A Very Vampy Christmas (Love at Stake #2.5)

Chapter 3

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Chapter

"It's a bad idea," Don Orlando protested the next night.

Maggie huffed. "Don't you want to know who you are?"

"Not with a cameraman following me around to record every miserable discovery, so Corky can ridicule me before the entire vampire world. No way. It's not happening." Don Orlando marched down the hall to Studio Four where As a Vampire Turns was recorded every night. His long black cape swirled around the tops of his black leather boots.

"But I'll be the director." Maggie followed him. "I won't allow you to be ridiculed."

He snorted. "Right. I saw you on Corky's show tonight."

"I had to play along. I did it for you."

He stopped and faced her. "For me? You spent ten minutes on her show, describing the joy of slapping me on the face."

Maggie blushed. "Corky had us on tape. I could hardly deny doing it."

"If you enjoy it so much, go for it." He turned his cheek. "You know I deserve it."

Maggie bit her lip to keep from smiling. "I'd rather find out who you are. And then, I might want to slap you again."

"I'm sure you will. I was a bum, Maggie. Hasn't it occurred to you that my wretched past may be better left alone?"

"Why are you assuming your past is wretched? You're a young vampire, aren't you?"

He opened the studio door and motioned for her to enter first. "I was transformed about four and a half years ago."

The refreshment table was crowded with people, so Maggie led him to a quiet corner. "Don't you see? As young as you are, you could still have family somewhere. Wouldn't it be wonderful to find them? You could even spend Christmas with them."

"Right. I can see it now. Merry Christmas, everybody! And by the way, did I tell you I'm a vampire? No need to pass the gravy, just bare your neck—"

"Don't be silly! You would never bite your own family."

"That's just it, Maggie. Maybe I would. Maybe we'll find out I'm a worthless piece of scum. At least now I only pretend to be one. What if reality is worse than the act?"

She made a grab for his arm, and ended up with a fistful of black silk. "I don't believe that for one minute. If you were truly an awful person, you wouldn't worry so much about it."

He tilted his head, studying her. "You believe I could be a good person?"

"Yes. And I believe your family would be overjoyed to find out you're still alive… sorta."

"And what if having an undead family member is more than they can handle?"

Maggie's hand dropped from his cape. Get out of my house, you unholy creature!

"Maggie, are you all right?"

She shook her head, trying to dispel the memories.

He touched her arm. "You look so pale all of a sud—" His eyes narrowed. "What happened to you and your family?"

She swallowed hard. "It was a long time ago. I… you have to believe everything will be fine. This is the twenty-first century. People are more open-minded now than they used to be."

He stepped closer. "Did your family turn you away?"

She winced. "I don't want to talk about it."

"Oh, Maggie, I'm sorry." He took her hand in his. "They should have realized what a kind heart you have."

Her heart started to pound. Did Don Orlando see what her father had missed?

He lifted her hand to his chest. "That's why you're helping me, isn't it? Because you have a sweet and generous spirit. I sensed it the first time we met."

Maggie couldn't think. She was melting under the soft, searching gaze of his golden brown eyes.

"Maggie," he whispered and raised her hand to his mouth.

"Oh, there you are!" Gordon strode toward them.

Maggie jerked her hand from Don Orlando's grip and spun to face the director. "Hello."

"Corky told me about your trip to New Orleans,"

Gordon said. "She wants you two to leave tomorrow night."

Don Orlando stiffened. "I haven't decided if I'm going—"

"You have to go." Maggie gave him a pleading look.

"I was just talking to the writers," Gordon continued, "and we have it worked out so you can leave. They'll get the new script to us in thirty minutes, and we'll shoot it tonight."

"How will they explain our absence?" Maggie asked.

"It was easy." Gordon crossed his arms. "Dr. Jessica is going to South America to disconnect a pair of twins who are attached at the head. Since you're a world-famous brain surgeon, they wanted you, and you agreed to do it free of charge."

Don Orlando nodded. "That makes sense. She has such a kind heart. She would always help someone in dire need." He lightly touched Maggie's hand with his fingers.

She glanced at him. Was he referring to her character or to her? Her breath caught when his fingertips gently stroked the length of her fingers. They were standing side by side, their hands hidden in the folds of his cape.

"What do you think, Maggie?" Gordon asked.

"It's… fine." She was finding it hard to concentrate. Don Orlando wasn't actually holding her hand. He was exploring it. "What will happen to Don Orlando?"

Gordon grimaced. "That was trickier. He gets so upset about you leaving, he crashes his car into the giant bull on Wall Street, and ends up in a coma."

Maggie blinked. "A coma? But wouldn't he recover during his death-sleep?"

Gordon shrugged. "It's television. Don't expect it to make sense. We can make the coma last a few days or it can go on for weeks, depending on how much time you need. And we can make the viewers frantic, worrying that he might die at any minute."

Don Orlando nodded. "I'm okay with it."

"Great! I'll see how the writers are doing." Gordon strode away.

Don Orlando turned to face her. "I don't want a cameraman."

Maggie smiled. "Then you're coming with me?"

"If it's just the two of us, yes. I trust you."

"Well, Ian MacPhie is coming, too. But you can trust him."

"I don't know him."

"He works for MacKay Security and Investigation. I knew him when I lived at Roman Draganesti's house. He looks like an innocent fifteen-year-old, but he's over four hundred, and he really knows what he's doing."

Don Orlando took a deep breath. "I can't believe I'm agreeing to this. If we find out something awful, Corky will broadcast it to the entire vampire world."

"She'll never know. Ian and I can keep a secret. Besides, there's not going to be anything awful to discover. It'll be wonderful, believe me."

"You're an angel, Maggie. I had given up all hope till I met you. And now, I have one hope."

"That you'll find your family?"

"That would be nice, but since I can't remember them, I don't miss them." He took her hand in his.

"Then what do you hope for?"

He lifted her hand to his lips. "I hope that when we find out who I am, I'll be worthy of you."

Chapter 3

Two nights later, Don Orlando arrived at Horny Devils with his duffel bag. By the time his eyes adjusted to the flashing lights of the nightclub, he was surrounded by a crowd of scantily clad lady Vamps who screeched to be heard over the loud music.

"Oh, Don Orlando! I just adore your show! And your cape!"

"Why are you wearing a shirt?"

"Can I have your autograph?"

A dozen cocktail napkins were thrust at his face. He reached into his inner coat pocket for a pen while he scanned the renovated warehouse for Maggie.

"Me first!" A napkin grazed his nose. A blond Vamp dressed like a cheerleader stepped in front of him, blocking his way.

He blinked. There was something disconcerting about a cheerleader with fangs.

She curled a hand around his arm, her long fingernails digging in like grappling hooks. "Do you need a girlfriend?"

"No, thank you." He wished he could publicly claim Maggie as his girlfriend, but she'd probably throw another shoe at his head. Still, she had to care about him, right? She'd arranged this trip to find out who he was. Where was she?

"Enough, ladies!" A striking woman with purple hair shouted over the loud music. "You don't want to miss our new dancer."

With a triumphant yell, the cheerleader released him and skipped toward the stage. The other women joined her, bouncing to the rhythm of a pounding drum. The stage curtains were whisked back to reveal a man wearing an Indian headdress, war paint, and little else. The women screamed.

Don Orlando breathed deeply. Thank God he was no longer the center of attention. He smiled at the purple-haired woman. "Are you one of Maggie's friends? I'm supposed to meet her here."

"She's in the office, waiting for you." The woman assessed him with narrowed eyes. "So, you're the famous Don Orlando."

"How do you do?" He extended a hand.

She took it and yanked him toward her so suddenly, the strap of the duffel bag slid off his shoulder. "My name is Vanda, and if you hurt Maggie, I'm coming after you."

"I would never hurt her." Not intentionally, though he was worried that she could find the truth about him disappointing. He shoved his duffel bag back onto his shoulder.

"Let me in!" A young voice bellowed at the front door.

"Get lost," the bouncer yelled. "You're underage."

"I'm 479 years old, ye moron."

"Hugo!" Vanda shouted. "He's okay. Let him in."

The huge guard stepped back, grumbling. "Well, he looks like he's twelve."

"Do not," the youthful-looking vampire hissed as he strode into the club.

No, he didn't. Don Orlando figured he looked more like fifteen. Black curly hair framed his smooth face, and a red plaid kilt swished about his knees as he walked toward them. "You must be Ian MacPhie."

"Aye, and ye must be Don Orlando." He shook hands, then turned to Vanda. "Ye're looking as lovely as ever." He took her hand and attempted to kiss it.

With a laugh, she pulled her hand away and ruffled his hair. "Come on. Maggie's waiting." She strode to the office.

"Thanks for helping with the investigation." Don Orlando noted the Scotsman's eyes were riveted on Vanda's swaying hips.

"I like to stay busy. It keeps my mind off… things." Ian glanced at the wiggling women in front of the stage.

Don Orlando suspected those "things" were women. It had to be hard to be stuck for all eternity with the raging hormones of a fifteen-year-old boy.

"I talked to the New Orleans coven master last night. He should be calling shortly. And I have the phone numbers of every coven master in America." Ian patted the leather pouch that hung from his waist. "We'll be able to teleport to any major city."

"That's good." Especially since Don Orlando had no idea where he was originally from.

Vanda stopped at a door with the words office painted on front. "Good luck finding out who you are." She turned to Ian. "You behave yourself in New Orleans, sweetie."

He gave her an exasperated look. "I'm older than you."

She laughed. "I know, but you look so sweet." She patted his cheek, then walked away.

Ian groaned, then pushed open the door.

"Don Orlando, Ian!" Maggie grinned as they entered the room. She was standing by the desk, holding the phone. "Colbert GrandPied just called. They're awake in New Orleans."

"Good. I'll go first." Ian stepped close to Maggie and leaned toward the phone. "Colbert, keep talking. I'm on my way."

Ian's form wavered, then vanished. Don Orlando understood the maneuver in theory. A Vamp could teleport long distances by using someone's voice as a beacon. Still, he had never executed the feat on his own before. He'd been half-starved and confused when Corky had teleported him to New York years earlier.

"Are you ready?" Maggie asked.

He hovered near the phone, listening to Colbert's French-accented voice. A wave of dread washed over him. What was he doing, going back to New Orleans? It was the home of his worst nightmare, where he'd lost his memory and mortality.

"Maggie," he whispered, "this is difficult."

Her pretty blue eyes widened with concern. "Don't worry." She lay the receiver down and punched on the speaker phone. Colbert's deep voice filled the room. Having run out of things to say, he was now singing "Au Claire de la Lune."

Maggie slipped a tote bag onto her shoulder, then took hold of Don Orlando's hands. "I'll go with you. Every step of the way." She smiled. "You'll be sick of me before this is over."

"No, never." He tightened his grip on her hands and focused on Colbert's melodic voice. "I don't deserve you, Maggie."

"You deserve happiness." Her body slowly disappeared.

Happiness is being with you was his last thought before everything went black. He could still feel her presence and hear Colbert's voice becoming closer and louder. The thud of his feet on solid ground signaled his arrival. Ian was there, standing next to Colbert. Maggie's image shimmered, then sharpened into her real body, her hands still clasped in his own.

"Bonsoir, mon ami," Colbert nodded at him, then studied Maggie. "Enchante, ma petite. And you are?"

Mine. A rush of Possessiveness swept over Don Orlando. He knew Colbert was famous for seducing beautiful women, so he sidled close to Maggie and draped an arm around her shoulder.


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