June 27, 2017

Read the First Three Chapters of Sin City Vampire Club!

I’m so excited that Sin City Vampire Club will be available on June 30! The Vegas Vampire world was the first one I ever created, and going back to it feels like coming home. Last we left Holly in The Fire Dancer, she had made good on her end of a promise. Let’s see if she gets what she wanted in return.

(If you haven’t read The Fire Dancer–beware of the spoilers!)
Copyright © 2017 Kristen Strassel All Rights Reserved.

 

Chapter One

Blade Bennett needed to reclaim his stake on Las Vegas, and he wasted no time starting with me.

His kisses hadn’t lost any of their fire while he was trapped in a low-rent ring of Hell. They intensified. The flames consumed me, and the cool concrete wall of the parking garage was a relief when he backed me against it.

I shivered when his hungry lips moved away from mine. Blade needed blood, and he was drawn to the throbbing pulse in my neck. Energy sustained vampires, but he’d been denied everything for so long he no longer recognized the difference between want and need.

Or those things had changed for him when he’d been locked away and prevented from leading the most powerful vampire clan in the city. He certainly hadn’t wavered on his blind determination to take what was his while he was incarcerated. And he planned to mainline his way back into the spotlight.

I prayed he didn’t sink his fangs into my flesh in the middle of a dirty Vegas parking garage. We were the only two creatures in the city with fire. Or we had been, anyway. Now it was only him. I couldn’t give him what he needed.

I hadn’t prepared myself for how it would feel to be so close to the fire. Blade was my best chance to get it back.

“Holly,” Rainey said sharply.

Blade had no problem getting to work in front of the person who kept my world spinning. Calling Rainey my girlfriend was taking the easy way out.  That wasn’t something I was good at. Rainey and I had been together as long as I could remember, which was pretty close to forever. Blade and I separated with a grunt.

An apology was in order, but I wasn’t sure to whom.

“We have to get him back to the apartment.” I pulled up on the car door handle, but Rainey hadn’t unlocked it. “The sun will come up soon.”

The moon moved through the sky like a ticking bomb.

“We can’t bring him back to our house.” Rainey’s tone had yet to soften. I’d broken my promise to her in one shared heartbeat.

So much time was spent on planning to get Blade out of jail, we forgot to discuss what to do with him once we succeeded. We’d agreed on an outcome, but not how to get there. The hungry determination had yet to fade from Blade’s eyes.

“He doesn’t have anywhere else to go.” I glanced at him, knowing too much contact with him was dangerous in every facet of my life.

“Just for the day.” His voice was gravelly, stolen away from him along with the rest of the kiss. “Give me a chance to get my shit together, and I’ll go.”

My heart throbbed as the two most important people in my life played tug of war with it. Rainey and I should’ve thought this part of the plan through. But the problem was that we made decisions for Blade without consulting him first. The three of us had no time to come to grips with the fact I loved them both.

“The apartment isn’t vampire-proof.” Rainey unlocked the doors and Blade and I jumped into the passengers’ seats before she had a chance to take off without us. “We just finished fire-proofing it.”

Tires always squealed on the garage concrete, but Rainey’s shrieked as she high-tailed it out of there.

“You can put a blanket over the window. No place I’ve ever stayed has been meant for a vampire,” Blade said from the backseat.

My heart went to Blade in that round. I turned to put my hand on his filthy knee. It poked through his torn jeans. Besides the fire, there was another thing that Blade and I had in common—we were both desperate to find the place we belonged. For completely different reasons, we’d decided that place was Las Vegas. It would’ve been a much smoother transition if anyone else wanted us here.

Want, need—those things got tangled easily, and complicated quickly when you were used to having nothing.

**

“How should I do this?” Rainey eyed the sliding glass door in the living room as soon as we got home. As reluctant as she was to host a sleepover with Blade, she wanted an in-house vampire explosion even less. Forget getting the security deposit back after that. “I have an extra set of sheets, but it’s not enough to block the sun.”

Blade looked as anxious as she did. “How big is your closet?”

“Pretty big, but Holly took it over with all her stuff.” She had to twist the knife and get that detail in there. “Her stage clothes take up a ton of room.”

He shrugged. “I don’t care. I’ve slept standing up ever since I was captured. Let me take a shower and I’ll do anything you say.”

My stomach flip-flopped at the visual he’d painted. “The bathroom’s the door on the right.”

He was in worse shape than I’d realized. I’d visited him several times while he was in jail, but dungeon lighting left a lot to be desired. So did parking garage ambiance. Now that he was on my turf, I could get a batter look at him. He was covered in soot, but his blue eyes glowed, and several lines on his face shone with fresh blood. Dirt matted his blond hair.

The shower ran behind the closed bathroom door, and he groaned when he stepped under it. I winced; his pain was a tangible thing.

“What the hell were you thinking, kissing him like that?” Rainey snapped me back from Blade’s plight. “I won’t share you, Holly. If I realized you didn’t understand that, I would’ve never gone along with this ridiculous plan.”

“Calm down.” Worst thing I could’ve said. Rainey didn’t spontaneously combust on the regular like I did—or I used to—but it was about to happen. “Did you take a good look at him? He’s ripped to shreds.”

“He was in jail. He didn’t just come home from war,” Rainey muttered. I begged to differ.

“We have to talk. All three of us. And we have to listen to him, too. Let’s make it through the day first. Get some rest.” Jail didn’t destroy Blade, but a sleepover at Rainey’s might.

Rainey headed to the bedroom, tearing the closet door open and tossing my shoes and stage costumes to the side, under the guise of creating space for Blade. “They could come looking for him. I don’t want those people in my house,” she said as she worked.

Those people wouldn’t survive above ground.” If they were even people anymore. That underground jail was a suburb of Hell with an easy commute.

“That’s not who I’m talking about.” She glared at me. “Monsters roam free in Las Vegas. I know you’ll do whatever it takes to get your fire back, Holly. But you have to realize that I have limits.”

Blade would have expectations, too. I’d led him on, given him hope because he had what I wanted. All I’d thought about was my fire. I’d been accused many times of being selfish, and this was a shining example of it.

“We’ll all be happier if I have my fire back.” The water shut off in the bathroom. I needed to wrap this up before Blade came out. He knew enough of my weaknesses. I had one advantage right now.

I was his savior.

“Best shower ever.” Blade came out in a towel and kissed the top of my head, batting the rage ball back to Rainey. “Where’s that closet?”

Rainey smiled brightly through gritted teeth. “Right here. Hope you don’t mind—I snore.”

She never snored. I considered sleeping on the couch.

“I’ll wash your clothes for you.” I ignored Rainey rolling her eyes and grabbed the bundle of filth from under Blade’s arm. “Are you hungry? Oh, never mind.”

Was he ever. A malnourished vampire was lousy at keeping secrets. “I wish you two would stop fighting. It’s like crunching on nails,” he said.

He clutched the towel, but my gaze was drawn to it as it slipped. His lean body rippled with power, and the indent of his hipbones directed my attention to what I shouldn’t have been thinking about. Damn that V.  Even bruised and broken, Blade was still beautiful. In a totally different way than Rainey. It was a painful reminder that no one could have it all.

I pulled my pillow and a blanket from the bed, ignoring Rainey’s grumbling. Blade juggled the new items and the towel. Please don’t drop it. He’d choke on my desire.

“Get some sleep. We’ll talk tomorrow when our heads are clear and we know what we want. We’ve got work to do. It doesn’t get any easier from here,” I said.

Blade nodded, but didn’t say anything before he closed the door behind him.

“Come to bed.” Rainey was my lifeline. Without her, I’d slip into Blade’s nightmare without a second thought. It would be too easy to believe I belonged there. Rainey was a constant reminder I deserved better. “You’re not totally recovered, either. Tonight’s taken a lot out of you.”

“Thank you,” I said as I crawled under the sheet. Our lips met in a wordless concession. Love was supposedly never having to say you were sorry, but that was bullshit. I’d spend the rest of my life making this up to Rainey.

She’d nursed me back to health after I’d lost my fire. I’d burned from the inside out, and from the sound of it, she’d brought me to her house in an urn. I lost many things the night of the fire. My father, Cash Logan, perished at the same time I burned. And Cirque Macabre, the show that had made me a household name, had to go dark with its two biggest stars out of commission. But Rainey had always been there for me.

She sighed against my lips. Sleep would claim her any moment. “You know I’ll do anything for you, Holly.”

I held her until she fell asleep, kissing her as I figured out how to explain I’d do the same for her. I wanted so many things. My fire. For Rainey and Blade to get along. Another chance to perform on stage. After that night, I swore I’d never need anyone again.

 

Chapter Two

“We need to talk.” I ripped the closet door open, having no idea if Blade was awake or not. I’d stood outside the door until the only light in the room was from cars passing in our apartment complex parking lot. I’d lived with one other vampire, Cash, but he resided in a concrete bunker six feet underground. Appropriate. Nothing could touch him.

Shit. Blade slept naked. I’d spent the afternoon psyching myself up for this talk. I came up with every angle that he could take to disagree with my plan, and made sure I had a rock-solid rebuttal. But as my gaze fell to the curve of his butt, and the blanket falling away as he stretched, I realized there was one thing I hadn’t considered. The way my body reacted to Blade, the thing deep inside that wanted to ignite even though it had forgotten how. It hurt, in more ways than one.

“Good morning.” He grinned at me, his eyes not totally open yet. A good day’s sleep, even if it was on the floor of my girlfriend’s walk-in closet, did him wonders. Last night’s angry purple slashes were pink and tight as new skin replaced the horror of what he’d experienced before I freed him. His hair was wild against my pillow, like he done much more than sleep.

Wild impulses flickered through my veins at the thought of it.  He reminded me I still did have my fire, somewhere deep inside.

“Got any coffee? I haven’t had it since I was alive but I kept thinking about it while I was underground. I’d kill for a cup.” He chuckled when I flinched. “Kidding.”

“I’ll go make some.” I gulped as he sat up with no regard for where the blanket fell. Other morning rituals had followed Blade to the afterlife as well. “Put your clothes on before you come out.”

It was a couple second sprint from the bedroom to the kitchen. I leaned against the counter and concentrated on my thundering heart. Anything to forget his giant erection. Blade and I shared a kinship; an understanding, even though we had many differences. He’d worked with my father, providing him women for his on-stage kills. Blade benefitted from the horror, too, satiating himself on the domination and the desperation of the victims in their last moments of life, when they would’ve done anything to reverse their fate.

I was desperate. I couldn’t give him the one thing he wanted more than anything—a chance to dominate me. If I were to get what I wanted, it had to be a fair fight.

Blade honored my first request. He put his clothes on. They were torn, but clean. “Need some help?”

“Yeah.” I pushed the coffee maker at him. “I drink tea. This is Rainey’s.”

She’d be home any minute, and she wouldn’t want his paws on her coffee machine. Certain things she held sacred. Blade whistled low. “Someone’s serious about her coffee. I’ve never used a French press.” He looked up at me and grinned. “Kinda psyched about it. Does she keep instruction manuals anywhere?”

Like I had any idea. “I didn’t think guys used those.”

Blade stopped examining the coffee machine and stood straight. “Coffee is a serious matter. I can’t risk starting my first day of freedom on a sour note.”

Good to know.

He motioned to the counter. “Grab your phone, we’ll look it up.”

Rainey texted me. Several times. Checking in. Making sure everything’s going okay with Blade.

Hey… you there?

If you don’t answer me, I’m leaving work early. I should’ve never left you alone with him.

No, she shouldn’t have. Everything’s cool. We’re making coffee. I prayed her answer didn’t pop up as I handed the phone to Blade.

“Okay, we need to boil water. You can handle that, right?” Blade winked.

“My specialty.” I filled the pot and put it on the stove. “We still need to talk.”

“Can’t it wait until I have my coffee?” Blade groaned. “I’ve been looking forward to this for… how long was I in that jail? I lost track of time.”

It was like he knew I meant to break his heart and he intended to beat me to the punch. “A couple weeks,” I muttered. It gave me the perfect segue to what I had to tell him. “A lot of things happened while you were there.”

He clasped his hands together like he meant to pray. “Please tell me someone took out The Mistress.”

Blade’s ex, Callie Chabot, was The Mistress. She’d been a vampire for all of about twenty minutes before she’d been named the leader of the Las Vegas clan that Blade believed should belong to him. She also killed my father. We could both do without her stirring up a massive shitstorm everywhere she went. “Nope, still doing what she does best.”

He rolled his eyes. “Good. I had a lot of time to think about how I’d thank her for tossing me into the depths of Hell.” The light faded from his face—the memories were still too fresh. Visitors weren’t allowed in the bunker located deep below the Flamingo resort, but I managed to get in. I wasn’t sure if it had been luck or misfortune. Blade reached for me, and a smile played on his lips when we touched. I wished I could’ve shown him the sun. He cupped my chin. “What else happened?”

“Cirque Macabre closed, since I’m temporarily out of commission and they had to clean Cash up with a mop. Soul Divider’s show is over, too. They imploded the Riviera. Too bad they didn’t leave Noah inside when they did it.” He was their singer, and the only vampire I hated more than Callie. I snickered, then took a deep breath. “Rainey and I are a couple again.”

“I knew that.” He let go of my chin. I hated how much I missed his touch. “The two of you belong together.”

Which was exactly what Rainey had said about Blade and me. “I still feel—”

“Don’t.” The teapot whistled, and Blade reached past me to grab it. He swallowed hard as he poured the steaming water over the coffee grounds. “Thinking about you, us, kept me alive in those dark days.”

Now I was the one who should’ve cautioned him. “I won’t apologize for what I feel.”

“If you know anything about me, it should be how much I hate coming in second to anyone.” He stirred the coffee too vigorously. “It’s me or Rainey.”

“I’m sorry.” It didn’t begin to cover it. I didn’t expect the lump that formed in my throat. Blade was one step ahead of me at every turn. “More than that happened while you were gone.”

He leaned against the counter, crossing his arms over his chest. I jumped when the key turned in the lock. Rainey was home. “What else?”

“I went to see Soul Divider.” My voice cracked. Hindsight was crystal clear. I’d traveled to many dangerous places, ancient ones full of people who didn’t understand my powers, but that trip to the Riviera was the stupidest decision I’d ever made. The consequences would forever be my souvenir. Putting words to the memories of the night was almost impossible.

Rainey gripped the back of my arm. “That bastard Noah sent guards after her. They pulled her up on stage and he humiliated her. Ripped her dress off and everything.”

Blade’s eyes did that glowy red thing. It didn’t scare me anymore. “Fucking bastard.”

“You’re preaching to the choir. Noah’s Rachel’s puppet. You need to be concerned with her. Forget Callie. Rachel’s a ruthless bitch and she’s running completely unchecked.” Rainey slammed two mugs down on the counter. She knew it would be a long night. Rainey had no reason to be nocturnal besides the fact I insisted on slumming with the vampires. “Cream? Sugar?”

“Just cream. Rachel came to me a lot at Embrace. She had a ton of questions,” Blade said. “Cash warned me to stay away from her, but he was never big on explanations.”

Honesty wasn’t a strong point in any vampire. I reminded myself to take everything Blade said with a mountain of salt. “He created her.”

Blade sighed after taking a long sip of his coffee. It was easy to forget he was quite possibly the enemy. “She really pissed Cash off. I felt bad for her, because she’s got power. She’s frustrated. It’s flowing through her veins and she’s got no outlet for it. She’s being wasted in this clan.”

Rainey rolled her eyes. “I don’t think you heard me correctly. She attacked Holly.”

“I heard you just fine. And I know what you want me to do. I won’t destroy her. She was created by a leader. It’s in her blood. If the clan must have a woman at the helm, it should be her. We need her on our side.”  Besides coffee, Blade had a craving for revenge.

“No way. She’s too dangerous. She doesn’t know the limits of her powers.” And the most important thing. “She took my fire. She only neutralized yours. I’m not a full vampire. It’s not a fair fight.”

“We’ll agree to disagree.” Blade put his mug in the sink. “Anyone want to be my plus one—or two—at Embrace? It’s a perfect night for a welcome back party.”

“No,” Rainey and I said in unison.

Blade headed to the door. I wondered if he realized what a long walk he had ahead of him. I chased after him. “We’re not done. I set you free. You have to hold up your end of the bargain.”

He stopped. “And what was that?”

He hadn’t promised me anything. I’d made way too many assumptions. “I want my fire back. And my show.”

“You’ll get your fire back, Holly.” He licked his lips, still holding the doorknob. I wondered if he was trying to remember the way I tasted. “I want things, too. Don’t forget that.”

 

Chapter Three

“I hate to say I told you so.” Rainey extracted Blade’s mug from the sink with two fingers like it was covered in creepy-crawlies and put it in the dishwasher. He had no idea that dishes in the sink was one of her biggest pet peeves. There was a poetry to it.

“No, you don’t.” I poured the rest of the now lukewarm water into a mug and steeped tea. “What’s the score now? Vampires, forty-seven, Holly, nothing? I get it. I can’t win. But I’ll keep fighting until I get my fire back.”

“I know.” Rainey padded into the living room, kicking off her shoes and curling her feet underneath her on the couch. “You’ll keep getting stronger. We can practice spells that build power. You don’t need him.”

Rainey had a grimoire, an ancient spell book. She’d always had it, and I’d taken it for granted until she’d used the recipes in there to rebuild my body from a pile of ashes, and to mask her identity so the prison warden believed she was Callie. Forget the vampires, Rainey was the most powerful creature in Las Vegas.

I rubbed my temples. Time made me dizzy, and for once I welcomed it. I hardly understood my immortality. I needed to make sense of hers.

“I felt something when Blade was here.” I knew Rainey would roll her eyes. “It was like trying to flick a lighter on, but it didn’t have any fuel.”

“That’s really good. It’s still there.” She went to the bookshelf. The spell book waited for her in a satin box tied closed with a faded and frayed pink ribbon. It contained so many secrets, she needed both hands to take it out of the box.  More ribbons hung out of it, saving the spots of her favorite spells. She didn’t cast often, only out of necessity. But a girl could never be too prepared.

“But that’s the first time I felt it since Rachel stole my powers from me.” It was hard to talk about, even with Rainey. I hated admitting defeat. I sat on the far cushion of the couch, reading the spell book upside down. “Blade did something to make me feel that way.”

Rainey raised an eyebrow.

“Something supernatural,” I clarified. “He didn’t touch me.”

The image of his bare body burned in my memory. Not the kind of burn I wanted, though. I hoped there was a spell to erase Blade Bennett from my memory. Even if I could time travel again—Rachel swiped that power from me too, the greedy little bitch—I couldn’t change anything about vampire history. Blade was trouble—he’d tangle himself into every facet of my life until I couldn’t remember what it was like before him. The good old days, when I didn’t know who I was or where I came from. I needed to be careful of what I wished for.

“It’s a start. We can work with that. You’ll need to channel that feeling…” Rainey trailed off when she realized what that feeling was. “We’ll find a spell to bring it back.”

“I’m willing to try anything.” I was afraid to touch the book. It held powers I didn’t understand, and Rainey regarded the text like she feared it.

“Don’t rely on him. You’re blinded by the possibility of getting your fire back. He’s worked with Noah in the past, and he’s not willing to break ties with Rachel. He’s not looking out for you, he’s looking out for himself.”

It hurt to hear, no matter how true it was. The only person who’d ever looked out for me was Rainey. “I’m willing to try any spell in that book. But I can guarantee there’s nothing in that book that will get me back on stage,” I said.

“Because you don’t need a spell. The power’s inside of you. Nobody can steal that. I See the crowds roaring again, calling your name. And you love it. I See you happy.”

Rainey didn’t need a spell to access her gift of Sight. Messages came to her, like wisps of smoke, holding her captive in a magic-induced haze until they were over. It was scary as hell to look at her and realize she’d stepped away for a moment. Her visions often came in the form of riddles, but when they came to pass, it was like she’d written a script.

Our gazes locked, and I leaned carefully over the spell book and kissed her. The last thing I needed was to put my hand on some horrific spell and absorb negative vibes while we were locked together, breathing for each other. Rainey lit a completely different fire inside me than Blade did. Warmth. Faith. Safety.

It should’ve been enough.

Rainey chuckled against my lips as I carefully climbed around the spell book and into her lap. She was everything I wasn’t—soft and voluptuous. I envied her body. I was so skinny after burning to a pile of ash. I hadn’t been on stage since my accident. I wasn’t in any shape to be in front of an audience.

“What do you suggest?” I asked.

“Another show started already at Theater Macabre, so we can’t get our show back. The Riviera is gone. The only question left is why Immortal Dilemma is closing? It doesn’t make any sense.”

“What have you heard?” I’d been so focused on Blade’s get out of jail free card I hadn’t been paying attention to the vamps who ran free above ground.

“According to the gossip sites, people think they’re kicking Tristan out of the band. He’s been partying like crazy lately.”

“That’s the whole premise of the show. Sex, blood, and rock n’ roll.” An army of women roamed the strip wearing T-shirts emblazoned with the band’s battle cry. “They created their own monster. Nobody can be mad they got what they asked for.”

Easier said than done.

Rainey shrugged. “No one has any other theories. The show closes on New Year’s Eve, then Sin City Vampire Club will be empty.”

“Tristan’s family owns that hotel. They bought it so he had a playground.” Or a babysitter, depending on who you talked to. Tristan Trevosier evoked an emotion among everyone in the undead world whether they loved him or hated him. He couldn’t be expected to go quietly into the night. It wasn’t his style. “It won’t be empty for long.”

There had to be a plan in place.

“I think you should talk to him.” Rainey played with my fingers, avoiding eye contact. “Make a proposal.”

It was official. Hell had frozen over. “Are you feeling okay? You just suggested I work with vampires.”

Indecision twisted her lips. “They understand what you do, and if they’re invested in you, they won’t hurt you, or let anyone else hurt you.”

“They’d control me.” I was done letting other people make decisions for me. The whole point of getting my fire back was so I didn’t have to rely on anyone—vampires, humans, or creatures who ticked the ‘other’ box.

Rainey’s face glazed over for a few seconds. “I See your face on billboards all over the city, surrounded by fire. Use Tristan as a stepping-stone, and take back what’s yours. The arrangement doesn’t have to be forever. Think of what you have to do in the short term to get what you want in the long run.”

My next kiss caught her off guard. Her head fell back against the cushion, and we both gasped when the spell book landed on the floor with a thunk.

Then I kicked it. Crap.

“Sorry.” I apologized more to the book than to her. I leaned over to pick it up, and I swear it zapped me. Creepy ass thing. The spirits that called that book home were not accustomed to disrespectful treatment. My cheeks burned as Rainey took the book from me.

“Wanna be my date on New Year’s Eve?” I asked. “Go see our old friends in Immortal Dilemma?” Who were not our friends at all.

Rainey placed the grimoire back in its box. No more magic tonight. “I wouldn’t miss it for the world.”

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