Leila is a human who hasn't been able to lead a normal life due to a horrific accident with a downed power line when she was thirteen. It left her badly scarred, but also gave her some unusual abilities. When she touches objects, she is able to get impressions about others who have held them before her. This is along with a couple of other unique talents that may or may not be considered a blessing. Knowing such abilities could bring trouble her way, she has managed to limit her contact with others so as to not draw the wrong kind of attention. Even she could only keep up her cover for so long, though. One fateful slip-up and she reveals herself in a very public way.
This draws the attention of a group of vampires who want to use her abilities for their own evil purposes. They want Leila to track down the world's most notorious vampire, Vlad Tepesh, also known (to his annoyance) as Dracula. She quickly realizes how dangerous helping his enemies will be for her and concocts her own plan. Get on his good side so he might consider not killing her and letting her get back to her semi-normal life. Things don't go the way she expects, though, as the plot against Vlad goes much higher than the lackeys that kidnapped her. Leila has no choice but to stick around and help him until the danger is over. Seems logical enough, but what she doesn't count on is her attraction to the dangerous and cold man. Keeping her heart intact may be the most difficult part of all.
Vlad's meeting with Leila is certainly one where the sparks fly, literally. He is a vampire who can control and manipulate fire. She is a human woman with an electric charge so strong most people will die if they touch her. It would almost seem they were made for each other. Yet their attraction is only part of the equation since danger lurks all around (this is urban fantasy, rather than strict romance so there is plenty of action). Also, Vlad might be willing to protect Leila, but he isn't willing to give her his heart. His goal is to keep her close so his enemies can't use her against him. She has to keep this in mind if she wants to survive (physically and emotionally) while living in his world.
If ever there was a novel that could be both dark and humorous the whole way through, Once Burned would be it. I laughed enough that my husband was no doubt tempted to call the professionals to handle the problem. Jeaniene Frost has an amazing ability to create vivid, sinfully delightful characters that always leave you wanting more. Her newest novel is no exception. Leila is a strong woman who has come to terms with her unusual life and abilities, despite the odds against her. She gives as good as she gets and she is more easy to relate to than you would expect. Vlad is as dark and dangerous as any self-respecting vampire of his notoriety should be. Yet he is also a lot more. He genuinely cares about his people and will do anything to protect them. His enemies are ruthlessly destroyed and betrayal among his own is immediately punished in the worst possible way. Vlad hasn't been coined "The Impaler" for nothing. Next time I read this novel I'm going to have to keep tally of how many people, exactly, were impaled. This sounds gruesome, but the details aren't so vivid that you actually get too upset about it and most people he does it to deserve it anyway.
The story itself and the pacing are well done. There is never a dull moment. I have wanted to learn more on Vlad's background since his appearance in the Night Huntress Series. This novel elaborates on his past in satisfying detail, though there is room left for more growth in later book(s). Not only that, but the author gave Leila a unique background I hadn't expected. Though I won't reveal much, I will say the "bad guy" in this book is a new one not seen in the Night Huntress world before and he is a formidable opponent for Vlad. I was glad it wasn't someone who could be easily vanquished, but instead one who made things quite difficult for the hero and heroine. Though some of the previously known characters- including Cat, Bones, Mencheres and Kira make an appearance, they don't play much of a role in the story. Vlad prefers to handle his problems himself. It ended much like I expected it to, not fully resolved, but concluded enough to get by until the next novel arrives (which is unfortunately next year). At least there isn't a deathly cliffhanger like some novels have.
For those of you who have not read the Night Huntress Series, you're probably wondering whether it's a good idea to grab this novel or not. I will say it can stand alone. There are some vague references to the other series, but much of the time you wouldn't even recognize them unless you knew what to look for. The author was careful to keep this new series separate and provided all the explanations you need to get the most out of this novel. It can be easily read by a newcomer. Having said that, I would still highly recommend you go back to the beginning because Vlad is best appreciated after seeing him first through Cat's eyes (though he doesn't show up until book three- At Graves End). Not to mention I'll be tempted to impale you myself if you enjoy paranormal romance and haven't tried this series yet.
For those who would like the Night Huntress Series reading order, this is it:
Halfway to the Grave (Night Huntress, Book 1)
One Foot in the Grave (Night Huntress, Book 2)
At Grave's End (Night Huntress, Book 3)
Destined for an Early Grave (Night Huntress, Book 4)*
This Side of the Grave (Night Huntress, Book 5)
One Grave at a Time (Night Huntress, Book 6)
*There are also two Night Huntress World books that take place after book four.
Note- I received an advanced copy of this book courtesy of the author.