Lady & the Vamp
(Immortality Bites – Book #3)
Grand Central Publishing – Forever, April ’08
Janie Parker’s a supernatural assassin – not by choice, but what’s a girl gonna do? The only thing standing between her and decapitation at the hands of her hellish boss is a magical artifact called The Eye. To get it, all Janie has to do is find a dark, broody vampire named Michael Quinn and take it. Easy, right? Except if Quinn keeps kissing her that way, she just might lose her head…in more ways than one.
Former vampire hunter Michael Quinn is determined to become human again. If he grabs hold of The Eye and makes a wish – then boom, everything’s good with the world. But now Quinn has a sassy tagalong with a long, delectable neck and orders to stake him on sight. He just hopes his first bite won’t be Janie’s last moment on earth…
R E V I E W S
“4 Stars! Fans will appreciate the light tone, the smooth and swift narration… throughout the third book of Rowen’s Immortality Bites series.” – Romantic Times BOOKreviews
“I’ve been bitten and smitten by Michelle Rowen.” – NYT Bestselling Author Sherrilyn Kenyon
“Michelle Rowen never disappoints! I love her work!” – NYT Bestselling Author Gena Showalter
“…A delectable treat from start to finish…romantic, sweet, funny, and everything I could ask for in a story.” – Fresh Fiction
“Excitement, a strong, character driven, intense plot, and wicked humor keep this story racing… As usual, Ms. Rowen delivers a winning story. Enjoy it. No fooling.” – Huntress Romance Reviews
“If you like your romances filled with humor, unique and entertaining characters. and above all else, a little bite, you’re gonna love Lady & the Vamp” – Romance Reviews Today
“KUDOS to author Michelle Rowen for her fabulous book Lady and the Vamp. I was so thrilled to read such a remarkable book with such vivid characters involved.” – Simplyromancereviews.com
“I loved Lady & the Vamp! Michelle Rowen has again successfully written a funny and highly entertaining vampire story…I can’t wait for book four of this series!” – Armchairinterviews.com
“A hilariously funny vampire story that you’d can’t wait to sink your own teeth in.” – Bookcovereviews.com
Order Lady & the Vamp!
C h a p t e r 1
It was none of his business, but that never stopped him before.
Quinn watched from the shadows as two hunters moved stealthily through the dark parking lot of the roadside restaurant until they had their prey cornered. He wanted to ignore what he was seeing, turn away and head back to the car, but that wasn’t going to happen.
He silently approached from behind.
“Need any help?” he asked.
The two hunters spun around to face him. One was large with thick forearms and a scruff of beard that looked to be there more from laziness than fashion sense. The other was younger, thinner, with round glasses that magnified his eyes to twice their size. At first glance, a rather unlikely dynamic duo.
“Get lost,” the large one said.
Quinn shrugged. “I can take a hint. No problem.”
Just walk away, he told himself. You’ve got more important things to deal with.
But then he glanced at the pair of vampires who’d been trapped in the Burger King parking lot near the garbage Dumpster-a male and female who could have been anywhere from 20 to 200 years old, in his opinion. You just couldn’t tell about that sort of thing.
“Please, help us,” the female pleaded.
She was cute. Small and blonde. Looked like a college student out on a date with her dark-haired, wide-eyed boyfriend who was attempting to shield her from the hunters with his own body. Almost couldn’t see his fangs unless you were looking for them.
Quinn laughed. “Help a vampire? Why would I want to do a crazy thing like that?”
“Hey-” the younger hunter moved the wooden stake to his other hand. “I think I know you. Don’t I? You’re Roger Quinn’s kid, Michael. Yeah, we met a couple years ago. Toasted a nest of vamps up in St. Louis.”
Quinn tried to see the face behind those large glasses. He didn’t look familiar. Then again, he’d drunk a lot when he was in St. Louis. Bad month and a half. Beer had helped. “Sure. Good to see you again.”
“Yeah, you too, man.” He absently scratched at his leg with the stake. The vampires eyed the sharp weapon with fear. The hunter turned to his friend. “Quinn here’s one of the best hunters I’ve ever seen. Got a nose for vamps. Can smell them in any corner they try to hide.”
Quinn waved his hand. “Aw, you’re just saying that.”
“I’m Joe, remember? This here’s my buddy Stuart. Listen, you can totally help us out. These are our first two tonight. I figure they were lying in wait for victims coming out of the restaurant.” He poked the male vampire in the chest as his magnified eyes narrowed. “That what you’re doing? Looking for a little snack, you bloodsucking freak?”
“Go to hell.” The vampire set his jaw and tried to look brave. It wasn’t working very well.
“Well, you know vamps.” Quinn eyed the restaurant as a car exited drive-thru. “Evil to the core.”
“You live around here?”
He shook his head. “Just passing through town. Stopped for a bite.”
“Hey,” the larger hunter spoke up. He was frowning. “You’re Michael Quinn?”
“Please,” the female said. “We’re not evil. We just wanted some dinner.”
“Yeah,” Stuart snarled. “From unassuming victims. Their blood.”
“No, a chocolate milkshake.”
The other licked his lips nervously. “Just leave us alone.”
“Bloodsucking freak,” Stuart snapped. “Vampires don’t eat solid food.”
“Some of us do,” the female’s voice shook.
“Shut up.” Then he turned back to Quinn. “I feel like I’ve heard something about you recently. I’m just trying to figure out what it was.”
Quinn crossed his arms and tried to ignore the pleading look the female vampire was giving him. “Oh, yeah? Something important?”
“I think so. But what was it?” He scratched his chin.
“Well,” Quinn began. “You may have heard that I’ve recently retired from hunting vampires.”
Stuart nodded. “Yeah, that sounds right. But there was something else.” His brow furrowed, and then his gaze shot up. “Wait a minute. I remember. You…you’re a-”
Quinn punched him in the face. “Bloodsucking freak?”
The hunter howled and covered his nose that started to gush blood.
Joe tensed and raised his stake. Quinn swiveled and kicked him in the stomach. He staggered backward and banged his head off the Dumpster, immediately knocking him out. The stake clattered to the ground.
Stuart looked up, holding his nose.
Quinn flashed fangs at him. “I’ve also lost a lot of friends recently. For some reason they’re not speaking to me anymore.”
The vampires huddled together, frozen in place.
Stuart rushed Quinn. Quinn grabbed the stake out of his hand and then flipped the hunter over his hip.
Quinn crouched down to press the stake against Stuart’s neck. “Like I said, I’m just passing through town. I strongly suggest you do the same.”
The hunter gurgled.
“Doesn’t feel so good, does it? I’ve had a change of heart recently about killing vampires. Why don’t I let you guess why that is?”
“Don’t kill me!” he begged.
Quinn pulled the stake away. “The next time you’re out hunting, just remember one of the bloodsucking freaks let you live. Got it?”
The hunter nodded, holding a shaky hand to his neck, fear naked in his eyes.
“Now take your little buddy and get the hell out of here.”
Joe was beginning to gain consciousness. Stuart grabbed his shirt and the two of them staggered away. Quickly.
Quinn watched them run.
Amateurs. Could spot them from a mile away.
“Holy shit, Quinn,” a voice said from his right. “I thought you were going to wait in the car?”
He looked over. Matthew Barkley had emerged from the restaurant carrying a large bag filled with fast food. Quinn breathed in and with his newly heightened vampires senses could immediately tell it was two Whoppers with cheese and an order of fries. The smell of solid food made him feel a little queasy. Some vamps, like the two he’d saved, could still eat solid food. Unfortunately, he wasn’t one of them.
“I needed to stretch my legs,” he said.
“Were those hunters?”
“They were trying to be.”
“You kicked their asses?”
“Nice.” Barkley nodded. “Good to see you’re not a big fan of your old buddies. I guess that makes total sense.”
The vampires approached.
“Thank you so much for saving us!” the female said. “We didn’t know what to do. How can we ever thank you?”
Quinn didn’t look at them. “You can start by staying the hell away from me.”
“Go away,” Quinn snarled.
They glanced at each other, and then turned and ran in the opposite direction from the hunters.
Barkley had started to eat one of his Whoppers. He chewed thoughtfully and swallowed before speaking. “And you don’t like vamps either. That actually doesn’t make sense. You’re okay with werewolves, though, right?”
“Don’t worry, I’m not going to run you off too.”
“Good to know. You ready to leave, or what? We need to put in a couple hundred more miles before we can grab some sleep.”
Quinn’s heart was beating hard in his chest. He felt a little ill, actually. Cold and clammy. “I need a minute. I’ll be right back.”
“I’ll be in the car. Eating a great deal of food.”
Quinn made his way to the public washroom in the restaurant to splash some cold water on his face. He clutched the side of the sink until his knuckles whitened.
Keep it together, he told himself.
Christ. Two months as a vampire and it wasn’t getting any easier. When was it going to get easier?
Soon. Very soon.
He touched his pocket to feel the reassuring outline of the letter and immediately felt his heartbeat come back down to the normal rate for a thirty-year-old freshly made vamp. The letter. The only thing from his father’s many possessions that he’d cared about after the old man died.
The letter was going to lead him directly to his answer.
Solve all of his problems.
He had to be patient. Just a little while longer.
As far as he was aware, nobody alive knew about it. Not one soul. His father had spent a good part of his adult life-the part that wasn’t concerned with hunting down and killing vampires-in his search for the Eye. Quinn thought he knew why his father had never been able to find it. The timing was all wrong.
But now it was right. And the Eye would be Quinn’s.
Then none of this would matter anymore. He could fix this mess he’d gotten himself into once and for all.
He looked up into the mirror that reflected nothing but the washroom behind him. When he bared his teeth he couldn’t even see the fangs he knew were there.
With one smash of his fist he shattered the mirror.
The door opened. A young kid in a Burger King uniform poked his head in. “Everything okay in here, mister?”
Quinn growled at him.
The kid gave an uneasy smile as he assessed the damage. “Never mind.” The door closed.
Quinn took a deep breath and closed his tired eyes.
Not much longer and he wouldn’t have to be a monster anymore.
* * *
Janie Parker was going to die.
Accepting it, she thought, really is half the battle.
Also drinking four vodka martinis for lunch before it’s going to happen helps. A bit.
“He’ll see you now,” a voice announced.
She nodded. Okay. Showtime.
She stood up from the sofa in the waiting area and walked the long hallway to her boss’s office. The walls were lined with the photos of other employees. On the left side of the hallway were the stars-the people who’d never failed at a job. For them, the sky was the limit. They could have anything they wanted: money, power, influence.
Well, anything they wanted except for the opportunity to quit. Ever.
Along the right side were the employees who had messed up a job. Failed on an assignment.
They hadn’t needed to quit.
They would have had an appointment with the boss exactly like the one she was about to have. Then their photo would be moved from one side of the hallway to the other as an example to others.
She always knew a place that had “burial options” on the job application form had a few potential human resource issues.
Janie had had two meetings with the Boss prior to this one. The first had been when her very ex-boyfriend had tricked her into taking his place at The Company (which was what the organization was generically known as to those unfortunate enough to know it even existed). He’d been able to trick her because she’d imagined herself in love with the good-looking creep. He’d been so convincing and charming that she’d signed the dotted line happily. A little less happily when she realized she had to sign in blood, but still. He promised that they would work there together. The jerk lied. He took off late one night when she was fast asleep and she never saw him again. He’d managed to beat the system.
Now she was the system.
The second time she’d had a meeting with her boss had been slightly over a year ago when her previous partner screwed up a job and tried to blame it on Janie. They’d both been dragged in on the carpet where the Boss had been very calm in listening to their explanations before cleanly and efficiently decapitating her partner right in front of her.
Janie swallowed hard. She’d liked her old partner. Trusted her like she hadn’t trusted anyone in years. It just showed how people change when faced with owning up to their failures. Not to mention having their heads chopped off.
She didn’t trust anybody anymore.
Since that unfortunate incident she’d been an exemplary employee. Doing everything she was told. Whenever she was told. Wherever she was told. Gritting her teeth over the unpleasant assignment-and since most of the assignments she had were unpleasant her teeth were likely to be ground down to nothing but stubs very soon. But the image of her last partner’s untimely death haunted her. The Boss was nobody to mess with. Nobody to let down.
And she’d done just that.
She’d very recently let a job slip through her fingers. A regular retrieval of a magical piece of jewelry up in Toronto. A necklace. She didn’t know what it was or what it did, only that the Boss wanted her to pick it up and bring it back to him.
She’d failed. Accidentally, on purpose. She knew there was only one way out of this job, and that’s the route she was taking.
But now that the moment had arrived, she was shaking in her brand new Prada pumps.
Sure she could run. Or try to, anyhow. But it would be no use. The Boss had seers on his payroll who could psychically pinpoint any employee’s location no matter where they tried to hide. Running would only delay the inevitable.
She wanted it over with.
“Get in here,” the Boss growled from behind the slightly ajar door.
Janie entered the room. Two helper drones stood on either side of the door. They were the Boss’s personal assistants-they looked like regular guys, but weren’t. They were under some sort of spell to make them his slaves, unable to resist his authority. However, they did get a really great Christmas bonus, so she supposed it all worked out in the end.
She painted on her best fake smile. “Hey there, boss man. Good to see you. You look fantastic.”
He didn’t, but Janie was a very good liar. He was actually a tiny little shrew of a man. Skinny and frail-looking, with hollow cheekbones. He reminded her of a live-action Mr. Burns from The Simpsons. Only meaner. And older. And much less yellow.
“Save the compliments for your next life, Parker.”
“Listen, Boss, I can explain everything.”
He waved his bony hand. “You can save that too. Come closer.”
Janie swallowed, and then commanded her feet to start moving. She wanted this. It would only hurt for a second, she hoped. After she was dead, she’d be free from this lonely, disappointing, horrific life once and for all. It was the best decision. Suicide by proxy.
She’d miss her new shoes, but that was about it.
It seemed as though it took about two hours for her to finally reach his desk.
“I’m sorry,” she heard herself squeak and then mentally kicked herself.
He stared at her with watery, pale gray eyes. His bony hand slipped down into the drawer on the right-hand side of his black-as-pitch monster of a desk.
What was he reaching for? A gun? A knife? A vial of acid? A bowl of piranha?
She squeezed her eyes shut and braced herself for impact.
“Take a look at this,” the Boss said.
She tentatively pried one eye open, and then the other, and looked down. On the surface of the desk was an intricate color drawing of a small crystal sphere almost completely enclosed by a spider web-like filigree of silver at the top of a ruby-encrusted, ornate golden wand.
She forced the smile back to her face. “Is somebody thinking about going out as Harry Potter next Halloween? It’s only February but I always say it’s good to plan ahead. You will look adorable, I think.”
He tapped the drawing. “I want this. And I want you to get it for me.”
“You want me-” She paused. “But I thought I was here for-”
He shook his wrinkled head. “You’re a failure, Parker. A disgusting waste of space. But I’m willing to give you one more chance. Retrieve the Eye for me and all is forgiven.”
“With that kind of a build up, how can I possibly refuse?” She snatched the drawing off the desk and looked at it closer. “Why’s it called the Eye?”
A cold grin twisted on his face. “You don’t have to know anything more than what I will tell you to retrieve it. There is one who has the means to find its location. It was foreseen by a seer this morning. A vampire who wishes to use the Eye’s power for his own gain. Follow the vampire and you will find the Eye. Acquire it by any means necessary and bring it to me. This is all I ask.”
“Sounds simple enough. And if the vamp gives me any problems?”
Janie took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “Is he evil?”
“Does it matter?”
She hesitated. Don’t mess this up, dumb ass. “Of course not.”
“Then there is no problem.” He leaned back in his huge black leather chair, his gaze still uncomfortably fixed on Janie. “The vampire drives with an acquaintance, a werewolf, en route to Arizona.” He pushed a piece of paper toward her. “The seers inform me they will be at this location tomorrow at noon sharp.”
She picked it up, glanced at the address, and then tucked it and the drawing into her pocket. “Then I guess I’ll be on my way.” She turned her back.
She froze, then twisted around to face the man who had the starring role in most of her nightmares. “Yes, sir?”
“In case you were thinking about failing again, know to do so would displease me greatly.”
“Do you?” His right hand slipped down into the drawer again and he pulled out a photo, then placed it on the top of his desk. “Your own life may mean little to you, but should you disappoint me again there are other punishments I can think of.”
She drew closer to the desk and looked down at the surveillance photo of a pretty redhead and her heart nearly stopped. It was her younger sister, Angela, who had disappeared five years ago just after her eighteenth birthday. Janie had searched non-stop for over a year, but found no clues as to where she’d gone. After that she’d convinced herself Angela was dead, just like the rest of her family.
Her eyes flicked up to meet the evil ones of her boss from hell.
“Where is she?” Her voice was barely a gasp.
He spread his hands. “Bring me the Eye and we will discuss the matter further. Fail me and she will take your punishment. And I promise you, I will not be merciful. Do you understand?”
Janie fought back the stinging tears that threatened to escape. Shit. She hadn’t cried in years and she wasn’t going to start now. Her lips thinned and she nodded at the bastard with one jerk of her head. “I understand.”
“By Friday at midnight, or you will watch your sister die.”
She grabbed the photo and jammed it into her pocket, then stormed past the expressionless drones and out of the office, slamming the door behind her. She turned and braced herself against the wall and tried to remain calm. She grabbed her necklace and twisted it. She might try to act all tough, but she wore a memento of what she’d lost around her neck at all times. She and Angela had bought matching necklaces-a knotted, natural fiber chain that bore a large oval turquoise-years ago on vacation in Mexico when their entire family had been together and happy. The necklace wasn’t fancy, and it didn’t exactly go with most of her wardrobe, but she wouldn’t trade it for diamonds and gold. She never took it off.
Her little sister was alive. The idea thrilled her and filled her with so much dread she couldn’t contain it. Her parents had died when she was a teenager. Her brother had abandoned her to become a vampire hunter until he’d gotten himself killed a couple months ago. She’d thought she was all alone in the world. Sure as hell had felt like it. Maybe that’s why she’d latched on to the loser who’d roped her into working for the Company to begin with – some misplaced need to belong somewhere.
The penalty for failure was huge. But the payoff was even bigger if she was successful. And how couldn’t she be? It was just a regular retrieval. She was one of the best at that. She’d grab her current partner, Lenny, and the two of them would leave immediately for Arizona.
She’d kill a hundred nasty vampires for the chance to find out where her sister was.
One little vampire wouldn’t be any problem at all.