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A Very Vampy Christmas (Love at Stake 2.5) - Page 4


"Yes." Corky took the bait, dropping the papers on her desk. "Do you know something embarrassing about him?"

"Not yet. But imagine how awful he would feel if you dredged up some terrible secrets from his past."

Corky's face lit up with a wide grin. "I love it! We could do an expose, revealing his wretched past. Could you get one of those investigators to go to New Orleans for me?"

"Yes. And I could go as the director. I have experience. I was an assistant director on the reality show last summer." Maggie figured this would be the best way to control the content of the report, so it didn't deteriorate into a vicious character assassination. Don Orlando might want to know who he was, but he didn't deserve the sort of massacre Corky had in mind.

"Great!" Corky tapped her long fingernails on the desk. "I'll talk to Gordon so you can get a few weeks off."

Maggie grinned. It was really happening. She was going to New Orleans to unravel the mystery of Don Orlando. "I think Don Orlando should go, too. We might uncover something that will trigger his memory."

"Hmm." Corky frowned. "I don't know. I like to keep him working, so I can make money."

Slave driver. "But if we discover something really awful, we can record how embarrassed he looks."

Corky perked up. "Right. Okay, I'll make all the arrangements." She reached for the phone. "See you tomorrow."

Maggie smiled as she strode back to her dressing room. She would call Connor to see if he could spare one of his undead Highlanders from MacKay Security and Investigation. And she imagined how thrilled Don Orlando would be.

"It's a bad idea," Don Orlando protested the next night.

Maggie huffed. "Don't you want to know who you are?"

"Not with a cameraman following me around to record every miserable discovery, so Corky can ridicule me before the entire vampire world. No way. It's not happening." Don Orlando marched down the hall to Studio Four where As a Vampire Turns was recorded every night. His long black cape swirled around the tops of his black leather boots.

"But I'll be the director." Maggie followed him. "I won't allow you to be ridiculed."

He snorted. "Right. I saw you on Corky's show tonight."

"I had to play along. I did it for you."

He stopped and faced her. "For me? You spent ten minutes on her show, describing the joy of slapping me on the face."

Maggie blushed. "Corky had us on tape. I could hardly deny doing it."

"If you enjoy it so much, go for it." He turned his cheek. "You know I deserve it."

Maggie bit her lip to keep from smiling. "I'd rather find out who you are. And then, I might want to slap you again."

"I'm sure you will. I was a bum, Maggie. Hasn't it occurred to you that my wretched past may be better left alone?"

"Why are you assuming your past is wretched? You're a young vampire, aren't you?"

He opened the studio door and motioned for her to enter first. "I was transformed about four and a half years ago."

The refreshment table was crowded with people, so Maggie led him to a quiet corner. "Don't you see? As young as you are, you could still have family somewhere. Wouldn't it be wonderful to find them? You could even spend Christmas with them."

"Right. I can see it now. Merry Christmas, everybody! And by the way, did I tell you I'm a vampire? No need to pass the gravy, just bare your neck—"

"Don't be silly! You would never bite your own family."

"That's just it, Maggie. Maybe I would. Maybe we'll find out I'm a worthless piece of scum. At least now I only pretend to be one. What if reality is worse than the act?"

She made a grab for his arm, and ended up with a fistful of black silk. "I don't believe that for one minute. If you were truly an awful person, you wouldn't worry so much about it."

He tilted his head, studying her. "You believe I could be a good person?"

"Yes. And I believe your family would be overjoyed to find out you're still alive… sorta."

"And what if having an undead family member is more than they can handle?"

Maggie's hand dropped from his cape. Get out of my house, you unholy creature!

"Maggie, are you all right?"

She shook her head, trying to dispel the memories.

He touched her arm. "You look so pale all of a sud—" His eyes narrowed. "What happened to you and your family?"

She swallowed hard. "It was a long time ago. I… you have to believe everything will be fine. This is the twenty-first century. People are more open-minded now than they used to be."

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He stepped closer. "Did your family turn you away?"

She winced. "I don't want to talk about it."

"Oh, Maggie, I'm sorry." He took her hand in his. "They should have realized what a kind heart you have."

Her heart started to pound. Did Don Orlando see what her father had missed?

He lifted her hand to his chest. "That's why you're helping me, isn't it? Because you have a sweet and generous spirit. I sensed it the first time we met."

Maggie couldn't think. She was melting under the soft, searching gaze of his golden brown eyes.

"Maggie," he whispered and raised her hand to his mouth.

"Oh, there you are!" Gordon strode toward them.

Maggie jerked her hand from Don Orlando's grip and spun to face the director. "Hello."

"Corky told me about your trip to New Orleans,"

Gordon said. "She wants you two to leave tomorrow night."

Don Orlando stiffened. "I haven't decided if I'm going—"

"You have to go." Maggie gave him a pleading look.

"I was just talking to the writers," Gordon continued, "and we have it worked out so you can leave. They'll get the new script to us in thirty minutes, and we'll shoot it tonight."

"How will they explain our absence?" Maggie asked.

"It was easy." Gordon crossed his arms. "Dr. Jessica is going to South America to disconnect a pair of twins who are attached at the head. Since you're a world-famous brain surgeon, they wanted you, and you agreed to do it free of charge."

Don Orlando nodded. "That makes sense. She has such a kind heart. She would always help someone in dire need." He lightly touched Maggie's hand with his fingers.

She glanced at him. Was he referring to her character or to her? Her breath caught when his fingertips gently stroked the length of her fingers. They were standing side by side, their hands hidden in the folds of his cape.

"What do you think, Maggie?" Gordon asked.

"It's… fine." She was finding it hard to concentrate. Don Orlando wasn't actually holding her hand. He was exploring it. "What will happen to Don Orlando?"

Gordon grimaced. "That was trickier. He gets so upset about you leaving, he crashes his car into the giant bull on Wall Street, and ends up in a coma."

Maggie blinked. "A coma? But wouldn't he recover during his death-sleep?"

Gordon shrugged. "It's television. Don't expect it to make sense. We can make the coma last a few days or it can go on for weeks, depending on how much time you need. And we can make the viewers frantic, worrying that he might die at any minute."

Don Orlando nodded. "I'm okay with it."

"Great! I'll see how the writers are doing." Gordon strode away.

Don Orlando turned to face her. "I don't want a cameraman."

Maggie smiled. "Then you're coming with me?"

"If it's just the two of us, yes. I trust you."

"Well, Ian MacPhie is coming, too. But you can trust him."

"I don't know him."

"He works for MacKay Security and Investigation. I knew him when I lived at Roman Draganesti's house. He looks like an innocent fifteen-year-old, but he's over four hundred, and he really knows what he's doing."

Don Orlando took a deep breath. "I can't believe I'm agreeing to this. If we find out something awful, Corky will broadcast it to the entire vampire world."

"She'll never know. Ian and I can keep a secret. Besides, there's not going to be anything awful to discover. It'll be wonderful, believe me."

"You're an angel, Maggie. I had given up all hope till I met you. And now, I have one hope."

"That you'll find your family?"

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