Desiree Passion DuBois regretted few things more than her silly names, gifts from her mother who wanted to piss off her dad. However, heartless men also topped the charts with clueless ones being a close second.
Her teeth ached at the twentysomething dude currently mansplaining the facts of love to the internet audience and her from the video screen, his ‘man cave’ in the background.
He pushed out his scrawny chest. “It’s on the woman to follow a guy’s lead without any fucking questions. That’s what biology and nature demand. Been that way for eons for a reason. A man’s role is to tell women what to do, so babes don’t fuck up because their brains aren’t as evolved as—”
She killed his mic before she lost it and looked up his address so she could sink her fangs into his bony neck to give him an eternity even she didn’t want. Being a newly turned vamp totally sucked, but that was a problem for another day. Right now, Desiree After Dark was her nightly internet show, not his. Her mission: to help women demand the best from men. There were too few. Most males resembled oversized boys whose brains and behavior would never catch up to their adult bodies. Those turds didn’t listen to anyone but themselves. If they had, she might have clued them in to what women really wanted so everyone would be happy.
Fat chance that would happen tonight.
Mr. Imperfect yapped away, unaware he resembled a fish drowning in air, his baby face reddening, lips flapping but producing no sound.
She brought back his mic.
“And that’s why.” He jabbed his forefinger at the split screen, his image on the right, hers on the left. “Rather than doing this stupid show, you should be at home having babies and catering to your man.”
She was at home, having set up her studio in her apartment. Being undead, she couldn’t have kids any longer, which even a stuck-on-stupid mortal should have realized. Plus, she had catered to the creep who’d turned her, not knowing he was a vampire until it was too late. So far, this caller had given her the worst advice ever and still looked supremely pleased with himself.
She longed to suck him dry but fought her basest emotions and behaved as the professional she was. “It seems you have strong opinions.”
He rolled his eyes. “I’m a guy. Of course, I do. It comes with the package.” Offering a sly smile, he cupped the area between his legs, luckily below the screen and hidden from the viewing public.
She still wanted to hurl. “So, how’s that working out for you with women, para or otherwise? They like what you say?”
His face flamed.
The only answer she needed, considering it was ten p.m. on a Saturday night and he was boasting to her, not his love-addled mate. “Now that we’ve heard from, ah…” She glanced at his name on the screen. “Jerry, we’ll call it a night with him and race to a commercial.”
“Hey.” He pushed his face toward the camera. “I’m not fin—”
The sound cut out, lights flickered, and the screen flashed.
She hadn’t touched the button to start the advertisement. No thunder sounded outside either. Despite the oppressive July heat and humidity, the New Orleans night stayed relatively quiet.
“Good evening, dear.”
Desiree flinched at the voice and greeting. An older woman with short white hair stared at her from the split screen, the background behind her identical to the brick wall in Desiree’s studio, including the banner advertising her program.
Skin crawling, she spun around. No one was behind her. Her apprehension didn’t care and ticked up another notch.
“Desiree? Are you all right, dear?”
Cautiously, she faced the monitor. “Who are you?” Like Jerry, she leaned closer to the screen. “How’d you get on my show?”
A tranquil smile spread across her face. “I’m an advertiser on your wonderful program.”
That didn’t give her the right to hack into the system. Desiree’s stomach sank, her previous worry turning to outright dread. If this was Brooke’s doing, and it had to be, then she’d taken her psycho stalking to a new level, no longer satisfied to send deranged notes or show up unannounced at the market, dry cleaners, or anywhere else, her glare demanding blood.
If Desiree had any left, she’d be happy to oblige to get rid of the maniac and this new problem. “W-w-what?” She gritted her teeth, annoyed at how unglued she sounded. “Who. Are. You?”
The woman pressed her hand to her suit jacket, the fabric light pink trimmed in black, the design couture, possibly vintage Chanel. “Gerri Wilder, of course.”
“Uh-huh. Look, Ms. Wild—”
“It. Is. Gerri.” Her blue eyes had turned golden, mouth hardened in a firm line, all pretense at friendliness gone. “I don’t like ma’am, either, so don’t address me as such. First names are always best.” Her sweet smile returned. “Don’t you agree?”
“What? No.” Desiree gripped her desk. “How’d you break into my show?”
Gerri waved her hand. “I don’t know or understand the logistics as to how it happened. I had a dear young man from Nova Aurora help me. The shifters on that planet are far more advanced than anyone here. But what do details matter? Your audience isn’t seeing or hearing us. They’re currently viewing the infomercial I’m running on your show.”
The only advertiser who’d bought that much time was the Paranormal Dating Agency. “You’re from the PDA?”
“I own it.” She beamed but sobered quickly. “Dear, you need help fast.”
This was worse than talking to her mom who couldn’t understand why she had no grandkids yet or ever would. Desiree curled her upper lip. “I’m not looking to hook up with anyone.” Zander, the vamp who’d turned her, had put the kibosh on that.
“Nonsense. What you’ve said is your heartache talking.” Gerri leaned closer, concern on her face. “Although I appreciate how you feel, have you listened to your pussy lately?”
Desiree blinked. “Huh?”
“You’re a beautiful, young woman all dressed up with nowhere to go. Love the dress, by the way. Black is always exceedingly elegant, and that touch of blue simply sets it off and matches your eyes perfectly. An ideal choice. So why are you hiding out in your apartment on a Saturday night? That’s dead wrong. You deserve a hero. A man who’s not only brave, strong, and hot, but when he’s balls-deep inside you—”
“Really, dear, no need to shout.” Gerri offered a scolding look and folded her hands on her lap. “I’m merely trying to help. Given your stalker, you at least need protection.”
The room spun. Desiree grasped her chair to keep from swaying. “How do you know about that?”
Gerri’s gaze slid to the lower left.
Brooke’s latest nastygram lay there. Desiree crumpled it into a ball. “Have you been going through my mail?”
“Not necessary. As I said, those dear boys on Nova Aurora have technology the people here can only dream of. However, the main point is you’re in danger and, as a huge fan of your show, plus being your best advertiser, I’m here to help.”
Knocks sounded on Desiree’s door.
She started and twisted around. “Are you outside?”
“Not me. Your protection. Go on, answer it and invite him in. My infomercial won’t last forever, and you’ll have to get back to your audience.”
Desiree didn’t budge. “Is this a sick joke? Is Brooke out there? Has she paid you to—”
“No, no, and no. You’re about to meet a man like no other.” Pleasure glinted in Gerri’s eyes. “He’s perfect in every way for you, but don’t take my word for it. See for yourself. I have to split now. And before you say anything else, you’re most welcome, dear.”
Gerri’s image faded from the screen, replaced by her PDA infomercial: a lion shifter caressing a witch, both gushing how they found true love at the agency after years dating nothing but trolls.
More knocking, these raps harder and louder.
On shaky legs, Desiree advanced toward the door then stopped short. As a vampire, she technically had to invite non-vamps into her home or they couldn’t enter. Having never tested the rule, she didn’t want to start now and be proved wrong. “Who is it?”
“Hunter Klein.” His voice rumbled deep and smooth.
Her arms got goose pimply. She rubbed them hard.
“Gerri Wilder sent me, Ms. DuBois.”
Her pussy creamed at him speaking her name. Never had it sounded as nice on any man’s lips. “Ah…” Her mouth was so dry she could scarcely speak. “Who are you exactly?”
“A bodyguard. I run my own agency.”
Something slipped beneath her door. She bit her lip as she opened the brochure that detailed what Klein Protection, Inc. offered to potential customers. Numerous pictures showed bruising males in dark turtlenecks and suits, escorting clients through crowds or into buildings and cars. Several customer names registered, belonging to New Orleans’ elite. Curious, she had to ask. “Which picture are you in?”
“None. The service I offer clients is personal and unobtrusive.”
She made a face at his dodge. “How does that work?”
“I pretend to be a family member or a work colleague or whatever the client needs in their particular situation.”
Like a boyfriend? Gerri’s balls-deep comment returned. Desiree’s skin went hot, a residual feeling from her human days even though Zander had taken her life.
The pleasant warmth flooded her, but she still prayed that believing Hunter wouldn’t be her next major fuckup. “Give me a sec.” Her hands shook so badly, she had trouble turning the deadbolt then parted the door a crack.
A tall man, at least six-three, stood at a respectable distance in the hall. His firm jaw and rough good looks put him in his early thirties, hotter than Gerard Butler in 300. This guy certainly had as many muscles. They strained against his black T-shirt and snug jeans, the bulge between his legs forming a solid ridge behind his fly. His biker boots also kicked serious ass.
Her knees sagged. She gripped the door to stay upright. “You’re Hunter Klein?” Even his name was awesome. So were his bristly cheeks and throat. However, she didn’t like how he kept glancing from side to side. Searching for something or someone? “Did you see a woman lurking out there?”
“No.” He met her gaze.
Everything stopped, the air between them sizzling, intense heat settling in her pussy.
She dug her nails into the wood.
His eyes were the same color as dark chocolate, his hair matching the shade. Those locks tumbled over his ears and forehead, his complexion a deep bronze.
Again, he glanced to the right. “We should speak inside.”
She couldn’t manage a protest or more than a few steps to allow him entrance. The space so narrow he brushed against her, delivering his fragrance: a dangerously heady scent bringing to mind power, sex, and the animal within tinged by musk.
Weakened, she leaned against the wall for support.
He closed and locked the door, close enough to kiss.
Stop it. She reined in her idiotic feelings, the same ones that had delivered her to Zander.
Hunter regarded her. “Are you all right?”
Except for wanting to lick him from head to toe, sure. “Why do you ask?”
“You seem…” He scratched his neck.
His biceps bunched.
She liked that and his hesitation in telling her she was behaving like a loon. “I’m fine.” She shook off her lust, for the most part, and stuck out her hand. “I’m Desiree.”
“Hunter.” His firm grip warmed and caressed.
Her teeth tingled. If forced to wager, she’d bet he was an angel. No other being was this perfect. As Gerri had said, a hero. He certainly looked the part. “Are you human?” He couldn’t be.
She would have paid good money to see him turn into the animal he was, but wasn’t foolish enough to ask and betray her interest. Despite how great this was unfolding, she had a show to finish and a confession to make—in case Gerri hadn’t told him the truth or she didn’t know the full situation herself. “Do you know what I am?”
His eyebrows inched up.
She got clammy and pulled her hand from his.
He noted her reaction but showed no emotion. “You mean the host of your own show, a woman being stalked by a jealous rival, or that you’re a vampire?”
She winced at the vile word but feigned indifference. “All three, but especially the last.” In the paranormal world, bloodsuckers ranked lower than dung. Even zombies received more sympathy and regard. Now that she’d laid everything bare, she expected him to flee.
He hooked his thumbs in his front pockets. “Yeah, I know about you being turned. Not how though.”
Her computer dinged. A fifteen-second warning to return to her audience. “It doesn’t bother you?”
“No.” She frowned, hating when men played dumb. “Me being a vamp.”
Desire flashed in his eyes.
She’d expected disgust. Dizzy, she lowered her head.
“No, it doesn’t bother me. Is everything all right?”
It would be once her good sense returned. He was a bodyguard, not a potential mate, no matter what Gerri had said or hoped. He had a job to do, which necessitated him being broadminded when it came to vampires. Maybe even pretending he liked them.
Another ding sounded. “I have to get back to my show.”
He followed her to the desk then gestured to the papers piled there, including the one she’d balled up. “Are these from your stalker?”
“Mind if I take a look?”
Given the contents, she wasn’t thrilled at the prospect. “I never said I was going to hire you or even indicated as much, Mr. Klein.”
If her icy comment surprised him, he didn’t show it, his manner far calmer than hers. “Want me to leave?”
She longed to jump him, drowning in his heat and scent, savoring his strength and power. Months had passed without as much as a kiss. Feeling lonely but also foolish, she inclined her head to a nearby chair so he wouldn’t be in camera range. “You can sit there and read Brooke’s poison pen letters. My show ends in an hour. Then we can talk.”
She turned on the jingle announcing her return and chose her next caller.
Seated, Hunter smoothed out the balled-up note but couldn’t read it or the others as yet. Desiree captured his full attention.
When Gerri said a vampiress needed his protection, he’d expected a monster worse than Medusa: sallow skin stretched over a skeletal frame, hollowed out cheeks, a death smell, and a fucking nasty attitude. Gerri’s way of punishing him for having resisted her matchmaking efforts these last years.
He should have listened to her sooner. But then, he might not have met Desiree.
Her voice had surprised him first, the sound liquid silk and smoke, sultry yet husky.
His cock thickened further.
She spoke to a sobbing young woman now, her words kind and reassuring, proving her good heart. Nothing like her frosty mood when she brought up being a vamp.
Her shame at that and her hurt at other paras reviling her, touched him deeply, tender feelings he rarely experienced. Having lost his folks in childhood, he understood not belonging anywhere or having a real family. He never would and had grown used to being alone.
Gerri, what have you gotten me into?
His head swam, need battering him, followed by ruthless lust. No matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t ignore Desiree’s physical gifts the bite hadn’t taken away. He guessed her to be late twenties, thirty at most, her lush curves calling to the man and animal within him, her boobs ripe, hips lavish, legs long and shapely. Musk deepened her light, flowery scent, bringing to mind a spring day filled with life, death nowhere near. She wore an elegant black dress trimmed in blue, but was barefoot, a thin gold chain hugging her ankle. He wanted to touch the jewelry and suck her toes, liking the deep-red polish on her nails.
Brutal longing tore through him, snatching his breath. He caught inadequate air, trying to calm down. To concentrate on the job at hand.
Wasn’t going to happen. She, alone, interested him. In high heels, he guessed she’d be five-eleven or so, a perfect complement to his six-four.
“Sweetie, please.” She touched the screen. “This isn’t your fault. If he…”
Tresses as dark as midnight swept over her shoulder, her hair thick and glossy, the color accentuating her creamy complexion, an ivory shade not deadly white.
The caller sobbed, her breaths hitching.
Desiree glanced at him.
His heart paused. Energy arced between them, the same as earlier, tightening his balls and making his skin burn. Even a Taser didn’t have as much power.
Her eyes were unearthly, a pale blue he could only describe as sheer or see-through, surrounded by sooty lashes.
A pained sound poured from her caller. “What do I do?”
She focused on the girl.
Hunter lost what breath he still had and sagged in his chair. Never in a zillion years would he have believed a vampiress could unglue him to the point he’d want to lose restraint, drag her to the floor, and mount her until time ended. Or she bit him.
Somehow, he didn’t think she would. Tears welled in her amazing eyes at her caller’s despair. Why anyone would want to harm Desiree was beyond comprehension. She deserved love and the finest life granted.
Not that she’d get it if he kept drooling over her rather than offering his protection.
Resolved to give her his best effort, he read the first letter.
I’ll destroy you if it’s the last thing I do. You had NO right to take Zander from me. He is MINE.
I saw how you threw yourself at him and keep doing so, even mentioning him on your stupid show. You’ll pay for what you said, and don’t think he’ll keep you safe from me. I’m going to tear you apart when you least expect it, whether it’s in that dump you hole up in or when you’re outside. The night can’t protect you, nor can the day.
Every minute, I’ll be waiting to pounce. Your end won’t be easy. I will make you suffer, as you never have, and then I’ll finish you off with you begging for mercy that I’ll never give.
Jesus. And here everyone thought men were the ones hounded by anger management issues. They had nothing on Brooke. Hunter rubbed his mouth and looked at the next letter, or rather picture. She’d Photoshopped Desiree’s publicity shot, not only decapitating her but gouging out her eyes so the brick wall behind her showed through her skull. She then topped off those goodies with a thick stake speared through Desiree’s heart.
From what he’d heard about vampires, the stake thing was a Hollywood invention. If someone truly wanted to off a bloodsucker, they had to use an axe to decapitate their victim, boil the head in acid or vinegar, then bury it where two roads intersected. Or, they could drive nails through the eyes and temples, remove the heart, cut it in two, then feed the remains to jackals. Or…
He didn’t want to consider the myriad ways Desiree might meet her fate.
Soldiering on, he read another note.
Saw you in Whole Foods this afternoon. Are you sure you should have bought so much chocolate? Who’s going to eat it when you’re nothing but dirt, or rather sludge beneath everyone’s shoes?
Maybe I’ll enjoy the candy when I take over your show and tell your poor listeners what a skank you really are. How you whore around, stealing other women’s men. What a bang hole you have, what…
He couldn’t read further and pulled out his smartphone. Brooke might have been a woman scorned, but she wasn’t the brightest bulb in the box, having signed each note using her full name.
A quick search on Facebook brought up the Brooke Ayers he sought, her nasty comments about Desiree After Dark giving her away.
She listed her status as “in a relationship.” Several posts insisted she was in a fully committed union with the only man she’d ever love.
Regrettably, none showed Zander’s photo, nor did he have a Facebook page. Smart guy.
Brooke, on the other hand, laid out her life in gory detail. Her interests included fucking, screwing, and extreme BDSM with her guy.
Hunter frowned. Surely, Desiree wasn’t into the pain-is-pleasure shit.
He brought up Brooke’s photos, surprised—yet not—at her cold beauty. It matched the crap she’d written. She appeared close to Desiree’s age, her long hair auburn, skin fair, eyes a deep green, mouth pouty as if something displeased her or she had trouble hiding her fangs. Even though she hadn’t given away her para status, she reeked vampire.
On the slender side, her small rack and narrow hips did nothing for him. Apparently, not for Zander either if he’d chosen Desiree instead.
She couldn’t have come on to him as Brooke had claimed.
Although Hunter should have pored over Desiree’s Facebook page to get as much info on her as possible, he couldn’t. Whatever he learned about her, he wanted her to offer the details, as one friend would to another. Without trust, he couldn’t adequately protect her.
Without friendship between them, nothing else was possible.
He scoured the net for anything and everything on Zander and Brooke. Zander proved a cipher. Even ordinary folks had some personal details on the net. He had zip. Brooke was a fountainhead of minutia, right down to her favorite designer pumps and which Jenner she liked best. It wasn’t Caitlyn.
Maybe if Brooke had gotten a real life, she wouldn’t have fallen for Zander, been turned, then gone batshit crazy about Desiree.
“I’m through.” She turned off her computer and faced him. “Ask me anything you want.” She crossed her arms. “I’ll answer as best I can.”
He would have preferred she not assume such a defensive stance but wasn’t about to call her on it. “Read your fan mail.” He lifted Brooke’s messages.
If she’d still been mortal, he bet she would have also blushed, and he wondered, again, about her warm skin when they’d shaken hands. Being undead, she should have been icy to the touch.
Not that he was complaining.
She pushed her hair behind her ear. “I hope you know what Brooke said in those notes is a damn lie.”
He was counting on it, but still had to ask. “Which part?”
Indignation flashed on her face. “Excuse me?” She leaned forward and spoke through her teeth. “All of it. I did not throw myself at Zander, ever.”
“I didn’t think you had.”
Her frown faded, eyes growing wide in disbelief. “Seriously?”
“There’s no reason for me to lie to you. I’m here to help.”
Her mouth trembled. “Yeah, I know.” She slumped. “The truth is, the prick seduced me. To him, ruining my life was nothing but a damn game when I thought he really cared. That he…” She shook her head, regret and pain in her eyes.
Her anguish reached Hunter’s soul. He longed to gather her in his arms and offer comfort but figured she wouldn’t believe or appreciate it. Maybe when they were no longer strangers… “I take it he’s the one who turned you.”
She gave him a “well, duh” look. “Who else?”
“Just asking. Do you date vamps as a rule?”
“No.” She wrinkled her nose. “I thought he was mortal. He was freaking warm to the touch. I swear I heard a heartbeat, or thought I had.”
“How is that possible?”
“You’re asking me?” She pushed back. “I’m new at this shit. It’s only been nine months, and I’m already losing my mind. But I do know I’m not cold. Here. Feel.” She put out her hand.
If kissing her palm wouldn’t have alarmed her, he would have. Instead, he stroked it.
Her lids fluttered.
That and her silky-smooth skin tingled his scalp. “Must be an anomaly. Maybe a genetic mutation. Where’s Zander now?”
“How should I know?” She hung her head. “Once he turned me, the SOB took off. Out to conquer new victims, I suppose.”
Cocksucker. Hunter wanted to tear him apart for taking Desiree’s life and future, using her kind heart to con her as guys often did to women. “Are you managing okay with…?” He couldn’t find the right words to ask for details on how she fed.
She lifted her face. “With being a bloodsucker? No, but it’s something I have to live with.”
She stared. “Just so you know, I’m not going to drain you dry, all right?”
“I never thought you would.” Again, her goodness shone through. “Do you buy plasma from blood banks?”
“Ew. No.” She shivered. “I refuse to drink the stuff no matter the urge.”
“Forgive me for asking, but how do you survive?”
“Potions and spells.” She shrugged. “Even before Zander turned me, I had several witch friends. Whenever I crave blood, they do what they can. The incantations and brews aren’t permanent though. Something within me keeps evolving to defeat them, pushing me closer to an undead state.”
Her eyes grew wet. She swiped at them then grew distant again. “No need. They’re my BFFs and will do whatever it takes to keep me from hurting anyone. Not that I would. I’d prefer to die first…if I could.” She grinned sardonically. “Who knows, maybe Brooke will come to my rescue and—”
“Fuck that shit. Do not say that ever.” His voice shook from emotion. “Don’t even think it, understand?” He hated getting hardcore on her, but he didn’t like defeatist talk, especially when it came to her existence.
She matched his glare. “May I remind you, I’m the client here. If I decide to hire you.”
“Say the word and I’ll leave.” Once he was outside, he’d wait and watch on his own without her ever knowing. He was that far gone.
Anger drained from her, replaced by embarrassment. “Sorry. I don’t want you to leave…that is, you don’t have to.”
He didn’t like how she used words to distance herself from him, but there wasn’t anything he could do about it except wait until she came around. “Apology accepted. Would you rather call the police and report Brooke to them?”
“Think they’ll help?”
Not the ones he knew. They’d minimize the problem, claiming it was a catfight between women and to let it run its course. “Do you honestly want my protection? We have to be partners in this for it to work.”
She opened her mouth then shut it and gestured to the letters. “I want her gone. Not as in annihilated but leaving me alone. Can you talk to her?”
“Now it’s my turn to ask if you’d think it would do any good.”
“Probably not.” Desiree chewed her thumb. “Given how she wants Zander, or maybe any man, she might come on to you. Oh my God.” She straightened, terror on her face. “She might turn you. Uh-uh.” She waved her hands. “Stay away from her, please.”
“You’re worrying for nothing. I can take care of myself.”
“Have you ever battled a vampire?”
Although reluctant to say, he couldn’t lie. “No. But every being, even paras, have their Achilles’s heel, so to speak.”
“And a vampiress’s is? Particularly hers?”
“I’m going to find out.” He leaned closer, resting his arms on his knees. “From what I read in her letters, you like chocolate. Or was that a fabrication on her part?”
“It’s the truth. Since being turned, I crave it more than I did when I was mortal.” Her weak smile made her look sadder. “I guess that’s a perk in being a vamp. I can eat as much as I want now and don’t gain an ounce.”
Even if she had, it would have only made her more perfect. “So, I take it since you enjoy chocolate, you can eat other things, too?”
“If I want.” Confusion touched her eyes. “What does that have to do with anything?”
“Your show’s over for the evening. I’m hungry. I’d like to discuss your case while we have dinner…if you don’t mind.”
She glanced at the wall clock. “It’s late.”
“I know this great restaurant that caters to paras. Humans, too, if they wander in. New Moon stays open until three. Unless you have an early morning.”
“I don’t.” She regarded him, attraction in her eyes.
His insides made a funny twist, sending more heat and desire to his balls and cock. “Then we’re on?”
She averted her gaze. “I need to ask you something first. When you mentioned me having an early morning, you were trying to find out if the sun bothers me, but didn’t want to come out and say it, right?”
Not even close. Whether daylight bothered her or not wasn’t his most pressing consideration, her eyes and mouth captivating him, sending his pulse into a dangerous sprint. “Does it?”
“No. Another thing that fooled me about Zander. I met him during the day at an Apple store. However, I’ve always preferred the night.”
Hunter did, too. He stood and offered his hand. “Let’s get to know each other better.”
Carnal hunger flickered in her eyes followed by caution that remained. A long moment passed.
He worried she’d finally tell him to get lost.
“Let me get my shoes and bag.” She slipped on her heels, becoming as tall as he’d predicted. Ideal for him. Except for holding her purse rather than taking his hand.