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The Ultimate BiteTHE ULTIMATE BITE

Harlequin Blaze #334
July 2007
ISBN: 0-373-24838-5

A bite to remember ...

One dark, wild night a mysterious stranger seduced Kim Wight, changing her forever. He did wicked things to her, things she'd never dared dream of. He even bit her! And by doing so, he transformed Kim from an inexperienced mouse to a sinfully sexy woman.

A woman who craved more of what only Stephen could give her.

Now, a year later, Kim has finally found Stephen again. And she still wants him, desperately. But Stephen's not like the other men. He can't get attached to any one woman. Still, he can't resist sinking his teeth into Kim just one more time.

Too bad Kim's not going to let Stephen get away that easily...

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Excerpt from THE ULTIMATE BITE

Just after midnight, Kimberly Wight spotted the vampire.

She absolutely knew, without a doubt, what he was. First of all, a burst of severe blood loss cases had been reported this past month by young women who'd frequented this nightclub, Mystique, which was located in the Marrakech Casino just off the Strip. Kim didn't have to put two and two together to reason that someone.something?was sucking blood down at this place.

And second of all? Even though vampires were said to expertly blend into the populace-that's how they survived-she recognized this one. Recognized him good and well because her life hadn't been the same since he'd bitten her last year.

For a moment, Kim couldn't move as she watched her nameless fantasy disappear into the crowd on the dance floor, which was pulsing with colored lights that beat in time to the techno music. It was him-she knew it. Same shoulder-length, honey-hued hair tied back from the face of a dark angel. Same tall, muscle-lithe body dressed in a sharp, black, richly tailored suit and long coat.

Her body seized with heat and slight remembrance, just as it did every night when she clung to the erotic flashes of what he'd done to her. Or, at least, what she could recall of what he'd done; it was as if her brain had been made fuzzy, made unsure of what had gone on.

His whispers, summoning her to the shadows; his kisses, trailing over her forehead in tender invitation; his mouth, skimming down to her own lips as silent words stroked her mind, calming her and inviting her. And then the bite.

The Bite.

Heartbeat flickering in wild counterpoint to the throbbing music, Kim used her elbow to nudge the man who sat next to her at the bar-her coworker. She rose from her seat, her breathing getting heavier as she continued to track the vampire's progress across the dance floor. Without losing focus, she jerked her head in the direction of a raised platform that boasted a line of white-veiled lounging beds. Patrons-dressed in cleavage-baring tops with European labels, young and drunk and careless-lounged over the silk pillows with fifteen-dollar cocktails in hand. Oblivious.

The veins in Kim's neck strummed with the twangs of her gathering excitement. For the past year, The Bite had consumed her. It'd been the sexiest, freakiest, most wonderful thing that'd ever happened in all her twenty-nine years. It'd shown her what she was really all about, what had been lurking under the skin of a girl who'd been all too willing to settle.

It'd also given her the courage to ask questions about what she'd always believed to be true in this world-questions that had reared up after her sister was ripped from her life just before The Bite.

Kim reached back to grab her partner's hand, pulling him through the dance floor's throng of undulating bodies, parting the thick cologne of their sweat.

Have to catch up.

By now, her co-investigator from the League was yelling in her ear to battle the music. "What? You see something? What?"

Too intent on tracking, Kim avoided answering.

They jammed through the dancers, then climbed up the stairs leading to the platform that held the beds. The belled white veils, lit from above, created a frothy maze. Kim guided her partner down the puzzle of shrouded mattresses one by one.

The vampire's breath on her neck, the ache between her legs banging with slick need, his fangs piercing, entering.

"Hey!" Her partner tugged her hand, halting her. They would have to shout to communicate. "What's got you on fire?"

She turned around to face him, a slim guy in his young twenties who worked as a computer network specialist by day. They called him Powder, but it wasn't because his skin was pale; it was because he loved skiing. The sport took up just as much of his passion as graphic-novel reading and vampire research.

"I saw one!" Kim said, her breathing thin. "We're going after him!"

"Saw one? Him? Who?" Powder's brown eyes were wide. Unlike her, he'd never encountered a vampire before. None of her partners at the League had. They had no idea what awaited them.

She'd never told anyone everything about The Bite. Somehow, the thought of sharing every detail, every treasured personal emotion, devalued the experience. In this age of instant communication and Jerry Springer tell-all, keeping something so intimate to herself made the encounter much more powerful. Of course, Kim had initially shared a PG-version of her vampire meeting with the League-that's how she'd gotten in-but anything beyond that seemed.profane.

It might take away the magic of that night, and she couldn't deal with the loss.

"How do you know it's a vampire?" Powder added, still pulling on her hand.

She pulled Powder right back, urging him to come with her already. "He's the one I met. The one. Come on."

Powder no doubt recalled her tamed-down story: how this anonymous vamp had "almost bitten her" before he'd heard a sound, taken off and left her alone in the dark alley. Not quite the truth, but close enough for her comfort.

Furiously, Kim began flipping back the bed veils as they passed each one. Not here. Not there. Just a bunch of privileged kids making out and passing out from too much drink and drugs.

Where is he? Where could he have gone?

Powder's grip tightened in hers, and Kim knew he was about to chicken out. Even though every person who volunteered their night hours to www.vanhelsingleague.com took turns patrolling the city, hoping to catch sight of a vamp one night, he was downright afraid. None of them had ever really believed they'd ever find one, had they? But the notion of earning major Geek Points had given each one of the five members incentive enough to patrol, whether they truly believed or not; a sighting would qualify them to post about their encounter on the Internet and gain their fifteen minutes of fame in the paranormal community.

And Kim knew about that kind of notoriety well enough since her own sighting had given her enough credibility to write a bi-weekly column. "The one who escaped"-that was what everybody who posted on the message boards called her, and they read her work with adoring glee.

The League's main goal was to bring vamps into the mainstream, to prove the existence of the species. When Kim had joined them nine months ago, it'd made sense to associate with these people who wouldn't laugh at what she'd experienced, people who would help her make sense of it all.

A support group who might be able to help her find him again.

But sometimes she wondered just how far the League's dedication went. Was this just another odd club they belonged to, a fanboy pursuit as fun as their comic book conventions or the latest X-Men movie? If they truly knew what was out there, would they be brave enough to air their pirate radio broadcasts or maintain the Web site?

Or was it the fantasy that kept them going in life?

She didn't know the answer, because sometimes she thought that's what drove her: the fantasy of The Bite. The dream of reliving it. Ever since, she'd found nothing even close in her dating endeavors. No man matched up to The Bite; none could satisfy what the vampire had brought out in her. And she couldn't help wondering if anyone ever would.

Frustrated now, she led Powder to the last bed, inspected the two kissing girls on it, then cursed. But when she moved past the last mattress, she stopped cold at what she saw in front of her. Her belly toppled, heartbeat slamming to a halt.

Who?

Next to her, Powder flinched, sucked in a breath. Then he laughed, pointing to the mirror where they were both gaping at their images.

"Oh, scary. Boo! Is this your vampire, Kim?"

Disbelief from one of her own. Great, that's all she needed.

The only thing that stopped her from engaging in a verbal slapdown was the sight of her own face reflected back at her.

Sometimes she still didn't recognize herself: from everyday average Kim, neighborhood bookstore clerk to this-a vamp. But not a blood-sucking creature of the night-The Bite hadn't turned her in that way. Yet.she was certainly different. More confident, willing to try anything.

The luster of heightened self-esteem had come out in her physical appearance: her hair, fringed by bangs and worn long and straight down her back, was now a deep flame. It was almost as if the strands were screaming, calling out for the attention she'd never gotten before, and loving it. Her skin had always been redhead pale, but after The Bite, the freckles had disappeared, giving her a smooth, ivory polish. And her eyes, always a sheer blue, seemed more cat-like. Five years ago, back when she lived near her parents in Tennessee , they'd always called her their "elf" because of her delicate features. But now Kim thought she was more wicked creature than Santa's helper.

All because of what'd happened.

How? she wondered again. And what am I now exactly?

At the questions, she urged Powder along, toward a light over a door that said "EXIT." It was tucked in a corner, hidden and out-of-the-way. Perfect for a vampire's departure.

"Hold up!" Her partner yanked her to a stop.

"What is it? Let's go, Powder!"

Her co-investigator fumbled in a pocket, plucked out a small crucifix, then took out his cell phone, too. "I'm not going out there with just the two of us, even if you do have vamp experience. Haven't you learned anything from horror movies? The audience would be screaming at you right now to wait for backup!"

"Come on! It's not like we're out to do some slaying-we just want a peek of him on video, or his voice on tape, if either of them will even record a vamp. We won't piss him off enough to fight, honest!" Kim's research into vampire lore indicated that the camera might not capture an image, but how did they know? It was worth a try. "That's all we're gonna do, Powder, stealth work."

She kept her other agenda hidden. The search for another Bite.

By this time, her breasts had beaded, clearly outlined under her red tank top. Her clit had gone stiff, too, so she shifted. It rubbed against her jeans, giving her some measure of relief while exacerbating it. Slower, she shifted again, reveling in the sensation, wanting more and wondering if she'd get it.

Powder was already dialing the phone and aiming his slight body toward the restroom area, probably for some quiet. "Wait here, okay, Kim? Just wait."

As he left, she merely smiled. The League rules demanded that, on patrol, they always stick with their wingman unless going in the restroom. "Just like in Top Gun," their resident movie guru, Darlene, always said. "Maverick learned the hard way about leaving his partner."

But this wasn't some Hollywood flick. It was real, and if she didn't start tracking again, her fantasy would disappear.

If he already hadn't.

Dammit.

As Powder walked into the crowds, Kim tapped her booted foot, pretending to wait for him. But when he disappeared, she took off toward the "EXIT," reaching into her pocket for the crucifix, just for insurance. She had no illusions about the danger of vampires-six recent severe blood loss cases at Mystique in the past month didn't lie. Yet she also knew she had to do this. No doubts.

She slipped out the marked door, finding herself outside, enveloped in the June desert-night warmth. An empty painted white plaza spread out before her; on weekends, Mystique held concerts here, so there were folding chairs and bleachers facing a stage with no performer. The sight was somewhat eerie, like a rock-and-roll ghost town.

Why weren't there any kids here making out in privacy? Hell, did anyone need privacy anymore, what, with those beds in the club and all?

Or had any takers just felt a niggling presence and left this area, shuddering, returning to the club's safety?

Steadily, Kim walked forward, one hand still in her back pocket to touch the crucifix. With her other, she reached into her large bag, the strap slung across her chest. Her fingers brushed a Camcorder as she searched for her miniature tape recorder, then turned it on to capture any weird sounds.

Her heartbeat played tag with the muted thuds from the club music as she controlled her breathing. Sweat broke over her skin, tightening it just as evocatively as the lust riding her.

"Come out, come out, wherever you are," she said under her breath. "Where did you go?"

In answer, the air rippled. Kim froze, heart in her throat.

A hushed whisper, strung along on a wordless stream, flowed over the warm breeze. Untranslatable except for the feeling of anticipation heating around her.

Kim slowly turned around to where she thought the sound had originated. All that faced her was the empty stage. Darkness lit only by the faint light of the moon.

Her heart kicked at her chest. Fear. But adrenalized stimulation was making her damp, too. Damp and ready from all those nights of wanting him to come back.

Come on over to me. Sink into me again. Persuade me that my sister Lori never suffered and that death is beautiful..

She took a step toward the stage, but another rippling sound caught her. The vibrations dug past her skin, making the hair on her arms stand up, sending shivers all over.

"Here." A sound, low and compelling, a British accent lacing a word that seeped into her and drew her toward the bleachers. "Come here."

And she did, approaching him with liquid willingness. No fear, none at all.well, maybe a little.but only enough to make the air sharpen in her lungs, the blood quicken in her veins.

Another Bite.?

The shadows of the metal bleachers fell over her in slatted darkness as she came to him, obeying because she wanted to.

 

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