Rosalie Stanton

Romance With Pitchforks

EROTIC ROMANCE AUTHOR.

PRODUCT MAY CONTAIN SACRILEGIOUS HUMOR, IRREVERENT BELIEFS, AND TOO-HOT-FOR-PRIME-TIME SEX SCENES.

VIEWER DISCRETION ADVISED.

Know Thine Enemy - New Edit. New Cover. New Blurb. New Excerpt.

Available on Kindle and very soon, Print.

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He’s a vampire with a story. She’s a woman with a past.

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Know Thine Enemy Izzie has dedicated years to distancing herself from her personal ghosts. Every night she faces monsters most people don’t believe exist, and, though she doesn’t flinch at drawing demon blood, she never forgets the first face to show her true evil was human.

The second Ryker spots the girl with midnight hair, he knows there’s more to her than meets the eye. As a vampire, he’s been around long enough to get a feel for hunters . . . but she isn’t like the rest. Something about her pulls him close, until backing off isn’t an option.

When a phantom from Ryker’s past surfaces to settle an old score, Ryker and Izzie find themselves the subjects of government experimentation. They must rely on each other in a series of sexual humiliations if they mean to survive. Trust is essential to escape, but, when trust turns into something more, Izzie must determine who is the real enemy. The humans who hold her prisoner, or the vampire whose touch makes her forget the bars exist.

Excerpt

He felt nothing at first—not the ground beneath his body or the air against his skin. There was no sound, either. No scent. Nothing that gave off any indicators as to where he was, what had happened, or how he’d gotten there. A vast nothingness filled the cavern in his chest, mocking the gaping hole in his memory. His eyes fought to open but failed. He felt drugged. He felt completely dead.

Gentle footsteps graced the air, punctuated by the soft breaths of a nearby human. Then something pulled at his back and the world returned in a rush. The human disappeared just as quickly. Ryker’s body jerked, a ripple of pain shooting down his spine. He coughed up a mouthful of blood and fought the pull of gravity by attempting to sit up. Everything spun. The air smelled crisp and sanitized, so he had to be indoors. His temples pounded, and places in his head that had never hurt before screamed in agony.

Oh Jesus. Oh shit.

Did this happen every time a stake met a vampire’s heart? He’d never experienced the paralysis before, nor what happened when the thing was removed. Physical agony wasn’t something he worried about, as being immortal had a way of giving one perspective. Surviving pain didn’t have the same connotations as it did for humans. In this lifetime, what didn’t kill him truly made him stronger.

Except the stake. The stake felt like a wooden chunk of hell on Earth.

Ryker’s eyes opened as his body lurched forward. He ignored protestations of his muscles and retched up more of his dinner. Blood didn’t look as good coming up as it did going down.

“Fuck. Me,” he gasped. He climbed to his knees and braced his hands on his thighs, several different things clicking at once. His jeans had been replaced with sweats, but the T-shirt he’d worn earlier remained in place. The floor was sleek and gray, and provided one hell of a reflection for the fluorescent lights above. A few more blinks brought other details into focus. The room was small with white walls. There was no furniture, no windows, nothing beyond a heavy door and a small pane of glass peering into what he presumed was the outside hallway. Another wave of nausea whipped through his body. Ryker panted, forcing himself to ignore his queasiness and pain. Right now, nothing mattered more than getting to his feet.

Izzie.

He froze. Izzie. She’d been with him. In the alleyway. In his arms. On the pavement. She’d fallen to the ground.

He groaned, pulling himself up. His legs wobbled and threatened to collapse, but he managed to remain upright.

Michael was here—somewhere. Alive in this world. Sometimes Ryker hated being right, almost as much as he hated being caught off guard. Perhaps if he’d been more vigilant, kept his mind on a confrontation he’d known, in one way or another, he was bound to have one day, all this could have been avoided. Then again, while Ryker knew to keep an eye on his back, as most vampires did, his thoughts of late had been far from the Prentiss family and the Natchez cemetery, too occupied with a certain young woman.

A young woman he’d put in danger.

Ryker hobbled to the door, but a glance through the windowpane provided no answers. Just an endless stretch of hallway.

Christ, he could kill himself for his stupidity. He’d led Izzie directly to Michael, and his deranged cousin had seen an Achilles’ heel Ryker hadn’t wanted to admit existed. A failing he still didn’t fully understand.

He moved to a corner, and put his aching head in his hands. Over the years, women had become interchangeable, all offering more of the same, and doing little to attract his attention beyond the warmth between their legs and the chalice of their throats.

Blaming his fiancée, Maggie, was easy but not entirely fair. He’d left his human life with Maggie’s name on his lips, and when he’d awoken as a vampire, he’d been determined to take the woman he loved on the journey of a lifetime.

Maggie hadn’t seen it that way. She’d screamed he was of Satan and attempted to run him through with her father’s bayonet. While it wasn’t the ideal way to end an engagement, it had gotten the point across.

Over the years, as he matured and his youthful idealism peeled away, he’d decided his love for Maggie had been what most would call “puppy love.” Not false, but not the sort worth fighting for. Sure, had he come home from the war with a heartbeat, he had little doubt Maggie would have been at his side until death claimed him. That would have been nice once, but not anymore.

Women in his experience were either fearful of the unknown or drunk on stupidity. He’d wasted a handful of nights in the company of female vamps, but hadn’t felt anything that would lead him back for more. At some point over the years, he’d decided to just have fun where he could: eat, drink, fuck, and be merry, and let the rest fall into place.

Then he’d stumbled across Izzie and everything had changed.

Ryker wouldn’t credit his feelings for the girl with lofty sentiment. He barely knew her. However, he was addicted to what he’d seen. And because of his addiction, she was in the wrong place at the wrong time, and she’d managed to garner the attention of a psychopath. Vampires like Michael were the sort that gave their kind a bad name, and whatever he had planned, Ryker was certain Izzie was in the middle of it.

He’d done this to her, and he owed it to her to get her out.

The door flew open. A middle-aged human male with sandy blond hair strolled into the room, looking factory ordered down to his white lab-coat and slick black shoes. He favored Ryker with a lazy glance before turning his attention to the clipboard in hand. “So, how are we feeling today?”

Ryker blinked dumbly. “Who the fuck are you?”

“I’m Dr. Insen Briggs.” The doctor didn’t seem bothered by the venom in Ryker’s tone. Instead, he repeated, “How are you feeling today?”

A low growl rumbled through Ryker’s throat. At the moment, perhaps he should pretend like there was nothing at all bizarre about waking up on a strange floor god-knows-how-far away from the place he called home. “Famished,” he spat, glancing to the intruder’s jugular. “How’s the tap?”

The doctor’s gaze fell to the vomited blood on the floor. “Don’t worry,” he said, “we’ll get you something to eat here soon. Now, I trust Mr. Prentiss went over everything with you?”

Ryker’s head began pounding all over ahead. “What?”

“He told you about our operation, yes?”

“The fuck you mean, operation? Where is she? Where’s Izzie?”

The corners of Dr. Briggs’s mouth pulled into a smirk. “The girl, yes. She’s doing well.”

“You better start talking, doc. I’m not someone you wanna fuck with.”

That much was true. While Ryker went out of his way to escape unwanted attention, he wasn’t the sort of guy one crossed. If he had to leave bodies in his wake, so be it. As long as he was the one who emerged on the other side, the cost mattered little.

Dr. Briggs, though, didn’t look as nervous as he should. Instead, his smirk widened and his eyes flickered with near sadistic enthusiasm. “I’m sure,” he replied. “At any rate, even if you did manage to get past me, this facility is more than equipped to handle one renegade vampire. You wouldn’t make it out alive.”

“I’ve heard worse.”

“I’m sure. It’s up to you, I suppose, but I wouldn’t advise it.” Dr. Briggs tossed another glance to his chart. “And if you run, you won’t get to see Ms. Bennett.”

“Izzie.” There was some measure of comfort in saying her name.

“Sorry,” Dr. Briggs replied. “We’re not on a first name basis with her just yet, though we have assigned her a code name that I will share with you in a moment. And you are Niles—”

“Ryker,” he barked. Michael had to die if only to save him the horror of someone in the world knowing what name his mother, in her infinite wisdom, decided to give him. “It’s just Ryker.”

The doctor smiled. “Just Ryker, then. Well, as I said, my name is Insen Briggs, and I am the head of Special Research for S.O.T.P.”

“You have no idea how tired I am of these fucking acronyms.”

“Studies of the Paranormal. You and Ms. Bennett are now official property of the United States government.”

“Property?” Ryker repeated.

“As a subhuman creature, there is a moral gray area pertaining to your personal rights, namely whether or not you have any.”

“Whether or not—fuck you, dickhead. You realize I fought for the Union, right? I’m a fucking veteran.” The term sounded strange on his ears, but he went with it. It was true, after all, and likewise not a card he ever pulled out. Yet if this was a government operation, there seemed little sense in being modest.

“Yes, and we appreciate your service.”

“Yeah. I can tell.” He snorted and shook his head. “Lemme guess . . . it’s being a vamp that makes me a second-class citizen.”

“Mr. Ryker, we’re not sure if you’re a citizen at all.”

“This where you dice me up?”

Dr. Briggs laughed. “Oh, no. We have other candidates for dissection. No, you see, there is a vast array of study we have yet to conduct. Strength tests, blood supplements, anger and provocation, reactions to human versus animal sustenance, and so on. Thus far we have perfected two prototypes that might be useful in warfare, especially when it comes to disguising the presence of vampires from other vampires.”

Pieces shifted in Ryker’s mind, and at once he understood how his cousin had managed to follow him undetected.

“We’re also working on a synthetic replacement for blood, but it will likely be several years before we find the right chemical combination.” Dr. Briggs looked down again. “You and Ms. Bennett provide a unique opportunity we haven’t had a chance to explore yet. See, though Mr. Prentiss and C.R.O.S.S. continue to supply vampire subjects, Ms. Bennett is the first human we’ve been provided.”

Ryker’s insides flushed cold. “And I suppose there’s some clever loophole that makes her not qualify as a right-bearing American?”

“Well, she doesn’t exist. I find that helps.”

“The fuck you mean, she doesn’t exist?”

“On paper, of course. Mr. Prentiss was good enough to provide the research he has collected upon her and her known associations.” Dr. Briggs looked to the clipboard again. “As far as we can tell, she was born Elizabeth Bennett to Kathleen Watson and Harrison Bennett. Kathleen did not survive childbirth, and Harrison Bennett, a priest, became reclusive after the scandal broke out. He was murdered when Ms. Bennett was around twelve years old, and she disappeared shortly thereafter, presumed dead.” He looked up. “You see, Izzie Bennett, as far as the world is concerned, is nothing more than a phantom. Lucky for us, I daresay. She will undoubtedly prove very helpful in our studies, particularly since you two already have a relationship of sorts. Our interest in you involves the observation of vampiric behavior, mating rituals, and whether or not it is possible to breed a vampire and human hybrid. Over the coming weeks, we will instigate a series of tests—”

“Fuck. That.” The implication was impossible not to notice, and though Ryker was halfway convinced the good doctor was lying through his teeth, he couldn’t ignore the increased pounding in his head or the faint rush of something resembling panic.

This couldn’t be real. People, creatures, whatever, weren’t just plucked from their lives and handed over to a government shadow agency. It seemed like something out of a Dan Brown novel rather than anything resembling reality. Yet the floor and the walls were real, as was the doctor and his clipboard. Ryker had yet to experience a dream which perfectly mimicked pain. For as much as he ached, this had to be authentic.

“Well,” Dr. Briggs drawled, “I assure you there is little choice in the matter. Ms. Bennett is the only viable human test subject we have.”

“And you want me to . . . .”

“Conduct each test accordingly. We’ll start slow out of consideration, but—”

“Consideration?” Ryker barked, pointing at the wall. “That’s a living, breathing girl in there. I’m not a fucking monster.”

“Yes, I’m sure.” Dr. Briggs smiled unpleasantly. “Mr. Ryker, make no mistake, you are not a guest in our house. The US Government has a great deal of interest in learning more about your biology, your interactions with humans, differentiating fact from myth, and first and foremost, ensuring the strength of our national security.”

“You’re off your rocker. Any idea how long we’ve been around, sonny?”

“That may be, but we won’t know until we run some tests.”

“And my bastard of a cousin gets a pass?” Ryker demanded, a heated roar tickling his throat. “Goddammit, you can’t keep me here!”

The doctor shrugged. “Mr. Prentiss signed a contract with S.O.T.P. guaranteeing the full cooperation of C.R.O.S.S. with our endeavors. It’s not much, granted, but it’s more than we’ve received from any rogue vampire such as yourself. Given the community’s staunch belief in the sanctity of human life—”

“Unless it’s someone disposable.”

“Ms. Bennett will undergo no harm, I assure you.”

“You’re damn right she won’t. If you think I’m gonna stick her with anything of mine, you’re crazier than Michael will ever be.”

“I don’t think you appreciate the situation. The matter is not whether she will be the subject of these tests, but rather if you will be paired withher.” Dr. Briggs shrugged again, his black eyes twinkling. “We can always reassign you, but the girl would remain here. She would merely be assigned to someone else . . . someone who doesn’t have, shall we say, the special relationship you two enjoy. Someone who won’t be as considerate as you might be.”

Ryker was no innocent. He’d killed before, and he’d enjoyed it. Not just in wartime. He’d been crippled by starvation and forced into corners where it was a me or them flip of the coin, and he always chose himself. Once or twice, in the early years, he’d imagined himself a demon in the full sense of the word and eaten a few drunkards before coming to his senses. He had regretted those actions, though not to the point of punishing himself through eternity like some Anne Rice wannabes would have groupies believing. It was just a part of the process—growing up, growing older, understanding the value in things he hadn’t before considered. Life was a lot like that, and more he aged, the more he appreciated the world’s various quirks. Yet standing here, staring at the vacant pools of Dr. Briggs’s eyes, he could honestly say he had never truly felt it until now. The itch, the rage, the threshold point where killing for pleasure transcended killing for food. It would be quick—quicker than the doctor knew. All he had to do was place his hands on Briggs’s neck and twist.

He could do it. He wanted to do it.

But he didn’t.

If nothing else, wiping said smug satisfaction off the doctor’s face gave him something to anticipate. Hate was something Ryker hadn’t felt before. Sure, he’d had a run in with fleeting bouts of hostility, but full-blown, honest-to-fuck hate was pure, nasty, and nearly too powerful to contain. Any other context, summoning such a large vat of black rage in the span of a few minutes would have seemed impossible

Not now. Not anymore.

This asshole had no idea who he was dealing with, and these were the sort of lessons one typically learned firsthand

Ryker couldn’t wait to play teacher

“To ease your concerns,” the doctor continued after a long beat, “let me say this: if we exhaust the interpersonal studies between you and Ms. Bennett, we will let her go.

“Just like that?”

“Of course.”

“To tell whoever will listen what happened?”

“We’re not too concerned of the ramblings of a self-proclaimed demon hunter.”

Ryker nodded. He didn’t bother asking what would become of him once their experiments came to an end. Aside from his intent to be long gone before it came to that, he doubted he would much like the answer.

“Now,” Dr. Briggs said, “my assistants, Judy and Peter, will join us in a moment. I assume you’re anxious to see Ms. Bennett.”

He held his tongue.

“From this point on, you will be referred to as Test Subject Zero Six One. Ms. Bennett is Test Subject Beta. We will no longer refer to you by name.”

A muscle in Ryker’s jaw ticked.

Dr. Briggs chuckled. “I do believe I am going to enjoy working with you.”

* * * * *

It wasn’t like he would run now. Not when Izzie waited for him down the hall.

Ryker drew in a steady breath. Behind him was the small, mousy assistant Dr. Briggs had introduced as Judy, her hand steadying a stake at his back, prepared to paralyze should he attempt to flee. The other assistant stayed to the right, a gun in hand—one that allegedly injected another prototype of vamp poison from which they hadn’t yet worked all the kinks. Ryker tried not to focus on the distractions, rather keeping his eyes on the back of Dr. Briggs’s head while entertaining fantasies involving the sound of snapping bone.

He’d feel better once he saw Izzie. Once he figured out how the hell to right the wrong that was getting her mixed up in his fucking family drama. Getting a feel for their new digs was essential to placing his future getaway plan in motion; once he knew her exact location, he could begin formulating an appropriate escape route.

The stretch of hallway betrayed little he hadn’t already guessed. Clinical white walls, slab gray floor, and sterilized to the point it nearly looked like it belonged in a university wing, only without any personality. Every now and then, a human in a lab-coat would stroll by, seemingly unbothered by the sight of someone being led by threat of death. There were a few medical stands, offices, and signs directing personnel to certain wings. His particular entourage took three turns before coming to a halt. The door on the left read Subject Beta on the sliding name placement. Another door sat directly ahead, and the hall continued to the right. Dr. Briggs unlocked the door to Beta by means of a clearance key, and ushered Ryker inside alone.

The vampire stopped short of the doorway, his heart leaping into his throat.

“Oh my God,” he murmured.

She lay nude, splayed across a metal table, her legs bound and spread, her arms stretched above her head, and a gag around her mouth. A gnarly scar patched the skin around her belly, though it looked aged enough to confirm it was an old battle-wound rather than a crime at the hands of their human captors. Tied as she was, the cold tremors seizing her body could not be contained. Her head lifted when the door opened, and when their gazes clashed, the fear he saw nearly tore him to shreds.

Ryker could do little but stare. His head pounded and his chest ached.

Holy fuck.

“All right,” Dr. Briggs said, his voice now distorted by an intercom. “Shall we begin?”

© Rosalie Stanton 2016