Kisses from Hell


A collection of stories by

Kelley Armstrong, Francesca Lia Block, Kristin Cast, Richelle Mead and Alyson Noël




Emma wasn’t Eric Dragomir’s first girlfriend. Nor was she likely to be his last.

Of course, the latter statement was assuming Eric’s father didn’t interfere. As far as old Frederick Dragomir was concerned, Eric and Emma should have already been married. It was a wonder, Eric thought bitterly, that his father hadn’t simply planned on having the wedding the same day they graduated high school.

“What’s the problem? How many more girls are you going to go through?” Frederick had demanded the last time father and son had visited. “She’s from a good family. Pretty. Smart. Nice enough. What more do you want? I know you think you’re too young, but time’s running out! There’s hardly any of us left.”

Standing now on a Chilean beach that felt light-years away from Montana, watching the stars flicker against a deep purple sky, Eric wondered if that was what had driven his parents to get married. Fear that their kind was dwindling away. He’d never thought much about their relationship while he was growing up. They were just his parents. They existed. They would always be together. They would always be around. He’d taken that for granted, never pondering the more intimate feelings within their marriage. He realized, now that his mother was gone, that he hadn’t even really taken the time to get to know them as people. It was too late for her, and lately, with all the marriage pressure, Eric really wasn’t all that excited to learn much more about his father.

Emma appeared suddenly, like an apparition, linking her arm with his. “Aren’t you glad the sun went down? That light was literally killing me.”

Eric didn’t bother to correct her misuse of “literally”—or to tell her that he didn’t mind the sun, even though too much exposure irritated their kind. In fact, he always kind of regretted that they—as living vampires—couldn’t handle much of the light. He sometimes entertained fantasies of lying by a pool, wrapped in the sun’s golden embrace.

Instead he smiled down at Emma, taking in her long-lashed deep blue eyes and elaborately braided dark brown hair. The eyes and hair contrasted sharply with that pale, porcelain skin all Moroi had. Combined with her heart-shaped face and high cheekbones, Emma Drozdov made lots of guys stop and stare—Eric included.

You were wrong again, Dad, Eric thought. She isn’t pretty. She’s stunning.

Maybe settling down with Emma wouldn’t be such a bad thing. They always had a good time together, and his father had been right about her being nice and smart. She’d also demonstrated—on more than one occasion —her willingness and creativity when it came to certain physical acts. Life with her would never be boring, and Eric suspected she was as eager as his father for an engagement ring.

“Hey,” she said with a nudge. “What’s up? Why are you all serious?”

He groped for an answer that wouldn’t betray how moody he was—or how he kept going back and forth on their relationship. What else had his father said last time? You can’t wait forever. What if something happens to you? What’ll become of us then?

“Just pissed off at how long the boat’s taking,” Eric said at last, silencing his father’s nagging voice. “We were supposed to get out of here before sunset.”

“I know,” she said, her gaze scanning the area. Around them stood the other members of their graduating class—well, the elite members of their class. They were milling and chatting, waiting eagerly to board the yacht that would ferry them to what was supposedly the party of the year. “And now they’re taking forever.”

“The crew has to load supplies,” Eric pointed out. The boat had been tied up against a dock for a while as food and luggage were loaded. Weary-looking feeders—humans who willingly gave blood to Moroi vampires— were now being marched up the dock and onto the boat. Really, simply using the yacht for transport seemed like a waste. It was newly built and, according to rumor, filled with all sorts of luxury accommodations. Even in the fading light, the boat gleamed a brilliant white. Some might consider it small for a yacht, but it could have easily housed his class for a weeklong party.

“Still, we should have left an hour ago.” Emma’s eyes fell on Jared Zeklos—a royal whose father was behind the weekend-long celebration. She smirked, fangs just barely showing against her glossy red lips. “Jared acted so full of himself when this party was announced. Now people are going to turn on him.”

It was true. That was the nature of the circle they existed in. Eric almost felt sorry for the guy, who was clearly uncomfortable as the annoyed gazes of his classmates ran over him. “Well, I’m sure it’s not his—”

A scream cut the hum of chatter and laughter. Eric jerked toward the sound, instinctively pulling Emma against him. The beach and dock were in a fairly deserted area—as so many Moroi territories were—accessible only by a narrow dirt road cutting through a jungle that had hardly been touched by human or vampire hands.

And there, just near the tree line, Eric saw a face straight from his nightmares. A person—no, creature— was lunging toward a red-haired girl. The creature’s face was pale, but not in the manner of the Moroi. It had a sickly, chalky pallor. Eric could scarcely believe it, but he knew: It was one of the Strigoi, undead vampires who killed those they took blood from. They didn’t live and breed the way Moroi did. They were unnatural creatures who transformed from the living into a twisted, undead state. Sometimes, a Moroi could do this by choice if they drank all the blood of a victim. Other times, Strigoi were made forcefully when a Strigoi bit a victim and then fed Strigoi blood back. Really, the means of creation didn’t matter. Strigoi were lethal, with no sense of their previous lives. The paleness of the Strigoi’s face was that of death and decay, and Eric knew that up close, the Strigoi’s pupils would be ringed in red.

Snarling, the Strigoi aimed its fangs at the girl’s neck, and he was moving with a speed that didn’t seem physically possible. Eric had been taught about Strigoi his entire life, but nothing could have prepared him for the real thing. Emma apparently wasn’t prepared either, judging from the way she was clinging to him and digging her fingers into his arms. More screaming filled the air, and Eric caught sight of yet another Strigoi leaping out of the shadows and moving to the new Moroi graduates. Panic surged through the group, followed by the inevitable chaos that came whenever people were trapped and terrified. Trampling seemed inevitable.

Then, almost as quickly as the Strigoi had burst out, new figures suddenly emerged from the crowd. Their clothing was similar to that of Eric’s classmates, but there was no confusing them with the Moroi. They were dhampirs—guardians, to be specific—the half-human, half-vampire warriors who guarded Moroi. Shorter and more muscular than the living vampires they protected, the guardians had trained and honed their reflexes to as close to the Strigoi’s as possible. There were almost a dozen guardians on the beach and just two Strigoi. The guardians wasted no time in taking advantage of their numbers.

The scene lasted only a few moments, and yet Eric felt like he was watching it in slow motion. The guardians—who had been dispersed among the waiting group—split their forces and went after each Strigoi. The one attacking the red-haired girl was ripped away from her and staked before he could do any damage. The other Strigoi never even got a chance to go for a victim before he was taken down.

It took a few minutes for the crowd to settle down and see that the danger was gone. A great cheer went up when they realized what had happened, and suddenly it was as though the whole thing had been a nonevent. A few of the guardians dragged away the bodies of the staked Strigoi to be burned while the rest began shouting that the Moroi needed to be loaded onto the boat now. Herded along, Eric walked in a daze toward the dock, still trying to process what had happened.

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