When you live forever, you’re bound to make a few mistakes.
1969 San Francisco. World-weary Conrad Quintano should have known better than to fall in love with a human—much less Suzanne Fischer, the barely legal, adventure-seeking hippie beauty known as Desert Rose. And the very last thing he should have agreed to do was to raise her babies and protect them with his life. But even twelve-hundred-year-old master vampires can find it hard to reject a deathbed request—especially when issues of love, guilt and blood are involved.
Present day. Raised in virtual isolation, twins Marc and Julie Fischer have always known they are vampires. But they never knew their parentage—or their unique status in the vampire world—until their “uncle” Damian comes to fetch them home. The family reunion, however, isn’t what they expect. They’re thrust into a world for which they’re totally unprepared. And the father they expected to see, Conrad, is missing.
How to find him…and whom to trust? Solving the mystery of betrayal and vampire family values will prove the Beatles had it right. All you need is love…and an occasional side of blood.
While reading this book you may experience any of the following, an increased desire to wear flowers in your hair, dress in tie-dye or nap during the day. Other symptoms may include an intolerance to sunlight, an aversion to garlic-flavored tofu and a pronounced urge to bake…or get baked.
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Thursday, November 28th, 1968
“All I’m saying is that the picnic in the park was a total blast and you missed out on a really great party today.”
Desert Rose was pouting. Arms crossed, her posture rigid, she glared sullenly at Conrad from one end of his couch. Lying comfortably against the cushions at the other end, he smiled back at her indulgently. He hadn’t been expecting to see her here this evening. Even though she’d taken to spending nearly every weekend with him, tonight was Thursday—definitely part of the week, as far as he was concerned. In her mind, however, the fact that it was Thanksgiving apparently made it the start of the weekend.
“I told you all about it when I was here last weekend. I was really hoping you’d show. You’d have liked it.”
“Yes, I’m sure I would have.” Enough talk now. Conrad reached for the girl and pulled her toward him. He rearranged her limbs until she was reclining against his chest with her head resting on his shoulder, her long, dark hair swept to one side. Unexpected, yes, he thought, as he began to lick lazily at her neck. But definitely not unwelcome. Three days was long enough to go without. He’d grown quite addicted to the taste of her over the course of the past month—which would have worried him, if he’d been planning on turning her. He wasn’t. “I’m sorry I missed your picnic today. It sounds like it was a…real happening scene.”
A strangled noise, emanating from the vicinity of the secretary desk on the other side of the room, greeted Conrad’s observation. He glanced up, his face breaking into a wide grin at the sight of Armand’s pained expression.
“A happening scene? Mon Dieu.”
“Well, it was,” Desert Rose insisted as she settled deeper into Conrad’s embrace, her eyes closed, her neck exposed. “With music and dancing and…just crowds of people. And more food than you’ve probably ever seen in your life.”
Armand’s eyes grew smoky as he gazed at the girl. His tongue danced lightly across the points of his teeth. He looked mesmerized, enchanted. He looked hungry.
Mine. Conrad stilled. It took a conscious effort to tamp down the unreasoning jealousy that was once again threatening to burn holes in his gut. Luckily, Armand seemed to collect himself before too much time had passed. A shaky sigh escaped his lips as he shook his head and went back to work, writing checks to pay the monthly bills. Conrad relaxed as well, and quietly sank his teeth into the girl’s waiting neck.
“Corn and beans and squash and cranberry sauce and those little pearl onions,” she continued her recital, in the slightly dreamy tone that indicated she was so relaxed she hadn’t even noticed Conrad’s feasting at her throat. “And mashed potatoes, scalloped potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots, peas, three kinds of pie, a big chocolate cake. Not to mention homemade bread and biscuits and pumpkin soup. Oh, and there was even an entire turkey made out of tofu.”
“It sounds delightful.” Conrad raised his head. “Armand?”
“Qu’est-ce que c’est…toe-foo?”
Armand looked up again, his face perplexed. “Je ne sais pas,” he replied with a shrug. Then, his face clearing, he snapped his fingers. “ Ah, non, non, non. Il est Chinois. It’s something to do with soybeans. A kind of a paste, I think?”
“Soybeans? Vraiment?” Conrad shook his head and went back to his meal. Soybean turkeys. What would they think of next? He could still eat human food, if he had to, but it had very little taste and no nutritional value for him, so he rarely bothered. In the past, of course, things had been different and he’d frequently been forced to eat regular meals as part of his attempts to pass for human. He hadn’t felt the need for such subterfuge in quite some time, however, and being as he was now a man of some means and could afford not to eat, he no longer did.
“I wish you’d been there,” Desert Rose murmured, still pouting. “You could have met some of my friends.”
“I’m sure that would have been very charming,” Conrad lied and, sensing she was growing restless, quickly licked the wounds shut and released her. “But, you know, mignonne, Armand is Canadian and they don’t really celebrate Thanksgiving in his country. It would have been rude to leave him alone.”
“Well, you could have come too,” she said, sitting up and gazing earnestly at Armand. “All sorts of people were there.”
“Merci, chérie.” Armand smiled at her. “And, for the record, we do celebrate Thanksgiving in Canada. It’s just not all about the food for us.” He cast a sly glance in Conrad’s direction. “But, you know, Conrad is not from this country originally either. So you can’t really expect him to appreciate the delights of all your traditional American dishes. Like tofu, for example.”
“You’re not American?” Eyes wide, she stared at Conrad. “Where are you from?”
“Originally?” Conrad frowned. He had to think about that for a moment. The part of Europe he hailed from had been called many different things over the centuries, most of which would mean nothing to her. “Rome,” he answered, finally, taking the easy way out.
“So, does that mean you’re like…Italian?”
“Close enough,” he said, ignoring Armand when he muttered, “…but no cigar.”
“So, what do you like to eat on Thanksgiving then? Spaghetti, or pizza, or lasagna or something?”
Conrad grimaced as thoughts of garlic and other unpleasant spices threatened to sour his stomach. “I don’t really care for any of those.”
Cocking her head to the side, she frowned thoughtfully. “You know what’s funny? Now that I think about it, I never see you eat anything. Why is that?”
From across the room, Armand choked back a laugh. “C’est parce que vos yeux sont fermés, chérie,” he answered. That’s because your eyes are shut.
“That’s enough out of you,” Conrad growled, throwing a pillow at his head.
“What did he say?” the girl asked, her gaze shifting back and forth between them both.
Conrad shrugged. “He said it’s because I’m always on a diet.”
“What?” Her eyebrows rose. “You? But, you don’t need to diet, you’re perfect!”
Conrad pulled her close again and kissed her, flashing a smug smile over her shoulder at Armand. “Thank you, chérie. So are you.”
An avaricious little thrill pulsed through him as she clung to him, sighing happily against his mouth. Mine. He tightened his arms around her. One kiss was not enough. The taste of her mouth was an easy match for the taste of her blood—he was addicted to both and unable to get enough of either. Angling his head to the side, he plundered her mouth, loving the way her hands crept shyly up to frame his face, the eagerness with which she snuggled against him. Soon he was rolling her beneath him on the couch and stretching himself out on top of her, wanting, needing more.
In the long run, his dual obsession with both her body and her blood was a very bad thing. One that would surely lead to trouble when he lost control of either his temper or his jealousy, as had happened with the last person he’d craved in this fashion. In the short run, however, it was perfect. As he tangled his legs with hers, he allowed himself a single depraved fantasy of what it would be like if he could have them both together in his bed. Both of his dark-eyed beauties, gazing at him adoringly…
It would be…nice. Very nice. But it was never going to happen, if only because, for safety’s sake, he’d have to turn her first. And that was such a very bad idea he wasn’t even tempted by it. Much.
“So, what holidays do you celebrate?” she asked, pressing her hands into his chest in an attempt to push him away.
She’s pushing me away? He glanced down at her, surprised by her unexpected resistance. Is there a problem here? The furtive glance she cast in Armand’s direction, however, made the source of her discomfort clear.
Conrad sighed. He rolled to the side, giving her the space she so clearly desired. He’d been forgetting how very young she was. Young enough to still be self-conscious about being observed at play. Far too young for the fantasies he’d been imagining. Far too young for him. Yet another reason things would never work out between them. “I’m sorry. What were we talking about?”
“Holidays. There’s gotta be some you celebrate, right?”
“No, not really.”
She looked surprised. “Not even Christmas?”
“Not even Christmas.”
“That’s a shame.” She nodded at the big bay window, heavily swathed in velvet curtains to keep out the sun. “Because, you know, that would be a perfect place to put a tree.”
“A tree?” The grounds were full of trees—which was exactly where they belonged. “Why would I want a tree in the house?” It would have to be a very hardy specimen, something that could flourish in the dark.
“A Christmas tree, silly. You know, all done up with tinsel and pretty lights? If I had a house like this, I’d sure have one.”
He smiled at her. “So, you want a tree now? Is that what you’re saying?”
The girl sighed wistfully. “Well, who wouldn’t? But I don’t have any room at my place. I mean, I don’t really even have a place—not of my own. So, you know, there’s not much point in thinking about it, is there?”
“No, I meant here. Would you like me to get a tree for you to decorate?”
The look in her eyes gave him his answer. “Really?”
Conrad raised his head. “Armand!”
“We need a tree!”
“Eh?” Armand glanced up, confused. “Comment? A…tree?”
“Yes, a tree, you heathen. For Christmas. Get one for us, will you, mon cher?”
Raising one eyebrow, Armand stared at him. “Ah, oui. Très bien. And would you be wanting the little colored lights, too?” His voice dripped with sarcasm. “You could wrap them all around the house, perhaps—up on the roof and around all the doors and windows?”
Conrad looked at the girl. She nodded eagerly. He smiled. “Oui.”
“Ah, mon Dieu.” Armand rolled his eyes toward heaven. “Comment très Moulin Rouge. Il ressemblera à un bordel.” We’re going to look like a whorehouse.
“Could we maybe have a party too?” Desert Rose asked timidly.
“We have parties,” Conrad said. He sat up and frowned at her. “Practically every weekend.” They were…functional. They gave his family a nice, safe place to eat, keeping them off the streets and away from the seedier sections of town. “Isn’t that enough?” He had the uneasy feeling she was not going to say yes.
“I mean a real Christmas party.” Sitting up as well, she curled her knees beneath her and gazed at him earnestly. “Please, Conrad? With mistletoe and eggnog and presents. Oh, and maybe carolers?”
“Ah, out. Chanteurs.” Armand’s eyes gleamed with mischief. “C’est très bon idee. And, do you know what else would be good? Perhaps Conrad can dress up as Santa Claus. No?”
Conrad glared at him. “No.” He glanced at the girl’s eager face and shook his head. “I said no.” Then he turned his glare back on Armand. “Be very careful, my dear, or I might decide to dress you as an elf.”
“An elf? Ah, non. I think not.” Armand packed up his books and got to his feet. “Je serais plutôt un renne.” I’d rather be a reindeer.
“Un renne?” Conrad smiled wickedly at him over the girl’s head. “Very well. Now that you mention it, I think I would prefer you in that position.” On all fours.
Out of the girl’s line of sight, Armand showed his fangs in a teasing display of aggression he’d never dare attempt if he and Conrad were alone. Then he pivoted gracefully and left the room, but only after inviting Conrad to “Bite my Buche de Noel.”
Still laughing, Conrad turned his attention back to Desert Rose, pulling her down beneath him once again, capturing her mouth in another drugging kiss. They were alone now. The time for scruples was past. There would be no more interruptions.
It was easy to love someone like Armand, Conrad reflected as he set about stripping away the girl’s clothes with practiced efficiency. He was so reliably good natured, so dependably content, so easily satisfied. Conrad wished all his children could be like him. Ironic, considering how hard he’d fought the idea of turning Armand. After his last disaster, he’d made up his mind he was through creating vampires. He’d sworn up and down that he’d never sire anyone else—not ever again.
But the boy had been persistent. Once he’d discovered Conrad’s true nature, he’d done nothing but beg and wheedle and plead and tease until, eventually, Conrad had given in.
In retrospect, it had definitely been one of his better decisions, one he doubted he’d ever have cause to regret. Armand was cheerful and companionable, a joy to have around. Of course, the same could be said of the girl…
But, no, it would not be the same at all. The two scenarios were altogether different. It was his intemperate feelings for the girl that were the problem here, his wholly unreasonable need to possess her, to own her, to keep her all to himself. His emotions were already too strong, the relationship between them entirely too intense. It could only get worse. It could only end in sorrow.
He knew. He’d been there.
Their clothes gone, Conrad settled himself back on top of the girl. She twined her arms around his neck and sighed in pleasure. He smiled at the sound. It was better this way. Much better. He’d love her for a while—as much as either of them could stand—and then he’d do the right thing. By everyone. Though it broke both their hearts, he would definitely let her go.
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