Shy nurse Cora both dreads and lives for the moments she sees Zeke, an orderly at the hospital where she works. Zeke is too handsome, too compelling, too much, and seems totally unaware of Cora. But before she can bring herself to his attention, an explosion rips through the hospital Christmas party.
Zeke has noticed Cora—in fact, he’s so irresistibly drawn to her that he saves her from the explosion by turning her into a vampire, much to the jealousy and resentment of his partner, Merrick. Zeke hates being a vampire, and now that she’ll live, doesn’t want Cora to suffer his fate. If they can both resist the overwhelming instinct to bond, joining their bodies as Cora draws her maker’s blood, she might be able to return to her normal human life.
As Merrick uses every erotic trick to keep Zeke distracted from the blood passion, Cora becomes more and more drawn to both of her reluctant captors. And more and more happy to abandon her old life in exchange for an eternity with two hot immortal lovers. All she has to do is convince Merrick and Zeke that being a vampire isn’t all that bad.
Caution: The following details may be considered spoilerish.
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Cora did her best not to stare at his face while he was talking. She forced her gaze downward, away from the bright and brilliant light of his eyes, and found herself gawping at his hands instead. She’d never noticed his hands before that night. They were enormous and somehow fine at the same time, with these heavy-boned knuckles she couldn’t quite look away from. They didn’t seem like a hospital orderly’s hands.
It was impossible to look away from Zeke. The moment she thought she was safe, some other insane thing drew her back in. There were times during her workdays at the hospital that she’d take an entirely circuitous route, merely to avoid the glare of him—even though a circuitous route was practically death for a nurse. No one ever walked more than they had to while on shift, because walking more than you had to meant blisters. It meant exhaustion, and working in a hospital was quite exhausting enough on its own.
But she walked it for him, and had for the past six months since he started working there.
Or rather, she walked it so as to avoid embarrassing situations like this, where he stood in front of her and expected her to engage in a conversation. Any second now he was going to notice her fumbling, her awkwardness, her desperate attempts to look at anything other than his face. It would click in his mind that she’d spent the last five minutes of the staff party staring at the Christmas decorations next to his head, instead of meeting his gaze like a normal person.
And then it would occur to him why.
Of course it would. Men like him probably encountered this issue all the time. Or did other women feel no shame about swooning or fawning? She suspected they didn’t, because she’d seen Caitlin flirting up a storm with Zeke outside cardiology. She’d smiled in that twinkly way and tossed her hair, while Cora had looked on with a mixture of amazement and envy. How did people swallow their fear so easily?
Maybe other people felt no fear. Maybe they stared at men like Zeke and didn’t get that swell of vertigo, as though he was a cliff and she was poised on top of him. All he had to do was move a little to the left and she would fall, she was already falling, couldn’t he see that she was about to smash against the rocks?
She needed him to stop talking to her, before it was too late. She was so overwhelmed she didn’t know what he was saying anyway, so what did it matter? He could easily move on to someone else—someone who could actually answer him, and wasn’t about to throw up. That girl by the sparkling drinks stand looked pretty stable, even if the world around her didn’t. The world around her was swaying and swirling in a kaleidoscope of Christmas glitz, to the point where Cora began to wonder.
Was this really all him? Was this really all nerves?
Tonight seemed particularly bad. She wasn’t just tongue-tied around Zeke, but downright light-headed. It was possible she’d eaten something spoiled. The shrimp had tasted okay, but taste wasn’t always a good indicator.
Though it didn’t feel like nausea exactly. It wasn’t even entirely unpleasant. There was another element to it—a sort of heaviness she’d never experienced before. Zeke’s words seemed to be getting slower and slower, and when Cora moved, her limbs didn’t want to go with her. They dragged, as though the air around them had turned to syrup. Everything was suddenly a monumental effort, and that included staying on her feet.
She sort of wanted to lie down.
She wanted to lie down a lot. So much that Zeke was starting to notice. She could see him leaning toward her out of the corner of her eye, which was bad enough on its own. But then she could also feel his hand very close to her elbow, and hear him asking in that lazy river accent of his if she was okay.
Only he didn’t say it like that, with the ordinary words. He never said it like that, with the ordinary words. She wasn’t sure okay was even in his vocabulary, because he usually went with all of this faintly archaic-sounding stuff that made her melt and want to ask him about it all at the same time.
“Are you well?” he asked, and there it was again. The urge to know him better, to touch his vaguely velvety jacket and inquire as to why a hospital orderly was interested in such ornate stuff, to understand why he was like this. Why he reminded her of chamber music chinking in the background of a musty parlor, and mint juleps, and other things that were probably completely anachronistic when put together.
That night she didn’t get the chance to ask—either about the historically inaccurate period details or about his penchant for them. She was too busy feeling odd, while trying to avoid Zeke’s hand in slow motion. He was almost touching her now. He seemed hesitant to do it, but it was happening anyway. She brought both hands up and tried to wave him off, despite the syrup air and her suddenly limp muscles. And she spoke too—the first words she’d ever offered to him.
By God, she wished they were better ones. She’d always imagined herself saying something cool and casual, once she finally dared to go near him. Something that wouldn’t give away the effect he had on her, even though the effect was so strong it probably qualified as hypnosis. She was definitely close to a trance here, so really she should have known something was amiss.
But she didn’t, until she garbled out a bunch of stuff that didn’t go together.
“Never after all right.”
She wasn’t even sure if it qualified as a sentence. There wasn’t a subject in there—a fact Zeke seemed well aware of.
“Who is never after all right?” he asked, as though there was an actual chance she might answer him. He even leaned forward to better hear her, with all the earnestness she could have wished for. No mockery, no laughter.
But sadly, he also chose that moment to put his hand on her.
He got her by the elbow just like she’d thought he would, only much quicker and more casually than she’d imagined. Like someone righting a cup before it can topple over, she thought, like he barely needs to expend any effort at all. He just snatched her back to standing—but once he had, everything was even more impossible than it had been before.
Now he was touching her. That one slight move had forced her to lock her gaze to his, and the second she did, something happened. It was like someone had snapped their fingers, or a veil had been torn away. All that syrupy fogginess disappeared, and was replaced by a focus so sharp it seemed unreal.
For one frozen moment, she was sure she could see motes of dust dancing around his head. There was a ring of richer dark around the black of his eyes that she’d never noticed before, and his cheekbones didn’t slant the way she’d always thought. They curved heavily into the curl of his mouth—a mouth that was almost smiling at her.
But none of this intense looking bothered her.
The point of connection bothered her.
She could feel his hand burning and burning through her dress—to the degree that she wanted to glance down and check for smoke. The sensation was so raw there had to be something, she could almost smell something, yet she couldn’t seem to break away and see for sure. He could have probably set fire to her entire body and she wouldn’t have been able to glance away—and in truth it kind of felt like that was happening. Everything was burning now. The sensation spread like lava, up through her arm and over her shoulder and then down, down, down to some really inappropriate places.
He was only touching her arm, for God’s sake. Why was this happening? It didn’t often happen for Cora at all, even after seven hours of foreplay and eight hundred clips of people getting it on in really vigorous, interesting ways, so this seemed very odd indeed. She could actually feel her own wetness; the soft lips of her sex were starting to strain against the cotton of her underwear. It was a little too much.
And that was before his friend came over to talk to him.
She expected it to stop then—that was the thing. It was bad enough that this was happening in front of Zeke, but with another person right there? That verged on perverted. She wanted to put a hand over her breasts, because she knew her nipples were making visible points through the material. Or at the very least, she had the urge to apologize. I’m not usually like this, she wanted to say.
Even though she hadn’t technically done anything wrong.
This new guy just looked at her like she’d done something wrong. If Zeke was handsome, this stranger who’d accompanied him to the holiday party was beautiful—but it was a cruel beauty. His face was a knife, lean and sharp-angled, with a mouth that barely seemed to move when he spoke. She couldn’t imagine that mean mouth smiling, or laughing, and if it did she knew the feeling wouldn’t reach his eyes.
Those eyes wouldn’t understand what happiness was. They were practically stones in his face, too hard and cold for anything as petty as emotion. And when they lit on her, she was sure they got worse. The disdain that danced across their surface was a palpable thing. It wasn’t something she could explain away, or attribute to paranoia.
This was as obvious as Zeke’s warmth. It made her wonder why on earth Zeke and the stranger were friends—because they clearly were. As soon as the stone-eyed one had finished assessing her, he hissed something back at Zeke, in that way people have when they’ve known someone for a long time. It spoke of embarrassment and understandings and issues and all kinds of things she wasn’t a party to.
She couldn’t even listen in. They were right next to her, yet somehow they spoke so quietly and quickly she couldn’t quite hear. She heard Stone-eyes snap Enough, however. Oh she heard that all right. And she saw the force he used when he put a hand on Zeke’s shoulder. He was stronger than he looked—much stronger than Zeke, apparently, despite the disparity in their size. The new guy couldn’t have been more than six foot, to Zeke’s eight hundred million and seventy-nine. And he was thinner too, much thinner.
But the pressure made Zeke wince.
It made him let go of her arm.
The loss was almost as bad as the rest of this weirdness. She wanted to grab his hand and haul it back, and only two things stopped her. The first was how absolutely ridiculous that was, and the second was the glare Stone-eyes snapped to her when she came close to reaching for Zeke. She lifted her own hand an inch, but he reacted as if she’d leaped onto Zeke’s shoulders. She wasn’t even sure how the stranger knew she’d moved.
But he did—in truth, he seemed to know before she was even aware. His contempt-riddled gaze darted down to her curled fingers, and then it backhanded her across the face. She nearly stumbled, and probably would have if it hadn’t been for Zeke. He saved her again. He caught her by the arm and set her right.
Of course it only made things worse.
Now Stone-eyes was trying to murder him with a look. It actually seemed like horror in his expression, when he whipped it around on Zeke. Horror with a side order of fury, she thought, even though neither of those things made any sense. What was so terrible about Zeke touching her? Unless . . . unless . . .
Zeke never seemed to have a girlfriend.
He didn’t make advances on anyone.
Oh God, were they . . .?
“I didn’t mean to get in the way,” she started, and then stopped. She sounded like an absolute idiot. She was an idiot, for getting all of this so wrong. She’d been sure something was going on between them, but clearly that had been her imagination working overtime. He was with this guy. He had to be with this guy.
So why did he bark out a bunch of words when she tried to pull away?
“No,” he said. “That’s not what you’re doing.”
And he quite clearly meant it. He held on to her arm, despite her best efforts to extricate herself. He ignored the hand on his shoulder, now pulling him hard enough to turn him sideways. But it was his gaze that really meant the most. It was so full of yearning she actually felt okay about labeling it as such.
This is what it is to be wanted by someone.
To be wanted so much they would do anything to keep you with them—a thought she found dramatic and overblown, until the terrible thing occurred.
It seemed to happen all at once. There was a sound like rolling thunder, so out of place she tried to turn and see what it was. Everyone around her did too. No one really got the chance, however. The fire followed the thunder, too quick to escape from it. It was all around them. It rolled up in a great wave from somewhere close to the windows, taking everyone with it.
It should have taken her with it too. She felt the blast hit her, and knew her feet had left the ground. One side of her face was burning, one arm scorched half away in an instant. She knew she should have been flying or melting or whatever it was that happened when you were in the middle of an explosion. But then somehow, somehow Zeke was holding on to her. That was his hand still hanging on to her unburnt one. She could see his face through the fire, the edges turning to cinders in a way that should have killed him.
It should have hurt him the way it hurt her.
But it didn’t. Of course it didn’t. These were her last thoughts before she disintegrated into nothing, and they wanted something amazing to go out on. There was only one possible explanation, and she clung to it. He’s not human, her mind called out into the void. Oh my God, he’s not human, he’s not human.
And then there was nothing but darkness, and silence.
She woke up crying, even though there was nothing to cry about.
I’m okay, I’m okay, she told herself, but somehow it just wouldn’t sink in. It was only a nightmare.
She could feel her right arm, even though it had burned away in the dream. And she’d lost half the side of her face too, but when she touched it everything was still there. Her skin was still smooth and unburned; her body utterly unbroken. It had to have been a dream. People did not survive enormous explosions, and if they did, they didn’t survive them completely intact. Nothing could have happened—that much was absolutely clear.
It just didn’t feel clear.
It felt like she’d woken up, and the nightmare was still carrying on. Something was really wrong in a way she couldn’t quite put her finger on—and then she realized. She realized so hard it kind of made her go all still. She took it in out of the corner of one eye, as though it might go away if she didn’t face it full on. But there it was, all the same: this was not her home. She was not in her home.
She was on the floor of a windowless room in some filthy cabin.
She went to lift her left arm and found it oddly heavy, and for a second thought she actually was hurt. Then she glanced down and there it was—a metal cuff. Not even a cuff, really.
Someone had put a manacle around her wrist. It was an enormous and ancient-looking thing, of the type seen in terrible horror movies about haunted castles. It literally clanked when she moved. The lock seemed like it needed a creepy key guarded by something awful.
Plus there was a chain leading off from it.
She had been chained to the wall. For some ungodly reason, she’d been chained to the wall. The manacle wasn’t just some mistake, or maybe a fancy type of jewelry that the kids were all giving out these days. This was a real thing that was actually happening, no matter how much she tried to convince herself otherwise.
She glanced around the room, searching for the punch line.
But there wasn’t a punch line. If anything, her harder look around this place only backed up her first and most frightening assessment. It seemed like she’d accidentally fallen into The Evil Dead. A single, dim, unshaded bulb hanging from the ceiling provided the only light. Everything was worn and grimy, including the furniture. The chair and table in the center of the room could have been made in the thirteenth century. Thirteenth-century artisans would probably sneer at the idea of ever making something so crude and unsettling.
Why was it so unsettling?
Why was everything in here so unsettling?
It went beyond her predicament. It was more than a sense that stuff needed a good scrub. Something was really not right about this place. The shadows were too deep and too thick, as though they’d lain here so long they’d started to take on forms of their own. And it was so quiet. Even the sounds she was making seemed muffled somehow.
Apparently, this place did not accept anything other than silence. It rejected noise and movement and normality. Soon it would start to reject her, and then what? That uneven chair will come over here and eat me, she thought, but the idea didn’t make her laugh. She wasn’t certain she’d ever be able to laugh again.
Someone was coming to make sure of that.