Thursday, December 4, 2014
Spotlight and Giveaway Vampire in Paradise by Sandra Hill
Vampire in Paradise
Deadly Angels Series
Genre: Paranormal Romance
Publisher: Avon/Harper Collins
Date of Publication: 11/25/2014
Number of pages: 352
It’s been centuries since the Norseman Sigurd Sigurdsson was turned into a Vangel-a Viking Vampire Angel-as punishment for his sin of envy, but he’s still getting the hang of having fangs that get in the way when seducing women. Slaying demon vampires known as Lucipires and using his healing gifts as a cancer research doctor, Sigurd is sent to Florida’s Grand Keys Island as a resident physician where he encounters the most sinfully beautiful woman.
The only hope Marisa Lopez has of curing her five-year-old daughter of is a pricey experimental procedure. When she meets the good-looking doctor, Marisa is speechless. Then Sigurd tells her he believes he can help her daughter. Could this too-hot-to resist Viking doctor be an angel of some sort sent to bring a miracle for her daughter? Or is he just a vampire bent on breaking Marisa’s heart?
Add it to Your Goodreads List
Sometimes life throws you a life line, sometimes a lead sinker…
No one watching Marisa Lopez emerge from the medical center in downtown Miami would have guessed that she’d just been delivered a death blow. Not for herself, but for her five-year-old daughter Isobel.
Marisa had become a master at hiding her emotions. When she’d found out she was pregnant midway through her junior year at Florida State and her scumbag boyfriend Chip Dougherty skipped campus faster than his two hundred dollar running shoes could carry him. When her hopes for a career in physical therapy went down the tubes. When she’d found out two years ago that her sweet baby girl had an inoperable brain tumor. When the blasted tumor kept growing, and Izzie got sicker and sicker. When Marisa had lost her third job in a row because of missing so many days for Izzie’s appointments. And now…well, she refused to break down now either, not where others could see.
And there were people watching. Looking like a young Sophia Loren, not to mention being five-ten in her three-inch heels, she often got double takes, and the occasional wolf whistle. And she knew how to work it, especially when tips were involved at The Palms Health Spa where she was now employed as a certified massage therapist, as well as the Salsa bar where she worked nights at a second job. Was she burning the candle at both ends? Hell, yes. She wished she could do more.
Slinging her knock-off Coach bag over one shoulder, she donned a pair of oversized, fake Dior sunglasses. Her scoop-necked, white silk blouse was tucked into a black pencil skirt, belted at her small waist with a counterfeit, red Gucci belt. Walking briskly on pleather Jimmy Choos, she made her way down the street to her car parked on a side street…a ten-year-old Ford Focus. Not quite the vehicle to go with her seemingly expensive attire, a carefully manufactured image. Little did folks know that hidden in her parents’ garage was a fortune in counterfeit and knock-off items, from Rolex watches to Victoria’s Secret lingerie, thanks to her jailbird brother Steve. A fortune that could not be tapped because someone besides her brother would end up in jail. Probably me, considering the bad luck cloud that seems to be hanging over my head.
It wasn’t against the law to wear the stuff, just so long as she didn’t sell it. To her shame, she’d been tempted on more than one occasion this past year to do just that. Desperation trumps morality. So far, she hadn’t succumbed, though all her friends knew where to come when they needed something “special.”
Her parents had no idea what was in the green-lidded bins that had been taped shut with duct tape. They probably thought it was Steve’s clothes and other worldly goods. Hah!
Once inside her car, with the air conditioner on full blast, Marisa put her forehead on the steering wheel and wept. Soul searing sobs and gasps for breath as she cried out her misery. Marisa knew that she had to get it all out before she went home where she would have to pretend optimism before Izzie, who was way too perceptive for her age. Marisa’s parents, on the other hand, would need to know the prognosis. They would be crushed, as she was.
A short time later, by mid afternoon, with her emotions under control and her makeup retouched, Marisa walked up the sidewalk to her parents’ house. She noticed that the Lopez Plumbing van wasn’t in the driveway; so, her father must still be at work. Good. Marisa didn’t need the double whammy of both parents’ reaction to the latest news. One at a time would be easier.
Marisa had moved into her parents’ house, actually the apartment over the infamous garage, after Izzie’s initial diagnosis two years ago…to save money and take advantage of her parents’ generous offer to baby sit while Marisa worked. Her older brother Steve, who had been the apartment’s prior occupant, was already in jail by that time, serving a two to six for armed robbery. The idiot had carried an old boy scout knife in his pocket when he’d stolen the cash register receipts at the Seven Eleven. Ironically, he’d never been nabbed for selling counterfeit goods…his side job, so to speak.
Unfortunately, this wasn’t Steve’s first stint in the slammer, although it was his first felony. She hoped he learned something this time, but she was doubtful.
Marisa used her key to enter the thankfully air-conditioned house. Immediately, her mood lightened somewhat in the home’s cozy atmosphere. Overstuffed sofa and chair. Her dad’s worn leather recliner that bore the imprint of his behind from long years of use. And the smell…ah! The air was permeated with the scent of spicy browned beef and tomatoes and fresh baked bread. It was Monday; so, it must be Vaca Vieja, or shredded beef, her father’s favorite, which would be served over rice with a fresh salad. No bagged salads here. No store bought bread.
Izzie was asleep on the couch where she’d been watching cartoons on the television that had been turned to a low volume. The pretty, soft, pink and lavender afghan her grandmother had knitted covered her from shoulders to bare feet, but even so, her thin frame was apparent. There were dark smudges beneath her eyes. Even so, she was cute as a button with her ski-jump nose and rosebud mouth, thanks to her father. But then, she’d inherited a Latin complexion, dark dancing eyes, and a frame that promised to be tall from Marisa, who was no slouch in the good looks department, if she did say so herself. No doubt about it, Izzie was destined to be a beauty when she grew up. If she ever did.
Marisa put her bag on the coffee table and leaned down to kiss the black curls that capped her little girl’s head. She and her daughter shared the same coal black hair, but Marisa’s was thick and straight as a pin. At one time, Izzie had sported a wild mass of dark corkscrew curls, all of which had been lost in her first bout of radiation. A wasted effort, the radiation had turned out. To everyone’s surprise, especially Izzie, the shorter hairdo suited her better.
With a deep sigh, Marisa entered the kitchen.
Her mother was standing at the counter washing lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers and radishes that she must have just picked from the small garden in the back yard. She wore her standard daytime “uniform.” A blouse tucked into stretchy waist slacks, and curlers on her head. Soon she would shower and change to a dress and medium pumps, her black hair all fluffed out, lipstick and a little makeup applied, to greet Daddy when he got home. It was a ritual she had followed every single day since her marriage thirty-two years ago. Just as she maintained her trim, attractive figure at fifty-nine. To please Daddy, as much as herself.
As for her father…even with the little paunch he’d put on a few years back and a receding hairline, when he walked into the house wearing his plumbing coveralls, Marisa’s mother had been known to sigh and murmur, “Men in uniform!”
Marisa’s mother must have sensed her presence because she turned abruptly. At first glance, she gasped and put a hand to her heart. No hiding anything from a mother.
“Oh, Marisa, honey!” her mother said. Making the sign of the cross, she sat down at the kitchen table and motioned for Marisa to sit, too.
First-generation Cuban-Americans, they’d named their first-born child Estefan Lopez. He became known as Steve. Marisa Angelica, who came five years later…a “miracle baby” for the couple who’d been told there would be no more children…was named after Grandma Lopez “back home,” and Aunt Angelica who was a nun serving some special order in the Philippines.
“Tell me,” her mother insisted.
“Doctor Stern says the tumor has grown, only slightly, in the past two months, but her brain and other tissue are increasing like any normal growing child and pressing against…” Tears welled in her eyes, despite her best efforts, and she took several of the tissues her mother handed her. “Oh, Mom! He says, without that experimental surgery, she only has a year to live. And even with the surgery, it might not work.”
Izzie’s only hope, and it was a slim one at best, was some new procedure being tried in Switzerland. Because it was experimental and in a foreign country, insurance would not cover the expense. Marisa had managed to raise an amazing hundred thousand dollars through various charitable endeavors, but she still needed another seventy thousand dollars. That seventy thou might just as well be a hundred million, considering Marisa’s empty bank account, as well as her parents, who’d second-mortgaged their house when Steve got into so much trouble.
She and her mother both bawled then. What else could they do? Well, her mother had ideas, of course.
Her mother stood and poured them both cups of her special brewed coffee from an old metal coffee pot on the stove. No fancy pancy (her mother’s words) Keurig or other modern devices for the old-fashioned lady. They both put one packet of diet sugar and a dollop of milk in their cups before taking the first sip.
“First off, we will pray,” her mother declared. “And we will ask Angelica to pray for Izzie, too.”
“Mom! With the hurricane that hit the Philippines last year, Aunt Angelica has way too much on her prayer schedule.”
“Tsk-tsk!” Her mother said. “A nun always has time for more prayers. And I will ask my Rosary, Altar Society ladies to start a novena. A miracle, that is what we need.”
Marisa rolled her eyes before she could catch herself.
Her mother wagged a forefinger at her. “Nothing is impossible with prayer.”
It couldn’t hurt, Marisa supposed, although she was beginning to lose faith, despite being raised in a strict Catholic household. Hah! Look how much good that moral upbringing had done Steve.
That wasn’t fair, she immediately chastised herself. Steve brought on his problems, and was not the issue today. Izzie was. Besides, who was she to talk. Having a baby without marriage. “Okay, Mom, we’ll pray,” she conceded. If I still can.
She let the peaceful ambiance of the kitchen fill her then. To Cubans, the kitchen was the heart of the home, and this little portion of the fifty-year-old ranch style house was indeed that. The oak kitchen cabinets were original to the house, but the way her mother cleaned, they gleamed with a golden patina, like new. Curtains with embroidered roses framed the double-window over the sink. In the middle of the room was an old aluminum table that could seat six, in the center of which was a single red rose in a slim crystal vase, the sentimental weekly gift from her father to her mother. The red leather on the chair seats had been reupholstered twice now by her father’s hands in his tool room in the basement. A Tiffany-style fruited lamp hung over the table.
A shuffling sound alerted them to Izzie coming toward the kitchen. Trailing the afghan in one hand and her favorite stuffed animal, a ratty, floppy eared rabbit named Lucky in the other, she didn’t notice at first that her mother was home.
Marisa stood. “Well, if it isn’t Sleeping Beauty?”
“Mommy!” Dropping the afghan and Lucky, she raced into Marisa’s open arms. Marisa twirled Izzie around in her arms until they were both dizzy. She dropped down to the chair again, with Izzie on her lap, both of them laughing. “Dizzy Izzie!” her daughter squealed, like she always did.
“For you, Isobella.” Her mother placed before Izzie a plastic Barbie plate of chocolate-sprinkled sugar cookies and a matching teacup of chocolate milk. Her mother would have already crushed some of the hated pills into the milk.
“I’m not hungry, Nana,” Izzie whined, burying her face against Marisa’s chest.
“You have to eat something, honey. At least drink the milk,” Marisa coaxed.
After a good half hour of bribing, teasing, singing, and game playing, she and her mother got Izzie to eat two of the cookies and drink all of the milk.
“What did the doctor say?” Izzie asked suddenly.
Uh-oh! Izzie knew that Marisa had gone to the medical center to discuss her latest test results. “Doctor Stern said you are growing like a weed. No, he said you are growing faster than Jack and the Beanstalk’s magic beans.” At least that was true. She was growing, despite her loss of weight.
Izzie giggled. “I’m a big girl now.”
“Yes, you are, sweetie,” Marisa said, hugging her little girl warmly.
Somehow, someway, I am going to get the money for Izzie, Marisa vowed silently. It might take one of my mother’s miracles, but I am not going to let my precious little girl die. But how? That is the question.
The answer came to her that evening when she was at La Cucaracha, the Salsa bar where she worked a second job as a waitress and occasional bartender. Well, a possible answer.
“A porno convention?” she exclaimed, at first disbelieving that her best friend Inga Johanssen would make such a suggestion.
“More than that. The first ever International Conference on Freedom of Expression,” Inga told her.
“Bull!” Marisa opined.
They were in a back room of the restaurant, talking a break. They wore the one-shouldered, knee-length, black Salsa dresses with ragged hems, La Cucharacha’s uniform for women (the men wore slim black pants and white shirts). They were both roughly five foot eight, but otherwise completely different. Where Marisa was dark and olive skinned, Inga was blond and Nordic. Where Marisa’s figure was what might be called voluptuous, Inga’s was slim and boylike, except for the boobs she bought last year. The garments they wore were not meant to be revealing but to accommodate the restaurant’s grueling heat due to the energetic dancing. They needed a break occasionally just to cool off.
Inga waved a newspaper article at her and read aloud , “All the movers and shakers in the Freedom of Expression industry will be there. Multi-billion dollar investors, movie producers, Internet gurus, actors and actresses, store owners, franchisees—”
“Franchisees of what?” Marisa interrupted. “Smut?”
Inga made a tsking sound and continued, “—sex toy manufacturers, instructors on DIY home videos—”
“What’s DIY?” Marisa interrupted again.
“Do It Yourself.”
“Oh, good Lord!”
“A made-up name if I ever heard one.”
“Please, Marisa, give me a chance.”
Marisa made a motion of zipping her lips.
“Martin Vanderfelt, the conference organizer, told the Daily Buzz reporter, “Our aim is to remove the sleaze factor from pornography and gain recognition as a legitimate professional enterprise serving the public. Freedom of Expresson. FOE.”
Marisa rolled her eyes but said nothing.
“This is the best part. It’s being held for one week on a tropical island off the Florida Keys. Grand Keys, a plush special events convention center, offers all the amenities of a four-star hotel, including indoor and outdoor pools, snorkeling and boating services, beauty salons and health spas, numerous restaurants with world class cuisines, nightclubs, tennis courts—”
“I’d like to see some of those over-endowed porno queens bouncing around on a tennis court,” Marisa had to interject.
“I thought they always held the pornography thing every year in Las Vegas.”
“The Expo is held there, but that’s more for public show. They have booths and stuff and even an awards show like the Oscars. This is more for industry insiders.”
“Inside, all right,” she said with lame humor.
“So cynical! Becky Bliss will be there. You know who she is, don’t you?”
Even Marisa knew Becky Bliss. She was the porno princess famous for being able to twerk while on top, having sex. “Are you suggesting we might learn how to do that?”
“It wouldn’t hurt. Maybe it would enhance your non-existent sex life.”
“Not like that!”
“Okay. Besides, Lance Rocket will be there, too.”
Marisa had no idea who Lance Rocket was, but she could guess.
“Anyhow, this conference isn’t for your everyday Joe, the porn aficionado. It costs five thousand dollars to attend. The only access to the island is by water. You can’t drive there, of course. They expect to see lots of yachts and seaplanes.”
Marisa was vaguely aware of the private islands comprising the Florida Keys. An unbelievable seventeen hundred islands, some inhabited, others little more than mangrove and limestone masses. The islands lie along the Florida Straits dividing the Atlantic Ocean from the Gulf of Mexico.
“Okay, I give up. Why would you or I even consider something like this? Oh, my God! You’re not suggesting I make porno films to raise money for Izzie, are you?”
“Of course not. Look. This article says they’re looking to hire employees for up to two weeks at above scale wages, all expenses paid, including transportation. Everything from waiters and waitresses to beauticians to diving instructors…even a doctor and nurse. Waiters and waitresses can expect to earn at least ten thousand dollars, and that doesn’t include tips, which could add another twenty K or more. Upper scale professions, much more.”
“Why would a hotel have to hire so many employees for just one event? Wouldn’t they have a staff in place.”
“The company that owns the island went bankrupt last year, and the property is in foreclosure. In the meantime, until it is sold, the bank rents it out at an exorbitant amount. You know how abandoned properties deteriorate or get vandalized. Plus, the bank probably hopes one of the wealthy dudes or dudettes who attend this thing might fall in love with the place.”
“You know an awful lot about Grand Keys Island.”
Inga shrugged. “I checked it out on the Internet. Hey, here’s an idea. You could even work as a massage therapist. Betcha lots of these porno stars need to work out the kinks. The big ones would leave hundred dollar tips.” She grinned impishly at Marisa.
Marisa couldn’t be offended at Inga’s teasing her about the popular misconception of professional masseurs and masseuses. “Kinks…that about says it all. Pfff! Can you imagine what they would expect of a massage therapist at one of these events?” She lowered her voice to a deep baritone and added, ‘My shoulders are really tight, honey, and while you’re at it, check out down yonder.’”
Inga laughed. “I’m just saying. If you worked as many hours there, let’s say double shifting between waitressing and therapy, you might very well earn close to thirty thousand dollars. In less than two weeks! When opportunity comes down the street, honey, jump on the bus.”
“You say opportunity, I say bad idea. Honestly, Inga, I can’t see us doing something like this.”
“Why not? We don’t have to like all the people that come to the Salsa bar, but we still serve them food and drinks.”
“I don’t know,” Marisa said.
“There’s something else to consider.”
“If you’re going to suggest that I might find a sugar daddy to pay for Izzie’s operation, forget about it.” But don’t think that idea hasn’t occurred to me.
“No, but there will be lots of Internet types there. Maybe you could find someone with the technical ability to set up a website for Izzie to raise funds.”
“I already tried that, but every company I contacted said it has been overdone. There’s no profit for them.”
“Maybe you’ve made the wrong contacts. Maybe if you met someone one on one…I don’t know, Marisa, isn’t it worth a try?” Inga was serious now.
“I’ll think about it,” Marisa said, to her own surprise.
“Applications and interviews for employment are being held at the Purple Palm Hotel in Key West next Friday,” Inga pointed out. “Don’t think too long.”
They heard the Salsa band break out in a lively instrumental with a rich Latin American beat. A prelude to the beginning of another set of dance music.
As they headed back to work, Inga said, “I’ll drive.”
About the Author:
Sandra Hill is a graduate of Penn State and worked for more than 10 years as a features writer and education editor for publications in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
Writing about serious issues taught her the merits of seeking the lighter side of even the darkest stories.
She is the wife of a stockbroker and the mother of four sons.
Join the author’s mailing list