Katarina Volholme D’Transylvania checked her teeth for lipstick and then, as if to tempt fate, added another layer of Sinfully Scarlet gloss. This was it. Her rebel moment. And it had only taken eight hundred and seventy three years.
Her fingers shook as she stowed the gloss into the back pocket of her black leather pants. They felt wickedly snug. Glorious. Her mother would have had a heart attack. Well, if her mother’s heart still beat.
Katarina, or Kat as her family called her, belonged to one of the oldest vampire families in Romania. She’d learned to sit straight, mind her manners and never, ever drink from the help. She’d been the perfect little princess. Until now.
Butterflies tickled her stomach. She parted the rich velvet stage curtain, blinking at the overhead lights.
If she didn’t do it now, she never would.
“You ready sweetheart?” A handsome, grey-haired vamp clapped her on the arm, treating her to a sly smile and a wink as he passed.
“More than you’ll ever know.” Once. Just once, she was going to do something for herself. And if it ruined her reputation for the next century? She’d worry about that tomorrow.
Adrenaline raced through her body as spotlights popped to life.
An exaggerated drum roll sounded as a grey haired vamp jogged out on stage. He threw his arms out, clearly eating it up. “Welcome toooo Love Bites!” The audience went wild as the game-show band started in on a lively round of theme music. The affable vamp gave an exaggerated bow. Television cameras followed his every move.
“Each week, one lucky lady gets to pick from not two, but three vampy studs to find her one true love. Will it last for the evening, or for all eternity? That’s up for grabs on stage tonight. I’m your host, Frankie G. Winner coming to you live from Kiev, the undead capital of the world, with the hottest show on Vamp TV.”
Kat sucked in a breath. Maybe this hadn’t been the best idea. But, hells belles, she had to take charge of her life. Now.
“Sponsored by Swiss Storage. For memories of a lifetime. Trust Swiss Storage. And by Fang-zite. The all natural Male Fang Enhancer. Show her you’ve got a little something extra…with Fang-zite.”
“Go.” The stage director ordered.
Kat smoothed her red silk top and with more confidence than she felt, strutted out under the blaring game-show music and lights, her glam-girl earrings tickling her long pale neck. I am immortal, hear me roar.
The studio audience seemed to stretch for miles. Never mind the countless vamps watching at home. Her stomach tingled.
Her parents were going to kill her.
Stop it. There was nothing wrong with dating. Most vamps got to date. Only the royals were forced to marry people they barely knew. And because of their stupid rules, she’d endured centuries of a loveless marriage. She deserved a little fun.
Frankie brushed his lips against her cheek as the clapping from the audience died down. “Princess Katarina Volholme D’Transylvania,” he said, rolling her name on his tongue like a fine wine. “You are the only daughter of the King of Romania. Newly single after eight hundred and fifty six years and I must say you smell terrific.”
Kat smiled. The perfume was her own creation.
“Are you ready to find the man of your dreams?”
“Bring ‘em on,” she purred.
Frankie urged Kat into a cute little perch on a barstool that had to have been designed for a giant. Add that to the fact that she didn’t usually wear heels. The lights suddenly seemed too bright.
Relax. It was just like when Grandpa fought the Byzantines. Move with purpose, move with power.
Kate glided into the hot seat, and eased her glossy black hair from her shoulders. Frankie nodded in approval and she grinned despite herself. If she played it right, no one would even know she’d learned her modern English from watching American Idol.
A blood-red wall separated her from the male contestants. Frankie rested a smooth hand on her shoulder. “Are you ready to meet the bachelors?”
She nodded as the lights came up on the other side.
“Mozart,” he called, “can we get a drum roll, please?”
The flame-haired bandleader spun his sticks and began pounding a wild, jungle beat.
“Let’s say hello to our first contender,” Frankie announced. “Bachelor number one hails from ancient Rome, where he wowed the ladies in the pits of the Coliseum. Today, he runs his own security firm and enjoys extreme sports. But will bachelor number one have the sword and the strength to win this lady’s hand? We’ll find out tonight.”
The audience hooted and hollered. Kat fought the urge to peel at her Wildly Red nail polish. Bachelor number one sounded promising. Then again, her father hadn’t liked the Romans since they’d invaded his lands in the second century. Stop it, she chastised herself. Nothing would please her dad except her marrying Vlad the Detailer.
Barely three nights after her first husband had supposedly fallen asleep under a spruce tree and met the sun, her father locked her into yet another marriage contract.
Kat shuddered. She had her doubts about Rusdivo’s ill-timed nap. Not to mention her new fiancé. Vlad the Detailer was chief of operations for his cousin, Vlad the Impaler.
Kat had met them both at a dinner party a few hundred years ago and let’s just say they were bat crazy, always trying to conquer something.
So she’d run, taken off on her own tour of Europe. She’d live her life while she could. Because in the end, there would be no escape.
“Our second bachelor hails all the way from England where he was a big hit as a royal executioner at the Tower of London. These days, he makes his living slicing and dicing news articles. Our bachelor is a journalism professor at the University of Missouri. But can mere words provoke the passion of a princess? We’ll find out.”
A group of women in the back started whistling. He must be good looking. Most vamps were, but still, it took something special to get this audience going. Kat crossed her legs. She wouldn’t mind being hot for the teacher.
“Bachelor number three hails from the Scottish Highlands. He’s as comfortable in a tartan as he is at the table on the World Champion Poker tour. Want to finally know what’s under that kilt? Bachelor number three is betting on true love.”
She had always wondered about men in kilts. And she was more than ready for a little adventure. Kat had barely made it out of Transylvania in the last eight and a half centuries.
Her late husband never liked leaving the castle. He was almost two thousand years old when she’d married him. He’d been an old, old, old friend of the family’s – her parent’s choice, of course. He’d spent his nights dissecting the moths that flew into his study window. Or eating songbirds. He’d never had time for Kat. Marrying her had been an effort to secure his position and his lands, nothing more.
“And now,” Frankie said like he was announcing the cure for sunlight, “it’s time for our bachelorette’s first question.”
Kat sat up a little straighter and began reading the first pink question card. “As you may know, I haven’t been out much in the last few centuries and I’m up for a fun time, maybe even a few surprises.” She emphasized the last word, as the card instructed. “Bachelor number one, where would you take me on our first date?”
The Roman’s voice sounded smooth, velvety. Kat succumbed to a very un-princess like fidget.
“I’d take you to paradise, baby, because that’s where you’d be after one kiss from me.”
She forced herself not to gag. The Romans always did like their poetry, but sheesh – she’d expected more from a gladiator.
Kat glanced at the endless audience and immediately regretted it. After living quietly for so many years, it felt strange to be in front of so many people.
She cleared her throat. “Bachelor number two, where would you take me?”
Kat pasted on a smile – practiced and perfected over the centuries – as he droned on and on about a picnic by a beautiful lake, one without food (for obvious reasons), without beverages (any and all consumables gave him gas) and not too close to the lake (he had a water phobia ever since his near drowning in 1754). Never mind that he was immortal. Well, she wasn’t going to learn any more. Kat wasn’t going anywhere with Bachelor number two.
This simply had to get better.
“Bachelor number three? Where would you take me?”
“Simple, Katarina,” he said, his highland accent rumbling every word. “I’d ease you onto the back of my Harley and rev up the engine. After that, it’s anything goes.”
She was suddenly aware of how tightly her black leather pants hugged her legs, her thighs. Kat tried to get her mind off it by focusing on him, but then all she could think about was what he wasn’t wearing on his thighs – or anywhere else under that kilt. Did highlanders really go commando? And was she ready to find out?
“Bachelor number three,” she began.
“Number one,” Frankie corrected her.
“No, we’re skipping that,” Kat waved him off. She needed to talk to the Scotsman again. She eyed the next question card: If we were married…
It would never happen. Kat flipped to the next card. She didn’t want to think about marriage. She just wanted a life, one where she called the shots for a change. Forget the cards. Kat shoved them underneath her. “Bachelor number three,” she folded her hands in her lap in anticipation, “What would you say is your best asset?”
“My attitude. I don give up. I don give in. And I know how to treat a lass.” He lowered his voice. “Leave with me tonight and I’ll show you exactly what I mean.”
Like he just assumed she’d go with him. Oh, who was she kidding? She’d made her choice. Kat was going to have her own version of a highland fling with the utterly delectable Scotsman.
She stamped down a squeal of triumph. Finally! She’d been dreaming of going on a date since she caught her maid sneaking out with a handsome young blacksmith back in the seventeenth century.
Of course there was the issue of the rest of the show. What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever bitten? How many vamps can you fit in your coffin? Name the wildest place you’ve ever slept.
She hardly listened to the answers. She wanted the highlander.