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By Caridad Pineiro
Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.Copyright © 2004 Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneHis was a life filled only with empty dreams, if one could call those fleeting thoughts in a vampire's sleepless nights dreams. His existence was without end and ruled by a loneliness that made each day harder to bear than the one before.
High above the crowd, Ryder Latimer smelled the sting of the alcohol as the humans drank and spilled it in copious amounts in their search for oblivion or nirvana. Acrid smoke from cigarettes floated high into the air, and in that hazy cloud were the underlying tones of sweat. Sweat laced with lust, he thought, sniffing the air and detecting the ripe pheromone the humans exuded as they played their pitiful mating rituals.
Scents, he had discovered, were important to a vampire. Musks and other aromas literally brought out the beast in him. He normally avoided the smells, but it was tough to do in a crowd as large as this.
This far up, the sounds of the band and the crowd were garbled. Indistinct. A low buzz, like static, and a heavy thumping vibration from the bass of the music. An insistent lub-dub lub-dub, like the beat of a heart.
Ryder closed his eyes, placed his hands on the metal railing of the catwalk and the vibrations traveled up his arms. He took a deep breath, absorbing the smells. Soaking everything up as if by doing so he could restore a small part of the life he had lost when a strange turn of events during the Civil War had condemned him to this solitary life. It was a fleeting moment, the human scents and sounds racing through him, enervating him as he stood near the ceiling of the club.
In no time, however, Ryder was back to normal, watching like a disinterested deity, bored by the repetition of the activity below. Every night the same scene was replayed. Until tonight.
He had discovered in this morning's paper that there was some killing going on in that mob of humans. The murderer had struck last week and then a few nights ago. Maybe he would hunt another soon, Ryder thought, glancing down and wondering who might be the next one to be taken. Who might become another trophy for the psycho stalking his club. The papers hadn't mentioned The Lair, but Ryder had no doubt it was here that the hunt was on.
Ryder had sensed something different in the last few weeks, that unique smell of bloodlust that had made him wonder if another of his kind had come to feed. A club like this would be an excellent place to select a victim and then cull them from the herd.
He looked down once more and he saw her, standing at the edge of the crowd, searching for someone.
It wasn't possible, he thought as he hurried along the catwalk, keeping the apparition in sight. For nearly a century she'd been in his dreams. Or maybe it was better to describe them as his restless nocturnal musings.
Regardless, Ryder had stopped questioning why the spirit came to him. Sometimes she arrived at times of unrest, the visions she brought portents of things to come. At other times, when the monotony and uncertainty of his existence made him question why to go on, she'd come to soothe his soul and give him the peace he was unable to find elsewhere.
But tonight, she was no longer just an apparition - or was his loneliness deluding him?
He struggled to get a glimpse of her face, but even with his vampire night sight, he still couldn't be certain his imagination wasn't getting the best of him.
After all, for more than a century, he had been virtually alone with only a human keeper and his apparition to comfort him. Maybe that was why his mind and eyes were playing games with him tonight. It was just a trick, Ryder told himself, and yet he stood, poised on the edge of the catwalk. Watching. Waiting. Hoping.
The loud, driving beat of the bass pulsed through Diana Reyes's body, the vibrations pulling at something deep inside her. On stage, a guitarist thrashed around, his arm wildly circling as he strummed chords in sync to the pounding of the band behind him. A spotlight focused on him, picking up the gleam of sweat on his lean torso and the dark, swirling artwork on his upper right arm and shoulders. With a final jump and strum, the song ended, but the band quickly launched into another, its rhythm and violence not much different from the first.
Diana withstood the assault on her eardrums, watching from the periphery of the large crowd. There was a crush of bodies trying to make their way deeper into the space. Beyond them, other patrons lounged at tables along the border of a dance floor that was so packed she wondered how anybody could move to the music.
It was dark in the club, nearly pitch-black in spots. Overhead, dangling from an irregular maze of catwalks, wires and ropes, was an assortment of lighting equipment and mirrored balls that shot off erratic spots of light to create a jarring visual display on the dance floor. The only steady sources of illumination were those directed at the stage and at the long metallic bar along the side of the building. The bar was bathed in red spotlights, making the metal of its stainless-steel surface gleam as if coated in blood.
Apropos given that two women had lost their lives here ... or at least commenced their journeys to death in this place. Those deaths were the reason FBI agent Diana Reyes had offered to go undercover. Her profile of the killer indicated this was the place where he'd selected his victims. And Diana was his type.
The two victims she had seen in the morgue days earlier had been young and pretty until the killer had gotten to them. His sociopathic handiwork suggested he was someone who liked inflicting pain. Someone who knew how to make it last. The medical examiner had implied that at some point, the victims may have passed into a "no pain" zone, courtesy of the adrenaline coursing through their bodies.
Diana absentmindedly nodded and rubbed at the ridge of scar along her own rib cage. She had firsthand knowledge of just what someone could do when her body shut down from an excess of physical and mental pain. She had crawled to her father, cradled him in her arms and tried to stop the bleeding from the bullet that had ripped into his chest, courtesy of a gang's drive-by shooting. Futilely, she had pressed her hand against the wound, watching his blood leak between her fingers as he died in her arms. It wasn't until after his death that she realized she had also been hit.
Diana was certain that for these victims, the killer had made the pain a real living thing. And at the end, she thought with a shudder, the two women had likely realized death was close at hand.
She intended to put an end to the killer's spree. She threaded her way through the crowd, in search of her partner and hoping to become visible to the murderer.
Her investigation had confirmed that both victims had planned to come to this establishment on the nights they were killed. Even before eliminating known acquaintances as suspects, Diana was certain she had a serial killer on her hands. One who would likely strike again, and soon. The second girl had been murdered only a week after the first. Tonight's surveillance should give Diana a feel for the place before she intensified the investigation with more equipment and personnel.
The mark on her hand - the red bat used as proof that IDs had been checked and the entrance fee paid - confirmed that the victims had in fact been here. She traced the edges of the design with her hand, thinking how it marked her in another way - as prey.
A touch came against the bare skin at the small of her back. She turned and faced David, her partner. Like the others in the club, he was dressed in black, from his jacket and T-shirt to his jeans, but with his blond, prep-school looks, it was hard for him to seem tough. Even the scruffy beard he'd grown did little to help. It was barely a peach fuzz on his boyish face.
He grinned and moved his hand. Her backless halter exposed her right shoulder blade, and he traced the edges of the tattoo there. "Nice touch. Both the shirt and the tattoo. Shame it'll wash off," he said, and Diana didn't correct him.
Excerpted from Darkness Calls by Caridad Pineiro Copyright © 2004 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission.
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