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The Vampire's Valentine Surprise

By´╝ÜKristen Painter

Chapter One

“Hugh. 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.”