The_Vampire_With_the_Dragon_Tattoo (Love at Stake #14)

The_Vampire_With_the_Dragon_Tattoo (Love at Stake #14)
Kerrelyn Sparks

Chapter One

Dougal Kincaid was not in a partying mood.

As he entered the ballroom at Romatech Industries, his stomach churned. Too many people. The jarring noise of all their voices grated on his ears, and he dreaded the thought of participating in meaningless chatter. For centuries, he'd avoided these situations by playing the pipes, but those days were gone. That left him with one option for surviving the night.


Hopefully the mixture of synthetic blood and whisky would deaden his undead senses before he was confronted with the same questions he'd been hearing for the past four years. How's your new prosthesis? Can you still wield a sword? Will you be able to play the pipes again?

He had a better question: how fast could he get drunk? He headed for the refreshment tables.

They mean well, he reminded himself. It was the only way they knew how to show their concern. It was better than having no one who cared. But damn, he'd lost a hand, not his pride. A man was more than his hands. More than his music? His chest clenched with the familiar pang of grief. Without music, his soul felt half empty. And the half that remained was a sad melody of regret.

The first refreshment table was covered with mortal snack food. He kept walking.

"Hey, man, what's up?" Phineas slapped him on the back. "Say hello to my little dudette."

Dougal glanced at the bairn Phineas was holding. Phin's wife, Brynley, had given birth to twins six months ago. This had to be the girl, judging by her frilly pink dress.

"Hello." Dougal became aware of an awkward pause. Was he supposed to say more? He racked his brain, trying to remember the little girl's name. Gwyneth, that was it. And Benjamin was the boy. For short, they were called Gwyn and Ben, which rhymed with their parents' nicknames, Phin and Bryn.

His stomach churned. "Hello, Gwyn."

The little girl squealed so loud that Dougal winced.

"She likes you." Phineas beamed proudly at her. "Isn't she beautiful?"

"Yes." After a pause, Dougal suspected more flattery was in order. "Nice . . . dress."

"Yeah, her mom loves shopping for her." Phineas smiled at him. "So, dude, how's your hand?"

He gritted his teeth. "Which one?"

Phineas laughed. "Good one, bro. Well, I gotta go see how Bryn's doing. Ben just had a bomb go off in his diaper."

Thanks for sharing. Dougal strode toward the next refreshment table. It was surrounded by mortals and shifters, mostly women and children, gawking at the giant five-tier cake. Where the hell was the Blissky?

"Hey, Dougal. Have ye met my Tara Jean?"

It was Ian MacPhie, carrying another little girl. This time Dougal knew what to say. "She's beautiful. Nice dress."

"Thanks." Ian regarded him sadly. "I remember how ye played the pipes at my bachelor party. I really miss that."

Dougal winced inwardly. They mean well.

"How's the fancy new hand treating you?" Ian asked.

Here we go again. "Well, since ye asked, it is made of pure titanium alloy, strong enough for spacecraft and the deepest-diving submarines. In three seconds, I could pierce yer chest cavity and rip yer bleedin' heart out."

Ian's eyes widened. "Och, man. Get a grip."

"That's about all I can do." Dougal lifted his right hand, and, using his vampire mind control, he curled the fingers into a tight fist. The movement was smooth but caused a series of clicking sounds. The superstrong grip was great for wielding a sword, but the lack of manual dexterity made it very difficult to play the pipes. In other words, he was now more suited for killing than making music.

He swallowed down his frustration. "Have ye seen the Blissky?"

Ian snorted. "This is a birthday party for a bunch of bairns. There is no Blissky."

No Blissky?

"Tara turned one last month in September," Ian continued. "Austin's little girl will be one in a few days and Robby's boy in November. With three birthdays so close together, we thought we should have a big party. I'm glad ye could make it."

As if he'd had any choice. The Echarpe family had come, and as their bodyguard, Dougal had accompanied them. "There has to be Blissky here somewhere. The damned stuff is manufactured here."

Ian shook his head. "Try to relax and enjoy the party."

"Is there any Bleer?"

Ian arched a brow. "What ye need is a good woman."

I had one. And lost her. "I need a drink." Dougal wandered toward the last refreshment table. How much had he lost over the centuries? His first and only love. His