Romance or Death by His Fangs
by Savanna Kougar
‘Why did I ever agree to this?” Shandra cracked the door of her sporty, low-slung Mazda. Mist hugged the ground and the Victorian-style mansion, while festively lit, was starkly etched against the midnight sky.
Streaming banks of silvery and charcoal colored clouds played hide and seek with the snowy-white quarter moon, heightening the Halloween moodiness of the scene before her.
“I don’t do spooky,” Shandra muttered. Mentally, she frowned at her friend, Liza.
Yesterday, Shandra had reluctantly agreed to cover the Vampire wine-tasting party for Liza’s online magazine. Her long-time friend, and their staff of four, covered the local events of their small but spread-out, eclectic community, located southwest of Portland, Oregon.
Spooky-ooky or not, what else could she have done? Since Liza’s young daughter had come down with a bad case of the flu.
A shudder slid through Shandra as she slowly widened the car door, then placed her feet, encased in black lace-up Victorian boots, onto the estate’s semi-circular drive. Drawing in a deep breath to calm herself, Shandra stood.
Once she’d eased the door shut listening to the click of the locks, Shandra tightened her grip on her evening bag. Half-expecting a lurking ghost to pop up and fly at her with a demonic grin distorting it’s incorporeal features, she hesitated.
Good lord help her! Already chills goosebumped her arms.
As she’d been told, the elite were out tonight judging by the lineup of BMWs and other high-end cars. Shandra had arrived late on purpose. No valet to deal with, and hopefully, there would be no formal introduction as she’d been told occurred at the Rathbone’s social events.
Not to mention, throughout the day, she’d had to keep convincing herself to attend. As she now convinced herself to stay.
Feeling the night’s cool breeze on her bared bosom, Shandra drew her white velvet cape closed. She’d worn her burgundy velvet gown, a favorite for Halloween parties. The tight, sweetheart bodice laced up the back, and the bias-cut skirt draped beautifully over the flare of her hips. Even now, the gentle swing caressed her calves.
As Shandra forced her steps toward the mansion’s glistening sweep of steps, she caught a whiff of night-blooming gardenia, yet saw no evidence of a flower garden. Other than the wide expanse of lawn, illuminated by gaslights, the only landscaping she observed were the neatly trimmed hedgerows lining a pathway near the front of the mansion.
Carried by moist breezes off the Pacific ocean, a symphony of lush fragrances now wafted around her. Heady, a promise of passion...the descriptive words wrote themselves inside Shandra’s head for tomorrow’s article.
Once she reached the steps, Shandra’s steps faltered. Icy pricks stabbed up her spine as she watched a Goth couple in full Vampire regalia move inside the mansion.
“May I be of assistance?”
The man’s rich baritone voice, his slight foreign accent, replaced the cold fingers seizing her middle. Shandra whirled around. Her breathing halted for seconds.
He seemed familiar, yet not. However, way beyond that, the tall man was a feast for all of her feminine senses.
Shandra reeled inside, and tried not to stare. She’d never felt comfortable around overly handsome men, and now her tongue felt like a wad of cotton.
“I am Z’Pollo Vhettanini,” he introduced himself. His gentleman’s manner compelled her to respond in kind, while the pale glint of his eyes caused her to feel weirdly spellbound.
“Shandra Windgate,” she answered automatically. “Uh...no, thank you. I’m fine.” She’d meant to turn away, mount the steps, but his riveted gaze on her face immobilized her.
Shandra couldn’t help noticing the vintage top hat he held at his side. His Victorian-inspired waistcoat and trousers were obviously tailored, and enhanced his elegant frame -- his athletic build.
“Sorry for staring,” she mumbled, and took a step back.
That proved to be disastrous. Her boot heel caught the bottom step, then slid off propelling her forward. Her caught her as if she’d been thrown at him like a passed football. Muscular and strong, his arms wrapped around her, then trapped her only enough to steady her. Simultaneously, his top hat landed on her butt.
“I don’t usually throw myself at men,” she cracked as a sort of joke, then shoved against his chest.
Another damn mistake. Hell, she’d never felt such boldly carved strength -- even beneath his brocade vest and what appeared to be a linen shirt. And double hell, her two brothers had been college football players.
In moments, he’d loosened his hold, but kept her in the circle of his arms. A blush stole over Shandra’s cheeks as she tried to remove her hands. The traitorous things wanted to explore his chest. Thoroughly.
“Miss Shandra, I simply cannot allow you to throw yourself at another man.” His tone teased, yet there was an undercurrent that sizzled the pit of her stomach, and other regions she preferred to ignore.
An instant later, Z’Pollo Vhettanini deftly placed her beside him. With his hand firmly cupping her elbow, he moved them up the steps.
So, he was the take-charge type. A place inside Shandra swooned with excitement. Another side of her shied away. She’d had enough of guys who didn’t know their ass from a hole in the ground, and tried telling her what do. Worse, acting like they owned her.
Of course, who was she to think Mr. Z’Pollo Vhettanini had any real interest in her? Okay, she couldn’t deny he kept her closer to his side than necessary. Whatever... Shandra mentally shrugged. She was far better off without a man in her life.
Once they reached the imposing double doors, ornate affairs with large brass handles, they were opened, and a man dressed as a liveried servant gestured them inside. Immediately, several pairs of eyes swung toward Z’Pollo as they walked through a grand-sized archway, then into the main-floor ballroom.
Shandra recognized Mr. Rathbone, his son, and their immediate social group. When their gazes didn’t retreat, and remained focused solely on Z’Pollo, she withered inside. Wanting only to disappear, sip some wine, enjoy the atmosphere, then get her story, Shandra halted in her tracks. She tugged against his grip.
Not relinquishing her elbow, he pivoted before her. “I’m fine,” she announced to his chest. Goddess... god, she didn’t want look directly at him. Not and meet his mesmerizing gaze.
“Miss Shandra, I must attend to several business matters. However, I will join you shortly.”
Before she could utter one word against him ‘joining’ her, Z’Pollo’s palm caressed her forearm, and she felt him enfold her hand. As he lifted her hand, warmth sparked through her, zapping her like electricity.
Shandra’s gaze flew to his face. His features -- what she hadn’t seen outside -- slammed a place inside her she didn’t want to awaken or arouse. Ruggedly handsome wasn’t an apt description for Z’Pollo Vhettanini. He reminded her of a bygone-era nobleman.
And his eyes -- piercing as a hawk, but the color of aquamarine -- a paler shade than her own, and probably more green-hued.
“I don’t believe it,” she murmured, startled because his hair, a lion’s mane, was a rich shade of burnt sienna -- several shades darker than her own red sorrel tresses.
“We are similar in coloring. However, my skin could be called a light teak. While yours, Miss Shandra, is pearl that has been dusted with gold.”
Shandra frowned, despite the poetic praise of his words. “Are you a mind reader?”
“Perhaps. In this instance, I followed your eyes.”
Before Shandra knew it, his lips were brushing the top of her hand. He lingered a kiss, one that tingled all too deliciously -- all too wickedly. For an instant, his eyes seemed to blaze, and Shandra glimpsed the point of a white fang.
Her heart tripped a mile a minute. Despite the warning bells clanging inside her mind, her feet refused to budge. “Vampire,” burst past her lips.
Without a word, he languidly caressed his lips where he’d kissed her. Then, as he traveled his mouth back again, the side of his fang lightly slid against her flesh.
With his gaze radiant, fiercely passionate, he lowered her hand. Shandra trembled briefly, violently. Her blood rushed so fast she thought she might faint.
Worse than that, desire now consumed her. An overwhelming feeling of ‘want’ flamed her insides, then coursed through her entire body.
Shocked, Shandra felt raw heat flood her sex. Her inner thighs moistened. Then her mind went blank.
Still, she felt Z’Pollo gently release her hand. In moments, bolts of energy surged into her limbs, and Shandra felt renewed. Confused, she imagined fiery stars were filling her bloodstream.
A moment later, she blinked and awakened as if she’d been in a trance. “Are you a vampire?”
How damn crazed was she to ask that? To her advantage if Z’Pollo thought she was crazy, he wouldn’t want anything to do with her.
Plus, Shandra had the distinct feeling once she was no longer in his presence, this terrible and amazing state of lust would vanish. So she hoped.
“It is a Vampire-themed wine tasting.” His lips quirked a small secretive smile.
Since he hadn’t taken the opportunity to politely escape, Shandra ventured, “Costume? Dental work?”
“I am in costume.” With a step back, Z’Pollo indicated his attire. His eyes darkened, and Shandra felt his gaze stroke her. “I suggest enjoying the selection of regional organic wines, Miss Shandra.”
After an old-world bow of his head, he pivoted from her. Unmoving as a damn stupid statue, Shandra watched him move with a powerful yet light stride until he shook hands with the elder Rathbone.
“Okay, that was my adventure for the week. For the year,” she whispered to herself. I need to get the story and get out of here.
Shandra flung back her cape, and lifting her gown, she decisively whirled toward the area of the ballroom where the wine-tasting was in progress. Feeling embarrassed and frustrated, she tamped down the desire that still raged.
How could she be so turned on by a fake vampire fang?
As Shandra moved through the room, a fantasy enchantment lit by candelabras, she realized there were very few of the splendidly costumed guests she knew. But hey, at least, she’d worn something that fit in reasonably well -- if not quite as elaborate and bedazzling as most of the guests.
Comforted by the nods of acknowledgment from Vance and his girlfriend, Shandra gave them a small wave, then followed Renee’s point to their table where she could leave her cape and evening bag.
She’d known Vance since high school, had even dated him briefly. Since Renee had become the head librarian, they’d come to know each other, gabbing whenever Shandra looked up historical documents for her online articles.
Some thirty or so minutes later, after speaking with the couples she did know, Shandra strolled along the perimeter of the ballroom. She cradled her ruby red wine as she made mental notes about her surroundings and all those in attendance.
Unlike a typical wine-tasting event, she’d been offered several different wines to sample, along with a selection of creamy gourmet cheeses -- the very kinds she adored but rarely purchased.
Her wine choice, likely an organic Pinot Noir -- there had been no labels -- had been poured with a flourish by a personable young man. Most probably in his early twenties, he resembled Lestat from “Interview With a Vampire”.
As Shandra wandered, enjoying the classic elegance of the ballroom combined with Victorian design elements, she felt a sense of relief. Likely it was the affect of the superb, richly aromatic wine.
For a time, her gaze remained on a small group of guests. They were fabulously and uniquely dressed. Most fascinating to her, they possessed the type of charisma that invited notice and appreciation.
After several more sips of the wine, Shandra felt her tension melt away. For the last five years, she’d taken on the responsibility of managing her mother and father’s financial affairs. It had saved their marriage and brought harmony to the family, but of late, the burden had become super heavy.
Hearing a violin, then the strains of lovely chamber music, Shandra moved toward what appeared to be an anteroom. Suddenly, Z’Pollo appeared at her side. He cupped her elbow, and her heart thumped rapidly at his stealth, then thumped from the caressing touch of his fingers on her arm.
“Miss Shandra, I have frightened you. My apologies. In my world silence of step is an advantage, and has become second nature.”
Halting her steps, Shandra snapped, “What are you? An international spy? The consummate corporate spy?” she added a split second later, as the thought struck her.
Holy damn, the compulsion tidal-waved inside her. But, Shandra knew better than to look up, meet his unusual aquamarine eyes. She’d be lost, and already, his very nearness spun desire through her like a whirlwind.
“Spy.” He poured the word inside her ear, a masculine purr that further undid her. “No, I am not a spy except as my eyes seek you.”
“I’m off the market,” Shandra blurted out. How, or why that quaint phrase... well, maybe because she’d come across it doing historical research.
“That is good to hear. I need not concern myself with rivals.”
Shandra considered lying about having a boyfriend, but that thought was fleeting since she lied poorly. Besides, her sense of Z’Pollo told her he would know the truth regardless. Now the hell what?
“The music charms the soul, does it not?” Grasping her elbow firmly, Z’Pollo gently propelled her toward the anteroom.
“Okay, I give. Where are you from? I can’t place your accent.”
“Currently I reside on the Greek Island of Santorini. However, I was raised in the Basque region of Spain. Exporting foods, wine, and herbs is the family business. And you, Miss Shandra, I understand from the Rathbones, you are an internet journalist, and are here to write about our wine tasting.”
“Yes,” she answered softly. They’d entered the anteroom through a half-moon archway.
Six musicians, dressed in formal Victorian attire, played to a small audience. Lyrical music, rich and graceful in tone, filled the elaborately decorated room. Shandra glanced around, and her breath flew inward with appreciation. Ice blue brocade drapes glimmered and framed the delicately flickering candlelight. A cascade of small taper candles were held by four silver wall sconces.
“Enchanting,” Shandra murmured, then noticed her hand now touched her throat.
“Mrs. Rathbone will be pleased. She enjoys bringing about such pleasure.” Pivoting toward her, Z’Pollo reached for her nearly empty wineglass. “Shall I pour you another glass?”
Their fingers brushed, and Shandra nearly jerked her hand back from the sensation of being burned alive by passion. In the next moment, she found herself facing him. “No, thank you,” she breathy managed. “That’s my limit, especially since I’ll be driving home.”
Oh god, no! Why did she crave the feeling of his fake fang on her skin again? It’s not like she’d ever been a Goth girl. Or been drawn to the Vampire scene.
In slow motion, Shandra raised her face to meet his gaze. Her heart raced too ridiculously fast. She flushed as if the heat had been switched to high, all while her pulse rapidly thrummed.
What was wrong with her?
“Shandra.” Z’Pollo languidly threaded his fingers through her hair. His thumbs caressed beneath her chin, and he tilted her face so their gazes immersed into each other. “You are an irresistible force, my beautiful woman.”
“I should be saying that about you... not the woman part.” The words freed themselves from her lips. Yet, how could she have ever stopped them? Compelling her past any resistance, his eyes flared with jewel-like brilliance -- flaring with a power Shandra didn’t understand.
“A glimpse of heaven,” he rasped. “Your eyes.”
Shandra couldn’t doubt his sincerity. She heard only truth. Of their own volition her palms pressed against his chest, and she leaned closer until their breaths touched and mingled.
Z’Pollo stroked his hands down her back with finesse and strength. And all Shandra wanted to do was to throw herself against him like a wanton. So desperately, she wanted to seize his mouth with hers. Kiss him. And never stop.
He brought her closer, his arms claiming her waist. The hard sculpted length of his body only fanned the flames of her clearly out-of-control desire.
Shandra raised to her toes, molding her body against his. “What are you doing to me?”
His eyes flashed and blazed for a bare instant. “I have decided upon you.”
As if she weighed nothing, he swept her into his arms. Z’Pollo carried her with long rapid strides, his manner utterly dominant.
Stunned to her core, all Shandra could do was cling to his neck. A strange dizziness possessed her head. Yet, she knew when he stepped onto a balcony.
Cool night air washed over her face and arms, and the sweet potent fragrance of gardenia swirled around her. Z’Pollo placed her on her feet, and immediately his tender embrace steadied her.
Once Shandra raised her gaze, she stiffened and couldn’t move a muscle. Appearing all too real, his vampire fangs gleamed in the gauzy moonlight.
In the next moment, a force that felt like warm, slow-moving honey surged through her. Utterly helpless, unable to do anything but yield to his will, Shandra whispered, “Why... why?”
“Time is short now, my beautiful one. Before the world explodes into hellfire and brimstone our community, our new families must be formed. Must be kept safe. Now, I must --”
Z’Pollo didn’t finish. Instead his needle-like fangs lengthened and glinted, reflecting the fragile moonbeams as he sought her neck.
Freaked out to the max, Shandra opened her mouth to scream. But it lodged in her throat and refused to move.
His fang slipped down the side of her neck with agonizing slowness, and with a seductiveness Shandra had only fantasized about. Despite her shock, her fear, Shandra languished against him. Wanting.
If this was the end for her... if death loomed... she felt the stabbing-prick of his fangs, and welcomed it.
Have a Magickal Season of the Witch!
Savanna Kougar ~ Run on the Wild Side of Romance ~