You’re So Vein
She puts the “drop-dead” in gorgeous.
Ava Markham is beautiful, savvy, chic, and more at home with Kate Spade than with the idea of fangs and fur. She can’t get quite used to the fact that some of closest friends have crossed over to the Other side. Then one night she is attacked by a rogue vampire, and her deepest fears are realized when her body begins a dangerous transformation from human to immortal—a change she cannot survive without the help of an alluring stranger who comes to her rescue…
Vladimir Rurikovich, an elite member of the European Council of Vampires, is on the prowl for a murderous vampire fugitive on the night he saves Ava from the clutches of death. It takes just one look for Dima to know he cannot live another eight centuries without the stunning and seductive Ava—until he discovers a secret about her bloodline that could change everything…
+ “Warren piles on the humor as two people used to getting their own way go head to head. The sparks do fly!”
— Jill M. Smith, RT BOOKReviews awarding You're So Vein 4 Stars! Read the whole review.
Ava woke from the nightmare, her heart pounding, her brow covered in cold sweat. She hadn’t dreamed that vividly in years, not since she’d taught herself to step back from her nightmares and will them away. This one had been a doozy, all dark shadows and sharp pain and something cold and powerful staring down at her with eyes the color of an arctic sky. It was almost enough to make her reconsider her true need for beauty sleep. Blowing out a deplorably unsteady breath, she reached out to preemptively silence her alarm clock.
Or, she tried to.
She couldn’t move her hands.
Her eyes snapped open and presented her with the unwelcome view of an unfamiliar ceiling, high, pale, and crisscrossed with the exposed steel beam work of an urban loft. She had never seen this place before in her life. And she couldn’t move.
Panic began to well. She tugged sharply on her hands and attempted to sit up, only to find her feet similarly secured. Aghast, disbelieving, she craned her head around to confirm what her instincts had been trying to tell her even while she’d been asleep: she was a prisoner, bound hand and foot to a strange bed in a strange apartment in what she hoped to God and all His angels was not a strange city.
She’d been kidnapped.
Every synapse in her brain seemed to fire at once, attacking her with an explosion of pain and confusion more intense than anything she had ever experienced. Memory flooded back, dearly drowning her. She felt like she was watching a movie montage—seeing herself at the girls’ night party at Reggie’s house, staring into the powder room mirror, walking home with her anger keeping her company, passing by an alley she’d walked in front of a million times before...
Then the film went cock-eyed, a hand-held camera tumbling to its side. She saw the flash of movement on her right, felt the stirring of air and the overwhelming, inhuman strength of the thing that grabbed her, grabbed her and dragged her deeper into the alley. She saw the slick, dark brick, smelled blood and rot and sick coming from the body that lay in a lifeless pile against the alley wall, smelled it on the breath and the skin and the empty soulless void of the monster holding her. She felt its arm around her neck, corded with muscle and hatred, cutting off her air, leaving her choking and gasping for breath. She felt its hot, fetid breath against her skin, felt the sharp tear of fangs against flesh and her welling panic took the freeway exit straight to the blind, instinctual, animal imperative to escape.
Gathering her breath, Ava opened her mouth to scream and threw every ounce of strength in her body into breaking the bonds that held her. She got out no more than a short, sharp whistle before a large male hand clamped over her mouth and cut off her cry.
Her gaze shot to an unfamiliar face, one that hardly looked like it could belong to the stink in her memory. This man looked like death, but not the kind of death that snuck up behind a woman in a dark alley and bled her dry—more like the kind of death that knights had once faced on the battlefield, strong and quiet and rigidly calm. He had features as sharp-edged as stone, intensely masculine and far too heavy to admire. Ava worked every day with models who epitomized the modern sensibility of male beauty, and if this man had walked into her office, she’d have turned him around and sent him right back out again.
Or rather, she’d have called security—and maybe a SWAT team—and had him escorted out again.
Beautiful he wasn’t, not even with the slightly too-long hair that framed his face in a dozen shades of blonde, from warm toffee to cold platinum (Ava had clients—both male and female—who would pay thousands for that hair and never quite be satisfied), but something about him compelled. Maybe it was the eyes—sharp, intent, and the pale blue-grey of an arctic landscape. Or the way those eyes watched her with the quiet, frozen patience of a hawk just waiting for the moment to strike.
It was that uncanny stillness that tipped her off. His lips were firmly closed so she couldn’t see any fangs, and experience had taught her that the horns these guys should have sported to clue in the unwary never did show. The outward trappings of evil didn’t matter, though. Ava could tell. Only one kind of man could be so still, so strong, and so bloody silent. He was a vampire.
Shaking off the spell that seemed to have gripped her at the sight of him, Ava narrowed her eyes and prepared the bite the hand that silenced her.
He moved too quickly, sliding a broad thumb under her jaw and pressing hard to keep it closed. “I wouldn’t advise it,” he rumbled in a voice deep with gravel and spiced somehow with the hint of a place far from Manhattan. “It’s too soon for you to be able to control your reaction if you draw blood.”
Ava simply glared at his nonsense and began to tug against her bonds once more. She had absolutely no intention of ending her life as an hors d’oeuvres for a fiend from hell. Or Transylvania. Wherever the bloodsucking bastards came from.
“That’s not a very good idea either.” His free hand stretched up and pressed against her joined wrists, his strength casual and overwhelming. “You might be strong enough to break free, but I’m afraid it would be a very literal break. The bed is iron and will hold together. Your bones, on the other hand, are less forgiving. They would snap long before the rope did.”
Her eyes told him to go to hell. And that was only because her mouth was unable to tell him something far fouler. For some reason, she trusted his warning, but that didn’t stop her from trying to get away. Now, instead of pulling against her bonds, she began to run her fingers over the rope, searching for knots or weak points. She had read somewhere that no rope bondage was entirely escape proof. If that were true, she intended to prove it.
Those cool, predatory eyes looked down at her. “I can take my hand away, but I’m afraid I’m going to have to ask you not to scream.”
I’ll be as silent as a Howitzer.
“We’re in a warehouse district and it is three in the morning, so I am not worried about someone hearing you,” he explained, reading her mind with obnoxious ease, “but I have very sensitive ears. I much prefer the quiet.”
And I much prefer not being tied to a bed and held prisoner by strange vampire perverts with lousy senses of humor. Too bad we can’t always get what we want.
Ava saw the surprise spark in his eyes and felt a new wave of anger swamp her. The bastard was reading her mind. She hated when they did that! She made a mental note to watch what appeared in his eyes when she planted the pointy toe of her boot in the middle of his scrotum. With excessive force.
“That seems a bit harsh to me,” he said. Anyone else might have edged the observation with irony, maybe even humor. This one’s expression never changed from its harsh, granite lines. “I did, after all, recently save your life.”
“Umphd gy mphygph?” Shock made her forget the hand over her mouth, but the garbled noises she made in place of words didn’t seem to faze him.
“Saved your life,” he repeated, nodding. “You’d been attacked and left for dead. Do you remember any of it?”
She said nothing. Obviously. When she’d realized he was a vampire, she had assumed—not unreasonably, she assured herself—that he’d been the one to attack her. His words unaccountably made her rethink. This monster might be just as evil as the one who had tried to kill her earlier, but at least he looked clean. He didn’t smell anything like the other one. No way could Ava ever forget that scent. But if the giant wasn’t her attacker, who was? And more importantly, where was he, because Ava intended to prosecute him to the fullest extent of the new human protection laws.
“You look like you remember something, but I’m guessing you’re fuzzy on the details.” He waited for her to nod. He could wait a goddamn lifetime as far as she was concerned. She had no plans to do this jerk any favors. “You were attacked as you were walking past an alley. Do you usually go for strolls through the city alone? In the middle of the night?”
As if it was any of his business what she did. Ava continued to glare at him silently and search for a knot.
“I would encourage you to take up a new hobby. You were completely vulnerable to the attack. A rogue vampire came up behind you and dragged you into the alley, out of sight. Polite, but probably unnecessary. I doubt anyone else would have passed at that hour. He had already killed another woman. You would have been second if I hadn’t found you.”
Well, yipdee-frickin’-doo. You’re my hero. I’ll try to leave your corpse some dignity, she thought, but this time she tried to keep her thoughts to herself. He might not like that particular plan.
“I picked you up and brought you back here. You needed some...medical attention. I patched you back up and decided to let you sleep.”
“Knphah mnaph zphnst—” She broke off to glare at him.
He watched her for a long minute before he so much as blinked. “Only if you promise not to scream. If you do, I’ll knock you unconscious again, and this time I’ll gag you before you wake up.”
If he hit her, he’d have to kill her before she woke up, Ava thought, mental shields firmly in place, because she would eviscerate the man who laid a hand on her that way. She didn’t care how securely she was tied. She would get free eventually, and she had a very long memory. Still, she nodded. If he kept his hand clamped over her mouth and jaw any longer, she’d have bruises no amount of three-hundred-dollar foundation would hide.
Ava nodded once.
Satisfied, he let his hand slide away, moving slowly, as if ready to slam back into place if she should draw too deep a breath. Somehow the feathery brush of his callused fingers over her skin sent a wave of heat rushing through her. Disgusted with herself, Ava made very sure to stuff that away where no one would find it. What kind of sicko got turned on by a touch from a vampire who’d tied her to a bed?
Okay, Regina, maybe, but that was beside the point.
“I said, why didn’t you just call an ambulance and let the paramedics give me whatever medical attention you thought I needed?” Her voice came out low and hoarse, as if she’d spent the evening before screaming her way through a rock concert. Frowning, she tried clearing her throat, but it didn’t help. “Wouldn’t that have been easier?”
“Much.” Again with the lack of irony. “But from what I hear, the emergency responders in this city have been having a hard time adjusting to the treatment of unusual patients.”
Unusual. That was one of the new “polite” words for the Others, but Ava saw no point in prettying up her language. A monster was a monster in her book.
“Yeah, well, it wouldn’t have mattered. They could have treated me just fine. I’m human.”
The giant shook his head. “Not anymore.”
A hollow buzzing noise exploded in Ava’s head. Her chest tightened as if someone had strapped a belt around her lungs and cinched. She felt the jittery buzz of a caffeine overdose with none of the creamy, latte accompaniment. She shook her head to clear it, but it didn’t help. “Excuse me?”
“Your attacker was a vampire. You’ve been changed.”
The feeling she now recognized as panic bled down her throat, burning like ice cold whisky and jolting her heart into overdrive. She could practically see the adrenaline needle sticking out of her chest.
“That’s not possible,” she rasped out. “I’m human, and I’m not stupid. I know what it takes for a person to cross over to vampire. You have to exchange blood. No way on earth am I dumb enough to do something like that. You couldn’t pay me enough to drink blood, let alone drink blood from a vampire.”
The vampire’s expression remained impassive, not a shred of sympathy in evidence. Then again, he showed no shred of deception, either. She didn’t plan to trust him, but some unfamiliar thing that squirmed in her gut told her she didn’t have to take his word for it. Not when she already knew. Deep inside.
A knot formed in Ava’s stomach, pulled tight. She struggled for denial. “I wouldn’t do that,” she repeated.
The man blinked. “You know he bit you. He nearly tore a chunk out of the side of your neck. You remember that, don’t you?”
Her hand went instinctively to the spot, felt a small amount of scabbing, a little dried blood. Nothing like the injury that should have been there. “Sure, but one bite wouldn’t do it. He could drink me dry and I wouldn’t turn unless I’d drunk from him, too. Which I definitely. Did. Not. Do.”
He inclined his head just a fraction. “Not intentionally, I’m certain. I believe you would not have planned to do so.”
“I wouldn’t have done so at all. I didn’t do so.”
“You fought back.” When he paused, as if waiting for a response, Ava nodded. “You kicked, elbowed, stomped, hit, clawed.”
The knot in her stomach unraveled, along with every nerve and muscle in her body. Despite her prone position on the bed, dizziness overwhelmed her. She raised her eyes to the ceiling and watched the beams overhead dance the tarantella. The entire room was moving around her, and her heart threatened to race the contents of her stomach to see which made it out of her throat first. She fought for breath like a winded marathoner and nearly gagged at the sharp memory of copper heat flooding her mouth.
Santa Maria, what have I done?
“It wasn’t supposed to matter.” Her voice was a murmur, weak with disbelief, grief, shame, fear. She wrapped her fingers around the ropes over her head and held on as if afraid she might fall. “He was going to kill me. I know he was going to kill me. It shouldn’t have mattered that his blood got into my mouth, because I was never going to make it out of that alley.”
He looked at her. “You made it out.”
Shaking, Ava stared at the ceiling and unclenched her fists from the ropes, all of the fight draining out of her body. “That’s it, then. I’m going to turn into a vampire. I’m going to be one of the monsters.” She tore her gaze from the ceiling and turned it on her captor. “Tell me how long I have.”
He frowned. She could tell because his brows drew together all of half a millimeter. “What do you mean?”
“How long do I have before I transform?” she demanded, thinking that he might be compelling, but he seemed to be dumber than a catfish in a frying pan. “Before I go all fangy. How long do I have?”
The frown did not ease. If anything, it got even deeper, almost recognizable. “I’m not certain I understand—”
“It’s very simple, Sherlock,” she snapped, a little of herself coming back to her. If only for a moment. “I want you to tell me how much longer I have before I’m officially one of the liquid diet crowd. I’ve been around this scene for long enough to know that the last thing I want to do is live the rest of my life as a bloodsucking monster. I’ll kill myself first, and damn the church.”
For an instant, Ava thought she saw something almost like sympathy in those arctic eyes, but it passed so quickly she couldn’t be sure. When he spoke, he sounded as cold and disinterested as ever.
“You have no time,” he said. “This is not a matter of waiting for your membership card to arrive. He drank, you drank, the end. You are vampire. It is done.”
The finality of his words accomplished what the fear and dread and panic inside her had not. It froze the last living spark of her hope, leaving her as cold and desolate as those wintery eyes.
Monster, she called herself, and fought the wave of nausea that accompanied the thought. Then something even worse occurred to her. All this time she’d spent resenting her friends and hating their husbands, and now she had become just as bad as they were. She had become the thing she hated most in the world.
The thing she feared.