“Who are you?”

 

Parker whirled around. Someone had sneaked up on him. Damn, his senses were dulling if people could…do… Hell-o.

 

Parker found himself staring at the most incredible redhead he’d ever been privileged to lay eyes on. Something about her scent tantalized him, teased him. For the first time in decades his mouth watered over a person rather than a salad. “The new owner.” He took a step forward and held out his hand, juggling the urn. “Parker Hollis. Are you one of my neighbors?”

 

She stared at his hand, a frown marring her lovely face. “You’re dead.”

 

Parker’s jaw dropped. “What?”

 

“You’re a vampire.” She said it with such authority that he couldn’t deny it.

 

Parker checked his fangs with his tongue. Nope, his teeth felt human. “What would make you say that?”

 

“You’re unnaturally pale, you’re carrying around another dead guy, which is freaky even for a vampire, and your eyes are glowing ruby red.”

 

He laughed, but even to his ears it sounded awkward. “Vampires don’t exist.”

 

She poked him in the stomach. “Funny. You feel real enough.”

 

Want to feel some more? “Whatever would give you the idea that there are vampires?”

 

“You mean besides the fangs poking your bottom lip?”

 

Parker blushed. That hadn’t happened in years. These days they only descended at the sound of a blender. Made going into a smoothie shop a real chore. “Oh. Sorry about that.” He forced his beast back and away from the pretty, pretty girl.

 

“Don’t worry about it. One of my best friends is a vampire.”

 

“That explains a lot.” Humans and vampires rarely became friends, but if it could happen to Parker, it could happen to his lovely neighbor. “For a moment there I thought I was wearing a sign.”

 

Her frown smoothed out into a shy smile. Her lips made a lovely cupid’s bow, tempting him to sample them, to see if they tasted as rich as they looked. “I don’t know. You could be. Have you looked in a mirror lately? Oh wait, would you even see the sign?”

 

“Ha-ha. That’s a myth, I’ll have you know.” He stuck his hand out again, wondering why the woman wasn’t more freaked-out. She knew what he was; did that mean she too was supernatural? He couldn’t detect any scent of were, none of the sparkle the fae had. The only odd thing was that utterly delicious scent wafting from her. She smelled like the highest-quality syrup mixed with the rarest of greens, combined with that hint of copper every vampire craved. “You are?”

 

“Amara Schwedler. I live next door.” She pointed toward the lavender Victorian with a sad smile. “My friend Glinda left it to me.”

 

“Left it to you?”

 

“She passed away a year ago.”

 

Parker frowned. “I’m sorry for your loss. I recently lost a good friend myself, so I know how much it hurts.” He set the urn down on the front porch. He had no desire to crack Greg’s final resting place, but damn, he wanted to get closer to the sweet-smelling female standing at the bottom of the steps.

 

“Aw, how sweet.”

 

Parker ignored Greg, glad no one else could hear him. No matter what Greg thought, watching him die had been painful, almost as bad as his conversion.

 

“Why didn’t you change him?”

 

He took a chance and prayed Greg would forgive him. “He was a witch.”

 

“Parker!”

 

“Ah. Of course. He’d have lost his powers if you changed him. No witch wants that.”

 

He dared take a step closer to her. “You seem to know a great deal about witches as well as vampires.”

 

“Mm-hmm. Glinda was one.”

 

He nearly laughed. Some witch had dared name their daughter after the Witch of the North? “I guess she was a good one.”

 

“Oh yes, she was the best.” Amara grinned cheekily. “She let me help create the garden behind your house.”

 

Parker blinked. “I have a garden?” Damn. He had plans for his backyard. Knowing his delicious neighbor lady had already taken care of it was a serious conundrum. What if he didn’t like what she’d done and decided to rip it out? Would she refuse to let him crawl inside her the way he wanted to?

 

“Oh yes. It’s beautiful. One of the best we’ve ever done.”

 

“Would you be willing to show it to me?” He’d forgo entering his home for a chance to spend some time with Amara.

 

She bit her lip. “May I?”

 

“Please.” Please please please. Anything to get her to stay close to him. He waved toward the back garden. “After you, m’lady.”

 

She giggled. “I like your accent.”

 

“Thank you.” She wasn’t the first woman to tell him they liked his British accent. American women went bonkers for an accent, even one as faded as his, and he used that to his advantage when the urge for sex became too great to satisfy with his hand.

 

But he’d been forced to learn caution. Terri had a habit of finding out when he’d slept with someone. The last woman he’d been with more than once had died horribly, strangled by vines in her greenhouse. The cops had called it a bizarre accident.

 

Parker knew better.

 

Parker frowned. Maybe…maybe instead of trying to end the curse, he should be trying to end Terri. After all, the curse wasn’t so bad.

 

Terri, on the other hand…

 

“Here, let me open that for you.” He reached over her head and unlatched the gate, then pulled it open and followed her inside.

 

He stopped dead, arrested by a wonderland of flora.

 

“What do you think?”

 

Meandering pathways led to secreted benches, perfect for sitting and enjoying a quiet evening. A patio, complete with fireplace and outdoor kitchen, was close enough to the house for entertaining, but far enough away to create its own vignette. Statuary peeked out here and there from under leaves, satyrs and dryads and faeries of all types. Trees were positioned to provide shade for all but the hottest of days. But best of all was the view of snow-capped Big Savage Mountain behind the garden, part of the Valley and Ridge Appalachians, framed by two towering oaks. “Beautiful. Absolutely beautiful.”

 

Amara blushed. “Thank you.”

 

He walked around, dazed at the beauty of his secret garden. He fingered each plant, naming them as he went. “This rhododendron is exquisite. And columbine!” He pointed toward a flowering bush. “Look at that baptisia! That’s a Carolina Moonlight, isn’t it?”

 

“Yes.” Amara nodded enthusiastically. “How did you know?”

 

He grinned. “I’m a botanist.”

 

“A vampire botanist?” Amara’s lips twitched.

 

He shrugged. “Long story.” One he might be willing to tell her someday. “I’m impressed with what you’ve done here.”

 

That blush raced across her cheeks once more, and he was in serious danger of having his socks, and other parts of his apparel, charmed off. “Thank you.”

 

“Someone’s planning on gettin’ some.”

 

“Shut up, Greg,” he muttered.

 

“Greg? Was that the name of your friend?” Amara seemed illuminated by the moonlight, fey and shy and so beautiful his heart lurched.

 

“Yup. Some days it’s like he still talks to me.”

 

“Bow-chicka-bow-wow.”

 

Parker gritted his teeth against the cheesy bump-and-grind noises.

 

“I know the feeling.” Amara grimaced, caressing a rare Sterling rose, so pale and delicate in her hand. “I was with Glinda since childhood. She raised me.”

 

Parker could almost feel Greg’s interest perk up. “Are you a witch?”

 

Amara’s expression was serene, almost reverent, as she let go of the rose. “No. I’m something else.” She turned back toward her house, her gaze at once sad and distant. “I have to go.”

 

“I’m sorry to hear that. I was enjoying your company.”

 

She looked up and smiled at him, and damn if Parker couldn’t see tiny Cupids dancing around her head. “I was too.”

 

He grinned. “It’s always good to enjoy your own company.”

 

Her brows rose.

 

“Ignore me. I have an odd sense of humor.”

 

“Something tells me you’re going to be very hard to ignore.”

 

He could live with that. He followed her to the gate and opened it for her. “It was a pleasure meeting you.”

 

Amara looked up at him, and he almost swallowed his tongue at the lust pooling in his belly. He couldn’t remember ever having a reaction like this to a woman. He wanted to cart her into his house, tie her to his bed and never let her go.

 

Some of the distance in her eyes eased, and she smiled at him once more. “I enjoyed our chat. I’ll come visit the garden again.”

 

“Not me?” Parker pouted and put his hand to his heart, feigning hurt. Parker wanted her to visit more than his rhododendrons. He wanted her in his bed. On his couch. Even in the kitchen, if he could keep Greg from bitching about his precious countertops. He would keep her for however long it took to work her out of his system.

 

But she was distracted by something only she could see. “Perhaps.” She walked across his lawn, and for the first time he noticed her bare feet, as she bent not a single blade of grass. Something else, indeed. “Good night, Parker Hollis.”

 

“Good night, Amara Schwedler.”

 

“That is one strange woman.”

 

“Yes. She is.” Parker narrowed his eyes as she glided onto her front porch and through the door. “She surely is.”

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Dana Marie Bell.

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