Vicki Cavendish knows she should be careful. After all, there's a killer loose in town--one who drains women of blood, women with red hair and green eyes just like her. She knows she should tell police about the dark, gorgeous man who comes into the diner every night, the one who makes her feel a longing she's never felt before. The last thing she should do is invite the beautiful stranger into her house...
Cursed to an eternity of darkness, Antonio Battista has wandered the earth, satisfying his hunger with countless women, letting none find a place in his heart. But Victoria Cavendish is different. Finally, he has found a woman to love, a woman who accepts him for what he is--a woman who wants him as much as he wants her...which is why he should leave. But Antonio is a vampire, not a saint. What is his, he'll fight to keep and protect. And Victoria Cavendish needs protecting...from the remorseless enemy who would make her his prey...and from Antonio's own uncontrollable hunger...
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Desire After Dark
By AMANDA ASHLEY
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2006 Madeline Baker
All rights reserved.
It wasn't easy, destroying a vampire. Even when you found one tucked into his coffin at high noon, he didn't always go down without a fight.
Tom Duncan stared down at the body laid out in the satin-lined coffin. Edward Ramsey's body. Once, Ramsey had not only been Duncan's best friend, but he had also been the best vampire hunter in the business. Fearless. Relentless. But now Edward Ramsey was one of the Undead. And as such, he was filth, an aberration.
As such, he had to be destroyed.
Murmuring, "Sorry, old buddy," Duncan placed the sharp point of a hawthorn stake over Ramsey's heart.
He lifted the hammer, prepared to strike the blow that would destroy the monster his friend had become, when Ramsey's eyes flew open. Hissing, his eyes blazing like the fires of hell, Ramsey exploded out of the coffin, his fangs bared, his bony fingers curved like claws.
Duncan howled with outrage as Ramsey wrestled him to the ground, screaming with terror as Ramsey's fangs pierced his skin, sinking deep into his throat....
Tom Duncan bolted upright in bed, the sound of his own cries echoing in his ears.
Dammit! Sometimes it just didn't pay to go to bed at night.
Rising, he padded barefooted into the hotel room's tiny kitchen, switched on the light, and pulled a bottle of water from the fridge. After uncapping the container, he took a long drink.
Damn, he hated that dream.
Returning to the bedroom, he pulled on a pair of gray sweatpants and a black T-shirt, slipped his feet into a pair of sandals, grabbed a jacket, and left the hotel.
Outside, he took several deep breaths, chasing the last vestiges of the nightmare from his mind. Feeling somewhat better, he strolled down the street, enjoying the quiet of the night. It was peaceful, so peaceful. In spite of the chill in the air, he passed a number of people on the street and nodded at a group of teenagers gathered in front of a bowling alley. He waved to an elderly couple sitting side by side on a swing in their front yard. They looked to be in their late sixties or early seventies, and he wondered how long they had been married and how many kids and grandkids they had.
With a shake of his head, he rounded the corner. What the devil was the matter with him, wondering about such mundane things? Once he had decided to be a vampire hunter, he had put all thought of marriage and kids out of his mind. Few vampire hunters had families. A wife and children could too easily be taken hostage or used for revenge by an angry vampire. He had made his decision to remain single and he had never regretted it. He didn't know why he was thinking of it now. Maybe he was just getting maudlin in his old age.
He grunted softly. Thirty-five wasn't usually considered old, but in his line of work, it was ancient. But he didn't want to think of that, not now. He was taking a much-needed vacation and the last thing he wanted to think about was vampires. But he couldn't help it, not after the last hunt. Not after learning that the man he had once hunted with, a man he had considered to be his closest friend, was now a vampire himself.
Duncan shook his head. Out of all the people he knew, Edward Ramsey was the last person Duncan would ever have suspected of being a vampire. Of course, accepting the Dark Gift hadn't been Edward's choice. It had been thrust upon him by one of the Undead. But Edward had finally found a way to live with his new lifestyle and now he was married to another vampire and they seemed very happy together.
Duncan grunted softly. Maybe that was what had him feeling so lost, so alone. Ramsey had been his only close friend. Surprisingly, they were still friends but with vastly different lifestyles. It was still hard to believe that he had a friend who was a vampire. Several friends, if he counted Grigori and Marisa Chiavari and Ramsey's wife, Kelly. The five of them had survived an incredible battle against one of the most powerful vampires that had ever lived. After the battle, Duncan had shared his blood with Ramsey. Looking back, he still couldn't believe he had done such a thing, but how could he have refused Marisa? She had still been a mortal then and he had just finished congratulating her because, when all was said and done, it had been Marisa who destroyed Khira.
"You did it," he'd said, grinning. "By damn, you did it!"
"We all did it," Marisa had murmured. "And now I need you to do something."
"Sure, kid. I'll dispose of all this carrion, trust me." His gesture had included the twisted bodies.
"Not that," Marisa said.
"Just tell me what you want," Duncan had said. "And consider it done."
"Ramsey needs to feed."
Duncan had stared at her. "What?"
"He needs blood to replace what he's giving Kelly. He's not strong enough to hunt."
"You want me to ..." Duncan had looked at Ramsey, then back at Marisa. "This is carrying friendship a little too far, don't you think?"
"No," Marisa had said, her voice calm.
"Why can't you do it?" Duncan had glanced at Grigori. "You're used to it."
"Yes," she had agreed calmly. "I am. But Grigori needs to feed, too. You have no idea what it cost him to hold Khira at bay until I could ... could ..."
"Okay, okay, you convinced me," Duncan had grumbled. He had picked up a vial of holy water as he moved toward the couch.
Ramsey had opened his eyes as Duncan approached. Edward's eyes had darkened with alarm and Grigori had tensed, ready to spring to Edward's defense if necessary.
"Relax," Duncan had said. "A little insurance, that's all. Friend or no friend, you aren't turning me into a damned bloodsucker."
* * *
Looking back, he remembered sitting down on the sofa and wondering if he was making the worst mistake of his life. In spite of all they had shared, in spite of the years they had hunted together, it made Duncan a little sad to realize there would always be that little part of himself that no longer trusted his best friend.
A few weeks after they had dispatched Khira, Edward and Kelly had approached him. Duncan had listened to their plan with wry amusement. Incredible as it seemed, Edward had decided to open a school to train vampire hunters and he wanted Duncan to be in charge. Duncan had given it some serious consideration but, in the end, he had turned the offer down. He didn't want to teach a bunch of green kids how to hunt vampires, he wanted to hunt them himself. He had helped Edward find another hunter, one who had been thinking about retiring from the hunt. John Randolph was a good man and Duncan knew he'd do a good job. Randolph had told Duncan that when he tired of the hunt, he would be welcome at the school.
With a sigh, Duncan went back to the hotel and packed his gear, then checked out of the hotel. Opening the trunk, he took a quick inventory of his kit: hammer and stakes, a mirror, a few strings of garlic, a half a dozen bottles of holy water, a saw and a crowbar, a flashlight, and a snub-nosed .38. He closed the trunk, then unlocked the door of his beat-up old Chevy Camaro and slid behind the wheel.
"Heigh-ho, Silver, away," he muttered with a wry grin. The bad guy, or bad gal in this case, had been defeated and destroyed. Good had once again triumphed over evil.
It was time to move on.CHAPTER 2
Pear Blossom Creek was just a small Midwestern town, hardly more than a wide spot in the road. No one famous had ever been born there, or even spent the night. They had one fire truck and four policemen, two for the day shift and two who worked nights. Most of the residents were farmers, and everybody in town knew everybody else. It was a place where nothing out of the ordinary ever happened. Nothing, that is, until the stranger came to town.
He arrived on a dark and decidedly stormy Friday night in early-October. The storm was a real gully washer, the old-timers were quick to say, the likes of which hadn't been seen in more than a hundred years. A bad omen, some predicted.
Victoria Lynn Cavendish didn't put much stock in anything the over-seventy-five crowd had to say but she had to admit that in all her twenty-two years, she had never seen or heard a storm like the one pounding on the hammered tin roof of Ozzie's Diner. Nor had she ever seen a man quite like the one sitting at the booth in the far corner, she thought as she approached him.
He was dark, he was, and it wasn't just his clothing or his coloring. It was like he was a part of the darkness itself, a feeling that was reinforced when she looked into his eyes. Deep blue eyes that seemed as fathomless as Hellfire Hollow, as endless as eternity. His hair was long and straight and black as a raven's wing, the perfect complement to his straight black brows and long, thick eyelashes that would have looked feminine on any other man. But not on this man. His countenance was darkly beautiful and without blemish, in the way that Satan might appear beautiful as he carefully seduced you down the paths of sin. Looking at the stranger, she thought it might be worth the journey, perilous though it would undoubtedly be to both body and soul.
He remained unmoving under her perusal, a knowing smile curving his perfectly sculpted, sensuous lips.
With an effort, Vicki drew her gaze from his. "What can I get you, mister?" she asked, her pencil poised over her pad.
"What would you recommend?" His voice was low, almost mesmerizing, and strangely intimate, as if he knew her innermost secrets. As if he alone possessed the power to grant her every wish, fulfill her every desire.
She shook off her fanciful notions. He wasn't the devil. He was just a man. "The meat loaf's not bad." It wasn't really good, either, but she couldn't tell a customer that.
"Very well, I will have the meat loaf."
"You want mashed potatoes and gravy with that, or French fries?"
"Either one will be fine."
"And to drink?"
"Would you by chance have any red wine?"
Victoria stared at him. She had worked at the diner for almost four years and in all that time, no one had ever asked for wine, red or white or any other kind. "No, I'm sorry."
"So, what would you like to drink?"
His fathomless gaze rested on the hollow of her throat for a moment before he said, "Just coffee."
She could feel those wintry blue eyes on her back as she turned and walked away. Knowing he was watching her sent a shiver down her spine.
"That guy at booth six is ..." Bobbie Sue Banks, one of the diner's other waitresses, shook her head. "I don't know who he is, but he's kind of spooky, don't you think?"
Spooky was just the right word. There was something just the slightest bit off about him. If she didn't know better, she might have thought he was some kind of alien. She remembered an old Twilight Zone episode in which the aliens had looked just like everyone else, except one hid a third eye under his hat and the other one hid the fact that he had more than two arms under his coat.
"Well, let's hope he's a big tipper." Vicki glanced over her shoulder at the booth in the back only to find that the mysterious stranger was no longer sitting there.
Frowning, she looked around the diner and then she saw him through the front window, walking down the rain-swept street with Sharlene Tilden, who had been sitting at table two. Sharlene was a cashier at Perry's Market. She came in for dinner every night at the same time. Sharlene was divorced and it was rumored that, since her divorce, she slept around, but that was none of Vicki's business. Anyway, she didn't believe it for a minute. Sharlene had never been the type to indulge in casual sex.
With a shrug, Vicki tore up the stranger's order and went to clear Sharlene's table.
The stranger was back again the following night, sitting at the same booth in the back corner of the diner, one arm flung over the back. Once again, he wore black jeans, a black T-shirt, and a long black coat. Once again, it was as if all the darkness in the world had gathered around him.
Taking a deep breath, Vicki pulled a pencil out of her pocket and went to take his order. "What'll it be?"
He lifted one shoulder and let it fall in a negligent shrug. "The special will be fine."
"Are you gonna stick around long enough to eat it tonight?" she asked, jotting his order down on her pad.
A wry grin lifted one corner of his mouth. "I might."
"Do you want coffee again?"
His gaze held hers for a long moment. Something flickered in the depths of his eyes, something primal and sensual that made her heart skip a beat and sent a rush of sexual awareness to every nerve and cell in her body.
"Sure." His voice was soft and low, and far too intimate.
With a nod, she dragged her gaze from his and went to turn in his order. Standing near the counter, she glanced around the room, noticing for the first time that Sharlene wasn't there. Vicki checked her watch, then shrugged. It was always possible that Sharlene had decided to eat dinner at home. She did that once in a while, though not often. She had told Vicki once that she wasn't crazy about cooking and she hated to eat alone.
Vicki noted the other regulars. There was old Bert Summers, who owned the local newspaper, and Judy West, who worked over at the Pear Blossom Creek Curl and Dye Beauty Salon. Judy was always trying out "a new look." Tonight, her shoulder-length hair was pink and teased into a beehive that made it look just like cotton candy. Jovial Rex Curtis, who owned and operated the car repair shop across town, was avidly reading the sports page; Maddy Malone, who was a teller at the Pear Blossom Creek Bank and Trust Company, had her nose buried in a book. Vicki had always thought Rex and Maddy were made for each other.
A pretty redhead sat alone at table five. Vicki didn't remember seeing the woman in the diner before, but that wasn't unusual. A lot of their customers were travelers passing through town who stopped in at the diner just long enough for a quick cup of coffee or a bite to eat.
Vicki turned away when Gus called her name to tell her that her order was up. As she carried the tray to the far side of the room, she noticed that the stranger was gone. Tonight, he had left a twenty dollar bill under his water glass.
Biting down on her lower lip, Vicki looked over her shoulder.
Somehow, she wasn't the least bit surprised to discover that the pretty redhead was gone, too.CHAPTER 3
Victoria slept late Sunday morning. Looking at the clock through one bleary eye, she saw that she had missed early Mass. With a groan and a sense of guilt, she threw back the covers and swung her legs over the edge of the bed.
Yawning, she slid her feet into her slippers, pulled on her fuzzy pink robe, and padded into the kitchen. She turned the fire on under the old-fashioned coffeepot that had belonged to her grandmother, opened the curtains over the window, then went out front to pick up the paper, glad to see that it had finally stopped raining. She stood there a minute, enjoying the beauty of a crisp fall morning. After a good rain, everything always looked fresh, as if the earth had been reborn. The grass looked greener and brighter, the sky more blue. Even the birds seemed happier as they flitted from tree to tree singing their early-morning hymns to another new day.
Returning to the kitchen, Vicki poured herself a cup of coffee, added a splash of milk and a spoonful of sugar, then sat down to read the paper.
She read the headline, blinked, and read it again.
Bodies of Two Young Women Found
Near Hellfire Hollow
Foul Play Suspected
Her coffee forgotten, she quickly read the story. The women had been found by a couple of teenage boys who had been out hunting squirrels in the dense woods near the Hollow. Both women had been fully clothed. There had been no signs of sexual molestation, and no outward signs of violence.
"Except for the two dead bodies," Vicki muttered.
The article went on to say that a large chunk of hair had been taken from the head of each woman, which led the police to believe the murders might be the work of a serial killer since they often collected trophies or souvenirs from their victims.
The story went on in detail about the reaction of the teenagers, both of whom Vicki saw in the diner from time to time. She gasped when she read the names of the deceased. Sharlene Tilden and Leslie Ann Lewis.
Vicki shook her head in disbelief. She had gone to school with Sharlene and her younger sister, Donna Jean. The Tilden family lived down the street from Vicki. If something so horrible could happen to Sharlene, it could happen to anyone. She frowned as she read the next paragraph, which stated that both bodies had been completely drained of blood.
A cold shiver ran down Vicki's spine. The article stated that as far as the police could ascertain, both Sharlene and the other woman had last been seen at Ozzie's Diner.
The article went on to say that Lewis's next of kin had been notified and then, almost as an afterthought, mentioned that both of the deceased women had been redheads.
Excerpted from Desire After Dark by AMANDA ASHLEY. Copyright © 2006 Madeline Baker. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
In Pear Blossom Creek, waitress Victoria Cavendish works the late shift at Ozzy¿s Diner. A customer leaves with a red haired woman without eating his meal. The next day this occurs again. The next morning Victoria learns that two red haired women have been murdered both left the diner with the stranger. She is a bit concerned because she has red hair.----- That night the stranger offers to take Victoria home. Surprising herself she agrees. He explains that he is Antonio Batista and that Victoria needs to keep her door locked. She invites him inside, but instead he leaves. He stays nearby concerned that the vampire Dimitri Falco might come for Victoria.----- A third woman is dead and a new stranger arrives in town, vampire hunter Tom Duncan, who warns her to beware of the man with the yellow eyes as he is killing red headed women. That night Victoria sees yellow eyes Antonio arrives and advises Falco to leave or else. Soon the three strangers converge over Victoria. Antonio is willing to fully die for the human he loves Yellow Eyes is obsessed with adding her to his red-haired dining pleasure and Tom distrusts anyone who sups on human blood.----- The strong lead couple and the solid support cast (including the return of the heroes of AFTER SUNDOWN) make for a fine vampire romance. The story line feels more like a mystery than a horror thriller though the war of the vampires is anticipated by the audience. Though Falco¿s red headed obsession is never explained and some readers might not appreciate the simplicity of the final conflict (this reviewer thought it was on the mark and apropos), supernatural romantic suspense readers will enjoy reading this fine tale.---- Harriet Klausner
I had trouble getting into this initially and thought I might not be able to finish it as I don't like too much romance in my books. It was really kind of sappy and I get sick of hearing about how gorgeous Antonio was, and how blue his eyes were, and how black his hair was, and so on... But I plodded on, wanting to make it at least halfway through as I haven't yet read anything else by this author, and sometime after the 100th page or so, it got a little more interesting. At this point, the vampire Falco, who was killing various redheads in the town of Pear Blossom Creek, revealed himself to Vicki, which added an element of danger. Sure, there was still a lot of sappy romance, but it was lessened somewhat by the rest of the action finally starting to happen.So as Falco stalks Vicki, intending her to be his next victim, Antonio has sworn his life to protect her. At first, she doesn't know he's a vampire, but once she finally finds out, partially through the Vampire Hunter Duncan who's sweeped into town, and partially through Antonio's own admission and actions, she's not sure how she feels about the idea. But the fact that his kisses have stirred something in her that she's never felt before keeps her from running in the other direction. Besides, he seems to be the only one who can protect her from Draco.Overall, a fairly decent read, and once the action started happening, it was harder to put down. The strong romance aspect makes it not my usual cup of tea though, so I'm not sure whether or not I'll seek out additional books by this author since I've got so much other reading on my plate.
It's a very good book.
I have read this book twice now and I can't seem to understand what people are disappointed about... I can always agree with more passion as some have said but I think it was very realistic .. I enjoyed it and would read it again.