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|Publisher:||Grand Central Publishing|
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Seduced by the Night
By Robin T. Popp
WARNER FOREVERCopyright © 2006 Robin T. Popp
All right reserved.
Chapter OneOn an otherwise still and silent night, the faint noise and gentle breeze barely registered with Bethany Stavinoski, whose thoughts were focused elsewhere. On her way to the office, she walked another half a block along the deserted Washington D.C. sidewalk before it occurred to her that a woman alone at night should be more cautious-and alert.
Spinning around, she half expected a mugger or vagrant to leap at her. She felt both relieved and a bit foolish when the only other person in sight was a man leaning against the inside wall of a building's doorway, half a block behind her. Strange, she thought. She hadn't noticed him before. The feeble glow of a nearby streetlight only touched the outer half of him, leaving the rest swallowed by the darkened entryway. His features were unclear and a trick of the poor lighting gave his eyes a reddish glow. He wore a long black duster over equally dark clothes. With one leg bent at the knee so he could brace his foot against the wall, he smoked a cigarette, appearing both unhurried and extremely dangerous.
As she watched, he took the cigarette from his mouth to exhale and his lips lifted in a slight smile as he tipped his head in a subtle greeting. Afraid that her staring might be misconstrued as an invitation to approach, she turned andhurried away.
That's right, sweet thing. Be very afraid. Dirk Adams watched the look of apprehension cross the young woman's face just before she turned and walked off. He raised his hand, bringing the cigarette to his mouth, and took a long drag before slowly exhaling the smoke.
He waited until she disappeared around the corner before flicking the cigarette to the street, where he watched the tip flare briefly as it bounced and rolled away. It wasn't even his; Dirk didn't smoke-not anymore.
"Thanks for the loaner," he said conversationally, turning to the creature he held pinned to the door by the neck. "But you know? They just don't taste as good as they used to. Probably just as well. Those things'll kill you." He smiled at his own joke as he studied the creature, more monster now than the twenty-something man it used to be. "I don't suppose that matters to you, though."
"I'm ... going ... to ... kill ... you," the creature choked out past the constriction of its throat, sounding harsh and wild. "You can't ... stop me."
Sharp clawlike nails raked across Dirk's hand and he winced at the pain. It hurt like a son of a bitch and he felt his anger rise, but didn't loosen his grip. Instead, he let his lips curl back in a snarl.
The creature's eyes widened in surprise, then it renewed its struggles. Dirk hesitated to do what had to be done, hoping to get some useful bit of information while there was a modicum of coherent thought left in his captive. "Where are Harris and Patterson? Where is the lair?"
"Go to hell," it spat back.
"Right." Dirk pulled a small dagger from its sheath beneath his duster and drove it into the vampire's heart. "Save me a seat."
Bethany anxiously glanced up and, seeing the familiar shape of the Van Horne Technologies building ahead, breathed a sigh of relief. It wasn't a large building, only four stories in height, but it was home-more so than her apartment, lately. She'd worked there as a research biochemist for almost five years and enjoyed what she did. There was an inherent order to doing research that appealed to her. She liked her life neat, organized, and most important, uneventful.
She reached the door of the building and swiped her ID tag. The doors immediately opened and she crossed the lobby to the security desk, her footsteps ringing loudly in the silence. Bethany found it curious that the guard was not at his post, but assumed he was making his rounds. She signed the after-hours register, noticing her assistant's signature on the line above, and couldn't help worrying what havoc Stuart was wreaking in her absence. The thought sent her hurrying for the elevators.
Stepping inside, she pushed the button to the fourth floor, and as the elevator began its ascent, she thought about her latest project. It had her baffled, but she was determined to rise to the challenge even if it meant running a battery of timed tests that dragged her into the lab at all hours of the night.
She'd questioned Miles Van Horne about who had commissioned the project, but he'd remained stubbornly closemouthed. It wasn't that she expected the CEO to divulge that information to just anyone, but she was not only the researcher in charge of the project, she was his ... fiancee.
The word rolled around awkwardly in her mind and she tried to view the very recent change in their status from a strictly analytical perspective. She had been dating Miles for almost a year now and although she'd considered it unwise to date the boss, he had been charmingly persistent.
Miles was quite a bit older than she and their physical relationship was more PG-13 than R, but that seemed to suit them both. They never mixed business with their personal lives and she thought it unlikely that she'd find anyone else as supportive of her research and the crazy work schedule she kept. Add to the equation Miles's wealth and status and the end result was that she could do a whole lot worse.
She'd made the right decision in accepting his proposal, she told herself, running her thumb over the band of the two-carat, emerald-cut diamond solitaire perched on her ring finger. All in all, theirs was the perfect relationship. So when he'd suggested they get married, why had she hesitated?
A soft voice whispered the answer in the back of her head and she silently scoffed at herself. Love? Please. She was far too realistic to believe in that fairy tale. The score of disastrous relationships before Miles flickered through her mind. No, this was a good, practical match.
As the elevator stopped, Bethany forced herself to mentally switch gears and glanced at her watch. Damn. She was running late and knowing Stuart, he'd started without her. She wondered, not for the first time, if she should talk to Miles about the man. Maybe if Miles understood how incompetent Stuart really was, he'd ... he'd what? Fire Stuart? Bethany sighed. She didn't want to be responsible for someone losing his or her job.
Resigned to working with the man for now, she opened the door to her office and saw the light on in the lab beyond-Stuart hard at work, no doubt. Yeah, that was a laugh. Please don't let him have started the next phase of the experiment, she silently prayed.
She stashed her purse in her desk drawer, grabbed her lab coat off the nearby rack, and shrugging into it, hurried through the connecting doorway.
"Stuart-?" She came to an abrupt halt and felt her heart lurch.
Beakers lay shattered on the countertop while reagents ran off the edge, dripping onto the floor where puddles already formed. Stands that had held flasks and tubing in place now lay strewn about in broken pieces. Everything was ruined-all of her hard work, flushed down the proverbial toilet.
And Stuart was conspicuously absent.
She walked farther into the room to assess the damage. "Stuart. Damn it! Where the hell are you?"
She felt anger burning inside and fought to control it. Had he done this? There was no question that the man hated her. He'd practically accused her of sleeping her way to the department manager position. This destruction was yet another childish act of professional jealousy. Well, this time, he'd gone too far.
Hurrying back to her office, she grabbed the phone and dialed the front desk. There was no answer so she hung up, her irritation growing to include the absent guard as she next punched in Miles's cell number. He picked up on the second ring but she didn't give him time to say a word, launching immediately into her tirade.
"Everything is ruined, absolutely ruined. I can't believe he'd do such a thing-"
"Stuart! He destroyed everything. All of my work on this project is now strewn across the floor. I still have my notes, of course, but now I have to start all over. Is this his idea of working together? How could he-?"
"Bethany!" Miles's raised voice stemmed the flow of angry words. "Slow down and tell me what's going on. Are you all right?"
She took a deep breath, trying to bring herself under control, and then, speaking more slowly, told him what she'd found.
"Are you positive Stuart did this?" he asked when she finished.
"Yes ... no," she admitted reluctantly. "But who else could it have been?"
"We'll find out, okay?" Without waiting for her response, he continued. "I'm on my way. Don't touch anything. I'll be there shortly and then we'll decide if we need to call the authorities or not. If Stuart is responsible, he'll be dealt with. Just in case whoever did this is still around, though, I'd feel better if you called Frank to come wait with you."
She felt another stab of annoyance at the mention of the missing guard. "I tried. He's not at his desk."
"He's probably making his rounds. Go down to the lobby and see if he's back, but first call me back on your cell phone. I want to be in touch with you the entire time."
Bethany hung up, grabbed her cell phone from her purse, and headed for the elevator. She knew the phone wouldn't work once the doors closed, so she waited until after she reached the ground floor to place the call. Though she'd grown accustomed to the silence of the office after hours, now the quiet took on an ominous quality.
"Okay, I'm downstairs," she told Miles when he answered. She crossed to the front desk and looked around. "Frank's still not here." Frustrated, she headed to the far corridor, thinking he might be in the men's room. She'd just passed the open door to the conference room when something she saw caused her to stop and take a closer look.
Frank was in the corner, lying with his legs bent at an angle too awkward to be natural. He didn't appear to be breathing. "Oh, God."
"Bethany, what is it?" Miles's concerned voice sounded in her ear.
She fought to overcome her squeamishness long enough to bend over the guard's body and place her fingers against his throat. "I found Frank."
"Good. Tell him to get his ass back to the desk where he belongs."
"I can't. He's dead."
Dirk hauled the body of the dead vampire from the back of his SUV and slung it over his shoulder. He didn't have to carry it far, only about ten yards to the "dump" pile. He threw it on top of the bodies already there and then studied the sight. Six vampire corpses-and he'd been responsible for bringing in four of them. The numbers bothered him because he knew that tomorrow there'd be more. It almost seemed that lately, Harris and Patterson, the two dominant or Prime vampires, had been engaging in some orgiastic feed-fest.
Dirk gritted his teeth and searched the pockets of the latest victim, looking for some form of ID.
His hand closed around the vampire's wallet and pulled it out. In among the credit cards and driver's license was a photo of the man beside an attractive young woman and a little girl. Dirk shoved the wallet into the pocket of his duster and glanced toward the back of the mansion he called home. The admiral would be making another anonymous donation to a grieving family.
With one final task remaining, Dirk returned to the SUV and retrieved the rolled blanket in the backseat. Holding it carefully, he placed his hand against one end. There was a brief hum of energy and then a pommel hit his palm. He wrapped his fingers around it and pulled the long, gleaming sword from the scabbard inside the blanket, then placed the blanket and scabbard back in the car as he held up the sword, admiring how the blade glinted in the moonlight. It was the Death Rider sword, used to slay vampires, and only a changeling-half vampire, half human-could wield it and command its full power. There were only two changelings in the entire D.C. area, hell, in the entire United States. Dirk was one of them. As he held the sword, the pommel grew warm in his hand and the ruby eyes of the vampire's head etched in the side gleamed a bright red.
He went to stand before the pile of bodies and not for the first time wondered what would happen if he pulled the dagger out of a vampire's heart. Would the body rise again? His cell phone picked that moment to start buzzing and he glanced at the caller ID before answering it. "Yes, Admiral?"
"John Boehler called. There's been another killing. He thought we'd want to take a look. I saw you drive by the house-are you almost done?"
"Yeah. I'll be right there." Dirk put away the phone and stared at the sight before him. Tomorrow, the sun would turn the pile of corpses into a stone mass that the first stiff wind would then reduce to dust. There was only one final task to perform.
Raising the sword high, he brought it down in one swift, smooth stroke. There was no blood as the head hit the ground with the muted thud that Dirk had grown accustomed to. With a grim countenance, he tossed the head back on the pile and cleaned the blade of his sword on the dead man's clothes.
There were moments when he liked being a Night Slayer-this was not one of them.
Elsewhere in the city, Kent Patterson wiped the blood from his mouth as his meal slumped to the ground, already forgotten. Patterson had fed until he could consume no more, yet the hunger would not abate. It clawed at him until anger and irritation rode him relentlessly. He silently berated himself for not going out with Harris tonight. He would have enjoyed a good hunt.
The silent admission caused him to sigh. It was probably just as well that he remained at the lair. Lately, he and Harris hadn't been seeing eye to eye on things, and that troubled him. He considered tasting one of the other humans chained to the wall, their fear a cloying scent in the otherwise rancid atmosphere of his lair, but a sound from the outer chamber distracted him.
His converts had returned and Patterson was eager for the prize they'd brought him. Patterson, ever resourceful, had a plan-one that included personal wealth and power. The success of this plan, however, depended on having a biochemist; one who would do work for him, either willingly or coerced, it made no difference to Patterson.
Stepping through the door, he gazed upon the frightened young man in a white lab coat, held suspended by his arms between the two underlings. Patterson suspected they retained their grip on the young man more to support him than to keep him from bolting. The irony here was that it was not the young man who should be the most frightened.
"What the hell is this?" Patterson bellowed, causing the two lesser vampires to stumble back.
"It ... it's the biochemist you wanted," the braver of the two responded.
"No," Patterson said, his voice sounding deceptively calm. "This is not the biochemist I wanted. This biochemist is a man." He raised an eyebrow as he looked first at one underling and then the other as if daring them to refute the obvious truth. "Where is the woman?" If it was possible for the two vampires to grow paler, they did.
"We went to the lab as instructed, but he was the only one there."
"Then. You. Failed." Patterson spit out the words, making sure the converts fully appreciated the extent of his displeasure. Their hold on the prisoner grew tentative as if they would leave him there and return immediately to the lab. Imbeciles. "You can't go back now. Your incompetence has put me in a difficult situation. I'll have to find another way to get what I want." He turned to go back into his chamber.
Excerpted from Seduced by the Night by Robin T. Popp Copyright © 2006 by Robin T. Popp. Excerpted by permission.
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