Michelle Rowen

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Tall Dark & Fangsome

Tall, Dark & Fangsome

(Immortality Bites – Book #5)

** 2007 Romantic Times Reviewers Choice Award WINNER for “Vampire Romance”

Grand Central Publishing – Forever – Sept ’09
ISBN 10: 0446505854
ISBN 13: 978-0446505857

Immortality Bites.

Sarah Dearly’s vampire life is not all B-positive cocktails. A curse made her a nightwalker, the most vicious vamp there is; the charm she wears to curb her deadly tendencies is losing its juice; and a hunter from hell is turning up the heat. Gideon Chase will kill the ones she loves most if she doesn’t obey his orders — that includes breaking up with master vampire Thierry and turning Gideon into an immortal vamp via her bite so he can escape a doom of eternal hellfire.

Making things worse are Sarah’s growing feelings for Gideon, a bad boy who keeps showing a vulnerable side…but is it for real? Will Sarah’s dark side take over? Or can she cure herself of the nightwalker curse in time to stop Gideon and finally get the chance to live happily ever after with Thierry…forever?

R E V I E W S

“Rowen’s series finale is a no-holds-barred culmination of everything that’s made the ride till now so much fun. Sarah’s crack-whip sarcasm is on full display, and Thierry is as broodingly sexy as ever. The juiciest bit is Sarah and Gideon’s relationship, a testament to how seductive the dark side can be and a bittersweet example of how our path is framed not by how good or bad we are, but by the choices we make. – Booklist

“4-1/2 Stars! Rowen’s sassy style of storytelling has allowed this plucky heroine to blossom while she takes readers on an amazing journey. Brava!” — RT BOOKreviews

“I can’t bear the thought of never seeing the characters again!…Great writing, great story, great characters. Five out of five isn’t a high enough rating for this book or series.”Bitten by Books

“(Rowen) wows me with this story. It is fast-paced, like a roller coaster ride, and I hated for it to end…If you want entertainment at its best, Tall, Dark & Fangsome is the book to grab with a superb ending.”Coffee Time Romance

“I absolutely adored Tall, Dark & Fangsome and did not want it to end. The writing is engaging, the characters are wonderful, and it was just so much fun to read this book. I have never read a Michelle Rowen book that I did not adore and rave about and there is a reason for that, she writes damn good books!”Enchanted by Books


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C h a p t e r   1

Spoilers for STAKES & STILETTOS
in chapter one of TALL, DARK & FANGSOME

“Okay, Sarah, try not to freak out,” Amy said.

That’s not really a good opener—not when you’re already close to the edge like I was.

My two best fanged and fabulous friends, Amy and George, had taken me out for drinks at a place called Darkside, the only secret vampire nightclub in Toronto currently open for business.

I’d known Amy for years, since we were both non-vampiric personal assistants—a day job she still held. I met George three months ago after I was sired into my new life as a vampire. They were trying to help me mend my broken heart and shattered self-esteem after my big, nasty break-up with my master vampire boyfriend, Thierry, a week and a half ago.

Unfortunately, since alcohol didn’t affect vampires other than remaining a tasty treat, I was on my third Tequila Sunrise and not feeling any differently about life, the universe, and, well…everything.

“Perky” was no longer my middle name. Not that it ever was.

I eyed Amy cautiously. “What are you talking about?”

She didn’t reply. Amy’s red lipsticked mouth was frozen in a slightly scared-looking smile. She wore her short, platinum blond hair like a Papa-Don’t-Preach-era Madonna to contrast her low-cut, black sequined top and tight black skirt.

When I glanced at George, he shrugged. He looked like a male model with shoulder-length, sandy-colored hair he currently had back in a low ponytail. He had chiseled features, a square jaw, and under his tight white shirt and black leather pants I knew he had a body worth crying over. Crying, mostly because he batted for the other team. Not that I’d ever harbored any unrequited fantasies about George. Not a chance. I had enough trouble with men to add him to the list.

But he was mighty pretty.

“She’s definitely going to freak,” he confirmed.

Before I could ask for any more details about this predicted freak-out, a man approached the bar at which we were belly-up on rather uncomfortable stools. He was tall, built, attractive, and wore a dark blue button-down shirt exactly the same color as his eyes. His gaze was entirely fixed on yours truly.

I tensed at the unexpected attention.

“You’re Sarah, right?” he asked.

“Uh…”

“I’m Jeremy.” He smiled wide enough to show off his shiny white fangs. “Amy’s told me all about you, but your reputation precedes you, of course.”

I flicked a confused glance at Amy, and then back at Jeremy. “Um…”

His grin widened. “Maybe we can get a private table so we can get to know each other a bit better.”

I shot Amy a horrified look as it all started to click in.

Was this a…a blind date?

Oh, hell no.

Amy cleared her throat nervously at my expression. “Jeremy works at the office in the HR department. When I realized he’s a vampire, too, I knew you two would be absolutely adorable together. So I kind of asked him to join us here tonight. You know, without telling you first.”

The last blind date Amy had set up for me resulted in a hickey I’d remember forever since the guy had bitten me and turned me into a vampire. Needless to say, I wasn’t a big fan of impromptu set-ups with strangers. Especially ones orchestrated by Amy.

“Great to meet you…uh, Jeremy, was it?” I plastered a smile on my face while my eyes tracked back to my cupid-playing blond friend. “Can I talk to you for a minute, Amy? In private?”

She nodded tightly. “Mmm hmm.”

“We’ll be back in just a sec. Talk amongst yourselves.” I slid off the leather-covered barstool and sidestepped Jeremy and George as I threaded my way through the crowd of thirsty, club-going vampires toward the hallway leading to the washrooms. Amy trailed silently behind me.

“Really?” I said after we were out of earshot and away from the loud music. “You’re kidding me, right?”

“But he’s so nice. You haven’t even given him a chance.”

“I’m sure he’s the nicest vampire bachelor in the city. This has nothing to do with him.”

“I wanted to cheer you up. So sue me.” She pouted at her failed attempt to love-match me. “Ever since you and jerk-face broke up you’ve been no fun at all.”

Jerk-face was her pet name for Thierry. I had a similar term of endearment for her vampire husband, Barry, so I guess it all equaled out.

I cleared my throat. “That doesn’t mean I want to start dating again. At least, not this soon.”

“Jeremy would be perfect for you.” She paused. “Although, he’d also be perfect for George, if you know what I mean. Don’t you love a man who’s flexible about certain things?”

Sounded like an episode of Jerry Springer in the making, actually.

“I appreciate the thought, but I need some time on my own right now.”

She nodded sadly and patted my arm. “Your heart is broken in a million pieces. Sometimes the best thing to do is to get back on that horse and gallop right out of town into the sunset with a new, perfect man.” She cocked her head to the side as she thought about it. “Or having a one night stand with a super hot guy would probably work wonders, too.”

“Wallowing in solitude is also a great use of time after a break-up. No one-night-stands need apply.”

She sighed. “You’re not thinking there’s a chance you and Thierry are going to get back together, are you?”

I chewed my bottom lip and shook my head. “It’s over. Him and me were completely wrong for each other from the very start. This is all for the best.”

It sounded perfectly rehearsed because it was.

Amy nodded. “Well, you’re right about that. He was a pompous jerk who didn’t deserve you. I knew from the beginning that he was a complete waste of your valuable time.”

I blinked. “Yeah, except for that dirty little crush you had on him, you mean.”

She blanched at the reminder. “I thought we were going to forget about that.”

“The image of the goo-goo eyes you used to make behind his back is still burned into my brain cells.”

Her cheeks reddened. “Please stop.”

I repressed a smile. “Listen, don’t worry about me. Seriously. Every day is a little easier. I hardly ever think about Thierry anymore.”

Also rehearsed. Every morning when I woke up in my bed all alone I said it to the stucco ceiling—which rarely had any critiques of my acting ability.

“Have you heard from Veronique lately?” Amy asked. “I wonder if she’s planning on swooping down and grabbing him now that you’re out of the picture.”

“Haven’t seen her lately, so I have no idea what she’s up to.”

Veronique was Thierry’s wife. Yes, the man I’d been involved with had been married for hundreds of years to a woman who was the epitome of perfection—beautiful, charming, rich, and powerful.

Their marriage was in name only. They’d been separated for more than a century before I even met Thierry. Veronique unapologetically and frequently dated men a fraction of her age and enjoyed her own life that she lived mostly in Europe with occasional visits to North America. There was no love there anymore between them.

Thierry recently attempted to get an annulment from vampire contacts at the Vatican itself—apparently the only way to get out of a marriage of their length—but she refused to sign the papers. She wasn’t evil, she was simply self-centered. Ending their marriage didn’t benefit her in any way so she didn’t see any logical reason to sign.

Her lightly French-accented explanation still buzzed in my ears like a swarm of Gucci-wearing bees.

“Love has very little to do with a successful marriage, my dear.

The memory still made my blood boil with equal parts frustration and annoyance.

Me and Amy returned to the bar and I let Jeremy down as gently as possible. He took it like a champ.

“If you ever want to hook up, give me a call.” He handed me a business card, then turned to George, “Great talking to you.”

“Yeah, you too,” George agreed as Jeremy walked away. Then he gave me a dirty look. “Big mistake, Sarah. He was H-O-T. He actually made working in Human Resources sound like fun. Which I cannot imagine it actually is.”

“Sounds like you liked him.”

“Well…I was getting a vibe.”

I handed him the business card. “He’s all yours.”

“Thanks!” He smiled at me. “Now I totally forgive you for spilling your nasty dollar store shampoo on my carpet yesterday.”

I frowned and absently itched my scalp. I couldn’t help it if I was on a strict budget as the remainder of my meager savings trickled away like cheap shower gel down the drain. Hair doesn’t clean itself, after all.

Thankfully, the drinks tonight were on Amy’s tab. I couldn’t eat solid food without yakking, but for some reason mixed drinks didn’t bother me at all. Along with not having a reflection—definitely one of my least favorite parts of my new life—I racked that up to unexplainable phenomena.

Over the last couple weeks, I’d been on a crash course to learn as much about vampires as I could. Counting on other people to guide me was unreliable at best, dangerous at worst. I’d learned that the hard way. The Internet, however, was a vast resource. As soon as I broke through the crusty covering of popular myths, learning everything I needed to know about real vampire culture was right there at my fingertips.

I might be getting carpal tunnel syndrome from becoming a fanged computer geek, but at least I was getting educated. Better late than never.

I sucked the remainder of my drink clean right down to the naked ice cubes.

Another Tequila Sunrise immediately landed in front of me.

I glanced up at the bartender. “You must be psychic.”

He shook his head. “This is complements of the gentleman in the corner.”

I swiveled around on the stool to look where he indicated. Other than two slutty-looking vamps shaking their groove thing on the dance floor, nobody was there.

“Who did you say sent this?” I asked the bartender.

“He must have left. Tall guy. Good looking in a dark and miserable sort of way.”

“Sounds exactly like Sarah’s type,” George observed, then poked me in the shoulder. “I need to dance. Let’s go dance. I love this song.”

“Not in the mood.”

“I’ll go.” Amy slipped off the stool and teetered precariously on her four-inch platform heels. She gave me a pointed look. “After all, somebody should have some fun tonight.”

Well, that was a bit rude. Accurate, but rude.

I watched the two of them depart to shimmy to Madonna and Justin singing about saving the world in four minutes. I absently twisted the gold chain I wore until it began to cut off the circulation to my index finger.

The chain was ugly. It looked cheap and heavy and didn’t go with any of my wardrobe. I’d never wear it if I had any say in the matter.

I didn’t have any say.

Thanks to my nightwalker curse, the chain was the only thing keeping me from biting necks and killing people for kicks. Nightwalkers had existed a few hundred years ago, their vicious nature caused by a rare strain of the virus that turned humans into vamps. They were the reason for all the untrue myths about vampires being totally evil. They were the reason that hunters exist in the first place.

Nightwalkers were wiped off the face of the planet by those hunters to protect unassuming humans—and other vampires.

Which meant, currently, I was the only vamp in the world with nightwalker tendencies—an uncontrollable dark thirst that spread over me, a need to feed on humans or other vamps as if they were an all-Sarah-can-eat buffet. I also couldn’t go out during the day or the sunlight would fry me. There was no sunscreen on earth that could keep me from turning into a crispy critter if I wasn’t wearing the chain.

The witch who’d cursed me was dead now. No chance to get her to reverse the curse.

Which meant I had to find the answer on my own. If I ever lost my chain—the only thing keeping me from truly becoming a creature of darkness—then I was seriously screwed. And so was anyone who crossed my path and looked remotely appetizing.

I shuddered at the thought and willed myself to concentrate on something, anything, else.

I stirred the cocktail in front of me with a swizzle stick and stared down into its orangey depths. I pushed the cherry down, holding it under the surface as if trying to drown it. After a moment, I let it bob back up to the surface.

Dark and miserable.

Just my type.

I pushed the drink away. With my luck, Mr. Dark-and-Miserable poisoned it.

“Hey, can I get a shot of B-Positive?” I asked the bartender.

A couple seconds later he slid a shot glass filled with familiar red liquid in front of me.

Don’t get grossed out. It’s really not that bad.

Blood is sent to places like Darkside by professional blood delivery services. They get their blood from willing donors who are paid well for their contributions. It was all very civilized. The rarer the blood type, the more expensive the shot.

I stuck with B-Positive. It was my fave. Because of the name, I could fool myself into believing it would cheer me up.

I tossed the shot back and waited for the euphoria to hit me.

A couple minutes later I was still waiting.

The complimentary drink rested on a Darkside coaster. Other than the logo for the club, I noticed something else on the thick, round piece of cardboard. Handwriting. In blue ink.

Sarah—

I took in a shaky breath and glanced around the club again, paying particular attention to the corner the man who sent me the drink had allegedly been in. Still empty.

My palm was sweating as I picked up the coaster and turned it over to see there was more writing on the other side.

Meet me out back. I must see you.

I casually slipped the coaster into my handbag. Without saying anything to Amy and George, still dancing their little hearts out, I slid into the shadows of the club on the other side of the dance floor, moved past the bouncer at the door, and emerged into the cold night air outside. With a quick check over my shoulder to make sure no one was following me, I swiftly walked around the building to the back where it was dark and silent. The nearly full moon cast a pale glow on the deserted alley.

“Hello?” I whispered, barely loud enough for even myself to hear. “Where are you?”

Other than the expected Dumpsters and snowdrifts, there seemed to be no one there. With my sensitive vampire ears, I could hear the bass thump of the dance music from inside very weakly. I hugged my arms tightly around myself. The temperature didn’t bother me much anymore, but it did seem particularly cold that night.

I took a few more steps into the darkness. “Don’t worry, we’re alone.”

I was answered only by more silence so I moved over to the other side of the building and peered around the corner. I didn’t have very long before my friends wondered where I’d gone. Although, considering how many drinks I’d downed, they’d probably assume I was in the washroom.

I froze when I heard footsteps behind me. The very next moment, strong arms came around me and my back was pressed up against the cold brick wall. A hand came over my mouth since my first instinct was to scream my lungs out.

Luckily, it was the person I’d been expecting.

Thierry removed his hand, leaned over, and crushed his mouth against mine in a kiss that took my breath away. I gasped against his lips, but then kissed him back deeply, wrapping my arms around his neck before sliding my hands up into his dark hair. His body warned me in the cold night.

It wasn’t the first time we’d secretly met after everyone thought we’d broken up, but I hadn’t expected it tonight. Everyone else thought he’d only just returned from a trip to France, but he’d never left the city. Since it was vital that nobody saw us together, it had been difficult finding a time and place to meet. I’d missed him a lot.

When the kiss broke off and my heart came back to a normal pace, I looked up at him, raising an eyebrow. “A message on a coaster? Is that seriously the best you could do?”

“I wasn’t sure you’d be able to get away. Calling or messaging you on your phone could be traced.”

“And being spotted in a nightclub buying me drinks is much less risky?”

“I’m very discreet.”

I managed to smile. “By the way, your handwriting is nearly illegible.”

His mouth quirked. “Yet your figured out what it said.”

“Barely.” I grabbed a hold of his black shirt and kissed him again quickly. We were shielded by the very romantic trash holders on either side of us but I still felt nervous that somebody might see us together. “What are you doing here?”

“I had to see you.” His silver-eyed gaze moved down the length of me and back up to my face.

Just as the bartender had described my drink sender, Thierry de Bennicoeur was tall and knee-weakingly delicious—my words, not his. Dark hair, broad shoulders, full lips, straight nose, stern black eyebrows over gray eyes that sometimes appeared to be silver. You’d never expect that he was pushing 700 years old, a vampire sired during the Black Death plague in Europe in the 1400’s.

Not even my closest friends could find out we were still together. Amy and George were total blabbermouths. Since I wasn’t the best secret-keeper in the universe it had been sheer torture to keep my mouth shut.

I had to keep my mouth shut about a lot of things.

I even kept a few things from Thierry.

For example, if he knew that over the last week and a half I’d become Gideon Chase’s personal assistant and general errand girl, he wouldn’t be very happy about that.

And that was an understatement.

He considered Gideon the most dangerous man in the world—and somebody he wanted me to stay far away from for my own safety. But when the burned-by-hellfire leader of the vampire hunters wanted something, he could be extremely…well, insistent was a good word.

Gideon couldn’t find out me and Thierry were still together, and Thierry couldn’t find out I was currently at Gideon’s beck and call.

Gideon usually checked in with me daily. In fact, he’d sent me to pick up a package for him earlier that day on the other side of the city. I got the impression he knew where I was and who I was with at all times. Just being in the alley with Thierry for a few stolen moments made me extremely nervous and more paranoid than usual. Which was saying something.

“Any luck finding Gideon’s hired guns?” I asked.

His expression was tight. “No. That’s one of the reasons I needed to see you this evening.”

“To tell me to be careful?”

“Of course.” He hissed out a long sigh. “I hate standing back and seeing you in harm’s way like this. It has to stop.”

“It will.”

“Not if we can’t discover his secrets. He has too much power at the moment, even if it’s only lent itself to verbal threats. If he harms you—”

“He hasn’t.” I stroked Thierry’s tense face. “Gideon isn’t going to hurt me.”

“Not until he gets what he wants.”

“Exactly.” I frowned. Wait. That didn’t make me feel much better.

“I will kill him,” he said darkly. “If he harms you in any way, the pain from the hellfire will be a pleasant memory for him.”

“I appreciate the offer of mayhem and torture, really. But it’s best if we stay calm and collected about this.”

“You seem calm and collected enough for the both of us.”

“I’m trying to stay Zen. I do yoga now, you know.”

He raised an eyebrow. “You do?”

“Well, I have a instructional DVD on yoga. Haven’t had a chance to watch it with all the drama going on lately, but I’m looking forward to it.”

“We must find a solution in three days. You cannot sire him.”

Thierry had a black and white attitude about pretty much everything. He drew his lines in the sand in permanent ink—and how he felt about Gideon was one of those lines. To him, Gideon was 100 percent evil incarnate. Couldn’t say I blamed him much for that impression. After all, Gideon was the leader of the hunters. They didn’t exactly make our lives a Technicolor musical production number. And Gideon, from everything I’d heard about him, had no problem getting his hands dirty when it came to slaying. He was exactly like Buffy—that is, if she was a 6’5″ billionaire playboy with hellfire scars from slaying a demon. And a tendency to kill things that weren’t actually evil.

So, really, not like Buffy at all.

“I need to get back inside,” I said, “and try to act like everything’s normal—”

Another kiss managed to easily push my words and thoughts away. Thierry could kiss. Six hundred years of practice would make someone an expert, after all. I’d prefer not to give a lot of thought to how many women may have come before me. We both had our romantic histories. His was simply a little longer than mine, that’s all.

By about 650 years.

My heart felt heavy when we parted. This whole situation seriously sucked. Just when I found a man I could be completely crazy about—despite our many differences—one who loved me in return, and we couldn’t be together except for stolen moments like this.

“You shouldn’t try to see me again till this is all over.” I tried to ignore the lump in my throat. “I’m afraid he’s going to find out.”

“Perhaps you should have taken Amy up on the blind date she arranged for you.”

I eyed him. “So Gideon’s not the only one spying on me?”

He smiled. “If you had someone new in your life, or I in mine, Gideon would have no suspicions about us, would he?”

“Good point. But are you trying to say you want to see other people? Because I’m in the mood to kick some ass tonight and it might be yours.”

Amusement slid behind his gaze. “I’m talking about appearances, nothing more. In fact, I think it’s a very good idea.”

“You want me to start dating somebody else?”

“Drastic times call for drastic measures. And speaking of that—” He was quiet for a moment. “You need to know something important.”

That sounded ominous. “What?”

“I contacted the Red Devil. He’s in the city right now. I thought we could use his help.”

My eyes widened. “Really?”

He nodded gravely.

The Red Devil in a nutshell was this: a vampire vigilante who had been around for a thousand years, give or take a century or two. He saved innocent vamps from slaughter at the hands of hunters. He wore a mask so nobody knew who he was, and, in fact, most thought he was only a legend. Legend or not, he’d disappeared a hundred years ago and hadn’t been seen since.

Gideon Chase, wearing a scarf over his scarred face to hide his true identity, had convinced me he was the Red Devil—in fact, he’d saved my life when I’d been staked so he could gain my confidence. But the real Red Devil was now in Toronto? Stop the presses.

“Who is he?” I asked.

“His identity is secret.”

“So you don’t know who he is? How did you contact him?”

“We have a mutual connection.”

“Who?”

“I can’t say.”

“You can trust me.”

“I know,” he said. But he didn’t go into any further detail.

I pushed my frustration at his vague answers away. Or tried to, anyhow. “What’s he doing here? Or is that a secret as well?”

“I wanted him to assess the situation with Gideon. I thought it also important for him to keep an eye on you and he has agreed to this.”

I felt stunned. “Are you trying to tell me that the Red Devil is my shiny new bodyguard?”

“He promises to be very discreet. You won’t even know he’s around.”

I leaned back against the cold wall behind me and tried to process this info. The legendary, reclusive Red Devil was my bodyguard? And Thierry was acting like this was a completely normal decision?

“You trust this guy?” I asked.

“Implicitly.”

He sounded pretty certain about it. But how could he trust somebody who’d been off the map for a century? Somebody who’d just pop up thanks to a well-timed phone call?

“Where is he right now?”

“Close. It’s best you know as little as possible, Sarah. It’s safer that way.”

“For him or for me?”

“Definitely both.” He hooked a finger under my gold chain. He knew what it was and what it did. When I didn’t have it and was acting all murderous and deadly and seductive, he’d done everything in his power to find a solution. Although truthfully, I think he kind of liked the seductive part.

“If I learn anything new I will contact you as soon as I can,” he said.

“Same here.” The fresh guilt at not telling him about my strange new job as Gideon’s assistant ate at me. It was on the tip of my tongue but I didn’t want to worry him more than he already was. “I love you, Thierry.”

He touched my face softly and slid his thumb over my bottom lip. “I love you, too.”

And, with a last kiss, he was gone.

Well, he didn’t just disappear, but he could walk really fast. I watched his dark form move away into the shadows.

Then I slowly trudged back around the side of the building until I’d nearly reached the front doors. A woman was being unceremoniously kicked out of the club by the big, brawny bouncer.

“Go home and don’t come back,” he advised her harshly. “We don’t want you here.”

She hurled a couple of choice expletives at him and turned her back, stomping away down the dark street in a short red mini-dress and silver stilettos.

“Nice girl,” I said.

“Fledgling vamp caught her sire cheating on her,” the bouncer explained. “She’d only been turned a few nights ago. She made a scene and nearly bit the chick the guy was with tonight.” He swept his gaze over me. “You’re the Slayer of Slayers, aren’t you?”

Oh, brother. Just what I needed. A fanboy.

I shook my head. “You know, I actually get that all the time. We’re both brunettes and there is a fleeting resemblance. I saw her once, but she’s kind of ugly. Probably from all that slayer slaying.”

“If you say so.” The bouncer shrugged. “You coming back in, or what?”

“Yeah.” I glanced over in the direction of the jilted fledgling and I noticed two men a block up step out from a dark alley and begin to silently trail after the oblivious vampiress. “Hey, check that out. Do you think those are hunters?”

He followed my line of sight. “Could be.”

I looked at him. “Don’t you want to do something about it? She’s a helpless fledgling out on her own. They’ll kill her.”

“What do you suggest I do?”

“Go save her?”

He laughed. “Not going to happen. I don’t think they saw where she came from, and I’m not getting a stake through my chest tonight for trying to save some worthless bitch.”

“Oh, that’s really charming.”

He smiled thinly at me. “For fifteen bucks an hour I don’t have to be charming. Why don’t you go save her?”

I narrowed my gaze at him. “Maybe I will.”

“Good luck with that.” He turned around and slipped back inside the club. The door closed heavily behind him leaving me out in the cold night alone.

I scanned the street again. No one was around. It wasn’t that long ago that I was the hapless fledgling who wandered dark and lonely places she shouldn’t go.

Since then, I’d aged. I’d matured. I would eternally look 28 years old, but I’d been through enough stress in the past three months to give me gray hair. Metaphorically speaking, that is. Thankfully, I had no gray hair, and if I did I’d totally dye it back to normal.

But that was neither here nor there.

I began following the girl and her stalkers. Maybe it was just my overworked imagination that she was in danger. They were probably just heading in the same direction, was all. Nothing to be concerned with. Paranoia was one of my closest pals lately, although normally I had it about myself, not somebody I didn’t even know.

It was a gut thing. I had to know. Something felt terribly off.

I’d check it out, make sure the girl was safe and sound, and then I’d go back to the club and pretend to have a good time.

And then I heard a shriek: female. And a laugh: male.

Shit.

I picked up my pace and my breathing increased. Damn that bouncer for not helping out. I was right. The girl was in trouble, and now what?

Save the fledgling, save the world. Did I look like a superhero?

As much as I’d like to think I was tough and able to bravely face-off against those who’d harm to others, I knew I didn’t have a chance in hell against the hunters. They were two big, muscular guys, and I was…well, me. And I’d be willing to bet each of them had done this many times before.

Unfortunately, there was no time for me to go back to the club and get reinforcements, and from the terrified whimpering I now heard just around the corner in the alleyway where the hunters had cornered the fledgling, I had only seconds to decide what to do next.

Maybe I should have turned my back and ran away. There’d been plenty of vamps who’d found themselves on the sharp end of a stake since I’d been sired. But this…this was different. It was here, it was now, and I couldn’t simply walk away and pretend it never happened.

The girl let out another frightened scream and the decision was made. There was one way I knew how to be a bit tougher than I naturally was. It wouldn’t hurt if I did it just once, would it?

I sure hoped not.

Cursing under my breath, I reached back and undid the clasp of my gold chain with shaking fingers. It slipped off my throat. I slid it into my purse for safe keeping.

It was a bit like Diana Prince spinning around three times to become Wonder Woman, only I wasn’t suddenly wearing a shiny red, white and blue leotard with a magical golden lasso and tiara. My change was a little more subtle than that.

I’d tested taking off the gold chain a couple of times since I got it. In the beginning, my nightwalker symptoms took a while to completely manifest in all their nasty glory. But now they came on me almost immediately. It was dangerous—mostly for other people—so I didn’t play around with it much.

It started with my vision closing in on either side so I could keep my prey in sight. No distractions. Clear, predatory focus. My heartbeat came to a slow stop. Or almost a stop. A vampire’s heart beat slower than a human’s, but now my heart, without the chain, would beat approximately four times an hour. Nightwalkers weren’t living beings like regular vampires. Nightwalkers were the reason regular vamps had the reputation of being undead. Barely a heartbeat and no real need to breathe.

Only a desire to feed.

Horror movie: table for one.

Being a nightwalker was scary as hell, but that was the rational Sarah talking. Without the chain I wasn’t all that rational. But I was still in control.

At least, for short periods of time.

Hopefully this wouldn’t take very long.