had lived as a vampire long enough. He was ready to die, but as one of the Nosferatu, his options were not pretty. He could let a hunter stake him or take his head. Or he could walk out into the light of a new day. As old as he was, he wasn’t sure it would even be fatal. He could always set himself on fire…Grimacing, he quickly discarded that alternative.
Better to become human again if at all possible, and spend his final years as a mortal before he breathed his last.

He sipped his drink. It all came back to Mara. She was the answer. If she couldn’t restore his humanity, then she could grant him a quick, painless death.
She owed him that much.

And a helluva lot more.

Chapter 3

Tossing the want ads onto the kitchen table, Abbey blew a stray wisp of hair from her brow. Her father had advised her to take some computer classes in high school and, once again, his advice had been spot on. Too bad she hadn’t listened. These days, it seemed every job required at least some degree of computer savvy, and she was woefully lacking. All her friends were into the latest social media, but she had never gotten the hang of finding her way in the digital world.

With a sigh of resignation, she phoned for a cab. Her father had offered to buy her a car, but she had no real need for one. Most of the places she had to go were within walking distance of her apartment.

Even after all the years she had lived in New York, the sights and sounds of the city filled Abbey with excitement. After paying the cab driver, she stepped out of the car and quickly became part of the crowd. These days, most stores were open 24/7, so whether it was day or night, the streets were swamped with cars, the sidewalks packed with people who were always in a hurry – rushing to get to work or eager to go home, dashing off to see a movie, a Broadway show, a free concert in the park.

Hitching her handbag over her shoulder, Abbey stared at the gleaming glass-fronted façade of the computer store. Her knowledge of digital devices started and ended with her iPodz, which was nothing like the current high-tech phones, iPads, and computers. She could find music, text, and read the latest news on her iPod, anything else was beyond her.

Taking a deep breath, she opened the door and stepped into a world that was totally unfamiliar to her.

A quick glance around showed that computers came in all types and sizes – small towers with enormous screens, monitors that didn’t need a tower, wireless laptops, and devices that were no bigger than a cell phone.

You could buy a keyboard if you were old-school, but newer computer models responded to voice commands. She had heard that, in another year or so, those would be obsolete and man and computer would communicate with thought waves.

Shelf after shelf held nothing but computers, monitors, keyboards, software programs and gadgets, and stacks of technical manuals. It looked like geek heaven, she mused. All around her, people chatted enthusiastically about the latest software, the newest addition to this or that. They might as well have been speaking a foreign language, because Abbey didn’t understand a word they were saying.

With a shake of her head, she turned and headed for the exit. Maybe she could get a job in Beverly Hills as a house sitter or a dog walker. Cash only. She wouldn’t need any computer skills for that! She could stay in Hollywood with Mara and Logan until she found a place of her own.

Lost in thought, Abbey didn’t see the man coming through the door until she slammed into him. It was like crashing into a mountain.

“Whoa, girl,” he exclaimed. “Are you on your way to a fire?”

“I’m so sorry. I wasn’t…” Abbey glanced up - and up. He was a tall mountain. Blinking up at him, she took a step back. She was used to handsome men, but this guy…

He looked like the GQ Hunk of the Month with his long black hair, broad shoulders, trim waist, and vibrant blue eyes.

He reached out a hand to steady her. “Are you all right?”

“What? Yes. No. I mean, of course.”

He grinned, sending her temperature rising and her pulse racing. It was disconcerting, the effect he had on her. She had met a lot of good-looking men. None of them had made her feel like throwing herself into his arms.

“Can I buy you a drink?” he asked. “There’s a club just down the street. Dante’s. Do you know it?”

“Yes.” She knew it all too well. Dante’s catered mainly to out-of-work musicians and down-on-their-luck actors and screenwriters.

“Shall we?”

It was a tempting offer – sharing a drink with an incredibly handsome man. But gorgeous or not, he was a stranger.

He cocked his head to the side. “Is there a problem?”

“No.” What could go wrong? Dante’s was just two blocks down, the sidewalks were crowded with people. She had a .22 semi-automatic in her purse - a going away gift from her father. Smiling up at Nick, she said, “Lead the way.”

He took her hand as they threaded their way down the street to the club. The touch of his fingers twining with hers made her heart race and her toes curl with pleasure.

Inside, he guided her to a small table in the back, held her chair as she sat down. “I’m Nick.”

His voice, deep and whiskey-rough, moved over her like a caress. “Abbey.”

“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Abbey.”

“Even though I almost knocked you down?”

A laugh rumbled deep in his throat. “I don’t think I was in any real danger from a little thing like you.”

She would have been offended if any other man had called her a ‘little thing’, but the way he said it, the admiration in his dark blue eyes, made it sound like high praise.

Their waitress arrived then. Abbey ordered a strawberry daiquiri, Nick ordered a glass of Pinot Noir.

When the waitress left to turn in their order, Nick leaned forward, his forearms crossed on the table, his gaze intent upon Abbey’s face. “Tell me about yourself.”

“There’s not much to tell. I wasted the last five years trying to be something I’m not cut out for.”

“Oh? What’s that?”

“I thought I wanted to be an actress, but I recently came to the realization that I just don’t have what it takes.” She shrugged, thinking how good it felt to finally admit it out loud. “I guess I just don’t want it bad enough to make the tough choices.”

He nodded. “So, what are you going to do now?”

“I’m not sure. Go back home, I guess.”

“Where’s home?”

“Northern California. My parents have a ranch there. But enough about me. What about you? What do you do?”

“Nothing much. You might say I’m footloose and fancy free. No job. No family. No prospects.”

Abbey bit down on her lower lip, uncertain how to reply. Was he recovering from some horrible tragedy? An entrepreneur down on his luck? Or just some incredibly handsome drifter with no goals and no ambition?

She was still trying to think of a suitable response when the waitress arrived with their drinks. Nick smiled at the woman, tossed twenty-five dollars on the tray, and told her to keep the change.

He might be a drifter, Abbey thought, but he didn’t appear to be strapped for cash.

“What were you looking for in the computer store?” he asked

“Nothing, really. I was thinking about getting a job and thought I should try to get up-to-date on the latest technology, but…” She smiled self-consciously. “I have no talent in that area, either. It’s all Greek to me. I have trouble remembering to charge my cell phone. The new computers…” She shook her head.

He laughed softly. “Maybe I can help with that. I know a bit about computers and software.”

“You do?”

“I was a computer programmer in another life.”

“Really?” She would never have pegged him as a computer nerd. “Well, I’d appreciate any help you could give me. Of course, I’ll have to buy a new computer first. I’m afraid mine is woefully archaic and past repair.”

“Well, when you’re ready to make the plunge, just let me know.”

Abbey sipped her drink. Who was this man, really? He looked to be in his mid-thirties, yet there was something about him that made her think he was older. Perhaps it was his eyes – they seemed world-weary, and wise beyond his years.

The silence between them made her uncomfortable. She was scrambling for something witty to say when someone brought the juke box to life.

Nick set his glass aside. “Care to dance?”

Abbey’s heartbeat kicked up a notch at the thought of being in his arms. She nodded, her throat suddenly dry as he took her by the hand and led her onto the tiny dance floor.

He drew her into his arms, holding her far closer than was proper between strangers. His arm around her waist was solid – protective, not imprisoning. His thighs brushed hers, his breath was warm when it caressed her cheek.

She looked up and his gaze met hers – intense and deep blue. For a moment, she imagined him probing her mind, uncovering her deepest secrets. For a moment, she imagined she could read his thoughts in return, imagined that he was alone and lonely, that only she could ease his pain.

Blinking rapidly, she looked away, and now she was acutely aware of his body pressed so close to hers, of how intimately he held her. Only a breath apart, she mused. And it was too far. His hand lightly stroked her back, up and down, and she sighed with the sheer pleasure of his touch, of being in his arms. She felt warm and achy in the deepest part of her being and she wished suddenly that they were alone in her apartment. In her bed…

Blushing furiously, she glanced up at him, grateful that he couldn’t read her mind.

He smiled at her, his arm tightening around her waist as the music ended and they returned to their table. “If I asked you out, what would you say?”

“Ask me and see.” She had intended for her reply to be saucy and flirtatious; instead, it emerged as a husky whisper. What was there about this man that she found so irresistible? It was more than his devastating good looks, more than the rich timbre of his voice. Something primal within him called to something wild and untouched within the deepest part of her being in ways she recognized but didn’t understand. She was meant to be his, she thought, as he was meant to be hers.

“Would you go out with me tomorrow night, Abbey Marie?”

“I’d love to.”

“Pick you up at eight?”

Nodding, she pulled one of her business cards from her wallet and handed it to him. His fingers brushed hers as he took the card.

“Eight,” she said breathlessly.

It wasn’t until Nick had put her in a cab and she was on her way home that Abbey stopped to wonder how he knew her middle name.

2nd Place Affaire de Coeur "Hot Guyz" Cover Contest 2015