It was a dark and stormy night in Bloodsuck, Texas; the kind of night vampire-cowboy Rock Fangsworthy loved best. All except for the stormy part. Too much rain made the brim of his Stetson go limp. And if there was one thing Rock wasn’t, it was limp. He was rock hard, through and through, from the flinty gaze in his slate-blue eyes to the diamond tipped spurs on his custom-made, Lucchese, hand-crafted, lizard skin boots. In fact, Rock had only one soft spot, and that was for his ranch, the Double Fang.
The ranch had been in his possession for several generations; ever since he’d fled Boston at the turn of the last-century-plus-one hoping to leave his family’s nest, his disgrace, and the truth about his shameful condition behind and start life anew in that paradise on Earth known as the Texas Hill Country.
The Double Fang occupied some of the prettiest country in all of Texas, ergo the world. And as Rock rode across it tonight, he was filled to overflowing with feelings of contentment and self-satisfaction—even despite the rain and the currently questionable condition of his hat. He was master of all he surveyed. There was, in fact, only one thing marring his happiness; one burr beneath his saddle, so to speak; one blot on his otherwise blot-free horizon. The Best Little Winery in Bloodsuck.
Rock’s jaw clenched at the thought and a vein in his temple began to throb. “Grape farmers,” he growled even though there was no one to hear him but his horse, Monk. “No good, double-crossing werewolf scum.”
Rock had no use for wineries. After all, he didn’t drink…wine. He had no use for werewolves either, not since the day the Braveheart brothers—Butch and Barkley—had cheated him out of a prime parcel of land that should, by rights, have belonged to him. The pair had caught him napping during the day (an unfortunate necessity for those of his kind) and took the opportunity to mark their territory, not just in the manner of wolves, which would have been bad enough, but with stakes and flags and deed contracts—the kinds of thing the County Assessor’s Office put such child-like faith in.
Rock had tried twice to right the terrible wrong that had been done him, but both times he’d failed. His last attempt had been made shortly after Barkley, the second of the brothers to die, was killed in a routine hunting accident. He’d approached the widow Braveheart with his offer to buy her out, but had been rebuffed. Babs Braveheart might have been beautiful, but she had the brains to match her blonde good looks and was crazy to boot. She’d taken it into her head that Rock was at fault for her husband’s death.
Like anyone could be reasonably expected to distinguish between one wolf and another at a distance of several feet!
Babs had taken her revenge on Rock, sure enough. She’d made certain he didn’t get the only two things he’d ever wanted. But now the ding-dong bitch was dead, God rest her spiteful soul. Tonight, he would make his third and final offer for the winery. An offer the new owner, whoever he was, would not be able to refuse.
Rock reined his horse to a stop in the winery’s front yard and dismounted. He tied Monk to a conveniently placed grape arbor—a landscape feature that evoked sweet memories of better times. The vein in his temple throbbed harder. That arbor would be the first thing he’d have dismantled once the winery was in his possession. He smiled as he imagined herds of happy cows frolicking in the vineyards, trampling the grapes, the tender fruit turning to jelly beneath their hooves.
His spurs jingle jangle jingled in a pleasantly menacing fashion as he strode confidently up to the front door. High pitched barking noises emanated from inside the house. Rock sneered at the sound. It pleased him to think the former werewolf home now housed a passel of pocketbook dogs, even though they’d shortly be gone as well. Just as he was about to pound commandingly on the door, it was thrown open.
Rock stiffened. His jaw clenched harder. His vein throbbed. Again. “Buffi Van Pelt. I should have known you’d be back.” But, really, how could he have known something like that? Who would ever have expected that Babs and Barkley Braveheart’s granddaughter would return to the scene of their crime of passion? An awful suspicion took hold in his mind. “Don’t tell me you’re the new owner of The Best Little Winery in Bloodsuck?”
“Well, of course I'm the new owner,” she answered in flustered tones. She seemed distracted by the two puppies gamboling about at her feet. "What did you expect?"
Rock ignored her question—and the puppies. As his gaze roved over the lithe yet athletic form of the woman he’d once been foolish enough to think he might love, the years since he’d last seen her (five, at least, wasn’t it? he was almost certain it had been that long) melted away as though it had been no more than two years. Three years, tops. He took note of her strong calves, her breasts rising and falling beneath the thin T-shirt she wore, her rosy cheeks, her red lips.
Her eyes were still as blue as Texas bluebonnets. And her hair—oh, how he remembered that glossy, gold mane so similar in color and texture to the coat of the golden retriever puppy he’d loved as a child.
He’d named the puppy Rosebud and it had been his faithful companion for three-quarters of an afternoon. Until his cousin Viggo had decided to eat him for a snack. Rock could still recall the sick horror he felt when he’d come upon them in the kitchen that day; Viggo’s mouth stained red with Rosebud’s blood, the puppy’s lifeless body hanging limp in his hands…
A sharp tug on his ankle brought Rock’s mind back to the present. He looked down. Way down. Down to where the two puppies—wolf-hybrids obviously, not pocketbook dogs after all, nor Golden Retrievers either, more's the pity—were viciously attacking one of his custom-made, Lucchese hand-crafted lizard skin boots with the diamond tipped spurs.
“Shoo,” he said as he, gently but with firmness, kicked his foot in an effort to dislodge the pests.
Buffi clapped her hands. “Vlad! Ivan! Stop that this minute!” she scolded.
Rock stared at her in disbelief. She’d named her dogs after his father and grandfather? Oh, the fickle cruelty of women! Why did she not just stake him through the heart and have done with it? The vein in his temple throbbed its agreement.
Rock Fangsworthy. Buffi stared at the familiar yet almost forgotten hard, chiseled features of the man who’d won her heart and taken her virginity. She still could not believe he was here. Out of all the wineries in all the towns in all of Texas, he’d walked into hers.
“What do you want from me, Rock?” she asked. She was terrified she knew the answer, but how? How could Rock have possibly found out he was Vlad and Ivan’s father? Who could have told him? Surely not her grandmother! Why, Babs had hated Rock. She’d hated him as much as she’d hated grape rot, powdery mildew and glassy-winged sharpshooters all put together!
“I’m here to buy the winery, of course,” Rock answered. His words were like silver bullets, each one aimed straight at her poor broken heart. The very same heart she’d only recently finished painstakingly piecing back together. Buffi was not surprised when the overly abused organ crumbled to bits once more, falling apart like so much over-cooked liver. Her grandmother had been right. Rock had used her. He’d toyed with her affections. The winery was all he wanted, all he’d ever really wanted from her. All he ever would want.
“Well, you can’t have it, Rock. Do you hear me? The Best Little Winery in Bloodsuck is not for sale!”
Rock’s jaw clenched. The vein in his temple started to throb. Buffi was reminded of those magical nights they’d spent in her grandmother’s grape arbor. She remembered the passion they’d shared, Rock’s hard, throbbing body, his gravel-voiced excitement and her own enthusiastic licking of his face.
Damn you, Rock Fangsworthy. Damn you to hell!
“I think you should leave now, Rock,” Buffi said coldly. “There’s nothing here for you anymore.”
“This isn’t over, Buffi,” Rock promised. “You haven’t seen the last of me.”
“Oh, I think I have, Rock,” Buffi rejoined as she slammed the door in her baby daddy’s face. “I really think I have!
To be continued...Chapter 2