Home > Wanted: Undead or Alive (Love at Stake #12)

Wanted: Undead or Alive (Love at Stake #12)
Author: Kerrelyn Sparks

Chapter One

“Get real, Phineas! You can’t expect me to believe this crap!”

Phineas McKinney frowned at his younger brother, who was clutching the steering wheel with white-knuckled desperation. Obviously, last night’s confession had not gone as well as he had thought. “Freemont, you gotta know I would never lie to you—”

“I know that!” Freemont shot him a frantic look, then turned the windshield wipers up to a higher speed to combat the rain that pelted his thirteen-year-old, dented Chevy Impala. “But that doesn’t leave me with a lot of options, you know? First I thought you’d gone crazy. Then I thought you must be doing drugs. Then when I tried to talk to you this afternoon, I thought you were dead! I mean, seriously, start-the-damned-funeral dead!”

“I’m not crazy,” Phineas muttered. “And I don’t do drugs.”

The atmosphere in the car sizzled with tension, interrupted only by the noise of the wipers swishing back and forth. A wet, slushy sound, followed by a high-pitched, prolonged screech reminiscent of fingernails on a blackboard.

Phineas winced. There were times when having supersensitive hearing was not an advantage.

Freemont gave him a wary look. “What—what about that last part? The . . . dead part?”

Slush-screech. Slush-screech.

Freemont gulped audibly. “You weren’t really dead, were you?”

Slush-screech. Slush-screech.

“I’m alive now,” Phineas said quietly, then gave his brother a reassuring smile. “Don’t I look alive to you?”

Freemont didn’t look reassured. His eyes had grown so wide, the whites gleamed as his gaze darted back and forth from his brother to the busy street in the Bronx. “You’re alive now? What the hell does that mean?”

“It means my heart is beating. I’m breathing—”

“You weren’t breathing this afternoon! You scared the shit out of me! I almost called Aunt Ruth—”

“I told you not to.” Phineas didn’t want his aunt and sister to know the truth. Aunt Ruth would probably drag him into church and insist the Reverend Washington perform an exorcism on him. Luckily, the female members of his family were out of town this weekend, singing with the choir at some event in Buffalo.

“I didn’t know what to do! I thought about calling an ambulance, but—” Freemont stomped on the brakes, tires spinning on the wet cement before the Impala halted with a lurch. He slammed a fist on the horn, and the blaring noise made Phineas grit his teeth.

“What the hell are you stopping for, a**hole?” Freemont hollered at the car in front of them.

“People usually stop for red lights. You should try it sometime.” Phineas’s attempt at a joke fell flat. His brother was still looking at him like he’d grown a second head. “I have excellent night vision, you know. You want me to drive?”

“No!” Freemont leaned forward, a possessive glint in his eyes as he squeezed the steering wheel with fisted hands. “I need to drive. It keeps me calm.”

This was calm? Phineas hadn’t expected a full-fledged panic attack this evening. Last night his brother had remained quiet during the confession, just nodding his head as if he accepted it all. But Phineas had to admit now that it was highly unusual for his brother to remain quiet for more than sixty seconds. Freemont had been stunned speechless.

“I did warn you,” Phineas reminded his brother. “I told you not to go down into the basement.”

“I thought you were quoting a line from a bad movie.”

“Why would I do that?”

“How the hell would I know?” Freemont yelled. “I told you, I thought you’d gone crazy!”

“I explained it all last night, how I ended up a vampire, and how I needed to do my death-sleep all day in the basement with the window boarded up.”

“Yeah, well, I didn’t really catch that last part, you know what I’m saying? The minute you said ‘vampire,’ I thought you’d gone bat-shit on me. I didn’t hear nothin’ after that. I was too busy trying to figure out how we could afford to send you to a nut hut so you could get your head screwed back on.”

“I’m perfectly fine, Freemont. I was just . . . dead for a few hours.”

“That’s not normal, bro!”

“It is for a vampire.”

Freemont flinched, then turned to glare at the stoplight.

Slush-screech. Slush-screech.

The light turned green, and Freemont accelerated slowly. “You really believe this stuff, don’t you?”

“I’m not shittin’ you, Freemont. Didn’t you see me drink a bottle of blood?”

“You said it was blood, but what the hell, you could have had a V8. If you were really a vampire, wouldn’t you be chomping down on people’s necks? Not that I’m offering mine, you understand—”

“I hang with the good Vamps. We don’t bite people.” Phineas sighed. He’d explained all this last night, how some bad vampires had transformed him and held him prisoner until he’d been able to join the good Vamps and help them fight the bad vampires they called Malcontents. He’d even shown Freemont his fangs, although he hadn’t extended them. He’d tried his best not to freak his brother out. “You saw my fangs, remember?”

Freemont waved a hand in dismissal. “You could have had them filed into points. It’s totally wack, but there are crazy people who do weird shit to themselves. Hell, I saw a guy on TV who had his tongue split so he’d look like a snake.”

“I’m not crazy.”

“You think you’re a vampire. If that’s not seriously crazy, I don’t know what is.” Freemont took a deep breath. “We’ll get you better, Phin. I’ll get a full-time job, drop out of school—”

“No! You just finished your freshman year, and you’re doing great. I’m not letting you drop out.”

Freemont stiffened with an indignant look. “You can’t tell me what to do. You’ve been taking care of us, paying all the bills, for eight years. It’s my turn now. I can do this.”

“You’re finishing college,” Phineas said sharply, then noticed the stubborn clench of Freemont’s jaw. Sheesh. His little brother was becoming a man.

Five years ago, when Phineas had been transformed at the age of twenty-three, his brother had been a skinny fourteen-year-old, all bony elbows and knobby knees. The aging process had screeched to a halt for Phineas, so he tended to forget that his younger brother and sister kept growing. He and Freemont looked close to the same age now.

Phineas softened his voice. “I need your help, bro.”

“Anything, man. Whatever medical attention you need. I’ll get it for you. You can count on me.”

Phineas’s chest expanded with warmth. His brother had grown into a good man. Now if he could just convince him of the truth. “Turn right at this next street.”

“Why? I thought you wanted to go to Brooklyn.”

“I do, but we need to make a stop first.”

“Okay.” Freemont turned onto a street lined with narrow wooden-framed houses with sagging front porches.

“Pull in there.” Phineas pointed at an empty space between two parked cars.

“I’ll be blocking a driveway.”

“We won’t be here long.” While his brother stopped and shifted into park, Phineas surveyed the neighborhood. Because of the rain, the sidewalks were empty. The house was dark, no lights glowing in the windows.

Slush-screech. Slush-screech.

“I don’t think anyone’s home,” Freemont said.

“That’s for the best.”

“Huh? Then why are we here?”

“A demonstration.” Phineas unlatched his seat belt. “Don’t go anywhere. Keep your eyes on the porch.”

“There’s nothin’ on the porch.”

“There will be.”

“What are you—” Freemont’s words cut off when Phineas teleported to the dark porch. He waved at the car, then teleported back to the front seat.

Freemont was a few shades paler, and his mouth was hanging open.

Slush-screech. Slush-screech.

Phineas couldn’t help but smirk. “Now do you believe me?”

Freemont gulped, then his jaw dropped open again.

Slush-screech. Slush-screech.

Phineas snapped his seat belt on. “Told you I wasn’t crazy.”

“Then I must be crazy,” Freemont whispered. “I’m trippin’.”

“You’re not crazy.”

Freemont shook himself. “I didn’t see you get out of the car. You’re not even wet, bro. How did you get to the porch?”

“Teleportation.”

“Tele-what? Isn’t that some sort of spaceman shit?” Freemont stiffened. “Were you abducted by aliens? Did they stick a probe up your ass?”

“No! Freemont, I’m a vampire!” Phineas grabbed the rearview mirror and twisted it toward himself. “Can you see me?”

Freemont leaned over to peer into the mirror. He gasped, looked at Phineas, then back at the mirror. “What the hell?”

Phineas shoved the mirror back in place. “Do you believe me now?”

“You—you’re really a vampire?” Freemont whispered.

“Yes.”

“Damn, Phineas.” Freemont sat back with a horrified look. “Are you sure? I mean, this is some weird-assed, spooky shit.”

“I know, but it’s true, bro. I’m a vampire.”

“That sucks!”

“I don’t suck. I drink from bottles.” Phineas motioned toward the gearshift. “Let’s get going.”

Freemont continued to stare at him. “How did it happen?”

Phineas waved a dismissive hand. “I was attacked by some bad vampires. Can we go now?”

“Attacked?” Freemont grimaced. “What did they do to you, man?”

“I don’t want to talk about it. It was scary as hell and really nasty.”

Freemont’s eyes widened. “They stuck a probe up your ass?”

“No! They ripped my f**kin’ throat out, okay? So now that you know how grisly it was, will you shut up and take me to Brooklyn?”

“Okay, okay.” Freemont shifted into drive and pulled out into the street. “Sheesh. You act like you got a bug up your—”

“Don’t say it!”

While Freemont drove, he shook his head and muttered to himself, “A vampire? Damn. I thought he was a security guard for some old white dude.”

“The old white dude is a five-hundred-year-old vampire named Angus MacKay. He and his wife, Emma, run MacKay Security and Investigation.”

“Five hundred years old? Sheesh! Can he still get it up?”

“I would assume so, since they seem happily married, but I’ve never asked.” Phineas looked out the window at the rain pouring in sheets off storefront awnings and splattering on broken sidewalks. It was thanks to Angus and Emma that he’d discovered the good Vamps. He’d found more than employment with them. He’d found a new extended family, mostly guys. He’d laughed with them, fought with them, mourned with them. The guys had become his brothers.

It had started off like one big bachelor party, but in the last few years, the men had fallen like flies. Even Gregori, the famous playboy of the vampire world. He’d hooked up with the president’s daughter.

Phineas enjoyed teasing them that all their newfound marital bliss was due to his expertise as the Love Doctor, but the joke was on him. He was like the painter who owned the only house in the neighborhood that needed painting. Everybody could find love but the Love Doctor.

And it wasn’t for lack of trying. He’d dated some Vamp women he’d met at the vampire clubs. He’d thoroughly enjoyed playing the role of a popular ladies’ man until he realized they saw him as nothing more than a novelty act, something to try out of curiosity before they flitted away to the next distraction.

He wanted to be more than that. He wanted someone who would look past his outward appearance to connect with his soul. Someone who would see him as special. Worthy of a lifetime, not a single night.

He’d tried over and over with the mortal LaToya, believing his perseverance would eventually pay off. It never did. She’d taunted him that the Love Doctor didn’t know what love was.

Bullshit.

Meanwhile, the other guys were all snagging some luscious babes. Shoot, Connor had even scored a real live angel. Carlos had found a girl willing to risk death in order to become a were-panther like him. The ladies who’d married Vamps were all willing to give up mortality to stay with their husbands. Angus’s wife, Emma, was a Vamp, and just recently, Roman’s wife, Shanna, had changed over. And they all did it for love.

Where was the love for the Love Doctor? Who would ever see him as worthy? Certainly not her . . .

“You look bummed out,” Freemont said, dragging Phineas away from his depressing thoughts. “Is it hard being a . . . you know . . .”

“Vampire?” Phineas gave him a wry look. “You can say the word without getting bitten. And yeah, sometimes it’s kinda hard.” He’d gained a life that could last for centuries, but it could only happen in darkness.

Freemont grimaced. “If I was a vampire, I’d miss fried chicken. And waffles.”

“I miss . . . blue. I can never see a blue sky again.” His brain was instantly flooded with a memory of her pretty blue eyes. Her again. He quickly shoved her from his mind.

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