Sharon Colson is desperate. Stranded in the California coastal town of Los Ni�os de la Noche, she's broke, locked out of her rooming house, and needs a job. Jonathan Knottmann, the local vampire, is the only one in town hiring but he won't take her on as a bartender without her becoming his vampire companion. With no other options, Sharon accepts the mark of his fangs on her neck and thus enters the parafolk world of the All Night Inn.
Over the course of the next few weeks Sharon learns many lessons from Jonathan--what brand of dog food shapeshifters like to nibble on with their beer, the kinds of drinks spellcasters favor, and that he'd rather be known as a nightwalker than the politically incorrect term of vampire. As the parafolk celebrate the full moon with howls and dancing, she even learns to love him the way he loves her.
But the biggest lesson is one Jonathan and Sharon must both learn--that love cannot thrive unless it is based on trust, in yourself and your partner.
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November 13, 2009
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Excerpt from All Night Inn by Cricket Starr
"Ms. Colson." Jonathan came upon her so quietly she startled, dropping the rag. He watched silently as she recovered her composure. "You did well tonight. I have no objection to continuing your employment." He eyed the cloth on the counter then turned his intense blue stare back to her. "What are your feelings about it?"
Shaken, but not deterred. With a boldness she didn't feel, she stared back at him. "I still want the job."
Just for an instant a smile slipped across his lips. "Very well." He inclined his head, and pointed to the hallway leading to his office. "That way, please."
She preceded him inside. It wasn't a large room. Jonathan's desk took up the bulk of the space in the middle. In one corner was a brown leather couch, easily six feet long, with a colorful striped blanket spread across the back. A mini-fridge sat next to it, doubling as a lamp stand. For a moment Sharon speculated as to what kind of drinks her future boss kept cold. Little plastic bags from the local blood bank, perhaps?
Heart pounding, she eyed the couch and waited. Jonathan followed her gaze, hesitated, and apparently decided against the intimacy that would afford. He directed her toward the top of the desk with an elegant wave of his hand. "If you will sit there, Ms. Colson?"
She did as he instructed, facing him as he approached. For the first time since that brief caress in the bar, he touched her, placed his hands on her shoulders. She'd thought they'd be cold, clammy, but there was perceptible warmth to them. She felt it through the thin material of her blouse. Not warm enough to be human, but there.
For a moment he studied her face. "You're sure about this?"
Sharon closed her eyes and steeled herself for the sensation of his mouth on her throat, the prick of his teeth piercing the skin. She hated pain. She was the kind to insist on local anesthesia before allowing a splinter to be removed.
"Just do it," she whispered.
He did nothing. She opened her eyes and his blue stare bore into her. "You must look into my eyes and let me into your mind, Ms. Colson. I'll take the fear from you and make it easy."
He wanted to link minds with her? Panicked, Sharon shook her head. "No, not that. I won't let you do that."
He frowned. "You don't understand. I can block what you feel and make it pleasurable for you. Without a mind link there will be pain."
"I do understand. I expect the pain. I can deal with it."
He shook his head, displeasure infusing his expression. "I'm not in the habit of causing discomfort. I enjoy feeding..." One long finger traced the vein in her neck. "I'd rather you enjoyed it, too."
"It isn't important I enjoy it," she said, her voice desperate. How could she make him understand? Sharon took a deep and ragged breath. "There was a man I met who did a mind link to me once." She shuddered at the memory. It had been...awful. She'd felt like she'd been ripped apart and afterward...no, she couldn't think about the "afterward."
"It was months before I could think straight. I'm willing to let you feed off me, but I can't let you into my mind."
He let go of her and stepped back, disappointment in his face. "I'm very sorry, Ms. Colson. I would have enjoyed having you here...but the role of a companion requires my being able to touch your mind."
Moving to the door, he gestured to her. "Come with me to the bar, and I'll pay you for this evening."
"No!" Nervously, she licked her lips. "Please...can't you make an exception? I really need this job."
Frustration showed in his face. "Exception to what? To the mark, no, it's too dangerous for me to have unmarked humans here."
Desperation made her bold. "What about the link, then? Just this once? Maybe when I know you better, can trust you more...I promise I'll let you into my mind."
For a moment she thought he was going to give up and send her on her way. Then she caught the hungry look in his eyes and the way he studied her neck with a possessive stare. She could tell he wanted this, to taste her, to mark her as his own. He might not ever take her blood again, but he wanted it this time.
The way he licked his lips told her that he wanted it bad enough to forego his principles and bleed her without the mind link.
"As you wish, then." The vampire returned to her and took a different hold with his hands. One moved to the back of her head, the other to just below her shoulder blades. It was a more intimate embrace than the one he'd taken before--and more secure. His hand caressed her hair, pulling it back, baring her neck. It might have been the prelude to a kiss.
Piercing blue eyes stared into hers. "I will hold you to that promise," he whispered.
His arms tightened and he moved so fast that she didn't have a chance to say anything, couldn't have pulled away if she wanted to. Held in his vise-like grip, sharp pain stabbed through her as his fangs plunged into her neck, unerringly locating the artery. A burning sensation followed as strong lips drew the blood through the tiny holes.
Pain. It was worse than she'd imagined. Sharon wanted to cry out, but couldn't. He held her so close she was crushed into his chest. His throat rippled as he swallowed and she felt his heartbeat stutter then pick up pace, growing faster, almost matching the furious pounding of hers.
She hadn't expected him to take so much, just a few swallows, a taste. This was more like a banquet for him as he guzzled her life's blood. Fear grew inside her...fear of what she'd promised, of what she would become at his hands.
A vampire and companion linked minds--it was "required". How was she ever going to deal with that?
As her body chilled, his grew warmer. A rushing noise sounded in her ears and dizziness encompassed her. She grew weak and faint and still he took from her until she began to wonder if he intended to stop feeding at all, or if her life would end in his arms.
Was she going to die?
A gasp of fear and pain escaped her. Abruptly his mouth stopped moving and simply rested. He breathed heavily, the heat of his breath scorching her throat. The worst of the pain ended at the same time, but the relief from it put tears into her eyes.
His grip eased, and he allowed her to pull back, but only briefly. "A moment," he whispered. "I must stop the flow." He pressed down, covering the aching places where his teeth had pierced the skin.
She felt the touch of his tongue move across the holes, sealing them but not healing. He gently licked the rest of her neck, cleaning the remaining blood and soothing her skin. The throbbing abated under his tender ministrations.
The vampire drew back, a warm possessive glow in his eyes. An odd thought slid into her mind. He was a neat eater. Only the smallest amount of blood lingered at the corners of his mouth, and as she watched his flitting tongue removed even that evidence.
Deep amusement laced his voice when he spoke. "Congratulations, Ms. Colson. You have the job."