Vampire in paradise, p.1
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       Vampire in Paradise, p.1

           Sandra Hill
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Vampire in Paradise


  “I need to bite you, Marisa,” he said.

  That was the last thing she’d expected him to say. She was shocked.

  “No, no, do not struggle. ‘Tis for your own good.”

  “For my own good,” she sputtered. “You are crazy. Let go of me, at once, or I’m going to scream my head off.”

  She opened her mouth to do just that, but he laid his lips over hers to halt her protests. And any inclination she had to struggle died a quick death of molten, wet heat, emanating from their joined lips and ricocheting to all her extremities and some interesting places in between.

  A groan of raw hunger, low in his throat, caused a mirroring groan from deep inside her, and she wrapped her arms around his wide shoulders.

  Never, in all her life, had she been so aroused by a man. Not so quickly. Not so strongly.

  The kiss seemed to go on forever as he slanted his open mouth over hers, this way and that, seeking the perfect fit. And when he found it, his tongue teased hers with slow, sensuous, in-and-out forays of taste.

  Dedication

  This book is dedicated to Trish Jensen, writer extraordinaire, critique partner, and best friend, who passed away, way too young and unexpectedly, during the writing of this book.

  Trish and I shared a sometimes warped sense of humor. She loved the stories of my four sons and their antics (think boxers that glow in the dark saying, “Yes, yes, yes!”); my husband, who had been known to bring golf buddies home to get one of my books because they heard romance novels turn women on; and my cleaning lady, who thought there were aliens living in my freezer.

  My books were funnier because of Trish’s input during hundreds of sometimes hilarious critique sessions. Folks at the restaurants where we met often looked our way with yearning, somewhat like that Billy Crystal/Meg Ryan scene.

  I told Trish before she died that when she got to the Other Side, she must be my muse, my forever source of humor and good romance writing.

  So here’s to you, Ms. Muse. I will miss you forever.

  CONTENTS

  Dedication

  Prologue

  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Chapter 3

  Chapter 4

  Chapter 5

  Chapter 6

  Chapter 7

  Chapter 8

  Chapter 9

  Chapter 10

  Chapter 11

  Chapter 12

  Chapter 13

  Chapter 14

  Chapter 15

  Chapter 16

  Chapter 17

  Chapter 18

  Chapter 19

  Chapter 20

  Chapter 21

  Epilogue

  Reader Letter

  Glossary

  An Excerpt from Even Vampires Get the Blues

  Prologue

  About the Author

  Also by Sandra Hill

  Copyright

  About the Publisher

  Prologue

  The Norselands, A.D. 850 . . .

  Only the strongest survived in that harsh land . . .

  Sigurd Sigurdsson sat near the high table of King Haakon’s yule feast, sipping at the fine ale from his own jewel-encrusted silver horn. (Many of those “above the salt” held gold vessels, he noted.) Tuns of ale and rare Frisian wine flowed. (His mead tasted rather weak, but mayhap that was his imagination.)

  Favored guests at the royal feast (he was mildly favored) had their choice among spit-roasted wild boar, venison and mushroom stew, game birds stuffed with chestnuts, a swordfish the size of a small longboat, eels swimming in spiced cream sauce, and all the vegetable side dishes one could imagine, including the hated neeps. (Hated by Sigurd, leastways. He had a particular antipathy to turnips due to some youthling insanity to determine which lackwit could eat the most of the root vegetables without vomiting or falling over dead as a stump. He lost.) Honey oat cakes and dried fruit trifles finished off the meal for those not filled to overflowing. (Peaches, on the other hand, were fruit of the gods, in Sigurd’s opinion.) Entertainment was provided by a quartet of lute players who could scarce be heard over the animated conversation and laughter. (Which was just as well; they harmonized like a herd of screech owls. Again, in Sigurd’s opinion.) Good cheer abounded. (Except for . . .)

  In the midst of the loud, joyous celebration, Sigurd’s demeanor was quiet and sad.

  But that was nothing new. Sigurd had been known as a dark, brooding Viking for many of his twenty and seven years. Darker and more brooding as the years marched on. And he wasn’t even drukkinn.

  Some said the reason for Sigurd’s discontent was the conflict betwixt two warring sides of his nature. A fierce warrior in battle and, at the same time, a noted physician with innate healing skills inherited from and honed by his grandmother afore her passing to the Other World when he’d been a boyling.

  Sigurd knew better. He had a secret sickness of the soul, and its name was envy. Never truly happy, never satisfied, he always wanted what he didn’t have, whether it be a chest of gold; the latest, fastest longship; a prosperous estate; the finest sword. A woman. And he did whatever necessary to attain that new best thing. Whatever.

  ’Twas like a gigantic worm he’d found years past in the bowels of a dying man. Egolf the Farrier had been a giant of a burly man in his prime, but at his death when he was only thirty he’d been little more than a skeleton, with no fat and scant flesh to cover his bones. The malady had no doubt started years before innocently enough, with a tiny worm in an apple or some spoiled meat, but over the years, attached to his innards like a ravenous babe, the slimy creature devoured the food Egolf ate, and Egolf had a huge appetite, in essence starving the man to death.

  “Sig, my friend!” A giant hand clapped him on the shoulder, and his close friend and hersir Bertim sat down on the bench beside him. Beneath his massive red beard, the Irish Viking’s face was florid with drink. “You are sitting upright,” Bertim accused him. “Is that still your first horn of ale that you nurse like a babe at teat?”

  “What an image!” Sigurd shook his head with amusement. “I must needs stay sober. The queen may yet produce a new son for Haakon this night.”

  “Her timing is inconvenient, but then a yule child brings good luck.” Bertim raised his bushy eyebrows as a sudden thought struck him. “Dost act as midwife now?”

  “When it is the king’s whelp, I do.”

  Bertim laughed heartily.

  “In truth, Elfrida has been laboring for a day and night so far with no result. The delivery promises to be difficult.”

  Bertim nodded. ’Twas the way of nature. “What has the king promised you for your assistance?”

  “Naught much,” Sigurd replied with a shrug. “Friendship. Lot of good that friendship does me, though. Dost notice I am not sitting at the high table?”

  “And yet that arse licker Svein One-Ear sits near the king,” Bertim commiserated.

  I should be up there. Ah, well. Mayhap if I do the king this one new favor . . . He shrugged. The seating was a small slight, actually.

  A serving maid interrupted them, leaning over the table to replenish their beverages. The way her breasts brushed against each of their shoulders gave clear signal that she would be a willing bed partner to either or both of them. Bertim was too far gone in the drink and too fearful of the wrath of his new Norse wife, and Sigurd lacked interest in services offered so easily. The maid shrugged and made her way to the next hopefully willing male.

  Picking up on their conversation, Bertim said, “The friendship of a king is naught to minimize. It can be priceless.”

  Sigurd had reason to recall Bertim’s ale-wise words later that night, rather in the wee hours of the morning, when Queen Elfrida, despite Sigurd’s best efforts, d
elivered a deformed, puny babe, a girl, and Sigurd was asked by the king, in the name of friendship, to take the infant away and cut off its whispery breath.

  It was not an unusual request. In this harsh land, only the strongest survived, and the practice of infanticide was ofttimes an act of kindness. Or so the beleaguered parents believed.

  But Sigurd did not fulfill the king’s wishes. Leastways, not right away. Visions of another night and another life-or-death decision plagued Sigurd as he carried the swaddled babe in his arms, its cries little more than the mewls of a weakling kitten.

  Despite his full-length, hooded fur cloak, the wind and cold air combined to chill him to the bone. He tucked the babe closer to his chest and imagined he felt her heart beat steady and true. Approaching the cliff that hung over the angry sea, where he would drop the child after pinching its tiny nose, Sigurd kept murmuring, “’Tis for the best, ’tis for the best.” His eyes misted over, but that was probably due to the snowflakes that began to flutter heavily in front of him.

  He would do as the king asked. Of course he would. But betimes it was not such a gift having royal friends.

  Just then, he heard a loud voice bellow, “Sigurd! Halt! At once!”

  He turned to see the strangest thing. Despite the blistering cold, a dark-haired man wearing naught but a long, white, rope-belted gown in the Arab style approached with hands extended.

  Without words, Sigurd knew that the man wanted the child. To his surprise, Sigurd handed over the bundle that carried his body heat to the stranger.

  “Take her, Caleb,” the man said to yet another man in a white robe who appeared at his side.

  “Yes, Michael.” Caleb bowed as if the first man were a king or some important personage.

  More kings! That is all I need!

  The Michael person passed the no-longer-crying infant to Caleb, who enfolded the babe in what appeared to be wings, but was probably a white fur cloak, and walked off, disappearing into the now heavy snowfall.

  “Will you kill the child?” Sigurd asked, realizing for the first time that he might not have been able to do it himself. Not this time.

  “Viking, will you never learn?” Michael asked.

  He said “Viking” as if it were a bad word. Sigurd was too stunned by this tableau to be affronted.

  “Who are you? What are you?” Sigurd asked as he noticed the massive white wings spreading out behind the man.

  “Michael. An archangel.”

  Sigurd had heard of angels before and seen images on wall paintings in a Byzantium church. “Did you say arse angel?”

  “You know I did not. Thou art a fool.”

  No sense of humor at all. Sigurd assumed that an archangel was a special angel. “Am I dead?”

  “Not yet.”

  That did not sound promising. “But soon?”

  “Sooner than thou could imagine,” he said without the least bit of sympathy.

  Can I fight him? Somehow, Sigurd did not think that was possible.

  “You are a grave sinner, Sigurd.”

  He knows my name. “That I freely admit.”

  “And yet you do not repent. And yet you would have taken another life tonight.”

  “Another?” Sigurd inquired, although he knew for a certainty what Michael referred to, and it was not some enemy he had covered with sword dew in righteous battle. But how could the man—rather angel—possibly know what had been Sigurd’s closely held secret all these years? No one else knew.

  “There are no secrets, Viking,” Michael informed him.

  Holy Thor! Now he is reading my mind!

  Before Sigurd could reply, the snow betwixt them swirled, then cleared to reveal a picture of himself as a boyling of ten years or so bent over his little ailing brother Aslak, a five-year-old of immense beauty, even for a male child. Pale white hair, perfect features, a bubbling, happy personality. Everyone loved Aslak, and Aslak loved everyone in return.

  Sigurd had hated his little brother, despite the fact that Aslak followed him about like an adoring puppy. Aslak was everything that Sigurd was not. Sigurd’s dull brown hair only turned blond when he got older and the tresses had been sun-bleached on sea voyages. His facial features had been marred by the pimples of a youthling. He had an unpleasant, betimes surly, disposition. In other words, unlikable, or so Sigurd had thought.

  Being the youngest of the Sigurdsson boys, before Aslak, and the only one still home, Sigurd had been more aware of his little brother’s overwhelming popularity. In truth, in later years, when others referred to the seven Sigurdsson brothers, they failed to recall that at one time there had been eight.

  Sigurd blinked and peered again into the swirling snow picture of that fateful night. His little brother’s wheezing lungs laboring for life through the long predawn hours. His mother, Lady Elsa, had begged Sigurd to help because, even at ten years of age, he had healing hands. Sigurd had pretended to help, but in truth he had not employed the steam tenting or special herb teas that might have cured his dying brother. Aslak had died, of course, and Sigurd knew it was his fault.

  Looking up to see Michael staring at him, Sigurd said, “I was jealous.”

  Michael shook his head. “Nay, jealousy is a less than admirable trait. Your sin was the more grievous, envy.”

  “Envy. Jealousy. Same thing.”

  “Lackwit!” Michael declared, his wings bristling wide like those of a riled goose. “Jealousy is a foolish emotion, but envy destroys the peace of the soul. When was the last time you were at peace, Viking?”

  Sigurd thought for a long moment. “Never, that I recall.”

  “Envy stirs hatred in a person, causing one to wish evil on another. That was certainly the case with your brother Aslak. And with so many others you have maligned or injured over the years.”

  Sigurd hung his head. ’Twas true.

  “Envy causes a person to engage in immoderate quests for wealth or power or relationships that betimes defy loyalty and justice.”

  Sigurd nodded. The archangel was painting a clear picture of him and his sorry life.

  “The worst thing is that you were given a treasured talent. The gift of healing. Much like the saint physician Luke. But you have disdained it. Abused it. And failed to nourish it for a greater good.”

  “A saint?” Sigurd was not a Christian, but he was familiar with tales from their Bible. “You would have me be as pure as a saint? I am a Viking.”

  “Idiots! I am forced to work with idiots.” Michael rolled his eyes. “Nay, no one expects purity from such as you. Enough! For your grave sins, and those of your six brothers . . . in fact, all the Vikings as a whole . . . the Lord is sorely disappointed. You must be punished. In the future, centuries from now, there will be no Viking nation, as such. Thus sayeth the Lord,” Michael pronounced. “And as for you Sigurdsson miscreants . . . your time on earth is measured.”

  “By death?”

  Michael nodded. “Thou art already dead inside, Sigurd. Now your body will be, as well.”

  So be it. It was a fate all men must face, though he had not expected it to come so soon. “You mention my brothers. They will die, too?”

  “They will. If they have not already passed.”

  Seven brothers dying in the same year? This was the fodder of sagas. Skalds would be speaking of them forevermore. “Will I be going to Valhalla, or the Christian Heaven, or that other place?” He shivered inwardly at the thought of that last fiery fate.

  “None of those. You are being given a second chance.”

  “To live?” This was good news.

  Michael shook his head. “To die and come back to serve your Heavenly Father in a new role.”

  “As an angel?” Sigurd asked with incredulity.

  “Hardly,” Michael scoffed. “Well, actually, you would be a vangel. A Viking vampire angel put back on earth to fight Satan’s demon vampires, Lucipires. For seven hundred years, your penance would be to redeem your sins by serving in God’s army under my mentorship.”
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  Sigurd could tell that Michael wasn’t very happy with that mentorship role, but he could not dwell on that. It was the amazing ideas the archangel was putting forth.

  “Do you agree?” Michael asked.

  Huh? What choice did he have? The fires of Hell, or centuries of living as some kind of soldier. “I agree, but what exactly is a vampire?”

  He soon found out. With a raised hand, Michael pointed a finger at Sigurd and unimaginable pain wracked his body, including his mouth where the jawbones seemed to crack and realign themselves, emerging with fangs, like a wolf. He fell to his knees as his shoulder blades also seem to explode as if struck with a broadsword.

  “Fangs? Was that necessary?” he gasped, glancing upward at the celestial being whose arms were folded across his chest, staring down at him.

  “You’ll need them for sucking blood.”

  “From what?”

  “What do you think? From a peach? Idiot! From people . . . or demons.”

  “What? Eeew!” He expects me to drink blood? From living persons? Or demons? I do not know about this bargain.

  “Thou can still change thy mind, Viking,” Michael said.

  Reading my mind again! Damn! “And go to Hell?”

  “Thou sayest it.”

  Sigurd thought about negotiating with the angel, but knew instinctively that it would do no good. He nodded. “It will be as you say.”

  Moments later, when the pain subsided somewhat, the angel raised him up and studied him with icy contempt, or was it pity? “Go! And do better this time, vangel.”

  On those words, Sigurd fell backward and over the cliff. Falling, falling, falling toward the black, roiling sea. He discovered in that instant that there was one thing a vangel didn’t have. Wings.

  Chapter 1

  Florida, 2015

  Sometimes life throws you a lifeline, sometimes a lead sinker . . .

  No one watching Marisa Lopez emerge from the medical center in downtown Miami would have guessed that she’d just been delivered a death blow. Not for herself, but for her five-year-old daughter, Isobel.

 

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