Love at Stake Series

By: Kerrelyn Sparks

Roman Draganesti knew someone had quietly entered his home office. Either a foe or close


A friend, he decided. A foe could never make it past the guards at each entrance of his Upper

East Side Manhattan townhouse. Or past the guards stationed on each of the five floors.

With his excellent night vision, Roman suspected he could see much better than his uninvited


His suspicions were confirmed when the dark silhouette stumbled into a Louis XVI bombe chest

and cursed softly.

Gregori Holstein. A friend, but an annoying one. The vice president of marketing for Romatech

Industries tackled every problem with tireless enthusiasm. It was enough to make Roman feel old.

Really old. «What do you want, Gregori?»

His guest whipped around and squinted in Roman's direction. «Why are you sitting here, all

alone in the dark?»

«Hmm. Tough question. I suppose I wanted to be alone. And in the dark. You should try it more

often. Your night vision is not what it should be.»

«Why bother to practice my night vision when the city's lit up all night?» Gregori groped along

the wall till he located the switch. The lights came on with a muted golden glow. «There, that's


Roman leaned back into the cool leather of his wingback chair and took a sip from his wineglass.

The liquid burned his throat. God-awful stuff. «Is there a purpose for your visit?»

«Of course. You left work too early, and we had something important to show you. You're going

to love it.»

Roman set his glass on the mahogany desk in front of him. «I have learned that we have plenty of


Gregori snorted. «Try to work up some excitement here. We had an amazing development at the

lab.» He noted Roman's half-empty glass. «I feel like celebrating. What are you drinking?»

«You won't like it.»

Gregori strode toward the wet bar. «Why? Are your tastes too refined for me?» He grasped the

decanter and sloshed some red liquid into a wineglass. «Color looks good.»

«Take my advice and get a new bottle from the fridge.»

«Ha! If you can drink it, so can I.» Gregori tossed back a good portion before slamming the glass

down with a victorious sneer aimed at Roman. Then his eyes widened. His normally pale face

turned a purplish red. A strangled sound vibrated deep in his throat, and then the sputtering began.

Coughing, followed by choked curses, followed by more coughing. Finally he pressed his palms

against the bar and leaned forward to gasp for air.

God-awful stuff, indeed, Roman thought. «Have you recovered?»

Gregori took a deep, shuddering breath. «What was in there?»

«Ten percent garlic juice.»

«What the hell?» Gregori jerked to an upright position. «Have you gone mad? Are you trying to

poison yourself?»

«I thought I'd see if the old legends were true.» Roman's mouth curled into a slight smile.

«Obviously, some of us are more susceptible than others.»

«Obviously, some of us like to live too damned dangerously!»

Roman's attempt at a smile faded into oblivion. «Your observation would have more merit if we

weren't already dead.»

Gregori stalked toward him. «You're not going to start that 'woe is me, I'm a cursed demon from

hell' crap again, are you?»

«Face the facts, Gregori. We have survived for centuries by taking life. We are an abomination

before God.»

«You're not drinking this.» Gregori wrenched the glass from Roman's hand and set it down out of

his reach. «Listen to me. No vampire has ever done more than you to protect the living and tame the

cravings within us.»

«And now we're the most well-behaved pack of demonic creatures on Earth. Bravo. Call the


I'm ready for sainthood.»

Gregori's impatient look melted into curious speculation. «Is it true what they say, then? You

were once a monk?»

«I prefer not to live in the past.»

«I'm not so sure about that.»

Roman clenched his hands into fists. His past was a subject he would discuss with no one. «I

believe you mentioned some sort of development at the lab?»

«Oh, right. Sheesh, I left Laszlo waiting in the hall. I wanted to set the scene, so to speak.»

Roman took a deep breath and slowly relaxed his hands. «Then I suggest you begin. There are

only so many hours in a night.»

«Right. And I'm going out clubbing later. Simone just flew in from Paris, and boy-«

«-are her wings tired. That was old a century ago.» Roman's hands fisted once again. «Stay on

the subject, Gregori, or I will be forced to send you to your coffin for a timeout.»

Gregori gave him an exasperated look. «I only mentioned it in case you wanted to join us. It's a

hell of a lot more fun than sitting here alone, drinking poison.» He adjusted his silk black tie. «You

know, Simone has always been hot for you. In fact, any of the ladies downstairs would love to cheer

you up.»

«I don't find them particularly cheerful. The last time I looked, they were all dead.»