Michelle Rowen

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Stakes & Stilettos

Stakes & Stilettos

(Immortality Bites – Book #4)

Grand Central Publishing – Forever – April ’09

ISBN 10: 0446505846
ISBN 13: 9780446505840

Staked, cursed, and still single…

Newly-vamped Sarah Dearly wants her normal life back, but fate is fighting against her. She tries to get a nice, regular job and gets staked at the interview, only to be rescued by a masked vampire who calls himself the Red Devil. Then a wallflower-turned-witch curses her, making her a bloodthirsty, sun-allergic nightwalker — the worst vampire there is. As if all that weren’t bad enough, she can’t get married because her 600-year-old boyfriend, Thierry, is in a centuries-long marriage of convenience he can’t escape.

…it’s enough to make a girl start biting.

As Sarah’s nightwalker tendencies make her more dangerous, even to those she loves, she’ll have to counteract that curse, unmask the increasingly intriguing Red Devil, and — oh yeah — get a commitment from her man. But if that’s what it takes to secure her happiness, Sarah is ready…even if it means embracing her inner vamp to do it.

Read the “blind date flashback” scene that was cut from the original manuscript


“4 Stars! Ãœber-talented Rowen is back and once again combining the weird and the wacky as only she can. There’s plenty of humor and a touch of danger; truly a biting good time!” – Romantic Times BOOKreviews

“(Sarah’s) voice is by turns comic and sarcastic…truly funny…be warned if reading public that outbreaks of spontaneous laughter are likely. Stakes & Stilettos is the strongest book of the series so far and is recommended reading for romance fans. Hugely good fun!” – LoveVampires.com

“…a rollercoaster ride of excitement for the reader. You will be swept up in her emotional tilt-a-whirl from page one, and be begging for the next ride to begin.” – Coffee Time Romance and More

“Michelle Rowen’s books never fail to thrill…Stakes and Stilettos is delightfully charming and keeps the wonderful mixture of tongue-in-cheek (is that tongue-in-fang?) humor and well-fleshed-out plot that made her earlier books so entertaining. The story keeps you guessing, always twisting in unexpected ways.” – Bitten by Books

“Stakes & Stilettos has the perfect combination of paranormal, romance, mystery, humor, suspense, and chick lit all wrapped up into one superb novel that will knock your socks off!” – Enchanted by Books

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C h a p t e r   1

My name is Sarah Dearly. Fledgling vampire and part-time bartender, at your service. Welcome to my highly dysfunctional life.

Two and a half months ago I was bitten and turned into a vampire by my blind date from hell, chased across the city by vampire hunters, and managed to meet the handsome master vampire of my dreams right before we had to jump off a bridge together to escape getting killed. And that was all the very first night.

Since then things have been steadily…oh, insane would be a good word. But I’ve managed. Ten weeks as a vampire had changed a whole lot of things in my life, but I was still me. Still Sarah. Still not anyone to be afraid of in a dark alley. Ten weeks without my biting any necks or magically turning into a bat. “Evil” is definitely not my middle name.

I’d been damn lucky, all things considered. Although I do think changing into a bat would be a nice gift-with-purchase for this whole, unfortunate vampire deal.

“Sarah, are you ready to meet the man who’ll change your life forever?”

I glanced up from the dirty martini I was shaking and looked across the top of the bar at the grinning redhead. Her name was Heather, a former waitress at Haven, and her enthusiasm was almost contagious. Almost.

“Change my life forever, huh?” I said. “Is that a promise or a threat?”

“Definitely a promise. New directions, new opportunities. A chance at a fantastic future.”

“If I even get the job.”

“You know me. Of course you’ll get it!”

Okay, I had to admit it. I was a little excited. Especially since Heather had asked me personally to interview with her new boyfriend that very night. We were meeting at a café just down the street from the club. We weren’t meeting at Haven because it was vamps-only. It was a rule. Heather’s boyfriend was human, but obviously pro-vampire since he was with her, so it was all good.

I liked Heather a lot. She was fun and funny and never gave me a hard time when I worked the bar and she waited tables. She’d quit two weeks ago after she met the man of her dreams who had started a brand new merchandising website called “Vamp International” that was set to launch next month. The job I would be interviewing for dealt with the fashion end of things and it sounded, from Heather’s description, too good to be true.

Plus, it paid big bucks.

I pulled my tip money out of a small juice glass next to the till. A small juice glass was all I needed. Nobody tipped the bartender here. Or very rarely. I’d noticed that on the average, vampires were extremely lousy tippers.

Haven was my boyfriend’s nightclub that catered to the fanged citizens of Toronto, open from nine p.m. until nearly dawn.

Less than a week from now Haven would be transferring over to the new owners. Thierry had recently made the decision to sell the club and apparently the new boss wanted to bring in his own servers. A bummer, but not an unexpected one. Luckily, it would still be a vampire club-one of only two in Toronto at the moment-so it was nice to know there would still be somewhere to hang out, but I couldn’t count on getting a semi-regular pay check anymore.

Therefore, this job opportunity had seriously come at exactly the right time for me. I was broke.

I felt a warm hand at the small of my back and I turned away from Heather to see Thierry now standing next to me. I hadn’t even seen him approach. Master vampires-they were a sneaky lot.

Thierry was, in a word, gorgeous. At first glance, or even second, you’d never guess he was pushing 700 years old. He looked more like he was in his mid-30’s, and super hot with the whole tall, dark, and fangsome thing going on.

A lot of people were either scared or turned off by his sometimes cold and aloof manner, but I preferred to think of that as part of his charm. I knew underneath that icy exterior was a man as wonderful on the inside as he was on the outside. But I was fine with it being my little secret.

“Is everything all right over here?” he asked.

I nodded. “I’m about to take off for my interview.”

“Hi Thierry,” Heather said, smiling widely at him even though I knew she was one of those who didn’t like him very much. “Why don’t I wait over here for you, Sarah?” She moved far enough away to give us some privacy.

Thierry moved his gaze to mine. His eyes were a medium gray color, but somehow managed to look metallic, like silver. It was a bit spooky until you got used to it.

“You don’t need to get another job,” he said.

“Oh, but I do. I definitely need a nice, normal job to help pay the bills.” I fished into the juice glass and pulled out the penny that was stuck to the very bottom, and then knelt down to tuck the money into the front pocket of my purse. “I wanted to buy a new dress for the reunion, but since I can’t afford it, I’m going to ask Amy if she has something I can borrow.”

My ten-year high school reunion was in two days. Despite my life being in constant peril in the ten weeks since I’d been turned into a vampire, things had cooled off enough that I felt that I didn’t want to miss it. It was to be my last gasp as a normal person before I finally, grudgingly, accepted my new life as a vampire. And yes, life as a vampire. Vampires being the walking dead was just another unfortunate rumor like me being a weapon of mass destruction.

The rumor currently going around was that I was the “Slayer of Slayers.” Sheesh. You kill one vampire hunter in self defense-an act that had now grown in legend to twelve hunters and counting that I’d taken down with my well-manicured, but lethal hands-and a girl gets a reputation.

I hated to admit it, but I think that’s one of the reasons Heather’s boyfriend Josh had agreed to meet me for an interview at this crazy hour of the night. He was impressed by my rep. Hey, if it helped to get me a cool new job, I would milk it for all it was worth.

Thierry frowned at me. “Of course you should have something new to wear. Why didn’t you say anything to me earlier?” He slid his hand into the front pocket of his black suit jacket, pulled out a money clip, and proceeded to peel off a few bills. “How much do you need? Will a thousand be sufficient?”

“Uh…yeah, that should just about do it.” My mouth began to water at the sight of the money, but after a moment I forced myself to hold back the drool. “Wait, no. No, Thierry, please. I don’t want to take any more of your money.”

“What do you mean?”

Ninety percent of my body reached out to that roll of money, but ten percent was holding me back. That ten percent was surprisingly strong. “Look, I feel like I’ve sponged off you for over two months. Now I have this opportunity to interview with Heather’s boyfriend so I can make my own money. You shouldn’t have to be there with a hand-out whenever I get sick of what I’m wearing.”

“I don’t mind,” he said.

“Well, I do. I need to find my own way when it comes to this sort of thing.”

God, I was being so mature. It was a little sickening. For my entire life I thought having a rich boyfriend would be the perfect solution to all of my problems, and don’t get me wrong, it was fantastic. But it also made me feel…dirty. And not in a good way. It made me feel that by taking his money I was less of a person. Less of a vampire. Whatever.

Ten weeks ago I’d been fired from my full-time, lousy paying but regular job as a personal assistant. My funds had dwindled away to practically nothing. I was down to bartending tips and Thierry’s generosity. A real job was way overdue.

A small smile curled up the side of his mouth. “Are you saying that you don’t want me for my money?”

I smiled back at him. “Oh, I want you. But the money thing is something I need to work out for myself.”

He reclipped the money and slid it back into his pocket. “If you insist.”

I felt a quick pang of regret but stifled it. It was the right decision. I wasn’t a kept woman. And it’s not as though we were married and half of Thierry’s bucks immediately became mine.

No, the position of “Thierry’s wife” had already been filled by a gorgeous 700-year-old French vampire named Veronique.

She wasn’t in the country at the moment.

Not that she minded our relationship. In fact, strangely enough, she encouraged it. They’d been married “in name only” now for over a century. Apparently divorcing somebody you’d been hitched to for six hundred years wasn’t something you could do by simply hiring a lawyer and signing some paperwork.

Didn’t bother me.


Okay, it bothered me a lot, but I tried not to dwell.

“Stay close to Heather,” Thierry said. “And promise to return here as soon as this interview is over.”

“I promise.”

It sounded bossy, but he was just being careful. When my reputation first became known I’d had a couple of bodyguards assigned to guard my body. I now had just one. A big brute of a guy appropriately named Butch. He was also a vampire, which definitely helped. My last bodyguards had been human. One of them had also tried to kill me, but that was another story.

However, Butch had recently requested a few personal days for unknown reasons which I would assume were personal. This meant that I was currently bodyguard-free so it was vital that I was with somebody trustworthy at all times.

Frankly, it felt as if I was constantly being babysat, but if it kept me breathing I would tolerate it for as long as I had to. The reputation would fade away and the hunters would move on to something more interesting sooner or later. Hopefully it would be sooner.

Lately things had cooled off considerably on the hunter front. I’d been informed there was some kind of vampire-hunter convention going on down in Las Vegas right now that the hunters were flocking to like wooden-stake-carrying birds flying south for the winter.

Remind me to stay away from Vegas at the moment. Only a crazy vamp with a serious death wish would show his or her face down there with all of those hunters lurking about.

“Then I wish you the very best of luck with your interview.” Thierry leaned over and brushed his lips against mine. Our relationship had definitely improved lately. Sure, he tended toward the strong silent type, and he did have a bit of a…dark side. To put it extremely mildly.

But kissing me in public was a definite sign that things were better than ever.

After another kiss and a whisper in my ear to be careful, he left the main club area to return to his office to deal with last-minute paperwork regarding the ownership transfer. Exciting stuff. Yawn.

“Ready?” Heather asked.

I nodded. “As ready as I’ll ever be.”

The new bartender had already signed in so Heather and I left the club and headed the short distance to the café, a little place called The French Connection. It specialized in overpriced cappuccinos and pastries. Since my vampire stomach couldn’t handle solid food now that I was on a purely liquid diet, I ordered a coffee. Black.

Heather’s boyfriend Josh sat at a small table in the corner. He was cute, somewhere in his twenties, and had dark shaggy hair and liquid brown eyes. I liked him immediately.

He got up and embraced Heather, kissing her hard on the lips, and then shook my hand very firmly.

“Sarah, it’s such a pleasure to finally get the chance to meet you.” He settled back down into his chair. The café was empty except for the three of us and the cashier behind the counter was busy organizing the display of scones and muffins and croissants into perfect high-caloried lines.

“You too,” I said. “Heather’s been raving about how great you are. And thanks for giving me the opportunity to talk to you.”

“No, I should be thanking you for agreeing to consider my offer.” He reached into his pocket and pulled out a small stack of bills. “Consider this a small sign of my appreciation. It’s a four-hundred-dollar advance on your first paycheck.”

I blinked. Wow, this was getting off to a fantastic start.

“Maybe we should skip the interview and I can start right away,” I joked.

He smiled and glanced at Heather who squeezed his hand. “I do have some questions. Important ones.”

Would it be rude if I’d shoved the cash into my pocket right away? Probably. “Shoot. My life is an open book.”

“How long ago, precisely, were you sired as a vampire?”

I frowned. “That’s kind of a strange question for a job interview, isn’t it?”

He shook his head and laughed. “Yeah, I guess it is, sort of.”

Heather laughed too and reached across the table to pat my hand reassuringly. “Josh is just trying to get to know you. Besides, the company does cater to vampire clientele.”

“Oh.” I relaxed a bit. “Well, okay. It was exactly ten weeks ago yesterday.”

“Ten weeks.” He nodded. “And you’ve adjusted well?”

“As well as can be expected, I guess.”

“I think you’ve done very well.”

“I try.” I took a sip of my coffee, cringing a bit at how bitter it tasted. I reached over to grab a few packets of sugar, tore them open, and stirred them into the dark depths.

“And since you were sired, do you notice having any special abilities now?”

I thought about that. “Well…I’d say that my senses have increased a bit, but nothing too crazy. Like my hearing’s improved. And I can smell really well. Seeing in the dark is a little clearer. Do you mean things like that?”

He nodded. “That’s helpful. And do you have any prophetic dreams?”

“Prophetic dreams?”

“Dreams that seem to foretell the future.”

“Uh…” I frowned again. “Actually did have a dream a few weeks ago that sort of told me that trouble was coming. And a few more that have been rather vivid. Would those count count?”

He nodded. “Any other uncanny psychic abilities?”

“I won twenty bucks on the lottery last week.”

“Increased strength?”

“Maybe a little, but I’m not signing up to be a professional wrestler yet.” My frown deepened. “Listen, these questions are making me a little uncomfortable. What does this have to do with the job?”

“I’m human,” Josh said, “And I’m hiring vampires, I need to know these things. It’s important.”

I glanced at Heather, but she looked completely fixated on Josh and not in the least bit frazzled by his vampire-related interview. I brushed away my sense of weirdness about the situation and took a sip of my now too-sweet coffee. “Okay, if you say so.”

“So…” Josh continued. “There’s a rumor that you’ve drank the blood of not one, but two master vampires. Is that true?”

I grimaced. Another rumor. Just what I needed.

Well, there was Thierry, of course. He’d saved me when my original sire was slayed by vampire hunters before I’d had the proper fledgling nutrition to keep me breathing. I got to ingest some of his super-charged vampire blood-apparently the older the vamp the more potent his blood was. Since master vampires rarely, if ever, shared blood or sired fledglings, this caused my vampire side-effects-namely losing my reflection and developing my fangs-to happen months if not years before they normally would have. Becoming a full vampire apparently took time.

And I guess Nicolai was a master vampire too. Or was, anyhow, until he’d ended up on the wrong side of a wooden stake. As one of the elder vampires in the Ring-the international vampire council-he’d stopped by Toronto three weeks ago to investigate my Slayer of Slayers reputation. Unfortunately there was some major bad blood-no pun intended-between him and Thierry. When he found out me and Thierry were involved, the insane vamp tried to kill me to seek his revenge. Before I’d learned about his ulterior motives, I’d had some of his blood by way of his wrist stuck in my mouth when I was near death. A girl can’t be too choosy in situations like that.

“Sure, two master vamps,” I said after a few moments of silence. “I guess I’m popular. Why do you want to know?”

Josh studied me without saying anything. From my dark brown shoulder-length hair, currently tucked behind my ears, to my eyes, nose, mouth. Then along my neck to my white camisole tank top, and, if you ask me, lingered a little too long for comfort on the boob area. My black winter coat hung behind me on the chair.

“I think I have all the information I need,” he said.

“So do I have the job?” I asked, still forcing myself to ignore the weird feeling.

He glanced at Heather. “What do you think?”

“I think it’ll work out perfectly.” She smiled and kissed him. “Just like we planned.”

I swallowed. The strange feeling of dread that had taken up space in my gut from the very first interview question began to spread through the rest of my body. “Can we talk about Vamp International now? Do I have the job?”

Heather stroked Josh’s face, before kissing him on his lips, and she turned her attention to me, her smile as bright and shiny as it had been all evening. “Okay, Sarah, I don’t want you to be mad, but there actually isn’t any Vamp International.”

I felt a rush of disappointment. “Then what exactly is this interview for?”

She pushed the wad of money in the center of the table closer to me. “It’s four hundred dollars now, and another four hundred once it’s done.”

I eyed her suspiciously. “Once what’s done?”

“You need to sire my boyfriend,” she said simply.

“I need to what?” My heart began to pound hard enough for me to hear in my ears. “What the hell are you talking about? I thought I was here to interview for a full-time job.”

Her smile faded slightly around the edges. “Well, I knew you probably wouldn’t immediately jump at a siring opportunity. I wanted you to meet Josh and see how awesome he is and how happy I am with him. And we are paying you for your services.”

“For my services?” I repeated. “This is completely ridiculous.”

“Please.” Josh leaned forward. “I love Heather. I want to be a vampire so we can be together forever. Heather told me that you were a romantic. That you’d understand.”

“Oh, I understand perfectly,” I said, feeling the seething annoyance building up inside of me. “You want to be a vampire? Then why don’t you just get her to sire you?”

He shook his head. “She’s the last in a long line. The strength in her blood is way too diluted. If she sired me I’d be too weak. But because of your connection to two master vampires your blood would make me strong, even as a fledgling. You have to sire me.”

“Forget it.” I shook my head. No way. That would require biting him-possibly on the neck. Something I’ve never done before nor did I plan on starting tonight. Gross. I’d have to drain his blood while keeping my fangs in long enough to transmit the vampire virus that had changed me from a normal, everyday 28-year-old into a friendly neighborhood bloodsucker.

Hell no.

Now, I did require blood to live. I was a vampire, after all. But that was why there were vampire bars. Vampires went to these places to get their blood-blood that was available in kegs delivered by companies who got the red stuff from paid donors. It was a business. The rarer the blood type, the more the blood cost. It worked very well and nobody I knew had a problem with it, especially since it meant that we didn’t have to get our blood from the original source. That would be wrong on too many levels to count. No humans were harmed to meet the requirements of my daily nutrition. Amen.

Although, even drinking blood from a keg, knowing I wasn’t hurting anybody, had been a hard thing to accept. However, if I didn’t want to die in agony-which I didn’t-some aspects of being a vampire couldn’t be avoided.

“I’m out of here.” I stood up from the table and grabbed my coat, ignoring the money completely, and I left the café to emerge into the chilly night without looking back.

Honestly. Some people. What had they been thinking? And lying to me about a fantastic new job? So not cool.

Pay me to sire her boyfriend. Did they think I was a vampire prostitute, or something? I wasn’t biting anyone for money. I didn’t care how broke I was.

Dammit. I was disappointed. Obviously a job that sounded too good to be true was just that. And to think that I’d trusted Heather-even thought of her as a friend. Talk about adding insult to injury.

I heard two sets of footsteps behind me but I ignored them.

“Sarah, wait!” Heather called after me.

I ducked into the little snow-covered park across the street from Haven. Through the park, up the street, down an alley and I’d be back in the club.

“Please, just listen to us.” There was a pleading in Heather’s voice now.

I stopped and turned around to face them. “Look, I understand that you two are in love. That’s super. Really. But I don’t like being lied to and I don’t want to bite anyone. Like, ever. So let’s just forget this ever happened, okay?”

“We’ll pay two thousand dollars,” Josh said with a glance at Heather. She nodded.

Two grand? That was a lot of money and would currently solve a great many problems. “That’s very generous, but no. I can’t do it. Listen, don’t become a vampire. It’s not really that great. Be a human. Stay a human. Less stress, trust me on that.”

Disappointment filled Josh’s expression. “That’s not an option.”

“I’m sure somebody will help you if it’s what you really want.”

“No, it has to be you,” Josh said and he began to shiver from the cold night since he only wore a sweater and he wrapped his arms tightly across his chest. “You’re currently the only vampire alive who has the blood of two masters coursing through her veins.”

“I’m the only one?” I said with surprise. “Seriously?”

He nodded. “There was another fledgling who had the blood of three master vamps, but he was recently set on fire by hunters and pulled apart by dogs. Apparently he saw it coming in one of those prophetic dreams.” He shrugged “I’ve researched it. It has to be a fledgling and it has to be the blood of more than one master vampire. That’s you. You’re so lucky. Masters almost never let fledglings drink from them.”

My stomach lurched. “I’m going back to Haven.”

“You need to bite me. Please, bite me, Sarah.”

“Bite him, Sarah,” Heather echoed. “Don’t worry, I won’t be jealous.”

The cold wind picked up and I could hear it whistle through the dry branches overhead shifting the loose snow so that it fell lightly to the ground close by. I sighed with frustration. “How many different ways can I say no?”

Heather’s eyes narrowed. “You bitch. How can you be so selfish?”

I glared at her. “Selfish? Because I don’t want to bite your boyfriend? How is that selfish?”

Then I felt a hand at my waist and the unmistakable feeling of a sharp wooden stake at my throat. Josh was now behind me.

“We tried to do this the easy way.” The friendliness and pleading were now gone from his voice. “Ask you nicely. Pay you, even. But I’m not taking no for an answer.”

Immediate panic gripped me as tightly as Josh had. “The easy way? By lying about a job?”

“God, get over it, would you? This is the job. You’re going to sire me or I’m going to kill you.”

Any move I made would send the stake directly into my jugular so I tried not to budge, even though my entire body felt like a live wire. Perhaps a different tactic would be a good idea.

“The Slayer of Slayers doesn’t take kindly to threats, asshole,” I growled, trying to sound as tough as I could through the fear as sharp as the stake at my throat.

He snorted at that. “We know it’s just a rumor that you killed all of those hunters. However, everything else about you isn’t a rumor. You’ve drank the blood of two master vampires. That makes you very special. But you don’t have to bite me. The virus is in your blood as well as your fangs. Doesn’t matter if you’re alive or dead. All I need is enough of your blood.” He dragged the tip of the stake along my neck and I felt a stinging pain and a warm trickle of blood slid down my throat. “See? Not so tough after all.”

“Let me go right now.” My gaze whipped over to where Heather stood, hoping that she would see that her darling boyfriend was actually a violent sociopath, but she just looked at him with love and devotion.

“Kill her,” she prompted. “We can save the money we were going to pay her for our honeymoon.”

I breathed out, trying not to shake with the fear I felt, and tried to think as calmly as I could. This wasn’t the first time I’d been in a life-or-death situation. However, I wasn’t quite the victim I’d been ten weeks ago when I was made into a vampire by my blind date.

“Josh,” I said shakily. “Listen, we can talk this out.”

The stake eased off a bit from my throat. “Can we?”

“Not really.” I stomped on his instep and twisted away from him. Then I curled my hand into a fist and socked him as hard as I could in his jaw. Not too much vampire strength, but since he was only human it was enough to knock him back a few feet. Enough for me to get away.

That is, if I didn’t suddenly have his vampire girlfriend behind me, pinning my arms down at my sides.

“Let go of me, Heather,” I snarled at her. “Right now.”

“Not a chance.”

“I thought we were friends? Why would you do something like this to a friend?”

“Because I love Josh. But I guess somebody involved with a cold, emotionless jerk like Thierry wouldn’t understand what true love feels like, would you?”

“This isn’t love,” I managed.

“We’re going to be together forever.”

“You’ve only known him for a few weeks, haven’t you?”

“It doesn’t matter. I know it’s forever.” Her fingernails dug painfully into my arms. “Do it, Josh. Do it now.”

“Let go of me!” I yelled and struggled so hard against her that I almost broke free. She had a fight on her hands to keep me in place. I wrenched to the side, twisting my body to possibly bite her on the nose, but then I felt something very bad slam into my chest.

I gasped.

It was something sharp.

Something extremely painful.

Heather finally released me. “Sorry, Sarah. I wish you’d given us another choice.”

My eyes widened as I looked down at the wooden stake protruding from my chest. I touched the end of it with shaking hands, blinking hard.

“Wh-what…? My mouth was dry. I fell to my knees on the cold, hard ground and stared up at Heather who’d gone to stand next to Josh. They both looked down at me coldly.

Oh my God. I’d been staked. They’d staked me.

I couldn’t breathe. The pain in my chest was like a living thing that was burrowing into my body. The night that surrounded me began to fill my vision with a growing darkness.

I thought she was my friend. I trusted her.

Too good to be true.

I gasped for breath and I fell to my side, my head landing on a patch of thick white snow.

I couldn’t see anything. I was blacking out. I was going to die.

Then suddenly there was a whir of movement in my now dark and cloudy peripheral vision. I heard both Josh and Heather yelling.

And then there was only silence.

I felt hands on me, pulling me up to a standing position. Gloved hands prodded at my chest, pushing the camisole to the side. I wanted to protest being groped by whoever it was, but I couldn’t find the words at the moment. The world began to fade.

A sharp smack resounded on the side of my face. “Stay with me, Sarah.”

Unfamiliar deep voice. Male.


“They won’t hurt you again. The stake…it’s not in your heart. Almost, but not quite. You’re a very lucky woman. I’d heard that about you-that you’re damned lucky. You’ll be all right. I promise.”

I forced myself to focus my vision enough to see the vague outline of a man close to me, his face mostly covered by a black winter scarf. I couldn’t see his features other than a glimpse of his eyes. He wore dark clothes-a long black coat. His hands were encased in black leather gloves. He was tall and strong and he lifted me up into his arms.

“Th…the…st-stake…?” It wasn’t more than a whisper. It hurt to talk.

“I’ll let someone who knows how to remove it properly do the honors. I don’t want to hurt you. I can’t stay, though. I’ll get you back to your friends.”

I blinked and that hurt too. “Wh-who are you?”

“They call me the Red Devil.”

Frowning also caused pain. “The R-red Devil?”

What the hell kind of a name was that?

“Shh…save your strength. You’re going to need it.”

The Red Devil-or whatever his real name was-pressed me protectively against his chest and swiftly began walking out of the park. I sensed that we were headed back to Haven, at least I hoped so, but I couldn’t be sure since after another moment I passed out from the pain and shock.

It was official.

Being staked sucked.