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HOTTER AFTER MIDNIGHT
By CYNTHIA EDEN BRAVA BOOKS
Copyright © 2008
All right reserved.
Chapter One The vampire on her couch had a serious blood phobia. Dr. Emily Drake tapped a ballpoint pen against her lower lip as she listened to the vamp describe his little problem.
"I just ... can't drink it. I tried taking the blood straight from a source." He glanced over at her, his brown eyes wide. "Ya know, like from someone's neck."
Emily nodded. Yeah, she had a pretty good idea. She scribbled a quick note on her pad. Scared to take directly.
"But the minute my teeth actually touch someone's skin-" He broke off, and a shudder worked the length of his toothin body. "I feel like I'm gonna be sick."
Hmmm. Emily could only imagine how the guy's "source" had to feel. "Tell me, Marvin, have you tried going to a blood bank?" In her experience, some vampires just couldn't take drinking warm blood from a human's veins. They needed the blood cold, ice cold, and bagged-like some gruesome monster takeout.
He nodded and closed his eyes. "Been there, done that, Doctor. It just doesn't work for me." He exhaled heavily, and Emily had to fight to control the curve of her lips. Vampires didn't breathe, didn't need any air, didn't need anything but blood to live. But some habits were sure hard to break.
Even for the dead.
"I'm going to die." A pause. His eyes opened, gazed at her office ceiling. "Again." His hands lifted in the air, began to gesture furiously as he announced, in a slightly shrill tone, "I've been a vampire for six days-six days! And I'm going to starve to death. I'll be the first vampire in history to starve because he's afraid of blood! I'm going to wither away, dwindle to nothing. There will be no bones left, no ashes. Just-"
Oh jeez, this guy was quite the drama queen. Emily leaned forward. Vamps were all alike. Always with the I-I talk. You'd think they were the only supernatural creatures who had any problems.
Not being able to drink blood was a pretty serious problem for a vampire. And that was why Marvin Scamps had come to see her. She had a reputation for being able to help creatures like him.
Emily pulled off her glasses, rubbed the bridge of her nose as she thought a moment, then said, "Have you tried mixing the blood with something else?"
He shot off the couch, began to pace the room, his skeletal body tight, his hands knotted into fists. "It's blood! I can't drink blood! I can't-"
Emily took a deep breath and lowered the shield she'd erected in her mind. Slowly, carefully, she opened her thoughts up to the creature before her.
Blood. Horrible, red, sticky blood. Dripping down my throat. Gagging me. Oh, the taste. Weak, stale. I hate it, hate it-
Oh yeah, the guy had a bad blood issue.
Emily probed deeper into Marvin's mind, pushing past the fear, the disgust. There had to be more to Marvin's phobia. There always was. If she could just find a memory to show her ...
Emily's special gift in this world was her ability to touch the minds of others. She could peek inside their thoughts, feel the sting of their emotions, and that extrasensory ability made her the best damn psychologist in the state of Georgia. But, well, not everyone got to benefit from her little "bonus" power. Her gift only worked with supernatural beings-the Other-and that was why Emily was known as the Monster Doctor.
Of course, that wasn't her technical title. Couldn't very well post that in gold lettering on her door.
"I can't live this way!" Marvin's voice was a full scream now. He stood in front of her window, gazing down at the street below. His shaggy blond hair brushed against the windowpane.
She refrained from pointing out that, technically, Marvin wasn't living. Damn. She wondered who'd been the brilliant guy to transform him. Marvin really didn't seem to be cut out for being undead.
But it was her job to help him.
And she was very, very good at her job.
"Come here, Marvin." She didn't like the way he was eyeing the street below. There was no way he'd survive a jump from twenty-three stories. Only a level-nine demon or one very strong shifter could survive a fall like that.
His palms pressed against the glass. "If I can't drink the blood, I'll die."
Eventually. "You have a month," she told him, pitching her voice low, trying to soothe him. "A vampire needs to feed only once every full moon." And when he'd been transformed, he'd taken blood then. That gave him about three weeks before his next feeding.
Emily opened her desk drawer and pulled out her Rolodex. She took out a gray business card and held it up. "Take this."
Marvin glanced back at her, brows knitted suspiciously. "What is it?" He crept toward her, lifted his hand.
"A name and a number." She handed him the card, met his gaze levelly. "A very private name and number. There have been others like you, Marvin. Others who needed ... help to feed."
"Worst-case scenario-you call that number when the hunger gets too much for you. Tell the guy who answers I referred you."
"Wh-what will he do?"
"He'll give you a transfusion." The alarm on her watch began to vibrate softly against her wrist.
Their session was over.
"A transfusion?" For the first time since he'd walked into her office, hope lit his face. "The blood can be pumped into me, so I don't have to drink it?"
Emily nodded. "If necessary." But that wasn't a permanent solution. "Marvin, you're a vampire. It's your nature to drink blood." He couldn't fight his basic nature forever. "Sooner or later, you'll have to feed."
"But in the meantime, stop worrying so much." She tried a smile. "You've got a backup plan now, so you know you aren't going to starve."
His lips lifted in a faint grin, showing the hint of his fangs. "Yeah, I do, don't I?" His fingers curled over the card.
Her leather chair creaked softly as she pushed to her feet. "You and I are going to work through this." He just had to trust her enough to let her fully into his mind so that she could help him to fight his fear. "I want you to come back next week, same time."
Marvin grabbed his battered leather coat and headed for the door. "Thanks." He opened the door, heading into the empty lobby. It was after eleven P.M. and Emily's assistant, Vanessa, had left just as Marvin arrived for his appointment.
Marvin looked back over his shoulder and said, "I'll see you next week."
She pushed her glasses back on her nose as she followed him into the lobby. "Don't worry. Everything is going to be-"
A loud knock sounded on her office door.
Emily frowned. She didn't have any other appointments scheduled for the night. No one else should have-
A fist hammered against the wooden door. "Dr. Drake?" A man's voice. Deep. Hard. Slightly annoyed. The doorknob rattled.
Good thing Vanessa always locked up when she left.
The vampire edged closer to her. "Do you ... know who that is?"
No, she sure as hell didn't. But she was going to find out. Straightening her shoulders, Emily marched forward, flipped the lock- "Dr. Drake, I know you're in there!"
-opened the door, and found herself staring at a tall, dark stranger, a stranger with a badge clipped to the top of his faded jeans. A cop.
Alarm bells rang in her head. Anytime a cop paid her a call this late, well, it was never good.
The cop blinked at her, blinked a pair of sky blue eyes, and lowered the hand he'd raised to slam against her door.
Emily felt her stomach tighten as she stared up at him. A shiver of foreboding slid over her. This man, he was dangerous, very dangerous. Her psychic gift told her that, and every instinct she possessed as a woman screamed the same warning.
The cop was tanned a deep, dark gold. His hair was pitch black, a little too long. He had a hard, square jaw and a long blade of a nose. His cheekbones were high, glass sharp, giving him a slightly predatory look. His lips were thin and currently curved down in a frown of annoyance.
The cop was a big guy. Tall, well over six feet, with wide shoulders and thick muscles that stretched the black T-shirt he wore. He was also glowing faintly.
She knew what that hazy, shining light around his body meant.
The cop wasn't human.
And there was only one kind of creature that carried a glow like a second skin.
The guy was a shifter.
Shit. Shit. Most people knew the legends about the shifters. Some folks called them Weres. They were creatures who could change their forms, shift into beasts.
Her empathic ability let her see their second form, allowed her to see the soft, shining glow of the beasts the shifters carried.
Sometimes those beasts took control. Shifters had been known to go mad, to attack, to kill-
"Are you Dr. Drake?" His gaze darted over her shoulder to Marvin, narrowed.
"Ah, yes, yes, I am." Oh damn, but she didn't trust shifters. Never trust anything that was born with two faces ... that was her motto.
What kind of shifter was the cop? She'd met plenty of his kind in her time. Met shifters who could become panthers, snakes, even one who could become an owl. What was the cop?
Something fairly safe like an owl or a snake?
Or something dangerous ... like a bear, a dragon, or God forbid, a wolf? The wolves were the worst. Uncontrollable, aggressive, with strong psychotic tendencies-
The cop grunted, then said, "I need you to come with me." He reached out his hand to her.
She stared at his hand, at the long, broad fingers that reached for her. The hair on her nape rose. Go with a shifter? What, did she have the word stupid written on her forehead? She made no move to take his hand. Instead, she asked, "And just who might you be?"
"Detective Colin Gyth." He withdrew his hand, used it to pull out a black wallet, flashed her an ID card for all of two seconds.
"Ah ... I need to see that again." Oh no, never trust a shifter. His black brows lowered and he tossed her the wallet.
Emily took a moment to study the picture and ID information. Hmmm. It all looked legitimate. But what did the detective want with her?
"Uh, Dr. Drake?" Marvin's quiet voice.
She'd almost forgotten about him. Emily stepped back from the doorway, gave him a wan smile. "It's all right. You can go now."
He eyed the cop. "You sure?"
"Well, okay, then." Colin Gyth didn't step back when Marvin approached the door, and the vampire wound up brushing against him as he crossed the threshold of the office.
Colin's nostrils flared slightly and he turned his head, watching carefully as Marvin headed toward the elevator. He didn't speak, not until the shining, mirrored doors had closed behind Marvin's pale form. "He a client?"
Emily didn't answer, just stared back at him.
Colin sighed. "Sorry, none of my business, right?"
It sure as hell wasn't.
"Look, Dr. Drake, my captain sent me down here to get you. We've got a top priority case that-"
"Your captain?" Her heart began to beat faster. She knew a guy who worked on the Atlanta PD. He'd been one of her first patients when she'd opened her practice.
"Yeah, Danny McNeal. He wants you to look at a crime scene."
Danny. She kept her face expressionless. It was a skill she'd perfected years ago. When you could tell a person's innermost thoughts, it helped to be able to cloak your response. Cause sometimes, the thoughts that she picked up scared her to death.
Hmmm. So Danny had sent him. That relaxed her a bit, but ... "I'm not a forensic psychologist, I can't help with any kind of-"
His hand reached out, snagged hers. "He told me to come get you."
His hand was warm. Strong. Colin's scent, rich, masculine, wrapped around her, and a strange ball of heat began to form in her stomach.
His blue stare held hers. "And, lady, I'm sure as hell not leaving this building without you."
She wasn't what he'd expected.
Colin Gyth glanced at Dr. Drake-Emily-from the corner of his eye as he pulled his Jeep to a stop in front of the two-story house at the end of Byron Street.
He'd heard of her before, of course. Heard rumors, whispers about the Monster Doctor. But rumors, in his experience, usually didn't amount to jackshit.
So, after getting the order from his captain, he'd done some quick research on Emily.
According to her driver's license, Emily was thirty-one, five foot five, and weighed one hundred thirty pounds. He'd learned that she'd been born and bred in Atlanta. Went to college at Emory and got her degrees there. She had a Ph.D. in psychology, with a dual focus on clinical studies as well as neuroscience and animal behavior. Her mom was a teacher at a local elementary school, and her dad was deceased.
The good doctor had never been in trouble with the law. She paid her taxes, owned a house in one of the historic suburbs, and was single.
She had long, midnight black hair-hair that was currently pulled back in a rather painful-looking bun. She wore black-rimmed glasses that made her wide, green eyes look even bigger.
Yeah, he knew the basic facts about her, but he hadn't known how ... pretty she actually was. And pretty was a good word for her. The woman wasn't cute, she wasn't drop-dead gorgeous, but she was pretty. Nice heart-shaped face, a chin that was a little too pointed, high cheekbones and perfect bow red lips.
And her body. Very, very nice. Round, firm breasts. Long, shapely legs. When she'd climbed into his Jeep, her black skirt had hiked up two inches and he'd been given a glorious glimpse of her thighs. The woman had a killer pair of legs.
And he'd always been a sucker for great legs.
"I-is this the place?"
He stiffened at the sound of her voice. That warm, husky Southern drawl. He could imagine hearing that voice late at night, when they were in bed.
What the hell? Colin shook his head. Now was not the time to start fantasizing about the doctor. He was on a case. And really, the lady wasn't his type. He'd never gone for the brainy broads. He liked the party girls. The here-today-gone-tomorrow-no-questions-asked girls.
And as for the doc, well, damn, she asked questions for a living.
Definitely not his type.
He cleared his throat, dragged his gaze from her legs, and glanced at the brightly lit house. Teams of cops were scouring the yard, shining flashlights, interviewing neighbors. "Yeah, this is it."
He wasn't sure why McNeal had ordered him to pick her up. But, hey, he'd been around long enough to learn that when the captain gave an order, you followed it.
He shoved open his door, started to walk around and let the doc out, but she jumped from the vehicle and headed for the house.
A uniformed cop stepped in front of her, holding up his hand as she approached the house's open front door. "Hey, lady, you can't go in there-"
"Yes, she can." McNeal's gravelly voice. The captain tapped the cop on the shoulder as he appeared directly behind the young guy in the entranceway.
The patrol cop gulped, mumbled an apology, and seemed to slink away.
"Hi, Danny." A hint of warmth crept into Emily's voice.
Colin's eyes narrowed as he stalked behind her. Just what was her relationship with the captain?
Danny McNeal was one of the toughest sonofabitches he'd ever met. The guy was in his early forties, completely bald, and built like a linebacker.
And, as far as Colin knew, the guy wasn't a shifter, a demon, or any other sort of monster.
Just your average bad-ass human.
So how did the guy know the Monster Doctor?
When McNeal hugged Emily, Colin stiffened and a hot lick of something that sure as hell couldn't be jealousy ripped through him.
No, it couldn't be jealousy. He'd just met the woman less than thirty minutes ago. He didn't have a claim on her.
The captain's hands seemed to linger around Emily, and Colin got the impression that there was some genuine affection between the two. Were they lovers?
McNeal's gunmetal gray eyes met his. "Colin, give us a minute."
His jaw clenched as he nodded, then he stepped back a few feet. He could have stepped back twenty feet, it wouldn't have made any difference. McNeal might think he was getting some privacy, but thanks to his enhancements, Colin had hypersensitive hearing.
"I need your help," McNeal murmured.
Colin turned his back on them, watched the cops searching the area.
"There's a body inside," his captain continued, his voice little more than a whisper of sound. "I need to know if he's human or ..." He let his sentence trail off. There was a moment of silence, then he said, "I know you can tell if someone's Other just by being near if the subject is alive, but will you be able to tell when he's dead?"
Excerpted from HOTTER AFTER MIDNIGHT by CYNTHIA EDEN Copyright © 2008 by Cindy Roussos. Excerpted by permission.
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