Cover reveal! Today I’m excited to help reveal the cover of How to Sell Blood and Fall in Love by D.N. Bryn!
Sell Your Blood is the second book in a series of loosely connected MM paranormal romances. It features an Ivy League a-spec vampire who’s never been in love before and an inner-city man who’s sworn off relationships for the last decade as they struggle to combine their different worlds and find a fire in each other hotter than they thought possible.
While it can be enjoyed on its own, the optimal reading order is chronological. Note this story features blackmail, general violence, the smoking of prescription drugs to manage intense pain, and the acquisition of far too many salt and pepper shakers.
See the full cover here:
“You have money, I have blood. How would you like to buy it?”
No romantic story has ever lived up to Dr. Clementine Hughe’s reality but at least he has his steamy two-million-word fanfic and a prestigious research position at Vitalis-Barron Pharmaceuticals, where their benefits are superb and their experimentation on vampires highly unethical. When a mysterious accident turns Clementine into a vampire, discovery would demote him to lab rat and his growing thirst for his coworker’s veins forces him to the streets to hunt.
Justin Yu is usually the one attacking villains in alleys, not the other way around. After the tragedy he brought upon his local vampiric community in his youth, he’s struggled tirelessly to keep their vampires safe. So when a panicking Clementine botches a bite attempt, Justin takes pity—and advantage—and offers the vampire a trade: his blood in exchange for an exorbitant fee.
In desperation, Clementine accepts.
Justin’s blood is bland and unappealing, but the more Clementine learns to appreciate the man’s sharp humor and persistent compassion, the more he acquires a taste for Justin. Justin is determined not to let Clementine’s good looks and thoughtful intellect distract him as hunters from Vitalis-Barron close in on Justin’s neighborhood, and it turns out someone there knows Clementine’s vampiric secret…
Sell Your Blood includes:
Doctor Clementine Hughes did not deserve this.
He could feel the blood pulsing through the neck of the lab technician who sat three desks away from him. His gaze yanked to the exposed veins on her wrist as she tapped her pen. As though his fangs had a mind of their own, the venomous canines slipped free. He retracted them in a panic. The few humans lingering in their research lab’s communal office space seemed not to notice.
It had been three months since Clementine turned, and with each slip-up he was more and more certain someone would take note. When they did, he could only hope that they killed him before they tried to fire him. That sounded like a much nicer progression. No severance pay, but at least he’d never have to tell his parents that Vitalis-Barron Pharmaceuticals, frontrunner in medical research and therapeutics, had sacked him just as they were considering his promotion to their microbio department’s senior research associate.
Clementine ran his tongue over his front teeth—no more fangs, thankfully—and tried to ignore the lab tech as she walked behind him. He held his breath. She passed by. He exhaled.
And his fangs slipped out again.
Clementine didn’t know much about vampires, but he knew he didn’t deserve to be one.
The first few days had been a waking nightmare of pain and sweats. Many people died during the transition, but after living through it he was pretty sure he had died. That was where the myth of the undead vampire came from, he was certain. He had died, and this was hell.
Except Clem was also certain that in the real afterlife, he wouldn’t be having quite this hard of a time, seeing how he’d done absolutely nothing wrong in his entire life. That wasn’t arrogance, and it wasn’t delusion. Doctor Clementine Hughes, chemist of the year, potential Nobel Prize winner, secret writer of five million words of slow-burning, emotionally smutty and incredibly gay Star Trek fanfic, had exerted a great deal of energy in order to live this perfect a life.
And now his meticulously sculpted existence was falling apart around him. Because of a tiny, itty-bitty disaster, one that hadn’t even been his fault. He was pretty sure about that. He’d analyzed it fifty times already that evening, and after another fifty he was prepared to bump pretty sure up to mostly sure before the whole process started again tomorrow.
It hadn’t been his fault, right?
When he could remember so little of what had happened to him, it was hard to be certain…
Clem flinched so hard that his vampiric strength knocked his chair into his desk.
Dr. Anthony Hilker leaned toward Clem’s shoulder, watching him with his brow raised. The man had his blazer slung over an arm and his brown hair was pulled up in a bun today, revealing his undercut and the long slope of his neck. Blood pulsed faintly beneath the skin there, but Clementine’s general annoyance with Anthony made it a bit easier for him to drag his gaze upward.
A few wisps of gray were growing at his temples.
Clementine hadn’t even turned thirty yet and he already swore he was finding some silver mixed with his own hair, though the natural gold of his curls did a better job of hiding it. Working for this company seemed to have an aging effect on people. Or perhaps that was simply the result of fighting for promotions against Anthony’s aggressive enthusiasm.
Clem forced a smile. “Good evening, Anthony.”
“You’re in… what is this, early for you?” Anthony wrinkled his nose. “I still can’t believe you’ve shifted so many of your hours to a night schedule. That would wreak havoc on my ability to sleep.”
The fact that their level of the lab sat two stories underground was the only reason Clementine could stand the few day shifts he’d kept, and even then he had to time his coming and going to avoid direct sunlight. “The empty lab helps me think,” Clem replied. “Dr. Blood approves of it. She suggested we form a full night team. It would be almost like having two labs running without the need to build a second location.”
Anthony’s eyes tightened. “That sounds… capitalistic. But I can’t imagine Vitalis-Barron would implement it. It would make it far too easy for vampires to slip into our midst.”
“We could use it as a new hunting tactic.” Natalie Deleon wrapped an arm around Anthony’s neck as she slipped in behind him, her chin tucked against his shoulder like a rabid PDA announcement. “Lure them in with a job offer and don’t let them back out again.”
A tremble worked itself up Clementine’s spine at the thought of the secret, lowest level of their research complex’s underground labs—the basement—where they kept the vampires they used in very specific and very secretive parts of their research. Vampires who looked like they were inches from death, hollow-eyed and locked in cages. Vampires who people from Natalie’s team had gently pressured into ‘volunteering’ for the cause.
Vampires, like Clementine.
He’d always known that some of their microbio projects used compounds produced by vampires, but he’d assumed they were acquired on a more ethical basis until Vitalis-Barron had recently deemed him worthy of visiting the basement lab. There was nothing technically illegal about using vampires as lab rats, not when lawyers could argue that the research ethics laws currently in place were written specifically for humans. None of it would have sat right with Clementine even before he’d turned, but now the chance of getting another job anywhere half as respectable with a quarter of the paycheck would be out of question. One daytime interview in a well-lit room and they’d usher him out the door like his painful sun-induced shakes were contagious. No more respectable job, no more apartment, no more family approval, no more life.
He just had to keep his head down and his work consistent and hope that no one noticed his fangs.
“Nat,” Anthony cooed at his girlfriend. He was too old for her, and the feigned childishness made it even more obvious. “Don’t tell me you’re bored already.”
She waggled the tip of her dark braid against Anthony’s lips. “Not bored, just frustrated. I think I have a lead though, finally, some vampire who’s been helping the two who murdered Matthew. If I can get my hands on them…”
“And then you’ll be ready to let this vengeance nonsense go?”
“Then I’ll have closure.” Natalie pecked him on the cheek. The mark of her red lipstick remained on his skin like a brand. “And the boss will be happy. The basement is low on subjects again.”
Clementine tried to roll his chair away, staring anywhere but the woman’s neck. “Our research on vampires is at the forefront of modern science.” He repeated the line from their tour, trying to beam pro-vampire torture from every cell of his being.
“I’m not sure we can claim we’re truly progressing our pharmaceutical research when everything we do is based solely on where the money is,” Anthony put in, playing with Nat’s braid. “How much more would we learn if we stopped caring whether anything turned a profit and instead followed the science, wherever it led?”
“Right now the science is leading me back to the lab,” Clementine replied, scooting his chair further away from the incessant lovebirds. “If you would excuse me.”
As he tried to leave, Anthony called after him. “You heard about the break-ins at our blood bank, right?”
The slightly darker, entirely unhuman blood in Clem’s veins went cold.
“Yeah,” the man continued as though Clem had acknowledged him. “Apparently someone’s been stealing from it, maybe for months. They’re putting up cameras now.”
“Are they? Cameras?” Clementine’s voice sounded distant to his own ears, echoing back at him across a great plain of his own panic. “Good. Good on them.” Good on them? Those couldn’t have been his words.
Fuck it, he needed to get out of here. But more than that, he needed to work, because taking his shifts at night, without the rest of his team, had already put him behind on his current projects. And if what Anthony had said was true, and his bagged blood supply was suddenly disappearing on him, he would have to find a new source.
Most likely, a live one.
Clem ended up in the bathroom, both hands pressed to the back of a locked stall as he focused on breathing. Through extensive tracking of his own consumption, he’d deduced that a moderately sized adult vampire such as himself was meant to drink approximately 44 milliliters—a shot glass, hilariously—of blood a day, but for the past month he’d been trying to hide his stealing by diluting his intake down to half that, as though he might wean himself off the horrid stuff entirely. Which wasn’t actually possible. He assumed. It wasn’t as though he had anyone to ask, exactly: the only real vampires he’d ever seen outside the news had been the ones locked in cells and strapped to tables three floors beneath him.
But just setting foot on that level would raise the entire building’s alarms since the bizarre break-in shortly after Clem was turned. There had been a vampire in the lab then too—a vampire who was healthy and strong, who had held his human partner’s wrist and leaned toward his ear without his gaze catching on the man’s neck even once. An escaped new arrival, perhaps? Or a thief?
Clementine should have run after him. He’d been too slow on the uptake, too convinced that the nightmare of his vampirism would somehow work itself out. That since he didn’t deserve this, it would have to go away.
But it hadn’t.
He shoved the bathroom wall with a muffled growl. The tile cracked beneath the pressure. Cracked, like him, from reasons beyond his control. Undeserved.
Thirty minutes later, he finally returned to the now much quieter office space. He put his headphones in, blasting the soothing tones of orchestral metal into his skull, and threw on a lab coat, descending into work until everything else faded away.
By the time he collected his leather satchel and donned his tweed coat, the 7 a.m. lab staff were already arriving with coffee and yawns. He checked the sky for the first signs of dawn as he stepped out into the dark winter morning. The air was unusually chilly—a mid-thirties that might almost have brought snow, if the precipitation would ever make its way past the white-capped eastern mountains. Three months ago, it would have made him tug up his collar and hurry to the car, but since turning, he never felt particularly cold. Instead, he tugged up his collar in an attempt to block the appetizing scent of the incoming wave of staff and hurried to the car to keep any of them from trying to talk to him.
As he slipped inside his electric sedan, his phone buzzed with an incoming call. He hated those, hated how disconnected they felt, how the participants were expected to understand the full scope of emotion being conveyed without any facial or body language cues, and, worse, to convey their own emotions back using tone of voice alone. Even the best calls left him feeling tired and jittery.
He almost tossed his phone over the obnoxious beach umbrella that took up his center console—an emergency precaution he hadn’t had to use yet—but the caller ID stopped him. His sister couldn’t wait; family was a priority, at least in his family. Alongside the priorities of financial growth, academic acclaim, and all-around prestige.
Clem hit answer a moment too late and cursed as he struggled to call Odysseus back while turning on the car. Its Bluetooth clicked over, Odysseus’s voice booming out as clearly as though the woman was in the vehicle with him.
“Clementine, honey, is this not a good time? I can call back.”
“Sissy, hey.” He raised his voice, then regretted it as his sister audibly recoiled. Softer, he added, “No, no, this is fine. Do you need something?” Need something. Clem cringed. That was too forward. Pushy even.
Odysseus sighed. “No--yes. It’s just Reggie. He’s coming back into town next month and I thought we’d throw him a little thing.” A little thing had also been Sissy’s way of describing the New Year’s party she’d hosted last week: a five-hundred-guest gala with a seven-course meal and a million-dollar charity raffle. Between that and heading a prestigious law firm, she had covered everything her family could possibly want from her. And here was her younger brother, secretly dreading the fact that a promotion to senior associate would take him further away from the mundanity of routine lab duties and feeling burnt to hell and back from the few hours he’d spent at his family’s holiday functions.
“Oh just a little thing, then.” As he said it, he realized he’d sounded not only pushy but annoyed, too. In person he could have smiled it off, but now he was stuck. Would an I’m just joking work? Suddenly he couldn’t recall if that was a thing people did.
The other end of the phone went quiet for a moment. “Are you all right, Clem?”
What a day. “Yes, fine. I’m great.” Clem tried his best to grit his teeth and beam through the phone. “Dr. Blood is thinking of taking up my idea of a full night shift, and the drug we pushed to clinical trials last month is already giving us positive results.”
“Which of the many drugs you won’t tell me about is this?”
“Alas, I am sworn to secrecy.”
“Still afraid I might steal your compounds for my law practice?”
“I just hope you never have to prosecute us.” Clem finally pulled out of his associate of the year parking space, but all he could think of were Vitalis-Barron’s cells full of vampires. If only they’d let him keep his phone during that tour…
Sissy laughed, all sparkling wine and biting logic. “Why I’d never. Conflict of interest! But you had better be working on something for my poor wrinkles. I’m thirty-seven and I look like the Grim Reaper. Not even the hot, boy toy version. It’s disgusting.”
Odysseus had presented as a hot, boy toy version of herself for most of her life, but the last five years she’d finally transitioned into a literal goddess instead. Their parents had initially put on a show of distress, but once Sissy proved that she was just as capable a businesswoman and lawyer as she had been while using her birth-assigned pronouns, they had grudgingly offered support. Really, Clem figured none of them should have been so shocked when the sibling who’d feminized what their parents had always claimed was a gender-neutral ‘Odysseus’ into ‘Sissy’ had turned out to be a girl. It was like the universe had programmed itself to fit her needs ahead of time.
Clem cringed. That was too harsh of him—the universe had put his sister through a fair helping of emotional and surgical trauma to get her to this place—but he still envied how optimistically and effortlessly she’d handled it all.
“Unfortunately no,” he replied. “But we are working on a pill that takes away the headaches your old, decrepit sister gives you, and I plan to get a lot of use out of it.”
“You are such a hoot.” Sissy chortled. “Now, I have hot yoga to catch and a client at 9:30. You sleep well, Clem! Buh-bye.”
The call ended before he could give his own farewell, which was for the best, since it sat a little sour on his tongue. At least this way he didn’t have to deal with the eternally awkward back and forth of ‘how many goodbyes is appropriate’ and trying to figure out who should be the one to hang up.
As he pulled past the parking lot’s security gate with a wave, his gaze caught on the guard’s neck. He swore he could see the blood pounding beneath her skin. Calling to him. His stomach ached like a black hole and his fangs slipped free with such force that he had to struggle to pull them back in.
He could feel his empty fridge taunting him already, his last stolen blood bag finished this morning. Before he left for work next, he’d have to find a new source of blood, or else risk sinking his fangs into his Vitalis-Barron coworkers.
Which meant that Doctor Clementine Hughes, faltering phenomenon and broken vampire, would have to hunt his first human tonight.