A Little Death (Life and Death #1)

Seeing dead people is all very well…unless one of them wants to kill you.

To Mallory Sharpe, vampires are a fact of life. They exist, walk the streets and for the most part mind their own business. As a second-year university student, she doesn’t pay the undead much attention until she meets Jonathan Cutler. He has needs, and blood is only one. The other, Mallory is more than willing to help him with. After all, he has but one rule, to never spend more than one night with a woman. He won’t get attached, or consciously put anyone’s life in danger.

Another vampire, Cian Ambrose, isn’t so troubled by conscience. Mallory’s fair game, a weapon with which to taunt Jonathan. In fact, it might be fun to make her his grail, or living blood donor, and Cian Ambrose doesn’t take kindly to the word no. He hasn’t heard it often in his one hundred and fifty years and it usually results in the other person ending up dead.

So with Mallory’s tolerance for undead guys running very low, Jonathan has to regain her trust, stop Cian killing her, oh…and for God’s sake, not fall in love.

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Chapter 1

Three things I learned from fucking a vampire.

They don’t perspire.

They go on for hours.

And it’s the closest thing to death I’ll ever experience.

* * * * *

I met him in a bar near St. Joseph’s one weekend evening. Not actually on campus, it’s one of those establishments that’s too close to the university to be anything but one of the first places students head to on their way into the city centre on a Saturday night. Some, however, park their butts and never leave until closing time, too weighed down by a cocktail of alcohol, student angst, and existential crises to move on anywhere else. The farther the philosophy students with black berets and disdainful attitudes stray from their usual haunts, the less they become known as deep thinkers and the more they’re looked upon by the general public as shallow twats. So they stay, cocooned against the world’s derision in their fog of pretension, badly accented French phrases peppering their speech like the wrong spice in an overcooked meal. According to polite society, students should be drunk in a bar or vomiting into a gutter, not getting into a sneering match over whether or not Descartes could take Derrida in a fight, or wondering if Freud’s attitude came from having a really tiny winky after all.

Me? I’d gone in with two of my housemates, Caroline and Jenny, not with any specific game plan in mind, just with an evening of time to kill, a pocket of money to spend on cheap beer, and an itch in my pants six months without a regular boyfriend was doing nothing to help.

As soon as I saw him, I was a goner.

The thumping bass line of whatever irritating dance track was popular that week assaulted my ears as one of the doormen stood back to let us in – then I realised part of that thud was my own pulse. Already hyped-up on adrenaline, I cast a glance around the place.

And my heart stopped.

Or rather, it nearly did. An ironic effect to have on me, if my initial impression of him was correct.

The bar didn’t have strobe lights or neon signs on the walls – anything to manipulate his skin colour or disguise his pallor. If experience had taught me anything, he was one of those guys who did everything in his power to avoid getting a tan. As Caroline would jokingly call him, a ‘factor-five-hundred case’.

He didn’t look ill. Far from it. He looked…God, it was strange, but he looked healthy. For a dead guy. If my suspicions were correct. And judging from the looks this guy got from other weekend revellers, they were. The way other patrons skirted him, barely breaking stride as they passed by, said it all. A semicircle of nothingness arced around him – an invisible barrier that no one else dared penetrate. If the paleness of his skin didn’t tell people what he was, the aura of nothing confirmed it.

“I know you like taking risks, but that’s going a bit too far, isn’t it?” Jenny asked, but when I turned to her, she smiled, and her smile was a dare.

“I’m only looking.”

“Uh-huh.” She lowered her chin, looked at me through her lashes, gave me a ‘who do you think you’re kidding’ face, and left me to it.

Sure I was out to have some fun, but whether fun could be defined by surrendering my virtue to one of the undead remained to be seen. Some people did it, willingly and regularly. Vampires were a safe bet, if one could ignore the obvious risk of them losing control if thirsty. Then again, it was said males needed to have drunk already to achieve and maintain an erection – something to do with blood flow – so they’d come to you hot, hard and hungry for sex. No risk of pregnancy, no risk of disease. In fact, there were some who were commonly known as ‘bloodsucker fuckers’, the undead being their preferred partners for that very reason.

Sex and death – always linked and, in this modern age, just one more way to combine the two. No risk of disease, but the reaper still hovered in the background, taunting.

My only encounters since breaking up with James in a shower of anger, accusations, and insults had been with men who ticked the essential boxes on my ‘qualities I like to see in a member of the opposite sex’ list. Dark hair. Wicked grin. A pulse.

But hell, there was nothing wrong with flirting, right?

“Need to look at the cocktail menu?” the barman asked with a wink. He knew I was as intimately acquainted with it as he was.

“I don’t think so. I’ll have a…” I shot a glance at the mirrors behind the bar. Hmm. He does have a reflection after all. “Melon Headache.” All the cocktails here had inventive names. A Banana Lobotomy was their top seller, I’d heard.

“Coming right up.”

“You don’t have any qualms about standing at a bar next to a vampire?”

For some reason, my lips wanted to curve into a smile of triumph even as I licked them in anticipation. His words came in a cut-glass English accent but with an undercurrent of something else trying to break through. It was as if he spoke his mother tongue in an accent not his own, conscious of his diction, making an effort to enunciate each word far more clearly than a mere student – and a drunken one at that – ever would.

“Are you kidding? No one else wants to come near you. Easiest way to get to the front of the queue. If there were one.”

He leaned an elbow on the bar, ran the tip of his thumb along his bottom lip. A barely there, discreet action that drew my attention to his cupid’s bow, bracketed perfectly by a line of stubble that in a few days would be a thin moustache if he let it grow. “And there I was thinking you were braver than everyone else.”

“I am, am I not? I’m the only one who had the nerve to take advantage of the ten-feet exclusion zone around you and ask for my drink.”

He looked around as if the thought had only just occurred to him, a wry twist to his lips that wasn’t quite a smile but still conveyed amusement. “You mean I’m stopping people from coming to the bar?”

“I guess you’re just scary.”

He picked at the label on his half-full beer bottle for a few seconds before meeting my eyes again. “Aren’t you scared of me?”

“No. Should I be?”

“Perhaps you-”

“Your Melon Headache,” the barman interrupted, pushing a wide cocktail glass towards me, complete with short, multi-coloured straws and paper umbrella.

“I’ll get this,” he – the vampire, the undead guy, surely he had a name? – said, reaching into his pocket.

The barman caught my eye. Is this all right? he appeared to ask, with an undercurrent of Are you sure you want to do this?

I shrugged, silently replying, Why the hell not?

“Thanks,” I said to the man by my side, because yes, he was still a man. Definitely. “I didn’t think vampires drank.” I lowered my head to the cocktail glass and sipped until the level had dropped enough for me to lift the glass without risk of spilling. One thing about this bar, they were always generous with measures.

Standing up straight again, I caught his gaze flickering between my hand on the cocktail stem and my mouth as I licked a drop off my lips. “Well. Not beer anyway.”

“Sometimes. We don’t have to. But…” He shrugged. “We’re able if we fancy a taste. Water isn’t even essential, let alone beer.” He tipped the bottle in my direction in a silent salute, before taking a sip and attempting – and failing – to stifle a grimace.

“So, a vampire who doesn’t like or need alcohol, in a bar. Whatever are you here for?”

He smiled with his lips closed, teeth not visible. “What do you think?”

I shivered and turned back to my cocktail. “Is a bar full of students who will likely be drunk before the night’s out the best place to find another victim?”

“Victim? Pfft.” He waved a dismissive hand. “Like you said, they’ll probably all be drunk before the night’s over. And drinking from someone who’s been leaning heavily on the sauce?” He shook his head. “It’s enough to give me a headache.”

“Better catch someone quick, then.”

“I’m not here for that.”

“No?”

“I’ve already drunk this evening.”

I shuddered, knowing exactly what he meant by that and the effect it would have on him. I sucked a drop of alcohol off the end of a straw, and his gaze followed the action closely. “You don’t like beer. You don’t like drinking from someone who’s been drinking too much alcohol. You’re not looking for a victim-”

“‘Victim’ is such an ugly word.”

Usually referred to as grails, sarcastically called blood donors by some, those from whom vampires chose to drink were often envied, sometimes pitied. And it was mostly the surly dead dude’s choice. Though lack of consent was frowned upon by both sides, a clear, unambiguous yes being essential to maintaining the ceasefire, it was generally, unofficially accepted that if a vampire asked, you said yes. A no would invite petulance and frustration, and a pissed-off vampire wasn’t something anyone wanted to deal with.

But that didn’t look to be this guy’s aim tonight.

“What are you here for?”

He leant forward on the bar, supporting his weight on both forearms, and cast a glance over his shoulder at the body of the room. Others still avoided trespassing on his – our – territory, coming into contact with his aura, and paid him no more attention than they would any other walking, talking corpse playing with a bottle of beer he didn’t want and a young woman he did. “I think you know.”

“Mallory Sharpe.”

“Jonathan Cutler. Let’s get out of here.”

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