Read The Vampire's Valentine Surprise: A Nocturne Falls Short Online

Authors: Kristen Painter

Tags: #Romance, #Paranormal, #Romantic Comedy, #Vampires, #Werewolves & Shifters, #90 Minutes (44-64 Pages), #Witches & Wizards

The Vampire's Valentine Surprise: A Nocturne Falls Short

BOOK: The Vampire's Valentine Surprise: A Nocturne Falls Short
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THE VAMPIRE’S VALENTINE SURPRISE
Kristen Painter

The Vampire’s Valentine Surprise

by Kristen Painter

Copyright © 2016 Kristen Painter

All Rights Reserved

A
ll rights reserved
, including the right to reproduce this book, or portion thereof, in any form.

This is a work of fiction. Any references to historical events, real people, or real locales are used fictitiously. Other names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the author’s imagination, and any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

Summary

W
hen Delaney Ellingham
enters the Nocturne Falls Valentine’s Day Bake-Off, she has no idea that an old rival will create such havoc. Her husband, Hugh, and her friends come to her aid, but even they can’t guess the surprise that lays in store…

Chapter One


H
ugh
. Psst. Honey.”

Hugh Ellingham kept his newspaper firmly in place and held very still. He wasn’t exactly ignoring his wife so much as he was trying to avoid tasting her twenty-seventh batch of frosting. Or was it the twenty-eighth? As fiercely as he loved her, there was only so much sugar a man, even one who was a vampire, could take.

“I know you can hear me. For one thing, I have the same super-sharp vampire senses you do and for another, I’m standing right in front of you.”

With a sigh, Hugh put his paper down to stare at the business end of a spoonful of buttercream. He dug deep for a smile. It was the fifth such spoon he’d faced down today. He should have done his reading in the living room, but he enjoyed his wife’s company too much so he’d settled at the kitchen table. “Delaney, my dearest, love of my life, queen of my kingdom, I cannot possibly ingest any more sugar. I may become the first diabetic vampire if I do.”

She made a face that said his excuses held little weight with her. “Hugh, this is important. The Valentine’s Day Bake-Off is tomorrow. This is my last chance to test this frosting. Well, maybe second to last. No, last. I want to run a batch of those truffles one more time.”

She lifted the spoon a little higher. “Please?”

He pulled back slightly but there was only so far he could go within the confines of the kitchen chair. “It was perfect ten batches ago.”

She smirked and let the spoon drop a little. “Thanks, but you think everything I make is perfect.”

He nearly sighed in relief as his distance from the spoon increased “Well, sales at your shop are excellent. I’d think if the things you were serving weren’t up to snuff, the sales would show it. Have faith in yourself.”

“I do, but this is the Valentine’s Day Bake-Off. Stanhill told me people come to Nocturne Falls from all over to compete in this thing.” Her eyes lit with the silver glow all vampires experienced when filled with strong emotion. “And I plan on winning.”

She lifted the spoon toward him again.

He laughed and shook his head. “And I’m sure you will, but if you force any more sugar into me, I’ll be in a coma and unable to enjoy your victory with you.”

She sighed and put the spoon back into the bowl. “If I lose, it’s your fault.”

He smiled patiently, as though already enduring the blame. “I know.”

Stanhill, Hugh’s rook and sort-of butler, came in through the kitchen door, his arms filled with bags from the Shop & Save. “Pretty sure I bought the last of the butter.”

“Stanhill,” Delaney exclaimed with excessive joy. “I’m so glad you’re home.”

“Thank you, miss.” He put the bags on the table and glanced at Hugh, who shook his head in slow warning. Stanhill looked back at Delaney with the tiniest bit of fear in his eyes, as if he sensed what lay in store for him. “May I ask
why
you’re so glad I’m home?”

She picked up the spoon of frosting again. “Because I need you to taste this.”

Stanhill’s eyes widened. He’d had his share of frosting, too. And cake. And truffles. And cookies. They’d all been up to their eyeballs in sweets since Delaney had first heard about the bake-off. He backed up a fraction. “I—”

She stuck the spoon in his mouth before he could get another word out.

Hugh snorted as Stanhill pulled the spoon free. The rook swallowed. “That was very delicious, as all the other frostings have been, but I’ve had all the sugar I can handle for the month.”

She frowned at both of them. “You two act like this is a game. It’s not. It’s serious business and—”

“That’s it.” Hugh folded his paper and stood. “Delaney, get dressed. We’re going out.”

“What? I can’t. This is my last day to practice this cake.”

“You’ve practiced enough. More than enough. It can’t be any more perfect than it already is. You need a break from this kitchen. And we need a break from you in the kitchen. We’re going to the Poisoned Apple for drinks and dinner. Real dinner. Not cake samples.”

She crossed her arms, leaned against the counter and seemed to be considering it. “I was going to run more variation on the red velvet.”

He shook his head. “You’re overthinking it.”

Stanhill nodded. “I agree. You’re a bleedin’ whiz in the kitchen. At this point, it’s not about whether or not you’re going to win, it’s about how badly the others are going to lose.”

She grinned at him. “Okay, fine, you win. Hugh, just give me a few minutes to get all of this put away.”

“No,” Stanhill said. “I’ll worry about the mess. You two go and have fun.”

“You’re sure?” Delaney asked.

“Positive.”

“You’ll give Captain his dinner? And I mean cat food, not bacon.”

Hugh smirked. Delaney’s cat wasn’t about to miss a meal. Especially not on Stanhill’s watch. The rook spoiled the great black and white beast.

“I wouldn’t let our boy go hungry.” Stanhill smiled. “You have my word I’ll give him a proper meal.”

“Thank you.” She untied her apron and lifted it over her head, clearly amused at Hugh. “I’ll go clean up, change and be right back down.”

He winked at her. “Can’t wait. I’ve forgotten what you look like without flour on your face.”

She leaned in to kiss his cheek on her way out. “Yes, you’ve made your point. Back in a few.”

“Take whatever time you need.”

She left, and Hugh rested his hands on the paper, waiting until he heard the bedroom door close upstairs before he spoke again. “I swear, if I ate another bite of sweet my veins were going to crystallize from all the sugar.”

Stanhill laughed and took the mixing bowl off the stand mixer to bring it to the sink. “She’s worrying for nothing.”

“I know that and you know that, but she wants to win this thing. She thinks if she doesn’t, it will hurt the business.”

Stanhill turned on the tap to fill the sink with hot water and added a hefty shot of dish detergent. After he put the soap down, he went to work rolling up his sleeves. “I don’t think anything could hurt her business. It’s a very popular spot.”

“It is.” And Delaney had to know that. Why, then, was she so worked up about this silly little bake-off? All right, perhaps it wasn’t silly or little, but it bothered him to see her so stressed about something. “Stanhill, do you think there’s anything else bothering Delaney? She’d tell me if there was, don’t you think?”

The rook was up to his arms in suds, his back to Hugh. He stayed that way as he spoke. “Of course she would. She has been a bit…wound up lately, but I just figured it was this contest.”

Hugh nodded. “I’m sure that’s it.”

“What’s it?” Delaney asked as she came in. She’d changed into the red cashmere sweater he’d given her for Christmas, jeans and heels.

Hugh’s brows lifted. The last two months of intense baking—and sampling—meant his wife had accomplished something few vampires could manage without incredible effort. She’d gotten curvier. Her figure, which had always been beautiful, had grown even lusher.

It was enough to make Hugh consider cancelling their dinner out in favor of giving Stanhill the rest of the night off and staying home.

In bed.

She waved her hand in front of his face. “Hello? Are you there?”

He blinked. “Yes, I was just…” Lusting over his wife’s body. He stood, trying to compose himself. “I’ll bring the car around.”

She laughed. “Were you just checking me out?”

Caught, he frowned. “I
am
your husband.”

She leaned against him, her sweet vanilla scent the only sugar he craved, and nibbled his jaw. “We could stay home.”

He nodded, heat rising through his bones. His hands found her hips and visions of the night ahead filled his mind. “I suppose we could.”

She pulled away again, her eyes sparkling with mischief. “Except now I really want a steak.”

He narrowed his eyes at her. “Is that because I wouldn’t taste your frosting?”

She laughed and backed toward the door. “Maybe.”

He went after her, knowing that she was going to tease him all night until he could think of nothing else but bringing her home and taking her to bed. She enjoyed having that power over him, but he wasn’t going to complain. Not when the reward was so very worth it.

“You two have fun,” Stanhill called after them.

“We will,” Hugh shot back. Then he smiled at Delaney. “We already are.”

F
ebruary 14
. Saturday morning. Two hours until the bell rang to signal the start of the Nocturne Falls Valentine’s Day Bake-Off. Two hours until the calm in the contestants’ tents dissolved into chaos and frantic energy.

Delaney felt like she was going to throw up. She’d felt that way since she’d woken up. Fortunately, Hugh had been very understanding about her request to postpone all Valentine’s Day activities until that evening. She knew he had a gift for her, but she wanted to wait until this was over and she could really appreciate the effort he’d gone to.

And now here she was. Facing down a crazy day of baking. The other contestants in the tent looked just as nervous as she felt. She had to get this under control. This was no way to start the day. Desperate for a distraction, she checked her list for the thousandth time. Then she recounted her baking sheets and cake pans. And did one more inventory on her supplies. She knew she had everything she needed, but that didn’t put to rest the stupid little voice in her head that said she didn’t.

Her station of two tables and a stove/oven unit and small fridge was set up in Tent One on the fairgrounds. There were six tents altogether, three for the actual bake-off that held twenty-five contestants each. And everyone was entering at least one of three categories: Cakes, Chocolates and Cookies.

Except for the truly mad, who had entered all three. Why on earth had she done that? She groaned and tipped her head back to stare at the tent poles. She was crazy. She knew that now. Crazy and overly ambitious.

But winning this contest could be big. Besides bragging rights and a righteous trophy, the winners in each category got a nod in Home Baker Magazine. That kind of publicity could be just the thing to get Delaney’s Delectables into the mail-order game.

And mail-order chocolates and confections were big business. The kind of big that could lead to things like getting a spot on Shopping TV. That would be the fulfillment of a dream that a year ago had felt so far away it might as well have been on Mars.

She sighed. She was getting herself worked up over something that hadn’t happened and might not. She knew that. So she closed her eyes and took a few measured breaths in an attempt to calm her nerves. Breathing wasn’t a necessity as a vampire, but she’d only been one for nine months and some habits weren’t that easy to break.

“All ready?”

She jumped, startled by the sound of her husband’s voice. “Hugh, you scared me.”

“Sorry, darling. Just thought I’d swing by with a coffee and see if you needed anything.” He held out a cup. It was from her favorite coffee shop, the Hallowed Bean, which was also conveniently located right across from her store on Black Cat Boulevard.

“That was very sweet of you, but I don’t think caffeine is a good idea for me right now. How did you get in here anyway? I didn’t think they let anyone in besides contestants and one assistant, and as much as I love you, I listed Ivy as my assistant.” The Sheriff’s wife had been helping out in Delaney’s shop for a while now. Ivy Merrow had serious baking skills and was the first werewolf Delaney had ever called friend.

He smiled. “No one says no to an Ellingham, darling.”

“I suppose not.”

He glanced around. “Where is Ivy?”

“Running the store. If I need her, which I won’t, she’s got my okay to lock up and do whatever needs doing. But between Stanhill and I, I’m pretty sure we packed enough stuff for everyone in this tent to bake with.”

“Good.” He held out the coffee again. “You sure you don’t want this? You love their coffee. You love all coffee.”

“That I do, but today…maybe just leave it on the table. I’m not sure I’ll drink it, but I might change my mind.” She frowned and whispered, “I’m kind of a hot mess of nerves right now.”

He put the cup down on the front table, then walked around it and pulled her into his arms. “Don’t be nervous, my love. You’re going to do just fine. You’ve practiced these recipes so many times I bet you could put them together with your eyes closed.”

She leaned her head on his shoulder, so comforted by his loving embrace and kind words that she felt a little weepy. He was such a good man. “You’re right. I know you are. I just can’t shake these nerves today.”

He kissed her temple. “That’s natural, don’t you think?”

She looked at him. “Probably. But none of the other contestants seem to be freaking out.”

“You’re only saying that because you haven’t seen Birdie Caruthers. She’s in Tent Two. Apparently she called Sheriff Merrow to report that one of her tables had been stolen and that he, as her nephew, had better find the perpetrator immediately.”

Delaney shook her head. “And?”

Hugh rolled his eyes. “Her table was right where it was supposed to be. In front of her. She thought every contestant got three.”

Delaney giggled, her mood lightened. “That sounds like her.” She kissed him. “Thank you for taking care of me.”

“It’s my life’s work.” He winked at her.

She rested her fingers on the amulet that hung from the slim chain around her neck. She hadn’t taken it off since becoming a vampire, except to switch it over to a bracelet on occasion, but that particular piece of jewelry wouldn’t fly with all the work she had before her today. She’d kept her wedding and engagement rings on, though. “I thought your life’s work was figuring out how to keep us safe in the sun without these amulets.”

He scowled. “Yes, that too. I suppose someday I’ll discover a solution but I’m damned tired of every experiment failing.”

She patted his chest, feeling his own amulet beneath his shirt. “I’m just happy we have them or neither one of us would be standing here.”

The amulets, supplied to everyone in the Ellingham family by Alice Bishop, Elenora Ellingham’s personal secretary and all-around powerful witch, were a great source of consternation for Hugh and his two brothers, Sebastian and Julian. Their grandmother used the amulets to occasionally bend the men to her will. But then, Elenora liked to do that to just about everyone. The amulets just gave her leverage where her grandsons were concerned.

BOOK: The Vampire's Valentine Surprise: A Nocturne Falls Short
8.51Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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