And still Rock felt the precious moments ticking away.
What if Buffi happened to spot the enticing green bottles, which his vampire spidey sense told him must contain the poison? They’d quarreled, and he knew how emotional she got after a fight. Especially during certain times of her lycanthrope cycle. She wouldn’t be thinking clearly. She’d be upset, looking for something, anything to take the pain away. What if, even now, his lupine goddess was tipping the bottle into her mouth as the tears streamed down her lovely, downy cheeks?
No, Buffi, no! Vampires and werewolves couldn’t communicate telepathically, of course, but maybe the force of his love would be enough to carry his warning to her. Stay away from the green bottles! No green bottles! But what if his message didn’t go through clearly? What if she only heard “green bottle,” which would make her think of the green bottles, and therefore search them out?
He switched gears. I love you, Buffi! You’re the only woman I’ll ever love! I’m sorry I handled things so…” Even telepathically, he couldn’t come up with the right word. “Bad.”
Enough with the telepathy. If only he had a cell phone. Things would be solved so easily with one simple call. But that would ruin the whole story, therefore he’d unfortunately dropped his cell phone in the cattle’s watering trough earlier that week. No, he’d have to rely on destiny and the speed of Monk’s flying hooves to save his one and only love from a painful, horrible death by poison.
Why, oh why had they fought? Why hadn’t he embraced his furry sons with open arms, instead of quibbling over little details like twenty-six months of being ignorant of their existence? For all those long, lonely months, he’d been a fatherless son. Okay, well that part wasn’t Buffi’s fault. But he’d been a sonless father too! Why hadn’t Buffi trusted him with the truth?
But why should she trust him? While she’d been raising his sons, a struggling yet winsome single mother, he’d been partying in Cabo with those showgirls. And in Dallas with those cheerleaders. And in Duluth with those dental trainees.
That whole time, he should have been changing diapers and warming bottles. He frowned. Did werewolf babies even wear diapers? And wouldn’t they destroy the bottles with their vicious little teeth? There was so much he didn’t know about Ivan and Vlad. Face it, his own sons were strangers to him. Not to mention a different species.
He had to save her. Had to save her. Had to save her. The rhythm of Monk’s hooves echoed his inner chant. Had to save her, clippety-clop, had to save her, cloppety-clip.
Once he’d saved Buffi’s life, she’d trust him. They’d be together, a happy vampire/werewolf/half vampire-half werewolf family, forevermore.
Buffi loped across the room in wolf form, then back again, a woman on a rampage. Vlad and Ivan nipped at her heels. Her poor confused boys tried to keep up with her, but her shifts came too fast, her emotions a tumultuous tsunami of turmoil. How had she let this happen? Why had she let that heartless (literally) monster (again, literally) come back into her life and destroy it all over again for the second time? Hadn’t she learned her lesson?
She never could resist his sweet caresses, not as a naïve, hopeful girl, and not as an older-but-apparently-no-wiser woman. She should have gnawed through his jugular the second he took her into his arms. But how could she do that to her babies’ daddy, the man whose love-pole had vaulted her into motherhood? The man whose seed had sprouted within her, bearing such beautiful, furry fruit?
Her boys. The thought of her precious boys shone like a beacon in her storm of anguish. She didn’t have time for a breakdown. Not when she had two boys to raise and a winery to run.
Speaking of which…time to try the new vintage her enologist kept raving about. She shoved all thoughts of Rock Fangsworthy to the bottom back drawer of her mind, where she kept stray socks and her boring, backup underwear.
“Vlad, Ivan.” She looked at them sternly until they’d switched to their adorable toddler selves. Then she realized she was naked from all that switching. Quickly, she dressed, trying not to think about Rock’s hands on her body, the way he’d ripped her clothes off in the cellar. Back where you belong. Bottom back drawer. When all three of them were appropriately human and clothed, she pressed the intercom to the wine cellar.
“Vince, I’m ready for the tasting now.” Thank God, her voice sounded calm, cool, and collected. Grace under pressure, as her grandmother van Pelt had taught her. She squared her shoulders and stiffened her spine. No blood-phobic, philandering, seductive heartbreaker of a vampire was going to get her down.
Vince Yardley appeared in the doorway with a tray on which wobbled a green bottle and a glass. Buffi’s nostrils prickled at the scent rising from them. Or was it from him? Did something smell funny? Even in human form, her sense of smell was exceptionally keen, of course, but nothing compared to her powers as a wolf. If Yardley weren’t here, she could switch back to her wolf form and pin down the odd smell. But he knew nothing about her secret, one benefit of his near-constant state of inebriation.
“Have you sampled it yet?” she asked Yardley.
He bristled. “What are you implying?”
“Nothing!” Alcoholic enologists could be so prickly sometimes. “Pour me a glass, please.”
Yardley set the tray on an antique sideboard and filled the glass with wine. As the red liquid hit the air, the fine hairs inside Buffi’s nose stood on end. She widened her nostrils, determined not to sneeze in front of Yardley. She had to present a good impression to the staff, after all. And she shouldn’t be such a baby about tasting the funny-smelling wine. What was she afraid of, anyway? Wine was wine.
Except this wine had a strange, sluggish look to it, she noticed as Yardley brought her the glass. It sloshed against the sides, leaving slick, rust-colored smudges in its wake. Almost like…blood.
Nothing wrong with that. She liked her meat raw and bloody after all…why not her wine? She picked up the glass and brought it to her lips. This close, the smell made her a bit dizzy and queasy, almost like when…no, she couldn’t be…not again…not this fast…it wasn’t possible...how many days since they’d…
As if her panicked counting had conjured him up, Rock Fangsworthy burst into the room, suddenly and without warning. “Buffi! No!” His vein throbbed, the muscles in his jaw bulged. Never had he looked so manly, so heroic. “Don’t drink that!”
She stared at him, riveted by the primal command in his voice and the raw fear in his slate-blue eyes. This was a man. Her man. She knew it in the pit of her stomach, in the tingling soles of her feet, in the tips of her breasts. Oblivious to everything except her vampire cowboy, she didn’t notice when the edge of the glass touched her bottom lip.
Then…things happened so fast they seemed to be in slow motion. Rock flew through the air with supernatural speed and snatched the glass away from her. In the same instant, she tasted the fumes of the wine and knew what was in that glass.
“Nooo,” she screamed.
But it was too late. Rock raised the glass to his own chiseled lips and gulped the evil red liquid that Buffi knew, with every werewolf cell of her body, contained blood. Blood! For Rock, blood might as well be Kryptonite, and yet Buffi could only watch, rooted to the ground in slow-motion nightmare horror, as he downed every last drop.
The glass slipped from his fingers and shattered on the floor. He put his hand to his throat. His slate-blue eyes went hazy, then rolled up toward the ceiling. Like a mighty cottonwood, he toppled over.
“Rock! My love! No!!” Buffi threw herself on top of his cold body. Was it colder than normal? Who knew? All she knew was the only man she’d ever loved…ever would love…lay on her floor, as dead as an undead vampire could be, surrounded by shards of glass like the shattered, wine-stained pieces of her broken, bleeding heart.
CONCLUDED!!! Chapter Eighteen
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