Thursday, December 13, 2007

"Tall, Dark, and Deadly" Excerpt

My novella "Tall, Dark, and Deadly," an erotic vampire romance from Ellora's Cave, is scheduled to be reprinted in one of that publisher's anthologies in partnership with Pocket Books (release date June 2008). So I'm posting an excerpt from the scene where Claude, an actor who plays vampire and other horror roles, explains the truth about vampirism to the heroine, Eloise, a novelist and script writer. She has just tried to attack him with a cross in his sleep to test whether he's really a vampire.

Excerpt from "Tall, Dark, and Deadly":

Eloise retreated into the adjacent sitting room. After opening the curtains halfway to let in some light, she saw a matching couch and chair, a bookcase, a miniature refrigerator and a wet bar with a compact-model microwave oven on its counter. She sat on the couch and waited, glad for the few minutes of solitude to tame the hive of bees in her skull and the spiders skittering in her stomach.

Soon Claude emerged from the bedroom, barefoot, in a pair of blue satin jogging shorts and a T-shirt. He went to the bar, filled a glass with ice and got out bottles of gin and tonic. “Care for a drink?”

“No, thanks, I want my head clear. If that’s possible around you.” She glared at him.

“Well, I need one.” When she flinched, he added with a wry smile, “Not that kind. Not right this minute anyway.” After he’d mixed his gin and tonic, he took a seat at the other end of the couch from her, out of the direct sunlight from the window. “Tell me exactly what happened when you met Philip.”

She summarized the encounter. “He said you’re a vampire, a demon in human shape, as he put it. I’m not sure how it happened, but the next thing I knew, I was in here testing the theory.”

“Of course,” Claude sighed. “I should have known. He caught you off guard, so he hypnotized you. I should have known you wouldn’t do anything like that on a mere suggestion. Regardless of what you saw just now, I’m not a demon.”

“You changed—” Her breath caught in her throat, cutting off the words.

“I apologize for that. A defense mechanism. You startled me out of a sound sleep, after all.”

“What about the cross?”

“A psychosomatic reaction. I’m not a creature of the devil, and I’m not undead either. Though if you’d looked for a pulse a few minutes ago, you’d have had trouble finding one. Suspended animation looks a lot like death.”

She folded her arms in resistance to his reasonable tone. “I don’t hear you denying you’re a vampire.”

“I don’t deny it.” He took a swallow of his drink. “But I’m not supernatural. We’re another species, long-lived, with a specialized diet.”

“Liquid protein.”

He nodded.

Her numbed brain woke up and processed clues from the past few days. “Oh, God, you drank my blood! How many times?”

He gazed into his glass as if embarrassed.

“Come on, level with me. At the con?”

“Yes, and the night before last, after we arrived here.”

A flush spread over her body. “Then all those feelings I thought were dreams came from you? And that’s why I can’t remember much about Saturday night?”

“Granted.” He drained his glass and got up to mix another drink, heavy on the gin.

Her throat tightened with indignation. “You—I don’t believe this! You made up all that rigmarole about producing my script just to feed on me.”

“What?” He whirled around to face her, glass in hand. “Bloody hell, do you seriously think I’d go to all that trouble just for a little refreshment? I can get that from the vampire groupies.”

Her pulse hammered in her temples. “Well, isn’t that what I am to you?”

“Eloise, no!” He hurried to the couch and sat near her. She edged as far away as the space allowed. “I feasted on your mind, your passions, not only your blood. That’s why I didn’t want to take any risk of letting Philip see us together. He would realize instantly that I care for you. And I meant it when I said I’d like to have you stay here.”

“How can I tell what you mean? You turned me into a puppet, like one of those blow-up sex dolls, and wiped my memory on top of it. Anyway, you’re an actor. You could turn on the charm at will even if you weren’t a vampire.”

“Please, ma belle, let me prove that isn’t true.” He caressed her shoulder and gazed into her eyes. In this light, his no longer glowed red, but they still held an inhuman sheen of silver that she could hardly believe she’d missed before.

She jerked away from his touch. “Don’t look at me.”

“I’ve vowed not to mesmerize you again.”

“I don’t trust your vows. Not yet.”

He stalked to the bar and leaned against it, half-turned away from her. “Very well, I’m not looking at you. Now will you listen?”

“I’m listening. What do you mean, you vowed not to do it again?”

“I want you as a friend, an equal.” He gave a dry chuckle. “Something we don’t say to ephemerals very often. Many of my people would think I’m going soft even to consider it.”

“Ephemerals? That’s what you call us? Here today, gone tomorrow. No wonder you think you can treat us like puppets.”

“I don’t.” He gritted his teeth with a muted growl. “Some ephemerals. Not you.”

“Well, at least you admit it.” A new thought chilled her. “How many people have you killed?”

“Oh, for hell’s sake!” He slammed the glass on the bar. “I don’t kill for food. I take no more than they can spare, and I reward them with pleasure. Pleasure that I thoroughly enjoy sharing. I’ve killed in self-defense now and then. Not often. I told you, I prefer the quiet life.”

“That Philip guy said you killed his beloved, or caused her death anyway. Is that how he knows you’re a vampire?”

“What do you think he is?”

“He’s one too?” Speechless for a minute, Eloise sorted out this new bit of data. “Wait a second, he walked around in broad daylight.”

“You’ve read enough books like *Dracula* and *Varney*, not to mention reams of folklore, that you shouldn’t believe that tripe about vampires bursting into flame in the sun.”

“Yeah, but he was out on the beach with no shade at all.”

“Goes to show how much he’s willing to suffer for the satisfaction of harassing me,” said Claude. “How was he dressed?”

“White suit, gloves, hat, sunglasses.”

“You see? Probably sunscreen as well. I could walk on the beach in that costume too but I wouldn’t enjoy it much.”

“What about the cross? It didn’t seem to bother him.”

Claude fidgeted with his glass as if self-conscious about the topic. “I suffer from a phobia for religious objects. He doesn’t. He was fortunate enough to grow up in the enlightened atmosphere of Victorian England. I was born in a French village in 1738, when rural folk still seriously believed demons might walk among them. It was also the height of the vampire-hunting craze in Greece and Eastern Europe, as you know. I became infected with the superstitions of the culture around me.”

“Really? Does that happen a lot?”

“It can. We’re highly adaptable, especially in childhood. We have to be to fit invisibly into your world. We tend to pick up human attitudes unless our mentors are very careful.” He sat down, more relaxed now but still making a point of not looking directly at her. “It still happens to some young vampires today if they’re allowed to watch horror movies.”

She had to laugh at the image of stern vampire elders censoring their children’s viewing habits. “Tell me about Philip. Who was the woman, and why does he blame you for her death?”

Claude sighed. “He’s not far wrong, but I never intended her any harm. I suppose I’d better tell you the whole story.”

“Yes, please do.” She folded her arms and frowned at him, determined to shield herself against his charm until he offered her some basis for trust.

-end of excerpt-

3 comments:

  1. david gray5:50 PM EST

    AGHHH! Cruel woman, just when you were getting to heart of the matter. I suppose now I shall have to wait -- and avail myself of that anthology when it comes out.

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  2. Thanks! It will be a trade paperback called IRRESISTIBLY CURSED.

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  3. Actually, I forgot to point out that "Tall, Dark, and Deadly" remains available as an e-book on the Ellora's Cave site (www.ellorascave.com).

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