Hi, I'm Ericka Scott and I write seductive suspense...I'm a brand new Tease author with a hot-off-the-presses release!
It's for the Temperance Card and is titled Twilight's Embrace (click title to buy at All Romance E-books!).
Maxine Twilight’s life didn't change significantly after her death. She manages Temperance, a historic Chicago tavern. She and her brother, Jimmy, have turned it into the hottest fetish club in the Midwest, a place where the rich and famous come to play with vampires. When her employees begin turning to ash, Maxine doesn't know where to turn. She can’t call the police, for they refuse to recognize the rights of the undead. She’s emotionally unprepared to deal with the disaster, especially when she suspects the target of the next wooden stake might just be her!
Zachary Fox is a slayer with scruples. He only kills rogue vampires. In his opinion, if a vampire has found a way to make an honest living and eat an honest meal, his motto is to live and let live. But not all slayers live by the same rules. When someone kills a few vampires at a midtown Chicago nightclub, he really want to be involved. But he owes his dead ex-wife, Tessa, a big favor—so he agrees to help stop the slayer. What he didn't count on was his attraction for the classy and curvaceous Maxine. When it looks like Maxine is the intended target of the next wooden stake, he's forced to put his life, and love, on the line.
“Welcome to Temperance.”
Victoria watched as Friday night regular, Mitchell Consuelo, guided his date into the brightly lit foyer of the club. For once, Mitch didn’t seem to be in a hurry to drag his date inside. Instead, he hovered at the woman’s elbow as they checked their coats and wandered around the reception area looking at the period artwork on the walls.
It had been a long time since Victoria had browsed through the lobby. She’d almost forgotten what a novelty the pictures were. Mixed in with the history of Temperance were historical pictures of the vampires who worked in the club. Hell, if anyone ever looked close enough at the picture of the grand opening in 1899, they’d recognize her standing right in front, her face shadowed by a huge calico bonnet.
Mitch’s appearance at the podium with his curvaceous date interrupted her reverie.
Victoria tipped her head so that her blond pageboy haircut swung forward. Then she smiled knowing her fangs sparkled in the light from the overhead chandelier. “Will you be dining with us this evening?” she asked.
The woman looked up at Mitch, her eyes wide, and then she giggled.
“Come on, it’ll be fun,” Mitch encouraged her. To Victoria’s knowledge, he’d only had one date flee before he’d gotten her inside. This luscious brunette looked too curious to flee.
Victoria dragged her eyes away from the man’s date; Mitch, however, was still ogling the woman’s breasts.
Okay, enough already. “Membership card please,” Victoria prompted.
Mitch jumped and fumbled in the pocket of his suit coat. He pulled out the stiff card and started to hand it to her.
“Oh, what’s that? It’s really pretty,” Mitch’s date asked.
“That’s our membership card,” Victoria informed her, handing her the card. “As you might know, Temperance was a Speakeasy during prohibition. The tradition of using the tarot card for admittance began, as the owner’s wife, Jezebel Twilight, was a well-known psychic. While she gave readings in the dining room, drinks and hors d’ouvres would be served in the private rooms away from prying eyes and the surveillance of the police.”
“How interesting.” The woman handed the card back over. “But I didn’t realize this was a membership club.” She turned to Mitch, and her voice held a suspicious edge to it. “You told me you hadn’t ever been here before.”
While Mitch reassured his date with some stammering excuse, Victoria resisted the urge to roll her eyes. The man was such a lying bastard. Hell, he was here every Friday night with a different woman. While the couple bickered, Victoria lounged against the podium. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw a flash of movement. Odd.
Turning, she saw nothing suspicious and only heard a quiet murmur of voices coming from the bar. From where she was standing, she could see her business partner, Maxine Twilight, mingling with customers. The petite redhead was all curves and class, and Victoria had lusted after her for years. Unfortunately, Maxine was straight. What a waste.
Dragging her attention back to the clientele, she conjured up a sexy smile for Mitch and his date. Reaching under the podium, she handed a heavy leather folder across the podium to the woman. “Would you like to examine the menu?”
Still giggling, the woman took the proffered folder and opened it. The first picture she’d see was the ‘Boris Karloff’ head shot followed by a tasty array of half nude body shots.
“Oh.” The woman made an appreciative sound and her eyes widened. She flipped the page. The ‘Vincent Price’ page showed the headshot of an all-American blond-haired god. His body shots were good enough to eat right off the paper. The facing page was the Van Helsing page, six hunky men for when a ménage a trois just wasn’t tempting enough.
The woman looked up at Victoria. “Which would you recommend?”
Victoria opened her mouth to reply but instead heard a funny whistling sound. Just as the meaning of what she was hearing sunk in, she was struck in the back.
Sitting on the edge of the bed, Zachary Fox counted the cash in the envelope. A mere five thousand dollars. It didn’t come close to matching his usual price for a hit. However, it was clear there would be no more money forthcoming. This was all the cash the city of Poduncksville, Ohio, had in their pest control budget.
Pests? He shook his head. He’d had a bad feeling about taking this job, but had felt sorry for the town mayor who had been unable to find any other slayer willing to take on the job for that amount. The situation was dire. Rogue vampires had taken and turned two young girls. Then, the vampires had used the children to lure in family members for the vampires to feed upon.
After Zach performed his duty, disposing of all four vampires, he’d hoped they’d come up with a bit more cash, especially in light of the bruises, the black eye, and the cracked tailbone he’d suffered. However, this was it.
Damn, at this rate, he’d have to work three or four more jobs before he could retire. The colorful brochure propped open on top of his suitcase spelled it all out. Alaska, the land of the midnight sun. Even better, according to the advertisement, a land free of vampires. Zach wasn’t such a sucker that he believed everything he read. For in the winter, the darkness was unbroken for just as many hours. Darkness that would be a haven for the undead.
Hell, maybe he’d just go there anyway. Just for a change. He was tired. Real tired of nursing bruises and broken bones, late night trips to the hospital for stitches. Staying in cheap hotel rooms smelling of stale cigarette smoke and sex had become boring. He was especially tired of secretive meetings with petrified town council members and public citizens. Until society acknowledged vampires existence and held the undead accountable to the same laws as the living, nothing would change.
Along with the proliferation of the undead, there was now a whole new crop of slayers. Young, buff guys who healed faster. Zach grimaced. The scar on his arm, a parting gift from one of those young slayers turned vampire, ached. It was a ragged wound that had never healed properly, and he hoped it wasn’t infected. If it was, he had pain pills and antibiotics galore from his many trips to the emergency room. When he got home, he’d just pop a few milligrams of penicillin to be on the safe side.
With one last look around the gaudily decorated room, where even the large black rotary telephone was chained to the wall, he tucked the brochure in his back pocket, picked up his suitcase in one hand and his slayer equipment bag with the other. At that moment, he noticed a white envelope slid half under the door.
Well, this was the first time he’d ever stayed in a cheap hotel that provided a bill for checkout before he’d even notified management of his impending departure.
He put everything down and bent over to pick up the envelope. Then jumped when the phone on the wall rang. Should he answer it or not? No one knew he was here. Even the men who had hired him didn’t know where he was staying or even what his real name was. Hoping it was either the hotel management or a wrong number, Zach let the phone ring. When it finally fell silent, he looked down at the envelope in his hand.
What the hell? It was addressed to him. There was no return address, just a postmark from Chicago. There was only one person he’d known in Chicago, and she wasn’t in any position to be sending him anything anymore. That left the conclusion that this was about another job. He pulled his pocket knife out and slit the envelope open and pulled out a tarot card. Temperance. He flipped it over and back. It was pretty, but didn’t mean anything to him.
With a shrug, he tucked the envelope in his back pocket where it made intimate contact with the brochure from Alaska. Looked like he might just be heading for The Windy City.
He picked up his bags again. Then, as if to torment him, the phone rang again. Thinking it might have something to do with the tarot card; he put everything back down and picked up the receiver.
The voice that answered him was hollow and echoed eerily as if traveling from the other side of the grave. “Zach?”
Shit. He cloaked his travels in secrecy, used a fake name, and she still found him.
“Hello Tessa,” he grimaced, waiting for the tirade to start.
“How are you?”
“Cut the bullshit. What do you want?” Zach sighed and looked at his watch. He’d had high hopes that once Tessa was dead, he would no longer have to deal with her, especially as she was no longer eligible to collect alimony.
“I need a favor Zach.”
When Zach didn’t answer, there was an odd silence. He’d just begun to think they’d been disconnected, and he could escape this conversation. He’d just begun to think about hanging up when he heard an odd sound.
A sniff? Then, Tessa’s voice came back on the line. “You owe me this, Zach. I need you to come to Chicago.”
So, this was about the tarot card after all. Zach still hesitated. It was true he did owe Tessa. However, she’d always assured him it was a debt she’d never collect.
“I thought this was water under the bridge, and you were happy with the way it turned out. You said you’d forgiven me.”
“I did; I do. But I still need this favor. Please.” Tessa’s voice sounded odd. It almost sounded as if she was crying.
Did the undead cry?
* * * * *
Maxine heard a stifled scream and turned toward the sound. At the front desk, a couple stood staring at the spot where Victoria had been just moments ago. Then the man looked up, took a deep breath, and screamed like a girl.
What a nightmare.
In her mind, Maxine had prepared for this eventuality. She’d envisioned herself closing and locking the doors, calmly instructing the staff to conduct a swift and quiet search for the slayer, then she, personally, would dispose of the slayer, and the party would continue, so to speak.
Well, things didn’t exactly go as planned.
First off, Mitch’s caterwauling at the sight of the pile of ashes attracted everyone’s attention. Then, more people began screaming as they realized what had occurred. Vampires fled into the dark recesses of Temperance, and living patrons fled for the street. Thank the gods no one had been trampled in the pandemonium. Unfortunately, it looked like the slayer, whoever he or she was, had escaped.
Sorrow welled up inside her when she thought about Victoria, but she bit her bottom lip and carried on.
“I’ve called the police.” Jimmy, her brother, walked up behind her.
“And?” Maxine asked, although she knew full well what the answer would be.
“They pretty much said ‘good riddance’.” Jimmy replied.
“No, I guess not.” Jimmy shrugged and picked up a rag. “I had just hoped that since Temperance was a Chicago landmark that someone would be concerned.”
“The undead have no rights, Jimmy. But believe me, if one of the living patrons had been murdered here tonight, the place would be crawling with cops.”
“Maxine?” A tall, thin brunette woman interrupted.
Maxine looked up. It was Tessa, one of her newly hired employees. “Everything is under control Tessa. No need to be worried.”
Tessa shot her an impatient look.
“Could I speak to you…alone?”
“Sure,” Maxine gave her brother an apologetic look, but he just smiled and sauntered away in the direction of his apartment in the back. She turned her attention to Tessa and silently prayed the pretty vampire wasn’t going to turn in her resignation.
“I’m so sorry, we’ve never had a slayer invade Temperance, and I can assure you—”
Tessa held up a hand to interrupt her.
“I’m the one who needs to tell you I’m sorry. I made a call tonight after Vickie’s death.”
Maxine stayed silent, waiting for the other wooden stake to fall.
“I called my, well, ex-husband.”
Maxine was running out of patience while Tessa babbled on. Would the woman just come to the point?
“Zachary Fox. I phoned him this evening and called in a favor he owes me. He’ll be arriving sometime tomorrow.”
“Zachary Fox, the slayer?” Maxine shuddered. Was Tessa insane? Did she not think they had enough trouble with a rogue slayer in the club tonight? What was the woman thinking, inviting a professional killer into their midst? If the others found out, the club would be empty of vampires by nightfall, and Temperance would be closed for the first time in over 100 years.
“It’s not what you think. I know slayers, good ones and bad ones, hell, you probably didn’t know it, but I was one once. There was something off about the hit tonight. I have a really bad feeling. I think someone was sending you a message.”
“Tessa, I get hate mail and threats on a daily basis. If it isn’t the public shouting for me to close down, it’s the mob trying to hone in on the business. I don’t think Victoria’s destruction was anything more than a rogue slayer trying to make a name for himself.”
“Maybe,” Tessa said, but her voice sounded anything but convinced. “But I think we need a professional to investigate. Especially since the police have pretty much washed their hands of all of us. Damn them anyway.”
Maxine looked around her at the gleaming oak tables, colorful Tiffany lamps, and the huge bar her great-grandfather had carved by hand. Temperance was her life. Her mother had inherited it after her grandfather’s death ten years ago. It should have come to Maxine. However, she’d lost it all when she died. Thank goodness, Jimmy had no interest in running the bar. After a brief period of ‘remodeling’, she had reopened it as a fetish club and struck it rich. She couldn’t bear to lose it. If the living patrons didn’t come, the vampires would have no other way to support their blood habit but by…
No, she wasn’t going to let that happen.
“We’ll just have to be more careful tomorrow night when we reopen.”
“Careful? How? A metal detector isn’t going to do jack shit against a wooden stake.” Tessa argued. “Or are you going to have someone frisk everyone at the front door?” She looked around. “Whoever killed Vickie was no amateur slayer, and if we don’t’ stop them, he or she will kill again.”
“And a professional slayer will do what? Help him kill us all?” Maxine shook her head. “No, we’ll handle the situation ourselves.”
Before Tessa could argue further, Maxine strode off. Her heart was beating fast with a fear she hadn’t felt in years. Was Tessa right? Could someone be targeting her and her club?
It had to be the mob. When she’d first opened, they’d sent a few muscle-bound ‘gentlemen’ around to talk to her. Threatened her that if she didn’t pay protection money, that ‘bad’ things were bound to happen.
She had sent the goons back to their boss with a few broken bones for their trouble. The mob had left her alone to some extent. She still got the occasional visit and letter from Mr. Poulos himself. But nothing like this.
Making her last rounds, Maxine paused at the front door. For the first time in six years, she locked the doors to Temperance before dawn. The clatter of the deadbolt left her with the uneasy feeling that she would never open the doors again.
No, she’d been killed, had fought the city for a liquor license, and had been threatened by the toughest man in Chicago. One measly murder was not going to force her to turn tail and run.
Striding down the hall on her way to her office, she passed a small cluster of employees. They looked up at her, and she stopped to talk, hoping to allay their fears. Even as she reassured them, she could see their doubts clearly in their eyes and expressions. If she didn’t do something and do it fast, they would leave. When they did, they would be easy game for anyone with a wooden stake and a Buffy-the-vampire-slayer complex. Here at Temperance, they were safe, they could earn a living, and with luck and Congressional lobbying, perhaps they could finally earn status as citizens again.
“So, what are we going to do, Miss Maxine?” a petite blonde vampire asked, her lips trembling with fear.
“Did you call the police?” Vincent Price, their headliner who’s name really was Vincent, put his hand on her shoulder.
Maxine could almost smell his fear, and she hoped her outwardly calm demeanor would give him some comfort. It was hard enough to have died once and been forced to give up friends and family, many of whom recoiled from vampires in fear and loathing. To die again, soulless, was a terrifying possibility. One that she had every intention of preventing.
Maxine chewed on her lip. She could lie, but they deserved to know the truth. “Yes the police were called, but they refused to help us.”
“So what are we going to do? I don’t have anywhere else to go. Temperance is my home.” Vincent’s friend and sometime lover, Marcus, known to his fans as Van Helsing, had tears in his eyes.
“We’re not going to panic, for one. And I’m not going to close the club. But we are going to take some precautions.” Maxine looked around at their worried faces and grasped at the only straw she had. “I’ve called in an, um, consultant. He’ll be here tomorrow to investigate.”
The relief in her employees’ faces was clear. Marcus even smiled.
Damn it all, a consultant? The man was nothing but a cold-blooded killer, a slayer. Instead of relief, Maxine felt a surge of fear. Hopefully she hadn’t invited the wolf right into the fold.