Vampire Territory 5: Another Round

Allie Ritch

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Betrayed by their lover, Maribeth and Zander struggle to find balance in a relationship that’s just the two of them. As the only human in the household, Maribeth tries to take a more active role in helping the vampires, while Za...
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Betrayed by their lover, Maribeth and Zander struggle to find balance in a relationship that’s just the two of them. As the only human in the household, Maribeth tries to take a more active role in helping the vampires, while Zander is focused on revenge. It isn’t until warm, easygoing Graham catches their attention that their passion is rekindled, and they come together to seduce the big vampire.

Unfortunately, their traitorous ex isn’t done with them. Drew has joined their greatest enemy—an Eastern bloodsucker who is determined to take over power and enslave the area’s humans. He uses his knowledge of both the Human Rebellion and the master vampires’ household to play games and pit everyone against one another. After Drew orchestrates the assassination of one of their own, Zander isn’t the only one gunning for him.

Can revenge heal betrayal? Or will an unlikely romance give Zander, Maribeth, and Graham the strength they need to take on an adversary who knows their secrets?

Excerpt
Although she had noticed before, it suddenly struck Maribeth how many couples there were in the house. Even Natalia, who worked as Lucas’s resident scientist, had found someone. Alex’s human brother, Wess, had almost died trying to stop Taspar Tong’s men. The brainy vampiress had turned him to save his life, and now the pair lived in her basement bedroom. The two seemed very happy together, as did all the couples in the house.

So why can’t Zander and I be happy as a pair? Maribeth asked herself that question as she walked into the kitchen, but she was distracted when she saw who was in there. As luck would have it, one of the more interesting duos in the house was leaning against the counter and drinking breakfast together.

“Hello,” Graham said as soon as he saw her.

He straightened and gave her his usual warm smile, and she greeted him back. Nico wasn’t as friendly, but he offered her a small salute with his glass.

She liked to think of the two guards as fire and ice, both in personality and in looks. Graham’s dark blond hair had a strong hint of ginger—a bold color that contrasted with his pale blue eyes. His hair was cut a few inches long and parted so that a single thick strand fell across his forehead. His square face balanced out his wide shoulders and the brawn of his biceps. Hands down, Graham was the largest male in the house, but he fit the stereotype of a gentle giant, at least when he wasn’t in a fight.

Nico was the opposite. He wore his hair in a spiky buzz cut, and she would have called the color white, except that conjured up images of little old ladies with perms. His hair was arctic blond, and his gray eyes were equally cold. His cheeks and chin were roughly hewn, but his straight nose and the fine curve of his lips kept him from looking like a brute. He didn’t seem to care if he made people uncomfortable and tended to toss his dagger end over end when he was restless.

She hadn’t quite figured out the pair of them. They drank together, sparred together, and patrolled together, and the bond between them was clear. What she couldn’t tell was whether or not they had a romantic relationship. Vampires often took a drinking partner—another vampire with whom they exchanged blood. Knowing what it felt like when Zander fed from her, she couldn’t imagine such partners could remain platonic. She wasn’t sure Graham and Nico even exchanged blood. They certainly drank a lot of the bagged stuff, and vampires with a regular partner only needed to supplement their diet on occasion. She also knew the two men didn’t share a room. Graham’s bedroom was right across the hall from her and Zander’s. Of course, Nico had the bedroom directly next door to him, so it wouldn’t be hard for them to get together.

Before she could stop herself, her mind conjured up an image of them—two powerful males stripped naked and ready to unleash their appetites. It was a fantasy that flat did it for her, especially when she pictured herself sandwiched in the middle. Only she didn’t envision Nico as part of the triad. She saw Zander and Graham with her.

Maribeth hurried to open the fridge, hoping the blast of chilly air might cool her face. She couldn’t believe she was thinking about Graham like that. He would be horrified if he knew. Well, maybe not horrified. Graham was still a man, after all, and there had been a few times when he’d looked at her that she’d wondered if maybe there was a spark of interest. It might have stroked his ego to know she found him attractive, but things would be awkward between them after that. One strained relationship with a man was more than enough.

Maribeth brought her attention back to the task at hand and focused on the contents of the fridge. She sighed when she finally registered what was in there. Or rather, what wasn’t.

“I forgot to buy groceries,” she announced.

She was used to picking up food for two, but now she was the only human in the house. It was hard to plan small meals that didn’t leave too much left over, and she had never been much of a cook.

“There’s no food for you?” Graham came closer to look inside, but all the shelves were filled with bagged blood, aside from a ketchup bottle and a jar with one lone pickle floating in it like some kind of lab experiment. “Do you want a ride to the market?”

She straightened and took a step back to look at him. “That’s sweet, but I can drive myself. I only hope the store is open.”

Lucas and Alex had worked hard to make their territories safe for humans, but Taspar Tong and his nasty bloodsuckers were ruining that. Although the mall and some of the restaurants would be open after dark, she wasn’t sure about the grocery store.

“Why don’t I take you to dinner?” Graham said.

Maribeth blinked at him. “You?”

He gave her a funny look and quickly glanced at his companion. “Nico and I can take you somewhere to eat. We were running out anyhow.”

She looked at Nico to see his reaction, but his expression was unreadable.

“Aren’t you busy?” she asked.

“We’re working with the CRU tonight,” Graham said.

She dropped her gaze to the black T-shirt straining across his muscular chest, the CRU letters stark white and impossible to miss. “I can see that.”

The CRU, or Cooperative Response Unit, had been created by Wess Gage as a sort of joint vampire and human police force that went after the bad bloodsuckers.

Graham gave her another smile. “Now that CRU headquarters is only half an hour away, we’ve cut down on the commute. We can squeeze in a stop. You run daytime errands for us all the time. Let us take care of you for a change.”

The last of her hesitation disappeared. She was hungry and didn’t like to eat alone, and she couldn’t turn him down when he was being so nice. Also, she really wanted to see the CRU’s building. She had been thinking about paying the unit a visit for some time, and this was the perfect excuse.

“Thanks,” she told him. “That sounds great. I’ll grab something to eat and go with you to see what Wess has done with the place.”

“Sure you won’t get bored?” Nico asked.

Graham scowled at the other man before turning back to her. “We can drop you at home if you don’t want to get stuck there all night.”

Maribeth tried not to show her disappointment. They thought she was some kind of spoiled child who needed to be entertained all the time. The worst part was they weren’t totally wrong. She was spoiled, and she did enjoy things like parties and shopping and dressing up. But that wasn’t all there was to her. In fact, she had been thinking about stretching herself and maybe trying a few things.

“I’ll be fine,” she assured them. “If I need to, I’m sure I can get Natalia to give me a ride.”

“Okay.” Graham agreed in his usual easygoing manner, and his friend didn’t argue.

She ran to grab her purse and followed them out to the car. Graham held the passenger door for her, while Nico got into the backseat without a word. Then they were cruising down the long driveway toward the front gate. Although they were hard to spot, several security cameras lined the property, and the gate was reinforced so that no one could crash through it. Taspar’s men had already done that once, and nobody wanted a repeat.

The house itself was a two-story Tudor-style mansion—three stories if you counted the basement they’d finished out. She loved the green vines that covered most of the ground floor wall, as well as the gray stone front and ashy-colored accents. The place had character, and it sat on a large piece of property. She also liked the upscale neighborhood around it, although several of the neighbors had put their houses up for sale as soon as they’d learned they were living next door to vampires.

Maribeth gave Graham directions, and he drove them to a nice little Thai restaurant that was in the area. It was a place she and Drew had discovered, though she wasn’t about to dwell on that. From the outside, it didn’t look like much. The beige walls and glass double door could have belonged to any storefront, and the only Asian influence was the shape of the green canopy out front. As soon as she walked inside, however, the yummy aromas made her mouth water.

The restaurant was almost empty at this hour, and a waitress came to seat them right away. She noticed the woman went a little wide-eyed when she looked at Graham, no doubt shocked to see a vampire in the restaurant. They were shown to a table near the window.

“I’ll keep an eye on the door,” Nico announced. He bypassed the table and went to sit in a chair in the corner.

That left her alone with Graham, who held her chair for her. She wondered briefly if his friend was trying to give them some privacy, but she decided Nico was probably just avoiding small talk.

“I already know what I want,” she told the waitress. “I’d like dumplings and beef noodle soup.”

She adored both, and the soup sounded really good on a cool night.

The woman took the order and served both her and Graham glasses of water before she walked away. Maribeth noticed that Graham took a sip of water, and she wondered if he was really thirsty or trying to fit in.

“You can smell the spices as soon as you walk in,” he remarked.

“I know,” she said. “The aromas alone make me hungry, and they have some fantastic curry dishes.”

“Do you like things spicy?”

She looked up from playing with her chopsticks. His expression remained pleasant, but she thought maybe there was a gleam in his eye. Was the question innocent, or was he teasing her?

She licked her lips. “I can take the heat. How about you? I know vampires can drink a little and eat bits of food when they want, and you were human once, right?”

“I was,” he said. “Mostly I ate bread and porridge and the occasional stew before I was turned. Since then, some of the more exotic dishes sometimes tempt me into taking a taste.”

“Was it hard having to give up food? Zander was born a vampire, so he never really ate anyway, but I’d think it would be tough if you started out human.”

Graham seemed to think about it. “Giving up food was the least of it. I was more concerned with staying out of the sun.”

“Right.” Sun could kill even the most powerful vampire. “I don’t spend much time in the sun, anyway. Tans may be in, but I’m so fair-skinned I tend to burn.”

“Cream and roses,” he said.

“I’m sorry?”

“Your complexion,” he told her. “Your skin is all cream and roses.”

“Thank you.” Her cheeks felt a touch rosier thanks to the compliment.

They were interrupted for a moment when the waitress came back. The music being piped in filled the silence as the woman set the dumplings on the table and walked away.

Maribeth pinched a dumpling between her chopsticks and moaned in pleasure as she sank her teeth into it.

“You’re pretty good at that,” Graham said.

“Eating?”

“No, maneuvering those sticks. Of course, you have slender hands. I’d probably snap them into pieces with my big paw.”

“I doubt that. I’ve seen you move, and you’re really agile for such a big guy.” She swallowed and cleared her throat. “Do you mind if I ask you a personal question?”

“How was I turned?” he said.

“How did you know I was going to ask that?”

Vampires couldn’t read minds, despite some of the rumors.

He shrugged those broad shoulders. “For some reason, that’s the first question most humans ask. Jaide said it was the first thing the other members of the CRU wanted to know when our people joined them.”

“So?” She popped another dumpling in her mouth and looked at him curiously.

“I can give you the abbreviated version I told Mel for my biography.”

“What do you mean? You gave Mel a watered-down version?” Maribeth was aware that Alex’s assistant had compiled a database on all the vampires in her master’s territory, including the bios of everyone in the house. She hadn’t realized that some of the residents had held back. “Why?”

“The full story makes me look bad,” he confessed.

“I won’t judge. I also promise not to tell a soul if you give me the full story.” Now she was curious.

He studied her for a moment, and his blue eyes looked even brighter than usual. “All right, but I’m swearing you to secrecy.”

She mimed sealing her lips and throwing away the key.

Copyright © Allie Ritch

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