Jabril Karim watched silently as his lieutenant, Asim, slipped through the study door, saw him jerk to a confused stop when he noticed his Sire studying him from his seat behind the desk. Asim’s narrow chest swelled with an indrawn breath as he fought visibly to contain his fear and Jabril smiled, perversely pleased. “Well?” he asked in a bored tone. “No one has seen Elizabeth in two days, my lord,” Asim said, cringing slightly as he delivered the unwanted news. “And the guards have no record of her coming or going through the gate in that time.” Jabril pushed away from his delicate Chippendale desk and crossed his legs. “So, the little one has escaped,” he said thoughtfully, smoothing the fabric of his trousers over one knee. He glanced up at Asim. “She won’t succeed, of course. She belongs to me and, fortunately, the American law is on my side in this instance. But…” He raised a cautionary finger. “How to retrieve my property before it’s too late?” “I shall arrange a search,” Asim offered eagerly. “She cannot have gone far.” “Possibly. But human children have great freedom of action in this country and, besides, Elizabeth can look quite mature when she chooses.
I am reluctant to do so, but I fear we may need to engage someone to undertake this search for us. One who understands the society better, perhaps someone who specializes in these runaway children?” Asim frowned. “There are such people, of course, if you think it wise. I will contact your lawyers and find out who handles these things. Let them earn some of the money you pay them for doing nothing. A private investigator, perhaps—” He gave his master an alarmed look as Jabril barked out a laugh. “Sire?” “A private investigator, Asim! This is too perfect. You recall that unfortunate business on the west coast recently? Rumor has it Raphael used a private investigator, a very private investigator from what I hear, but one who resisted even that arrogant bastard’s charm.” “You would hire a woman?” “Oh hardly, Asim,” he said with a dismissive flip of his fingers. “Talk to the lawyers and find a proper man for the job.
But call this woman of Raphael’s anyway. I want to meet her, and that bastard’s ego could use a good pricking. Do you think he would mind sharing?” “I think he would rather share with a snake, my lord,” Asim said with a sharp smile. Jabril laughed again, an unpleasant sound. “Just so, Asim. Just so. Let me think … it was Cynthia something. Lawson or Layland, or some such. Do you recall?” “Leighton. Cynthia Leighton.
Her father is Harold Leighton of Leighton Investments.” “Really? Well, isn’t that interesting? Raphael moves in higher circles than I thought. All the more reason to take a look. Can you locate her?” “Of course, my lord.” “Excellent. Tell her nothing on the phone, Asim. Insist she come in person; stress the delicacy of the situation.” “And if she refuses?” “Oh, she won’t refuse. Humans love a secret. And we are so very good at keeping them.
” Chapter Two Cynthia Leighton trudged up the boarding ramp, following the rather substantial hips of the lawyer who’d been her seatmate and self-appointed best friend for the better part of the morning. More than three hours of listening to him drone on about his latest fascinating (yawn) triumph in the world of tort law. Cyn wasn’t the kind of girl to make friends easily, but she did try to be polite. The lawyer had strained even her best intentions. Fortunately for him, the screeners had made her leave her pepper spray at the security checkpoint in L.A. When the Houston terminal came into view, she hoisted the strap of her backpack higher on her shoulder and took a firm hold on the telescoping handle of her carry-on bag, intent on a clean getaway. The lawyer made a final play, pausing near the Jetway door to suggest she join him for a celebratory drink at his hotel. Cyn gave her watch a pointed glance—it was barely past one in the afternoon. She smiled her regrets and rolled away, quickly losing him in the crowded airport.
Had the guy really thought she’d be interested in a little afternoon romp? Did she look that desperate? Huffing an exasperated breath, she focused on the overhead signs, looking for baggage claim. Not that she had any bags to claim, but that’s where the limo driver had promised to meet her. Following the general flow of the crowd toward the down escalators, she was struck by how all airports looked alike. No matter the supposedly unique architectural details they touted, it was still the same endless, long corridors filled with hard floors and wide open spaces that bounced all that noise around until you could barely hear yourself think, much less make out the latest garbled boarding announcement. She blew out an exhausted breath as she finally stepped onto the escalator, her gaze falling on a sign that welcomed her to Bush International Airport. What was it with politicians anyway, always rushing to put their names on everything? She couldn’t think of a single politician who deserved his name on a sewage treatment facility, much less a major airport where everyone had to look at it all the time. Geez, what a grouch! You need a drink, Cyn . No, what she really needed was a good night’s sleep, one untroubled by dreams of a certain vampire lord. So what was she doing in Texas, about to undertake a job for yet another of the so-called undead? When the call had come two days ago, all she could think of was getting out of L.A.
, at least for a while. Putting a state or two between her and Raphael had seemed like a good idea, since nothing else seemed to work. Besides, half of her work as a private investigator was for one vampire or another. Most of it was pretty tedious stuff, tracking down old bank accounts and young relatives, but this new case had possibilities. Maybe it would be interesting enough to wipe away the lingering memories of sparkling black eyes and a slow smile. She sighed. Probably not. A man approached as she stepped off the escalator, his plain black suit, white shirt and black tie screaming “limo driver” as clear as day. “Ms. Leighton?” he asked.
Cynthia gave him a somber assessment, a little surprised that he recognized her. She’d expected a sign, not a personal greeting. “Yes,” she admitted. “How did you know?” He smiled, a fleeting flash of teeth that changed his face completely for a brief instant. “I didn’t, not for sure. Mr. Asim gave me a description, but he was pretty vague.” He shrugged. “You looked right.” “Who’s Asim?” That obviously surprised him.
“He works for Lord Jabril Karim, I thought—” “Oh. We spoke on the phone, I guess.” Which didn’t explain how he knew what she looked like, but then nothing about dealing with vampires was ever simple or straightforward. “Okay,” she said. “So, how do we get out of here?” “This way. Can I…” He reached to take her backpack. She shifted so it was out of his reach. “No, I’ll carry this. You can take the suitcase, thanks. How far to the hotel?” The driver collapsed the handle on her small suitcase, picking it up instead.
“About thirty minutes, but Mr. Asim directed me to take you right out to the estate.” “Did he? How nice for him.” She smiled to the take the sting from her words. “Unfortunately—” She paused. “You never told me your name.” “Scott.” “I’ve always liked that name—my first crush was a Scott—so I’ll tell you what, I don’t want to cause problems for you, but I got up before dawn this morning to catch my flight, after which I spent nearly two hours getting through checkin and security only to find myself trapped in a narrow metal cylinder with a fucking lawyer who was bleating directly into my ear for over three hours. I’m tired and I’m cranky and I haven’t had a decent night’s sleep in a month. So I’m going to the hotel, but I’m perfectly willing to take a cab if that gets you off the hook.
” She didn’t mention that she was also set on going to the hotel because a package would be waiting for her there. A package that included her weapon of choice, a 9 mm Glock 17 handgun. Cyn had no intention of visiting a strange vampire unarmed. She pushed through the door and sucked in a lungful of filthy airport air. “Perfect,” she muttered and raised an inquisitive eyebrow at Scott. “So, do I need cab?” He blinked at her for a moment, as if he hadn’t yet caught up with her rapid fire diatribe. “The Four Seasons, right?” he said finally. “Yes.” She smiled. “The car’s right over here.
” As they pulled away from the curb, Scott caught her reflection in the mirror. “You should try a sleeping pill,” he said. Cyn met his eyes. “I have. I’ve tried them all. My doctor won’t give me anymore, which is saying something in L.A. You can get pretty much any pill you want out there; all you have to do is ask.” “Meditation, maybe,” he suggested, his attention on the long line of cars passing them by. “There’s an idea,” Cyn said absently.
“Find myself a guru.” She didn’t need a pill and she didn’t need meditation. She needed Raphael to get the hell out of her life. Not that he was exactly in her life. Not anymore. Oh, no. Lord Raphael had taken what he wanted and run as far and as fast as his considerable money and power could take him. She’d thought it was love. Turns out it was simply a roving buffet with her as the entree du jour. She closed her eyes against the too familiar pain of loss and knew it wasn’t that simple.
Raphael hadn’t left her because he didn’t want her. He’d left because he did. Hundreds of years old and he still hadn’t evolved past the male fear of commitment to one woman. Of course, the full truth was probably even more complicated, but that was the nub of it and there was nothing for her to do but get over it. Over a month had passed since she’d seen him, since he’d walked away without looking back. She’d never been in love before; how long did it take to heal a broken heart? Cyn leaned her head back against the soft leather and closed her eyes. In the front seat, Scott took the hint, popped a mellow CD into the player and let soft music fill the silence until they reached the hotel. She rolled over in her sleep, the hotel’s soft bed adjusting to her movements, cradling her in its warmth. A weight settled behind her and she smiled, catching the scent of his aftershave—a hint of spice, barely there. She felt the glide of his skin as he stretched out next to her, as he reached to pull her close and tuck her within the curve of his big body, making her feel safe, protected.
He was the only man who had ever made her feel that way, like someone worth fighting for, someone to cherish. His cheek was rough against her face, his lips soft as they explored her jaw, nipping at her ear lobe before kissing a path downward to linger over the curve of her neck. She stirred, her body responding to his touch as strong fingers slid between her legs and began to stroke gently. A small moan passed her lips as he bent her leg forward and slid his cock down the cleft of her ass into the wetness between her legs. With the first stroke of his shaft inside her, she gasped, arching her back to open herself further, welcoming his intrusion, beginning to move with him. His rhythm gained urgency and he seized her hips, holding her firm against him as he drove ever deeper within her slick folds. She reached down and covered his hand with hers, pressing hard, crushing her clit, feeling his thick sex sliding in and out, opening her wide, stretching her tight around him. He groaned with hunger, bending to the curve of her neck once more. For a split second the warmth of his breath brushed her neck and then his teeth slid into her vein. She cried out, her orgasm sudden and overwhelming, rising from a quiet pool of need to a tidal wave of ecstasy in the space of seconds.
She screamed as it swept over her, carrying him in its wake, leaving his roar of completion to vibrate in her very bones. She lay within the circle of his arms, flushed with the passion of their lovemaking, her muscles relaxed, her desire sated. For the moment. As if he knew what she was thinking, he chuckled low and sensuously, his breath soft on her cheek. “Sweet, my Cyn,” he murmured. “So sweet.” The phone trilled, jarring Cynthia awake. She blinked in the darkened room, reaching automatically for the hard, male body that should have been behind her and finding nothing but empty space. She closed her eyes and willed away the tears, curling her body around the ache in her chest. The phone jangled its wake up call again, and she reached out irritably, knocking the receiver away, listening to the automated voice spilling out.
She lay there for a moment more, feeling the arousal of her body, the fine sheen of sweat that covered her skin. It was so real. So very real. And it was all a lie. Throwing aside the covers, she forced herself to stand and head for the shower. One day at a time, wasn’t that what all those anonymous help groups said? One day at a time. She wondered what they’d think about her using their mantra against the memory of her vampire lover. Cyn swore as the hotel lobby’s automatic doors opened and she stepped outside. “It’s fucking freezing out here,” she said to no one. “I thought Texas was warm.
” “Cynthia Leighton?” She stiffened, swinging around to stare at the man standing next to a long, black limo parked in the porte-cochere. No, not a man. A vampire. Not that most people would have noticed. The small things gave him away—a bulge in his upper lip concealing fangs emerging in an instinctive show of aggression, the too still way he watched her over the bulk of the limo. Cyn knew vampires, knew that as much as they might resemble humans, they were definitely different—better, stronger, faster. The Six Million Dollar Man, but without the plane crash. This particular vampire was looking at her with distaste, as if he desperately hoped he was wrong about her identity. She grinned, happy to ruin his night. “That’s me!” The vampire didn’t crack even the shadow of a smile.
“Lord Jabril Karim is waiting.” Cyn made a point of checking her watch. “My appointment is at seven.” It was six o’clock, and Jabril Karim’s estate was about forty minutes outside the city. She knew because she’d checked. The vamp merely looked at her. Cyn opened the limo door and slid across the soft leather seat. It was going to be a long forty minutes.