After losing her entire family during WWII, being turned into a vampire, and fighting Nazis, Vanda Barkowski welcomed the peace and quiet of the Coven Master's harem. When the harem was disbanded, though, she began a new life as the owner of a vampire nightclub. Everything seems perfect until three of her employees file a lawsuit against her, complaining about her temper. To resolve the matter, Vanda is sentenced to anger management classes, but none of her friends will step up to be her sponsor. The only one willing to take on the job is Phil Jones, the former harem guard who stirred her interest in a way no other man has before. But as a guard, he was always forbidden to her, and as her sponsor, she knows that won't change. Even if it does, Vanda is reluctant to become involved with a mortal, fearing that in her world of monsters, he won't stand a chance of survival if the worst should happen.
Little does Vanda know that Phil is no mere mortal. He's an alpha werewolf who can definitely hold his own against their vampire enemies. He's had a thing for Vanda ever since he was her daytime guard, and now that he's no longer constrained by his job, he's vowed to finally pursue her, sponsorship protocols be damned. She may have her heart locked up tight, but Phil is determined to break down her walls and help her get a handle on her overwhelming anger, while hoping she falls in love with him. However, between a disgruntled ex-employee and the Malcontents, there are death threats aplenty being made against the woman he loves, so Phil also has his hands full keeping her safe and alive. But ever since the Nazis sent wolves to hunt her down during the war, Vanda has a deep-seated fear of the creatures. When she discovers Phil's true nature, will she be able to accept him?
I don't know why I keep letting so much time pass between my reading of these Love at Stake books, because they're nearly always perfect reads for me. Forbidden Nights with a Vampire was no exception. This one pairs Vanda and Phil, two characters I'm pretty sure have been on the canvas since the series began. Vanda is a former member of the Coven Master's harem, while Phil works for MacKay Security and Investigation as a daytime guard, looking out for the vampires while they're in their death sleep. These two have been attracted to one another for as long they've known each other, but Phil never would have dared break trust either with Vanda or his employer by giving in to her flirtation during those years. Now things are different, and he's more than ready to pursue her. However, when he agrees to be her anger management sponsor, it throws another potential "forbidden" aspect into their relationship. But that's nothing compared to them finding out that the evil Casimir has a list of Vamps he intends to kill and that Vanda is on it. Not to mention, things really start heating up with an escalation in the conflict with Casimir and the Malcontents. There's a lot going on in this book to keep the reader engaged, and I loved every minute I spent reading it.
Vanda was born in Poland during the early part of the 20th century, which meant that when WWII started, she was right in the thick of things. After losing her entire family, being turned into a vampire, and fighting in the war, she was exhausted and sought out the peace and quiet offered by the harem of the Coven Master for the East Coast of the US. She spent decades there, but when Roman released all of the women in his harem, she started a new life as the owner of a male vampire strip club. While she was still in the harem, though, she met Phil, one of her guards, who definitely caught her eye, so she spent many nights flirting with him even though nothing ever came of it at the time. Now she finds herself the object of several lawsuits by her former employees alleging that she can't control her temper. As a result, Roman rules that she must attend anger management classes, but no one will step up to sponsor her except Phil. Vanda doesn't want a sponsor or classes, but Phil can be surprisingly persuasive and not easily driven away. He also saves her life more than once when one of the vindictive ex-employees comes after her. But the biggest threat comes from Casimir, the leader of the Malcontents, who will stop at nothing to see Vanda dead for her role in the killing of another high-ranking Malcontent. Prickly heroines like Vanda often don't resonate with me, but Kerrelyn Sparks does an excellent job of showing how Vanda's anger is a shield that protects her vulnerable heart. She lost everyone she ever cared about in the war, including a former love who was mortal, and since she believes that Phil, too, is mortal, she fears losing him as well if she allows herself to truly care about him. She also fears that if he finds out what she really did during the war, he'll think she's a monster. But Phil patiently chips away at that wall, showing her that they're perfect for each other and that nothing need stand in their way. I ended up really liking Vanda, because she's the perfect mix of a spunky heroine who doesn't take crap from anyone and one who has sympathetic flaws and weaknesses that are easy to relate to.
After being banished from his pack for not falling into lock-step with his father's demands, Phil went to work for MacKay S & I. While he was her guard, Vanda presented a delicious temptation, but one he was determined to resist. Now they're both at different places in their lives. She's no longer a harem girl, and he's just returned to New York after a longterm assignment in Texas. When he witnesses Roman's ruling and sees that nobody is stepping up to sponsor Vanda, he offers to support her, but it takes a lot of patience and persuasive skills to get her on board with it, two things that he possesses in abundance. As she slowly reveals bits and pieces of her past, Phil intuitively realizes why she is the way she is. But when she still tries to keep her heart locked up tight, he's determined to break through, because he knows she's his mate and he's not going to let her get away this time. However, in addition to all the death threats against Vanda, she's terrified of wolves. The Nazis sent them to chase her down during the war, so he isn't quite sure how she's going to react when she finds out that he's no mere mortal. Phil is one of the most scrumptious romance heroes I've read in a while. He's an alpha werewolf, who exerts his dominance when necessary, but at the same time, he's kind, compassionate, and tender, the proverbial alpha with a heart of gold, which is my favorite kind. He's also a delicious lover, always taking his time, even when he's ostensibly giving the beast in him free-reign. I love how he's so patient with Vanda, giving her time to come to terms with things, but not letting her hide from him. He also has an interesting backstory of his own and must come to terms with certain things related to his heritage. Phil was just an all-around dreamy hero who's definitely earned a spot on my favorite heroes list.
When reading these books, I never cease to be amazed by how Kerrelyn Sparks manages to wrangle such a huge cast of characters and give them all a moment in the spotlight or at least a mention. Most of the past and future characters who have their own books are present in one way or another including: Roman and Shanna (How to Marry a Millionaire Vampire), the fearless leaders of the East Coast coven, and their adorable little ones, Constantine and Sophia; Austin and Darcy (Vamps in the City); Maggie, one of Vanda's former harem sisters, and her husband, Pierce (A Very Vampy Christmas); Angus, owner of MacKay S & I, and his wife, Emma (Be Still My Vampire Heart); Jean-Luc and Heather (The Undead Next Door); Ian and Toni (All I Want for Christmas Is a Vampire); Jack and Lara (Secret Life of a Vampire), who celebrate their engagement with a big party; were-panther Carlos (Eat, Prey, Love); Connor (Vampire Mine); Gregori (Sexiest Vampire Alive); were-bear Howard (Wild about You); Vanda's friend, business partner, and former harem member, Pamela (V Is for VampWoman); Dougal (The Vampire with the Dragon Tattoo), who loses something very important in this book; and Zoltan (How to Seduce a Vampire (Without Really Trying) ). As a friend of Phil's and a fellow employee of MacKay S & I, Phineas (aka Dr. Phang) plays a significant role and as always makes me laugh. In Wanted: Undead or Alive, he'll be paired with Phil's sister, Brynley, who we meet for the first time. I'm not entirely sure how I feel about Brynley. She helps in a lot of positive ways, but at the same time, she's pretty prejudiced toward Vanda because she's a vampire. I guess she'll be getting some sort of awakening since she'll be falling in love with one in the future. Last, but certainly not least is Robby, who goes through an ordeal in this book, so I'm very happy that he'll be the hero of the next one, The Vampire and the Virgin. And that's not even all of the supporting characters. We also get a visit with the colorful New Orleans coven, a group of misfit, teenage werewolves, the villainous Malcontents, and more. It would be easy to be overwhelmed by the sheer volume of characters present in this story, and yet, the author somehow manages to weave them all seamlessly into the narrative and also writes their dialogue in such a way that I can hear all of their different accents in my head as I'm reading, which is some masterful writing skills.
Overall, Forbidden Nights with a Vampire was another awesome read in this series. Vanda and Phil were both great characters who fit together perfectly like two pieces of a puzzle. Their romance is by turns emotional, tender, sweet, and smokin' hot. The supporting characters added all the herbs and spices to create a flavorful story. Then there are the death threats against Vanda, which give the reader plenty of suspense and excitement. We also get some development to the series story arc with the escalation of the conflict with the Malcontents slowly turning into all-out war that I'm sure will play out over the books yet to come. I'm totally energized to pick up the next book, so I'll have to remind myself not to wait so long next time around. I'm really looking forward to Robby's story and all the rest, as well as seeing how things play out with the Malcontents. It all promises to be very exciting.
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