A Very Vampy Christmas (Love at Stake #2.5)

Chapter 2

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Maggie remained sitting in front of her dressing table. "What do you want?"

I want you to love me. No, Don Orlando would never act like a needy wimp. He was macho and aggressive, and it worked. He had stacks of fan mail in his dressing room that confirmed it. Women loved Don Orlando de Corazon, and Maggie would, too. "I could not stay away. Margaret Mary O'Brian, you have bewitched me."

She snorted. "So you saw my name on the door. Should I be impressed that you know how to read?"

"Ever since we first met, your lovely name has been etched into my heart."

"That sounds painful." She leaned over to remove her high-heeled shoes. "You can cut the melodrama. The cameras are gone."

"But my passion continues to burn like a raging fire. I have vowed to make you mine."

Her eyes flashed with anger. "No woman in her right mind would want to be yours. The waiting line is too long."

He winced inwardly. Maggie must be listening to the lies Corky Courrant was spreading on her show Live with the Undead. "My heart belongs only to you, my sweet Chiquita."

"I'm not your banana!" She threw a shoe, aimed at his head.

With vampire speed, he dodged the missile. It clunked against the door. "Ay, caramba, such fiery passion! It sets my loins ablaze!"

"You set my stomach a-hurling!" She torpedoed the second shoe at him, and it hit him squarely in his chest.

"Ouch!" The stiletto heel had stabbed his raw skin. "Why are you so angry with me, Maggie?"

"Are you dense? Do you really expect me to be flattered by your slimy attempt at seduction?"

"Slimy?"

"What is this sick compulsion of yours to take every woman in the world to bed?"

"That's not true." He gave her his signature sexy look, the one that coupled a lopsided smile with an arched eyebrow. "There is no need for a bed. We can be… creative, no?"

"Aagh!" She jumped to her feet, grabbed a hairbrush off her dressing table, and tossed it at him.

He muttered a curse as he dodged the brush. Why didn't the act work on her? It did on everyone else. Realization struck him just as a flying, black demi-boot bounced off his head. "Dammit, you're different. You don't like Don Orlando."

With a sigh, Maggie slumped onto her chair. "I'm sorry. As old as I am, I should know not to throw things when I'm angry."

He stepped toward her. "Are you angry because I called you Jessica when we were kissing? I can explain. I thought the cameras were still rolling."

Maggie's cheeks turned pink as she looked away. "It's not about the kiss. It's… you and all the women—"

"You shouldn't listen to everything Corky says on her show. She's not telling the truth about me."

"Then it's not true that you had an affair with her?"

He winced. "Well, that part is true."

"And you cheated on her?"

"Well, yes, but there were good reasons."

Maggie snorted. "Reason number one being Tiffany? How many other reasons did you have?"

"It's not what you think." Dammit, he didn't want to tell her the truth. Who would believe it? "I have this problem…"

"I know. Your trousers. They keep falling off."

"No. It's… me. I don't like to be alone."

She snorted. "Pardon me while I cry."

"Maggie, I've been in New York for four years, and I was faithful to Corky till about six months ago. It was one time, when I was angry and frustrated, and Tiffany—"

"Wait a minute." Maggie stood. "Corky makes it sound like you've been with hundreds of women. Thousands."

"She's furious. She's exacting revenge on me."

"Why should I believe anything you say?" Maggie paced across the small room. "You're a total fraud."

He leaned back against the door. "I know Don Orlando isn't real. But he saved me. He gave me a reason for living. He made people love me." He sighed. "Even you loved me once."

Maggie slowed to a stop. "I thought I did, but it was all pretend."

He swallowed hard. "Pretend is all I have."

"Nonsense. There has to be a real you."

If only there was. He turned and grabbed the doorknob to leave. "I'm sorry. I… I wanted you to like me, but—"

"I might like you if I ever got to know you." Maggie strode toward him. "Who are you really?"

He leaned his brow against the door and squeezed his eyes shut. He couldn't do it. He couldn't let her see the gaping void inside him. "I'm Don Orlando de Corazon, the world's greatest—"

"Stop it. If you want me to like you, you have to be honest with me. You have to be your true self."

"There is no…" His eyes watered. He couldn't do it. He couldn't subject her to the emptiness. It was hard enough for him to bear. It was the reason he hated to be alone. It was like being with nothing.

Maggie touched his arm. "What's wrong?"

He took a deep breath. "I know Don Orlando is fake. Corky invented him so I could be a star. I'm sorry he offends you."

"Then don't be him," Maggie whispered. "Be yourself."

He snorted. "I wish I could. I wish I could be worthy of you. I wish I had a soul."

"Everyone has a soul."

"Not me. I'm nothing but an empty void."

She stepped back with a frightened look. Of course it scared her. It scared the hell out of him.

He shrugged. "Maybe Corky can explain it. If she's willing to be honest with you. She might enjoy spilling my ugly secret."

Maggie gave him a worried look. "What secret?"

"I can't be myself when I don't know who I am. The stupid role I play is all I have to keep me from slipping into a black hole of nothingness."

"You mean depression?"

"No." Don Orlando grasped the doorknob. "I have amnesia."

Chapter 2

After work, Maggie usually teleported to her friends' nightclub called Horny Devils. Her roommates had started the business after winning five million dollars on DVN's first reality show. But tonight, Maggie was too agitated to enjoy the fun. The pain she'd seen in Don Orlando's eyes just before he left haunted her. She paced about her dressing room, replaying the last scene in her head. Could he really have amnesia? Could Corky be lying about the hundreds of women he'd seduced? Maggie didn't know which was harder to believe—a faithful Don Orlando or a forgetful one.

She needed more information. And the source for all information at DVN was Corky Courrant, former torture expert at the Tower of London during the reign of Henry VIII, and now, the ruthless media queen of the vampire world.

Maggie headed toward the main offices of DVN. No matter how hard she tried to dismiss Don Orlando from her mind, the man continued to intrigue her. She'd always sensed an aura of mystery about him, and apparently, she was right. He was a mystery, even to himself. He acted cool and confident, but there was a sad vulnerability lurking beneath the facade.

With a sigh, Maggie realized she'd always been a sucker for lost souls. It had been that same compassion that had driven her to join the Salvation Army in 1884, which had resulted in the attack that had turned her into a vampire. Her friends called her soft heart a blessing, but she suspected it was more like a fatal flaw. Now, once again, her compassionate nature was leading her into the unknown.

She knocked on a door that boasted a huge sign—Live with the Undead, starring Corky Courrant.

"Come in!" Corky's strident voice screeched.

Maggie ventured inside.

"Oh, it's you!" Corky's eyes lit up. "Maggie something."

"O'Brian."

"Whatever. I was just watching you slap the shit out of Don Orlando. It's fabulous!"

"Excuse me?"

Corky aimed her remote control at a television and pushed a button. "One of the cameramen just gave me this footage." The scene Maggie had played earlier with Don Orlando came on the screen. They were kissing while the director was yelling cut.

Maggie's mouth fell open. "How did you—"

"Listen." Corky lifted a hand to hush her. On the TV, Maggie slapped Don Orlando, then started calling him names. Corky burst out laughing, her massive breasts bouncing. "I love it! I'm opening my show tomorrow night with it."

Heat rushed to Maggie's face. "But that shouldn't have been recorded. Gordon said cut—"

"So? The guys always keep recording when Don Orlando's in the scene. They know I pay good money to catch the bastard in an embarrassing situation." Corky used her remote to turn off the TV. "So, you want to be interviewed for tomorrow's show?"

"Well, I—"

"I don't interview just anybody. But you're smart enough to know what a scumbag Don Orlando is, so I'm giving you a chance."

"Thank you. That's very kind of you." Maggie suspected she'd get more information by playing along. "I think it's just disgusting the way he cheated on you."

"And after all I did for him!" Corky's eyes blazed with anger. "I made him famous. I made him rich. I made him a household name in the vampire world."

"Amazing."

"Yes, I am. He was nothing when I took him in. Nothing!" Corky's voice cracked with strain.

Maggie winced. "I heard he doesn't even have a real name."

"He doesn't! He was a worthless bum, wandering around New Orleans. He didn't even know what year it was."

"Then it's true. He has amnesia."

"So?" Corky waved a hand in dismissal. "I made him better than he could ever be on his own. I taught him how to dress, how to act, how to make love. He owes everything to me. If I hadn't come along, he'd still be lying in a gutter somewhere."

"How terrible."

"He was pathetic! But I brought him here and made him a star. All out of the goodness of my heart." Corky pressed a hand to her breasts, indicating there was a heart somewhere beneath the huge implants. "Plus forty percent of his gross earnings."

Maggie blinked. "Forty percent?"

"Why not? I put a lot of time into him. And it's in the contract. The bastard can cheat all he wants, but I still get my forty percent."

Maggie was beginning to see why Don Orlando was upset with Corky. She was using him like a slave. "I guess he's been cheating on you for a long time."

"Ha! I know everything that's going on around here. I can make or break careers, Missy, and believe me, I do." Corky smiled smugly. "No one but that stupid bitch Tiffany has ever laid a hand on my Don Orlando. They wouldn't dare."

Sweet Mary! He'd told her the truth! "Then he hasn't been with hundreds."

"No, of course not. That's… artistic license. Whenever I claim some bimbos have been with him, they play along. They like the attention. So, do you want that interview or not?"

"Oh, yes. I'd love it."

"I thought so." Corky smirked as she lounged back in her chair. "Be at Studio Two tomorrow night at eight. And be ready to spill all your nasty gossip about Don Orlando."

"Of course." Maggie opened the door to leave, then hesitated. "Do you ever wonder who he really is?"

"He's a lowlife pig. What else is there to know?"

Everything, Maggie thought. Where did he come from? Did he have a family somewhere? "I know some guys from MacKay Security and Investigation. I bet they could find out who he is."

"Why bother?" Corky began leafing through a stack of papers, clearly bored with the turn of the conversation.

But Maggie had done enough acting to know what was needed. The proper motivation. "You want to humiliate him, right?"

"Yes." Corky took the bait, dropping the papers on her desk. "Do you know something embarrassing about him?"

"Not yet. But imagine how awful he would feel if you dredged up some terrible secrets from his past."

Corky's face lit up with a wide grin. "I love it! We could do an expose, revealing his wretched past. Could you get one of those investigators to go to New Orleans for me?"

"Yes. And I could go as the director. I have experience. I was an assistant director on the reality show last summer." Maggie figured this would be the best way to control the content of the report, so it didn't deteriorate into a vicious character assassination. Don Orlando might want to know who he was, but he didn't deserve the sort of massacre Corky had in mind.

"Great!" Corky tapped her long fingernails on the desk. "I'll talk to Gordon so you can get a few weeks off."

Maggie grinned. It was really happening. She was going to New Orleans to unravel the mystery of Don Orlando. "I think Don Orlando should go, too. We might uncover something that will trigger his memory."

"Hmm." Corky frowned. "I don't know. I like to keep him working, so I can make money."

Slave driver. "But if we discover something really awful, we can record how embarrassed he looks."

Corky perked up. "Right. Okay, I'll make all the arrangements." She reached for the phone. "See you tomorrow."

Maggie smiled as she strode back to her dressing room. She would call Connor to see if he could spare one of his undead Highlanders from MacKay Security and Investigation. And she imagined how thrilled Don Orlando would be.


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