Bloody or Nothing (Box Set)
by Kate Hill
Ebook ISBN: 07480-02412
[ Vampire Romantic Suspense, MMF ]
Meet Sudsy Waters, drag queen, martial arts master, and owner of Bloody or Nothing, vampire hotel.
Publisher’s Note: Bloody or Nothing (Box Set) contains the previously published novellas Sudsy, Bottoms Up, Madly, and Villain Tamed.
Sudsy [ Book 1 ]
The first thing Sudsy noticed about the singer was the scent of his blood. The second thing was that he was drop-dead gorgeous.
Normally Sudsy wouldn’t complain about the scent of blood, especially when it smelled as delicious as this, but the problem was he shouldn’t be able to detect it unless the man was bleeding. By the richness of the aroma, it wasn’t a simple paper cut either.
Still one wouldn’t know the handsome, black-haired hunk was hurt, not by the way he dominated the stage with almost boyish charm and held the high notes with the lung power of a champion swimmer.
Sudsy enjoyed catching the acts at other hotels in Las Vegas, but he was rarely impressed. He’d been hearing a lot about the singer who called himself Julian — nothing else. Simply Julian.
From what Sudsy had heard so far, all the positive reviews about this guy had been well deserved.
Julian’s voice caressed each word, but it wasn’t just his finesse that held his audience captive. His pleasant, offhandedly sexy manner was a major turn-on to women while at the same time non-threatening to straight men. To a gay man like Sudsy, who just happened to like long black hair, a tall lean build and lips that begged to be kissed, Julian was an absolute dream.
Beyond the physical attraction and admiration for talent, Sudsy felt a hint of concern that grew along with the scent of Julian’s blood. Where was the injury? It must be bandaged somewhere beneath his sexy black clothes and it probably hurt like a bastard.
Sudsy sat close enough to the stage that he could see sweat misting Julian’s chiseled face. Though tied back in a ponytail, tendrils of his long black hair clung damply to his strong neck. He gave a lively performance, so it was hard to tell if he was perspiring from exertion, fever or pain. He was so poised that one couldn’t tell by his actions or speech how he felt.
As the show drew to a close, the hotel manager approached Sudsy. He and Ross had known each other for years and while they weren’t exactly friends, they got along well and treated each other hospitably on one another’s territory.
“How did you like the show?” Ross asked. “Julian’s great, isn’t he?”
“Yes,” Sudsy replied, glancing briefly at Ross, then once again fixing his gaze on the sexy singer. “Why is he performing in a dump like this?”
“Dump?” Ross glared. “Why, you –”
Sudsy chuckled. “I’m just kidding. Don’t you know my sense of humor by now?”
Ross straightened his jacket and grunted. “You should know I have no sense of humor when it comes to my hotel. The show’s just about over. Want to meet him?”
“I’d love to.”
They rose from the table and Sudsy glanced at his untouched wine glass. It wasn’t that he didn’t enjoy a drink once in a while, but the scent of Julian’s blood left him thirsty for something stronger than alcohol.
Sudsy was reluctant to leave before the show ended, but he knew it was better to beat the crowd. On his way past a glass partition, he caught sight of himself and smiled slightly. He had to admit he was a damn good-looking drag queen. Statuesque with ebony skin and gleaming dark eyes, he had a lean, muscular build that looked good in a dress, yet was cut enough for him to turn heads when he wore men’s attire as well. His black hair was cut ultra-short, but tonight he wore a burgundy wig. The thick tendrils flowed down his back and nearly matched his dark red lipstick.
Ross led the way backstage and they arrived just as Julian was coming off. Sudsy thought he looked pale beneath the lights, but up close he was as white as a proverbial sheet.
“Julian, when you have a second, I’d like you to meet Sudsy. He owns the Bloody or Nothing Hotel a few blocks from here.”
“Of course,” Julian replied, his voice a bit rough after his performance. He nodded, but there was no missing the tension on his face. Sudsy’s keen hearing detected his erratic heartbeat and recognized the signs of a human about to faint.
He strode forward and gripped Julian by the shoulders before he hit the floor.
“Hey, somebody get some water!” Ross shouted.
Julian hadn’t exactly lost consciousness, but came very close. Slipping an arm around him, Sudsy guided him to a nearby chair.
“Just take a few deep breaths,” Sudsy told him.
“What’s wrong?” Ross demanded. He accepted the water a young woman handed to him and held it to Julian’s lips.
The singer took the glass and sipped, then shook his head, his jaw set.
“Sorry about that,” he muttered, the look on his face something between annoyance and embarrassment. “I’ve never passed out in my life.”
“Are you sick?” Ross demanded.
“Don’t worry. It’s nothing that will keep me off stage tomorrow night,” Julian told him, a hint of sarcasm in his voice.
“That’s not why I asked,” Ross said. “Even though I’m glad to hear it’s nothing serious. Is it?”
“No. I’m just tired. Haven’t been getting much sleep,” Julian replied. Something told Sudsy that wasn’t the complete truth.
“Would you like me to help you undress?” asked the young woman who had brought the water.
“No thanks, Marcy,” he said. “I’m going straight up to my room and get some rest. You can get the clothes later.”
She nodded and walked away.
“My costumer,” Julian explained to Sudsy. “I’m sorry, but I won’t be very good company right now. I hope you enjoyed the show.”
Sudsy nodded. When Julian rose, he placed a hand on his elbow. Though he wasn’t quite as pale as he had been a moment ago, he still didn’t look well and smelled strongly of blood.
“Do you need help to your room?” Sudsy asked.
“I’m fine.” Julian offered a slight smile. “It’s nice to meet you.”
Once Julian left to take the back stairs to his room, Ross sighed deeply and said, “Performers. You never know what the hell is going on with them. I know Julian doesn’t drink much and I doubt he has a drug problem, but –”
“He’s probably just tired, like he said,” Sudsy reassured him.
Ross didn’t look convinced, but let the subject drop.
“I really need to get back to my place,” Sudsy said. “See you later, Ross.”
Sudsy also decided to take the back way — he didn’t leave the hotel. Instead he followed Julian. Traveling quickly and stealthily came with the territory. Within moments he’d tracked Julian and was glad he’d decided to follow him.
The singer sprawled in the fourth floor corridor, this time in a dead faint.
* * *
Julian awoke to the beautiful Sudsy Waters seated near his bedside. Another man, completely unfamiliar, leaned over Julian’s bare torso, cleaning the knife wound in his ribs, just below the thorny vine of roses tattooed in an X across his chest, shoulders and back. He’d gone to the ER earlier that night, but the stitches had torn during his show. He hadn’t realized exactly how much he’d aggravated the wound until partway through the performance and by then he had little choice but to finish. One thing Julian had never done was walk off in the middle of a performance. He’d also never fainted before.
Ross stood across the room and by the look on his face he wasn’t happy.
“What’s going on?” Julian asked softly.
“Other than you nearly bleeding to death, not much,” Sudsy replied.
“This is great, Julian. Just great,” Ross said, his voice edgy.
“If you’d just calm down –”
“No, I’m not calming down!” Ross strode closer to the bed, his expression icy. “I took a risk hiring you –”
“And I’ve done pretty damn well for you and this hotel.”
“Do you know how many singers there are in this town? I don’t need complications.”
“There are no complications.”
“What do you call a stab wound? Explain that.”
Julian closed his eyes momentarily and shook his head before fixing his gaze on Ross and replying, “I was mugged.”
The lie was so obvious that Sudsy wondered if Julian even cared about pacifying Ross.
The manager curled his lip. “Listen, you don’t want to tell me what’s going on and that’s fine with me. I don’t want to know what you’re into. As soon as you can get out of that bed I want you out of here.”
“We have a contract.”
“You want to fight it? You tried to keep this incident a secret but you want me to believe you’ll make this public by trying to sue?”
“I don’t understand why you’re going nuts about this.”
“Why don’t we all calm down?” Sudsy’s gaze shifted from Julian to Ross.
“Good idea,” said the man working on Julian’s injury.
“I am calm,” Ross said. “This conversation is over.” He turned and left the room, slamming the door behind him.
Julian tried to rise from bed, but Sudsy placed his hands on his shoulders and held him down. For a man in a dress he was pretty damn strong.
“Stay still,” ordered the doctor, or at least Julian hoped he was a doctor.
“Who are you?”
“Dr. Tyler Anderson. I’m the house doctor at Bloody or Nothing.”
“I called him over here,” Sudsy explained.
“Thanks for keeping this quiet,” Julian said. “Not that it matters. I’m sure the word will get out. The doctor at the ER called the police earlier.” His brow furrowed. “What are you doing here?”
“I saw you unconscious in the corridor.”
Julian flinched and drew a sharp breath as Tyler began re-stitching the wound. For several moments they remained silent while the doctor worked. When he finished, he said, “I’ll give you a prescription for some pain meds–”
Snorting, Julian said, “After Ross’s little rant I’m surprised you don’t think I’m already into drugs or more.”
Sudsy narrowed his eyes. “You don’t do drugs.”
“How do you know?”
Cocking his eyebrow, Sudsy stared hard at Julian. “Am I right?”
“Yes. I’ve never touched drugs. I know it’s hard to believe, especially from someone in my profession.”
“I believe you and I’ve also known Ross long enough to realize he’s a little paranoid.”
Tyler interrupted, “About the prescription –”
“I don’t need any pain meds,” Julian said. “I’ll check into another hotel to crash for tonight.”
“Where do you live?” Sudsy asked.
“I’ve been living here. I was in a relationship that ended recently and I haven’t had a chance to find a place of my own yet.” Julian sighed and swung his legs over the edge of the bed. “But I’d better get a move on. As of tonight I’m unemployed.”
“Take it easy,” Tyler said, resting a hand on Julian’s shoulder “Ross didn’t say you had to leave now.”
Julian offered a sardonic grin. “He said when I could get out of bed. Well I can and I want to leave.”
“It’s up to you, but I think you’re being foolish,” Tyler said. “You’re not immortal, you know.”
Sudsy cleared his throat and raised an eyebrow. Julian didn’t understand the look Sudsy tossed the doctor, and he was too tired to ponder it.
Tyler gathered the tools of his trade and Sudsy walked him to the door. Julian watched them from the corner of his eye and pulled on a black dress shirt. There was something strange about Sudsy and the doctor, and it had nothing to do with the owner of Bloody or Nothing being a drag queen. This whole night had been very strange. Actually the past few months had been… Julian shook his head. At the moment he was too tired and sore to think about it.
Once the doctor left, Sudsy approached and stood, his arms folded across his chest and his gaze fixed on Julian.
“Thanks for helping me out,” Julian said, expecting Sudsy to say goodbye and leave him in peace.
“Want to tell me what happened?”
“Not really.” Julian stood and opened the closet. He’d pack a few things and get out, then send for the rest of his belongings later.
“Didn’t you just hear Tyler tell you to rest?”
“And I said I’m getting out of here.” Julian glanced over his shoulder at Sudsy. Something about her — him — intrigued him. Julian didn’t keep his preference for men a secret, but he didn’t usually go for drag queens. Actually his taste leaned toward the opposite. Yet despite his feminine grace, Sudsy was tall and powerfully built. If he wiped off the makeup and traded the skirt for jeans, he’d be quite a stud.
What was he thinking? The last thing Julian needed was to get involved with another man. His last boyfriend was still making his life hell.
“Is there something you want?” Julian asked.
Sudsy shrugged. “Just want to help. Do you need a place to stay tonight? You can come to Bloody or Nothing with me.”
“Listen, I appreciate your help, but I’m not looking to hook up –”
“Excuse me?” Sudsy placed his hands on his hips and raised a sleek black eyebrow. “Do I look like I need to make bargains to get a man in my bed?”
A smile tugged at Julian’s lips. “No.”
“Then get your stuff and come with me. On the way we can talk business.”
“What kind of business?”
“It just so happens that I’m in need of a new act. I liked what I saw tonight, Julian, and I think you’ll fit in well at Bloody or Nothing.”
Julian studied Sudsy carefully. He remembered a time when he had trust in people, but he’d learned to be cautious. Most people had ulterior motives. Few would assist a total stranger.
“Why are you helping me?”
The two stared at each other for a long moment, then Sudsy said, “Anyone who performs like you did tonight while injured has the kind of work ethic I want at my hotel. Besides, you have the best fucking voice I’ve heard since The Elixir Maidens left Las Vegas.”
Julian chuckled. The Elixir Maidens were a drag queen singing group. They modeled themselves after the girl groups of the nineteen-sixties. Julian wasn’t into the whole dress-and-makeup scene, but he’d watched the Maidens perform and had to admit the guys had real talent. He took Sudsy’s comment as quite a compliment.
“I don’t mind you saying I sound like The Elixir Maidens, as long as I don’t look like them.” Julian chuckled, then remembered he was talking to a man in full drag. His smile faded and he said, “I didn’t mean anything by that –”
“It’s all right. I understand.” Sudsy held up a long fingered hand, adorned with scarlet nails and a multitude of sterling silver rings. “The macho look works for you. Not everyone can be as pretty as me.”
Julian wanted to keep his distance, but for some reason he was magnetically drawn to Sudsy. Already he felt as if he knew the man, though they’d only just met.
Damn. He didn’t want to be attracted to anyone. Not now. Not after everything that had happened — and was still happening — with Art.
“Why don’t you stay at Bloody or Nothing for a couple of days while you heal,” Sudsy said. “After that we can talk business. You don’t have to decide anything right now.”
Julian gazed into Sudsy’s beautiful dark eyes. Those eyes radiated strength and honesty, something rare everywhere and practically unheard of in this town.
“All right. Thanks.”
“You’re welcome. Come on. I’ll help you pack your stuff and bring it to your car.”
“Damn.” Julian closed his eyes and cursed softly. “My car is being serviced. I won’t be able to pick it up until tomorrow afternoon.”
“No problem. You can ride with me if you want to.”
“I’d love to ride you…” Again Julian closed his eyes, this time from embarrassment. Why the hell had he said that? “I mean I’d love to ride with you.”
Chuckling, Sudsy said, “When you’re feeling better maybe we can work on the first one.”
Sudsy helped Julian pack, then he called for a bellboy to help them bring the bags to his vehicle.
“Nice car,” Julian remarked, sliding into the black sports model with the red interior.
“Thanks. So where are you from originally?” Sudsy asked.
“Right here, actually. My father owns a gym and martial arts school that’s not too far away. And you?”
“Here and there.”
“You don’t like to talk, just listen?”
Sudsy glanced at him from the corner of his eye. “I was born in Spain, but I haven’t lived there for ages.”
“I’ve been in America for a long time.”
The men fell silent for a while and soon they arrived at Bloody or Nothing hotel. Julian had been there once, and that had been to see The Elixir Maidens. The tall gray building resembled a Moorish palace with arched doors and windows and domelike structures on the roof. Inside the ceilings and floors were of intricate tile designs done predominantly in black and red. That seemed to be Sudsy’s favorite color scheme.
They stopped at the front desk to speak to the clerk — a young woman dressed in red, her dark hair braided down her back.
“Carla, this is Julian. He’ll be staying in the Brotherly Love Suite. Let Anthony know.”
Sudsy glanced at Julian from the corner of his eye. “Come on.”
Sudsy guided Julian to an elevator. It dragged to the tenth floor where they stepped off and walked down a corridor. They entered a spacious suite decorated in soothing earth tone colors. Julian’s bags had already been brought to the room and placed on the enormous bed.
“Do you want anything from room service?” Sudsy asked.
Julian shook his head. He sighed and ran a hand through his hair. “No. I’m okay.”
Sudsy stepped so close that all Julian needed to do was lift his hand to touch the smooth ebony cheek. To his surprise, the urge nearly overcame him and he curled his hand into a fist to keep from doing just that.
The tip of Sudsy’s tongue traced his full, sexy lips before they curved upward slightly in a smile.
“Get some sleep,” Sudsy said. “It’s nearly dawn. We’ll talk more tomorrow.”
As he gazed deeply into Sudsy’s eyes, a strange but wonderful feeling melted through Julian. It was like nothing he’d ever experienced before and it nearly staggered him in its intensity.
Sudsy must have felt it too because his painted lips parted and his dark eyes glistened. He tilted his head a bit closer to Julian, who did the same. Their lips nearly touched then both men seemed to wake from their dreamlike state and simultaneously drew back from each other.
“Get some rest,” Sudsy repeated, placing his large, warm hand on Julian’s shoulder. Then he turned and headed for the door, giving Julian a clear view of his tight ass in his snug black skirt.
“Thanks, Sudsy. I appreciate everything.”
Glancing over his shoulder, Sudsy smiled and winked. “You’re welcome. Sweet dreams.”
He stepped out of the suite and closed the door behind him.
“Sweet dreams,” Julian whispered. “They will be if you’re in them.”
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