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By CYNTHIA EDEN
BRAVA BOOKSCopyright © 2009 Cindy Roussos
All right reserved.
Chapter OneHaving a breakdown in the middle of a live broadcast was really not a very good thing for a reporter's career.
Holly Storm's fingers tightened their already white-knuckled grip around the microphone. Her breath came too hard and way too fast as she fought to hold on to her control.
"Holly ..." The reed-thin voice of her producer.
Shit. Her career was about to hit the toilet. She dragged her gaze away from the body-away from the body that she knew didn't belong to a human-and glanced back toward the round lens of the camera. "Uh ... I'm ... H-Holly Storm, reporting to you live from the scene of-" A freaking slaughter. "A brutal ... murder." Yeah, brutal was a good word choice considering the way the poor guy had been sliced to ribbons.
Get a grip, girl. She couldn't afford a meltdown right now.
After a hard swallow, she finally managed to suck in a full breath. Holly cleared her throat, then spoke in that calm, cool voice she'd perfected back in her college communication classes so long ago. "Police aren't talking ..." At least not to her. But then, the two detectives on the scene-Colin Gyth and Todd Brooks-weren't exactly on her "friends" list. "But this reporter can't help but wonder just what sort of monster is looseon our Atlanta streets." There was a growl to her right. Her gaze darted over, just for a moment, and she met the bright stare of Detective Gyth.
Screw him. Her chin lifted. "Reporting live from a downtown scene of death, this is Holly Storm, signing off."
The camera lens watched her for a silent moment. Then ...
"Christ, Holly, you think that was a little dramatic?" Ben Blake muttered, lowering the camera from his shoulder. His Braves hat, the one the guy always wore, rain or shine, night or day, rested high on his head. A line of stubble lined his jaw.
"Dramatic's good," she told him, aware that while her voice was cool, her heart thundered hard enough to shake her chest. "Drama gets folks to forget about their crappy days and pay attention to the news."
"Are you okay?" The quieter, and no longer panicked, voice of her producer asked. "Not everyone is cut out for these kinds of stories."
Her shoulders, already straight, stiffened even more. No way was she about to be yanked off this story. Her last encounter with the Other-the supernaturals who walked the streets acting like humans and hiding behind magic-had left her with singed hair, a body full of bruises, and the acid of fear on her tongue.
But she wasn't the running-and-hiding type. Okay, fact one: Monsters existed. Fact two: Those monsters scared the hell out of her. Fact three: If she wanted to work in this town, and she did, then Holly was gonna have to learn how to live with the darker beings that stalked the streets.
"I'm fine, Mac." McArthur Phillips was a news veteran. Once an anchor for News Flash Five, the sixty-three-year-old had turned his attention to bossing folks around in his producer gig. Not that Mac looked sixty-three. The guy worked out four times a week to keep his body in top "anchor" form and his black hair was only now starting to gray.
From what Holly could tell, Mac was one of those guys who generally spoke softly, but could rip the flesh off anyone who got in his way with just a few careful words. Probably a leftover trait from his army days. She knew the guy had served back in Vietnam. She'd heard more than a few of his stories before.
"Don't lie to me." Still soft, but with a hard rasp beneath the words. "You looked pale as death for a minute there. A reporter fainting on camera-"
"Would be a major ratings score," Ben cut in, tugging his hat down a bit as a smile curved his thin lips.
Holly glared at him. "Right, because I want to be known as the Fainting Flash Five girl." Asshole. She liked Ben, really did, but sometimes he could piss her off.
Holly's nose wrinkled. Oh, dammit, she could smell the blood.
"Well, if you're not goin' to faint, then get your ass over to those cops and find out just what the hell is goin' on," Mac growled.
Her back teeth locked. The cops had already said there would be no interviews. At least, no "official" ones. A girl had to try. Holly shoved her microphone toward Ben. "Be back in ten." And hopefully, she'd be back with a story.
Holly turned on her heel. Zeroed her sights on the detectives. They were talking to a uniformed cop. Faces intent. She slipped under the yellow police tape, then crept toward them, hoping to overhear-
"Ms. Storm, just what the hell do you think you're doin'?" Colin Gyth demanded, blue eyes glittering down at her. His arms were crossed over his rather impressively muscled chest. "This is a crime scene." He grabbed her arm and hauled her back toward the tape, ignoring her outraged yelp. "If we wanted reporters screwing up the evidence, there wouldn't be a damn barrier set up."
A flimsy barrier. He pushed her under the tape, shook his head, and frowned down at her. "Hell, woman, didn't you learn your lesson the last time?"
Learn her lesson? What was she, a two-year-old? "What I learned," she pitched her voice low, knowing others couldn't overhear this, "is that this town has a lot of deadly secrets." She pointed toward the body. "Looks like you've got someone hunting demons."
His eyes widened. "What?"
Uh, oh. The detective hadn't known-
He was under the tape and beside her in less than two seconds. For a big guy, he could sure move fast. "What did you just say?"
Holly licked her lips. The detective was intimidating as hell with those dark features and the glinting edge of teeth that looked a bit too sharp and-
"She said the victim wasn't human." The cold, slightly mocking voice had every nerve in Holly's body tensing. No, shit, not-
She and Colin turned together and met the coal-black stare of Niol Lapen. It was just after dusk, and the dark shadows gathered around him, wrapping over the tall, muscled length of his body.
He strolled toward them, power evident in his every rippling move. His face, a face that Holly figured most women would find attractive-not her, of course, but most women-showed no hint of emotion. But then, she'd rarely known Niol to bother much with emotions.
Midnight-black hair swept back from his high forehead. The guy really had perfect features, aesthetically speaking anyway. High cheeks, square jaw, long, straight nose, and lips that were-
Not for me. Holly jerked her gaze back up to his black eyes and away from the lips that she was not the least bit interested in. She needed to focus on his eyes-because it was the eyes that told the true nature of the man. Or, in Niol's case, the true nature of the demon.
Because Niol Lapen was a demon. Probably the strongest and most dangerous demon she'd ever met, and she wasn't going to forget that fact.
Or the fact that she was pretty sure he'd killed a man the last time they'd met.
His gaze swept past her. Holly followed his stare and saw that the body had been covered with a sheet. About time.
"How did you get here so fast, Ms. Storm?" Niol's voice, harder now, dark and demanding.
Her eyebrows shot up. Just what was the demon implying? "I was covering a story two blocks over. I followed the sirens." Okay, probably not her classiest moment, but she'd landed an exclusive.
And stumbled onto a scene that would give her nightmares for a week.
Not now. She couldn't let this get personal now.
But dammit, why him? He'd been a good guy, harmless. He hadn't deserved terror and death in a dirty alley, behind a strip club for God's sake.
"Fuck that." Colin stepped toward Niol. "You knew the victim?"
"Um." Neither agreement not denial.
Colin's hands clenched. "Don't play with me, Niol. If you'd seen the way the poor bastard was slashed-"
Colin stiffened. "You didn't-"
Niol laughed, a rough, dry sound, and his gaze returned to Holly. "I didn't kill him. One of her kind did." What? Her kind? What was he-
"Come with me. Now." Colin pointed at her. "And as for you, Ms. Storm, stay away from my crime scene."
Niol's gaze raked over her, for just the briefest moment, darting from her head to her strappy black shoes, and Holly shivered. Dangerous.
But, dammit, sexy.
Focus. "You can't just shut out the press, you know, detective. The public has a right to know-"
Niol shook his head. "Still playing that song, Holly?" Holly, not Ms. Storm any longer. And his voice was different too. Husky. Rough. The voice a man would use in bed. Goose bumps rose on her uncovered arms.
"I don't know-"
"You knew he was a demon." His lips twisted and those soulless black eyes bored into her. "He was one of your sources, wasn't he?"
No way was she going to answer that question, even if the dark demon before her was right. Carl Bronx had been one of her sources. She'd talked with him more than a dozen times. He'd been young, a little over twenty-one, with a ready smile and a dimple in his chin.
No. She would not think about him. Thinking about him and realizing that sweet Carl was the guy who'd gotten sliced to bits, well, that had almost caused her on-camera breakdown.
Niol stepped toward her and brushed the back of his hand over her chilled arm. "You're not as hard as you pretend to be," he whispered. "Pity." His breath stirred the hair near her cheek.
Holly blinked back the tears that stupidly filled her eyes because even though the sheet was over him, in her mind, she could still see Carl's bloody body.
Niol shook his head. "You're out of your league. Go home, Holly. Back to your safe world." He stepped back. "Leave the demons and the death to me."
The guy couldn't have given her a more clear dismissal.
Holly watched Niol turn and stride with Colin toward a patrol car.
Oh, yeah, that had been a rather nice "Fuck off."
Unfortunately for the demon, she wasn't the fucking-off type.
"Didn't get the story, huh?" Ben asked, coming to stand at her side.
Holly didn't take her gaze off the strong lines of Niol's body. He leaned against the blue-and-white patrol car, his arms loose at his sides. "Not yet."
"The cops will release a statement later, no big deal-"
"It is." Carl had been important. One of the good guys-uh, demons. He hadn't deserved an ending like this. Hell, no one deserved a death like this.
Carl had trusted her with his secrets.
She wasn't going to slink away from his case. Sure, she knew the routine-don't let the stories get personal. Every reporter's mantra.
But it was too late. This kill, it was personal.
She wasn't about to back off.
Niol and Colin were talking, lips moving fast, but the words were far too soft for her to hear. After a moment, Niol inclined his head and marched away from the detective. Colin looked furious, his face tight and his body stiff.
Holly knew she wasn't going to be getting any help from the cop.
Niol headed toward the waiting shadows.
But the demon ...
He was a whole other story.
Her breath hitched as a spike of excitement had her blood heating.
"Holly ..." Ben's voice was high-pitched-a sure sign the man was getting worried. "What are you thinking?"
"I'm thinking I'm getting this story." She tossed him a hard smile, one that she knew showed a lot of teeth. "One way or another." Even if she had to walk into the devil's den.
Actually, that idea didn't sound bad at all.
Time to go into the darkness and see what secrets she could find.
After all, she was a reporter-a reporter who always got her story.
The pretty redhead walked into his hell as if she owned the place.
Chin up, slim shoulders back, one hand cocked on her hip. Oh, yeah, serious attitude.
But, as he watched her, Niol Lapen couldn't help but wonder ... when he got closer to the lady, would he see fear lurking in her too-green eyes?
Because he knew that she'd been afraid of him before. The last time she'd crossed the threshold into the bar that some thought of as Paradise and others knew as hell, there had been fear in Holly Storm's gaze.
Not that she'd let the fear stop her.
And he'd always rather enjoyed fear in his prey.
Niol had decided months ago that the reporter would make wonderful prey.
He propped his elbows on the bar and kept his gaze on the woman who was slowly strolling across Paradise Found. She'd changed her clothes. The dressy top and the dark pants were gone. Now she wore a short dress, black, one that emphasized the pale silk of her skin, one that flashed the tempting swell of her perfect breasts and kissed the tops of her thighs.
Um. He'd like to do that. Like to kiss and lick those long legs. He could all too easily imagine the feel of that smooth skin against his lips and tongue.
His eyes narrowed. The lady knew how to dress. A point in her favor.
She also knew how to find trouble. Another point for Holly.
"Hell." The disgust came from the bartender behind him. It was the kind of disgust Niol normally felt for reporters, but not for Holly. "What's she doing here?" Marc demanded.
Niol never took his gaze off Holly. Her right hand clutched a small black bag-bet she's got some kind of recorder in there-and her high heels clicked across the floor. He could hear every move she made. The bar, his second home, was packed-a good thing. Yet his senses-damn strong senses seeing as how he was a level-ten demon-were wholly focused on her.
If he tried, he bet he'd even be able to smell her. That light, rich scent of lavender from her lotion.
"Want me to kick her ass out, boss?" Marc asked, and the soft clink of a glass sounded.
A smile curved Niol's lips. "That's not exactly what I want to happen to the lady's ass." No, he had other plans for Holly ... and her gorgeous ass.
It had been too long since he'd taken a lover. At least a month. But he'd been dealing with killers and death. A guy could get distracted.
And now there was this other bastard on the streets.
If another demon died ...
He lifted his drink. Drained the shot glass in one quick gulp. The hot burn of the liquid slid down his throat. "Don't worry about the reporter, Marc." Though he was a pretty recent hire at the bar, Marc still knew the score. He also knew that cops and reporters normally weren't too welcome in Paradise. "I'll take care of her." Very good care of her.
Holly Storm. She was the newest reporter at News Flash Five. Smart. Resourceful. A real looker, too. Plump lips. Small nose. High, glass-sharp cheekbones.
Oh, yeah, the reporter was sexy.
She was also trouble because she knew far, far too much about his private world of demons and darkness.
Most humans didn't know that the monsters they feared in their dreams-the vampires, werewolves, everything that made the night go bump-were all real. Humans were too worried about their nine-to-five jobs, too busy worrying about getting robbed by the guy in line next to them at the grocery store or getting carjacked at the red light on the wrong side of town. They never stopped and actually looked at the world around them.
Because if the humans would just jerk off their damn blinders, they'd see they had a whole hell of a lot more to fear on this Earth than they imagined, and that some nightmares could be very, very real.
Holly had first lost her blinders months ago. For a time, she'd even planned to air her discovery on her precious news station.
Of course, her plans had changed when he'd brought the fires of hell to her feet. Rather literally.
At that moment, her gaze locked on his. Her eyes widened, just a bit. The taking-my-time walk became faster as she tried to hurry to him and-
And a vampire stepped in her path.
Niol's fingers drummed on the bar. The undead asshole had just blocked his view. He'd give him five seconds to move, then-
Holly stepped around the vamp, her jaw locked. Her full lips-painted red, Niol's favorite color-pressed into a line. Ah, so the reporter wasn't in the mood for-
The vamp touched her. Grabbed her arm. Then jerked her up against his chest.
Excerpted from MIDNIGHT'S MASTER by CYNTHIA EDEN Copyright © 2009 by Cindy Roussos. Excerpted by permission.
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