Bitten & Smitten
(Immortality Bites – Book #1)
Grand Central Publishing – Forever, January ’06
** WALDENBOOKS BESTSELLER
** 2007 Holt Medallion WINNER for “Best First Book”
There’s a new vamp in town…
I might be a wee bit late for Cousin Missy’s wedding. It’s been a tough week. Turns out, my blind date from hell was literally from hell. Guy bit me. Next thing I know, I’m being chased all over the city by vampire hunters. And did I mention that I got fired, too?
Bright side-I met a man. Thierry de Bennicoeur. How great is that name? Anyway, he’s sexy, six-hundred years old, and a tad suicidal, but no one’s perfect, right? And we have a deal-he’s gonna show me the ropes of the vampire world, and I’m supposed to help him end his existence. Or maybe I’ll just try to convince him life is worth living – no small challenge with the mostly immortal, let me tell you. I’ll admit it’s a complicated relationship. But with any luck, I just might have a date for that wedding after all…
Hugs and Kisses,
R e v i e w s
“What a charming, hilarious book! It grabbed me from the first paragraph and, frankly, I’m insanely jealous I didn’t write it” – MaryJanice Davidson
“Rowen hits the nail (or is it the stake?) on the head with her feisty debut novel…a true modern girl’s guide to (vampire) life.” – Publishers Weekly
“Droll wit and wacky humor meet vampire mythology in Rowen’s fun and clever debut. One thing is certain, this novel is bound to appeal to those who like their romance a little offbeat and definitely humorous. Keep an eye on this new discovery!” – Romantic Times BOOKclub
“Bitten & Smitten is a study in contrasts: frothy chick-lit wrapped around a grittier reality and a flip side featuring a modern heroine paired with a Brontean hero. And Rowen makes it all work together beautifully. Let us welcome this fresh voice to the genre.“ — Booklist
Order Bitten & Smitten!
C h a p t e r 1
For a dead woman, I felt surprisingly good.
I figured I had to be dead since the first thing I noticed after opening my eyes was someone burying me in the cold ground. I was only in a few inches deep, but steady shovel-fulls of dirt were landing on my chest, creating a rapidly growing mound.
The air smelled of moss and worms…and cheap cologne.
I craned my neck to look around. An ornately carved gravestone stood not five feet away from my eyes. I blinked. It was dark, but I was pretty sure it wasn’t my name carved on it.
The next dirt sandwich hit me squarely in the face.
“Hey!” I managed before I started to cough. I freed my right hand from under the heavy pile to wipe at my face.
“Oh, you’re awake,” a surprised male voice said from my left.
“What the hell is going on?”
“You’re awake and asking questions.” He sounded dismayed. “I was afraid of this.”
Something sharp and metallic hit the ground behind my head. Sounded like a shovel. Then the owner of the voice crouched down and moved his pale, thin face close to me.
“Hello there,” he said.
It was Gordon Richards, my blind date from earlier that evening, although I’d already recognized his voice. And his cologne. Whiney and nasal, it gave the impression of belonging to a very needy person. The voice, not the cologne, that is. The longer the date had gone on, the more I’d realized that the voice didn’t lie.
“Hi?” I started to squirm around. “Get me out of here, you lunatic, before I call the cops.”
He frowned. “But the dirt is an important part of the healing process.”
“Healing process? I’ll give you a healing process as soon as I get out of here.”
“Sorry.” Gordon began to push the dirt off of me and I struggled to pull myself free of the loose earth. He offered his hand to help me stand, but I ignored it and managed to get to my feet all by myself.
I attempted to brush the dirt off my new, not to mention very expensive, silk dress and tried not to panic. My three-quarter length burgundy leather coat could be easily wiped off, but I knew immediately that the dress was ruined. Although, I think it was safe to say that was the least of my problems at the moment.
This guy was obviously psychotic.
I took a good look around. Just as I’d suspected, thanks to the big clue of the gravestone, we were standing in the middle of a cemetery. My blind date had just attempted to bury me in a cemetery. Filled with dead people. And bugs.
I shuddered, then I looked at him standing patiently nearby.
“Well, thanks so much for the date.” I tried to make my voice as relaxed as possible. Calm, cool, and not ready to freak out. Yet. “I guess I’d better be heading home now.”
“What exactly do you remember?”
I forced a reluctant smile. “That I had a lovely time. And that I’ll have to thank Amy for setting this up. Yes, she won’t be hearing the end of this any time soon. I can promise you that. Anyhow, super meeting you.” I made a move to leave, but he grabbed my arm and pulled me back to face him.
“What’s the last thing you remember?” Gordon asked, harsher now. “It’s important.”
I swallowed hard. “We had a lovely dinner. Then we went for a walk,” I glanced around, “But not here. Over by the river and the bridge, the Bloor Viaduct. We were looking down at the river, and um…you were saying something…”
“How lovely you are,” he murmured as he ran a hand down my coat sleeve.
I gritted my teeth and jerked away from his touch. Why hadn’t I ever signed up for that self-defense course Amy was always begging me to join with her? My eyes narrowed at the thought. Amy. She was so dead for getting me into this.
“Right.” I tried to turn my gritted teeth into a pleasant smile. “Me being lovely. Or whatever. And then…” I frowned as I tried to remember, but things seemed a bit fuzzy.
“I offered you eternity.”
Uh huh. I did remember that part. That was the moment when I decided that the date was officially over. And then-
My eyes widened as I looked at him. “Then you bit me, you weirdo.”
Gordon looked very apologetic. “It’ll heal quick. I promise.”
I touched my neck and then pulled my hand away, staring with horror at the blood left behind.
“You bit me on the neck? What kind of a sorry-ass, vampire-wannabe are you, anyhow?”
I grabbed for my dirt-covered purse that lay by my feet. I kept a can of pepper spray in it for protection, or at least I used to. Did I still have it? Did those things have an expiration date? Didn’t matter. If I had to, I’d just use it to bash him over the head.
“I’m not a wannabe.” He actually had the audacity to look insulted. “I am a vampire.”
Psycho, I thought. Total psycho.
“Look,” I said tentatively, “you’ve had your fun. I’m not all that into the role-playing scene, or whatever this is, but the bite doesn’t seem to be too bad. I think. So, let’s just say no harm done and leave it at that, okay?”
“From the moment I saw you last month at the hot dog stand outside your office, I knew that you had to be mine, Sarah.” He smiled wistfully.
His teeth did look a little bit pointy now that I was paying closer attention, but it was probably just the moonlight playing tricks. Still, unnerving to say the least. Also unnerving was the fact that somebody had secretly watched me getting my near-daily Italian sausage fix. Creepy.
“You had to have me, huh?” I stared at him for a moment. “And you couldn’t just do what everyone else does and try to get me drunk?”
Usually making a joke made me feel better. At the moment it was all I could do to keep my voice from trembling.
“It took forever to get into your friend’s good graces so she’d set us up on this date, but it was worth the wait. Now you’re mine. We’ll be together forever.”
Without another word, I turned and started walking briskly away from him. Still calm. Still in complete control. Just like my pantyhose.
Gordon yelled after me a couple of times and then ran, catching up to me in only two or three steps. He grabbed my elbow and spun me around to face him.
“It’s rude to walk away when someone’s offering you eternity.” I didn’t like the way he was looking at me now. Not in the slightest. And his voice didn’t sound needy and desperate anymore.
I yanked my arm away from him. “Keep it. I don’t want it.”
He grabbed me again. Despite his scrawny appearance, his grip was crushing.
“Let go of me-” I began, but then he hit me hard across my face with the back of his hand. My vision exploded in multi-color waves and my teeth loosened slightly in their sockets as the impact shook me right to my toes.
“It’s too late to take it back, bitch.” His snarl showed the full-length of his sharp fangs. “The bite on your neck makes you mine. It’s a no-return policy.”
Then he appeared to come back to his senses. His face relaxed and his eyebrows knitted together into a frown as he reached towards me. I scurried back out of his range, eyes wide, pressing my hand against my stinging cheek.
“Oh God, I’m so sorry,” he sputtered as he moved closer to me. “I didn’t mean to do that. What the hell was I thinking?”
I wrapped my other hand around the cool can of pepper spray at the very bottom of my purse. My eyes were still unfocused, but I managed to yank the can out and spray him long and hard in the eyes. He howled in pain and clawed at his face.
I turned on my heels and did what any self-respecting girl with a neck wound does when she finds herself in a cemetery after midnight with a crazy guy who thinks he’s a vampire.
Ran like hell.
Crazy. Yup. Definitely bi-polar, and very likely in need of some serious therapy. It was probably something that happened to him in childhood that had turned him into such a loon. I’d minored in psychology during the year I spent at the University of Toronto before dropping out. Looney. That was the professional verdict. In serious need of help.
Just like I was at the moment. I ran through the cemetery. Big cemetery. Where the hell was the road?
Finally I saw the stone entry gates straight ahead of me. I heard Gordon, not that far behind, yelling for me to slow down. Yeah, like that was going to happen. Not bloody likely.
The three-inch heel on one of my black leather slingbacks chose that moment to snap off. Those shoes had cost me the better part of last month’s paycheck, so it was a little disappointing, to say the least, that they couldn’t take a little pressure. I crashed to the ground in a heap, but sprang up just as quickly, like one of those “Bozo the Clown” punching bags. The adrenaline coursing through my veins was definitely helpful, but I felt lightheaded. The loss of blood from the bite on my neck was finally catching up to me. Maybe it was more serious than I’d originally thought.
I pulled off what was left of the shoe, spun around and threw it in the direction of my pursuer.
“Ow!” he yelled as the slingback met its mark.
Since it was impossible for me to run lopsided, I sent the other shoe sailing in the same direction like a small, expensive, Italian leather missile. That one missed the target, so I hurled a few choice expletives behind it.
“Come on!” Gordon called after me. “Sarah, baby, we can work this out!”
I ran through the entrance of the cemetery and straight into something firm and unyielding. I looked up. It was something tall, muscular, and blue-eyed. A streetlamp shone above him like a beacon from heaven itself.
“Whoa there, miss,” the unyielding stranger said. “Slow down.”
I was gasping for breath after my sprint. “Oh thank God! You have to help me.”
The man’s gaze slid from my neck wound over to my date-from-hell who had almost reached us.
“Don’t worry about a thing, darlin’,” he said, and smiled. His teeth were shiny white in the moonlight.
Two more men emerged from the shadows, one as thin as a rail with stringy blond hair, the other big and burly with so many tattoos that they peeked out at the edge of his neck past his dark shirt and jacket. I hadn’t noticed anyone else around until they’d moved.
Hey, the more the merrier.
The man with the shiny teeth gently pushed me aside. “You wait right there, darlin’. We’ll deal with you in a moment.”
I nodded, and exhaled deeply. Wow, it was just my luck that these fine gentlemen were out for a walk in the cemetery.
I frowned. What the hell were they doing here, anyhow? Seemed like quite the lucky coincidence, if you ask me. But since it was working out in my favor, I kept my question to myself.
Gordon skidded to a halt in front of us, blinking rapidly and rubbing his eyes from the shot of pepper spray. There was a small red mark on his forehead-probably from the shoe.
I had my arms wrapped around myself to keep from shivering. I was dressed for a date, not a jog through a cemetery in late November. If I’d known that was in the cards, I would have at least worn a nice scarf. I felt ill, too: from the fear, from the loss of blood…and possibly from the questionable fajita I’d had earlier for dinner.
“Why were you running?” Gordon looked confused. “I wasn’t going to hurt you.”
“Bite me,” I told him. He was so going to get charged with assault. I might even have to put a restraining order on his sorry ass. “Oh, wait a minute, you already did bite me, didn’t you…you psycho!”
He rolled his eyes. “You’re really going to have to get over that if this relationship is going to have half a chance.”
Gordon finally noticed that we weren’t alone. “Oh,” was all he said as the men approached him. “Look guys, this isn’t what it looks like.”
I glared at him and then tried to smile at White-teeth. He sure was cute. Maybe my night was turning out better than I’d thought. “Look, if you guys just want to help me find a cab, I’d really like to go home. Make sure he doesn’t come near me again and I’ll owe you one.”
White-teeth smiled broadly. “Look what we have here, boys. Girlfriend and boyfriend vampire in a bit of a squabble.”
“He’s not my boyfriend,” I assured him.
“I’m not a vampire,” Gordon said quietly.
“That’s funny. He told me he was a vampire just a minute ago. That’s why he bit me.” I rubbed my neck tenderly. “He’s definitely crazy.”
“Yeah. Crazy,” White-teeth said before turning to his friends. “How many is this tonight?”
The stringy-haired guy piped up. “It’s been a great night. Quinn’s gonna be sorry he missed out. Maybe five? No, six.”
“Listen guys…” Gordon looked scared to death. “We can work something out. I have money-”
White-teeth punched Gordon in the stomach. He clutched at his belly and fell to his knees, coughing and sputtering.
“Hey,” I said, frowning hard. “I don’t think that’s necessary. Look, all I want is for you guys to help me get home. That’s all.”
“Shut up,” White-teeth snapped at me. Gordon struggled to his feet only to get punched again, this time in the jaw.
That’s no way to treat a crazy person. They need supervision, not violence.
I marched over to White-teeth and grabbed his arm. “That’s enough. There’s no reason to be such a big bully-”
He looked at me for a moment, then smiled. “Darlin’, you need to learn your place.” He pushed me hard enough to make me fall backwards, and I yelped in pain as my ankle twisted.
Something glinted in the hands of my so-called rescuers, catching the moonlight. Some kind of metal. Knives. Stringy-hair held a switchblade, and Burly had a small axe. I also noticed they had sharp wooden spikes tucked into loops on their belts.
Then Gordon screamed. White-teeth was so close to him now that they seemed to be slow dancing, shuffling around in a partial circle. White-teeth moved back and I saw the handle of a knife sticking out of Gordon’s stomach.
“But I told you I had money,” he gasped.
White-teeth extended his hand like a doctor might, waiting for his next tool. A wooden spike was slapped down into it.
I opened my mouth to say something, to stop this before it went too far, but the only sound that came out was a tiny squeak.
“But, vampire, this is so much more fun than money,” White-teeth said, and arched his arm upwards, slicing into Gordon’s torso.
I brought a hand to my mouth in stunned horror and scrambled backwards on the ground. A bolt of pain went through my ankle as I tried and failed to get to my feet. My heart beat wildly. All three men joined in then, taking turns hacking and stabbing and slicing my date. They were so busy with Gordon that they appeared to have forgotten I was even there. I was beginning to think that was a good thing.
Finally I was able to stand up unsteadily. But I felt frozen in place as I watched the straight-out-of-a-horror-movie scene before me. I’d changed my mind. Didn’t want their help anymore. Nope. And what had he said before? They’d deal with me in a moment?
Gordon was no longer screaming or begging for his life. He’d stopped moaning. Stopped moving. In fact, he appeared to be disintegrating. The more they stabbed at his prone body, the less there seemed to be of him, until finally there was nothing but his empty clothes lying in the middle of a nasty dark stain on the road.
Then White-teeth turned to me. I shuffled backwards a painful step at a time. My brain was screaming for me to run, and I finally decided that was the best idea I’d had all night. I turned around, but the stringy-haired guy had quietly moved to stand behind me. He grinned as he put his now-bloody wooden spike back in his belt, then grabbed my wrists to pull me closer to him. I tried to twist away.
“Where do you think you’re going, vampire?” His breath smelled like rotten eggs.
I wanted to argue, to tell him I wasn’t a vampire because vampires didn’t exist. I also wanted to tell him to invest in a good mouthwash. But I still couldn’t find my voice. A hot tear slipped down my cheek as I looked at the other two men and took in a shuddery gulp of air. I had a funny feeling these guys wanted to add more stains to my ruined dress than the grass and dirt that were already on it.
I wished I had another shoe to throw.
“Look at her, she’s petrified,” White-teeth said with amusement.
“She’s new,” the burly guy answered. “It’s almost cruel to exterminate her so soon. She looks like she might be fun. Check out those legs. Can’t it wait till the morning?”
White-teeth’s smile widened. “Yeah. Maybe we can wait a bit. What do you say, darlin’? Want to buy yourself a little time?”
“In your dreams,” I managed to hiss at him.
He laughed. “There is only one answer, darlin’, and that is whatever I say it is. Now come here, or else.”
I decided I’d rather have the ‘or else.’ The man who’d seemed so attractive when I’d first bumped into him, my potential hero, now was grotesquely ugly to me. His face was splattered with Gordon’s blood.
I tried to pull away from Stringy, but he held tight to my wrists, leering at me.
“Nice try,” he said, grinning.
I shrugged at him, then kneed him hard in the groin. He let go of my wrists immediately. I glanced over my shoulder at White-teeth, then, ignoring the searing pain in my ankle, darted away from them.
While Stringy moaned in agony, the burly one made an annoyed noise and said, “It’s never easy, is it?” Then boots slapped against the pavement as they started to chase after me.
Everything looked different late at night, and there was barely any light to help me figure out where the hell I was. I knew the Bloor Viaduct, a tall bridge that went over the Don River, wasn’t too far away. If I could get to the other side of the bridge I could find a phone, find somebody that could help me.
How much longer I could keep running was the question. My lungs burned, and with my twisted ankle I was doing more of a fast limp than an all-out run. Also, my feet, without the protection of any shoes, were screaming for me to stop. But I knew if I stopped that would be it. They’d kill me like they’d killed Gordon. Or worse. I shuddered when I thought of how that stringy-haired freak had leered at me. I had to keep running. There was no other choice.
I was actually surprised the men hadn’t caught up to me. In fact, I didn’t even hear them behind me anymore. My pace slowed, but only for a moment. I braved a quick glance over my shoulder.
I was now in the middle of a park. I could hear traffic, so that meant I wasn’t far from Bloor Street, but I couldn’t see anything but trees surrounding me. I was all alone.
I skidded to a halt and was breathing so fast and shallow I was certain that I’d begin to hyperventilate.
They must have given up. Maybe I’d been too fast for them. I had been going to the gym a little more than normal lately, to get into bikini shape for my big, expensive trip to Puerto Vallarta. Amy and I had been planning it for nearly a year, and now it was just a month away. That had to be it. I was in amazing shape. Just as fit and dangerous as that chick from the Terminator movies.
Then I heard the rev of an engine and the squealing of tires. A jeep lurched onto the road in the distance, spraying gravel under its wheels.
Outrun that, Terminator, I thought as the panic rose again in my chest.
I could hear them, the men I’d stupidly thought I’d escaped. They were hooting and hollering as they bore down on me. This must have been their idea of a good time.
I finally made it to the bridge. In the distance I could see the Toronto skyline.
I kept running, ignoring the pain. The concrete sidewalk that ran along one side of the bridge felt cool through my torn nylons and cut-up feet. I looked around, hoping that somebody might stop to help me, but car after car whizzed by without even slowing down for a second glance. When I stepped out into the bridge’s traffic to try to flag someone down, a driver blasted his horn at me and swerved, narrowly missing me. I scrambled back onto the sidewalk.
It looked like it was just going to be me, White-teeth and the boys gaining on me by the second…
And the dark shadow of a figure balanced on one of the bridge’s metal suspension beams. He stood on the other side of what was called the veil-thin, evenly spaced metal rods put up to prevent anyone from climbing over the barrier and leaping to their deaths. But, I saw that a section of the veil was now warped, stretched wide enough to allow someone to get through. This is where I quickly scrambled up and squeezed through so I stood near the stranger, my back against the barrier. Behind me, I heard the jeep skid to a halt and the doors slam as the men got out to chase after me on foot.
“Hey!” I called out to the figure. He wore a long coat that whipped about in the cold wind. He looked like an ornament on the front of a pirate ship. Or maybe even Kate Winslet flying at the front of the Titanic-only not as perky. And certainly not as female.
“Go away” His deep voice was sullen
“Holy crap, this is high up, isn’t it?” I inched closer to where he stood on the beam. “Help me!”
“Help yourself. Can you not see I’m planning to kill myself here?” the man said, looking down at the dark water far below us.
“Help me first and then kill yourself,” I reasoned.
I was close enough to glimpse his face. He looked to be in his mid-thirties and was dressed from head to toe in black. If I actually had a moment to consider his looks in my current life-or-death situation I’d say he was really hot. But he looked completely miserable. Whether he looked miserable because he wanted to kill himself or that he’d been interrupted, I wasn’t sure.
“A friend of yours?” White-teeth’s voice came from behind me, just on the other side of the veil of bars.
I braced myself and turned my head to look at him.”A good friend. And he’s going to kick your ass if you don’t leave me the hell alone.”
He gave me a very unfriendly smile. “That I’d like to see.”
From his perch, the stranger glanced at us without much interest. He seemed oblivious to the fact that we were hundreds of feet in the air. I saw his gaze move to my neck and I touched it gingerly.
“Vampire hunters,” he said.
“Who wants to know?” White-teeth took a cigar from his leather jacket pocket and lit it. He must have felt he had all the time in the world.
I carefully inched even closer to the stranger. Even though he was suicidal and therefore probably just as crazy as anyone else I’d had the misfortune of meeting that evening, he was currently my best bet to get out of this in one piece.
“It doesn’t matter who I am,” the stranger replied to White-Teeth. “You are invading my personal space. Kindly take your business elsewhere.”
White-teeth glowered at him. “We’ve just come to claim this little piece of vampire ass and we’ll be on our way, so you can get back to…” he looked around, “…whatever it was you were doing.”
I grabbed the hem of the stranger’s coat and held on for dear life. “Don’t let them hurt me. Please.”
He yanked his coat away from me. “I don’t want anything to do with this.”
White-teeth had started to squeeze through a section in the cement at knee level that wasn’t protected by the veil, his cigar clenched between his teeth. “Here I was going to be a gentleman and kill you quick. Well, sort of quick. Now I’m going to take all the time in the world to tear you apart. You’re going to feel every second of it.”
White-teeth was halfway through and reached out for me. I yanked away from him, spun around and kicked him with my bare foot. There was a sickening wet squish as my big toe met his left eye. It was the most disgusting thing I’d ever felt.
He screamed in pain and clutched at his face. The cigar fell out of his mouth, and down to the river below. I lost my footing, but before I could fall, the stranger reached out and grabbed me around my waist, pulling me safely against him.
“Thank you.” I barely got the words out, my teeth were chattering so hard. “I thought you weren’t going to help me.”
“Reflex,” he said.
The two vampire hunters who weren’t currently howling in pain-although Stringy looked a little tender from the groin incident-pulled their injured friend away from the opening and started to climb through themselves.
The stranger looked down at the black water. “I suppose we’ll have to jump.”
I raised my eyebrows and clung to him as the hunters grabbed at my legs. “Wasn’t that your original plan? And wasn’t your original plan to kill yourself?”
“With my luck tonight the fall won’t kill me,” he replied, bringing an arm around my waist. “But you just might.”
He pushed off from the bridge and we fell for what felt like a very long time before disappearing into the cold, black water.