A touch of midnight, p.1
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       A Touch of Midnight, p.1

         Part #0.50 of Midnight Breed series by Lara Adrian
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A Touch of Midnight
Page 1

  Chapter 1

  Boston University

  October, 1974

  Savannah Dupree turned the silver urn in her gloved hands, studying its intricate engravings through the bruise-colored tarnish that dulled the 200-year-old work of art. The floral motif tooled into the polished silver was indicative of the Rococo style of the early and mid-1700s, yet the design was conservative, much less ornate than most of the examples shown in the reference materials lying open on the study lab table in front of her.

  Removing one of the soft white cotton curator's gloves meant to protect the urn from skin oils during handling, Savannah reached for one of the books. She flipped through several pages of photographed art objects, drinking vessels, serving dishes and snuff boxes from Italy, England and France, comparing their more elaborate styles to that of the urn she was trying to catalogue. She and the three other freshman Art History students seated in the university's archive room with her had been hand-picked by Professor Keaton to earn extra credit in his class by helping to log and analyze a recent estate donation of Colonial furnishings and artifacts.

  She wasn't blind to the fact that the single professor had selected only female students for his after-hours extra credit project. Savannah's roommate, Rachel, had been ecstatic to have been chosen. Then again, the girl had been campaigning for Keaton's attention since the first week of class. And she'd definitely gotten noticed. Savannah glanced toward the professor's office next door, where the dark-haired man now stood at the window, talking on the phone, yet staring with blatant interest at pretty, red-haired Rachel in her tight, low-cut sweater and micro-miniskirt.

  "Isn't he a fox?" she whispered to Savannah, a row of thin metal bangle bracelets clinking musically as Rachel reached up to hook her loose hair behind her ear. "He could be Burt Reynolds' brother, don't you think?"

  Savannah frowned, skeptical. She glanced over at the lean man with the shoulder-length hair and overgrown moustache, and the mushroom-brown corduroy suit and open-necked satin shirt. A zodiac sign pendant glinted from within a thick nest of exposed chest hair. Fashionable or not, the look didn't do a thing for Savannah. "Sorry, Rach. I'm not seeing it. Unless Burt Reynolds has a brother in the porno business. Plus, he's too old for you. He must be close to forty, for crying out loud. "

  "Shut up! I think he's cute. " Rachel giggled, crossing her arms under her breasts and tossing her head in a move that had Professor Keaton leaning closer to the glass, practically on the verge of drooling. "I'm gonna go see if he wants to check my work. Maybe he'll ask me to stay after school and clean his erasers or something. "

  "Mm-hmm. Or something," Savannah drawled through her smile, shaking her head as Rachel waggled her brows then sauntered toward the professor's office. Having come to Boston University on a full academic scholarship and the highest SAT scores across twenty-two parishes in south central Louisiana, Savannah didn't really need help bolstering her grades. She'd accepted the extra credit assignment only out of her insatiable love for history and learning.

  She looked at the urn again, then retrieved another catalogue of London silver from the Colonial period and compared the piece to the ones documented on the pages. Doubting her initial analysis now, she picked up her pencil and erased what she'd first written in her notebook. The urn wasn't English in origin. American, she corrected. Likely crafted in New York or Philadelphia, if she were forced to guess. Or did the simplicity of the Rococo design lean more toward the work of a Boston artisan?

  Savannah huffed out a sigh, frustrated by how tedious and inexact the work was proving to be. There was a better way, after all.

  She knew of a far more efficient, accurate way to resolve the origins--all the hidden secrets--of these old treasures. But she couldn't very well start fondling everything with her bare hands. Not with Professor Keaton in his office a few feet away. Not with her other two classmates gathered at the table with her, working on their own items from the collection. She wouldn't dare use the peculiar skill she'd been born with.

  No, she left that part of her back home in Acadiana. She wasn't about to let anyone up here in Boston think of her as some voodoo freak show. She was different enough among the predominantly white student body. She didn't want anyone knowing how truly strange she was. Aside from her only living kin--her older sister, Amelie--no one knew about Savannah's extrasensory gift, and that's how she intended to keep it.

  Much as she loved Amelie, Savannah had been happy to leave the bayou behind and try to make her own path in life. A normal life. One that wasn't rooted in the swamps with a Cajun mother who'd been more than a shade eccentric, for all Savannah could recall of her, and a father who'd been a drifter, absent for all of his daughter's life, little better than a rumor, according to Amelie.

  If not for Amelie, who'd practically raised her, Savannah would have belonged to no one. She still felt somehow out of place in the world, lost and searching, apart from everyone else around her. For as long as she could remember, she'd felt. . . different.

  Which was probably why she was striving so hard to make her life normal.

  She'd hoped moving away to attend college right out of high school would give her some sense of purpose. A feeling of belonging and direction. She'd taken the maximum load of classes and filled her evenings and weekends with a part-time job at the Boston Public Library.

  Oh, shit.

  A job she was going to be late for, she realized, glancing up at the clock on the wall. She was due for her 4PM shift at the library in twenty minutes--barely enough time to wrap up now and hurry her butt across town.

  Savannah closed her notebook and hastily straightened up her work area at the table. Picking up the urn in her gloved hands, she carried the piece back into the archive storage room where the rest of the donated collection's catalogued furniture and art objects had been placed.

  As she set the silver vessel on the shelf and put away her gloves, something caught her eye in a dim corner of the room. A long, slender case of some sort stood propped against the wall, partially concealed behind a rolled-up antique rug.

  Had she and the other students missed an item?

  She strode over to get a better look. Behind the bound rug was an old wooden case. About five feet in length, the container was unremarkable except for the fact that it seemed deliberately separated--hidden--from the rest of the things in the room.

  What was it?

  Savannah moved aside the heavy, rolled rug, struggling with its unwieldy bulk. As she leaned the rug against the perpendicular wall, she bumped the wooden case. It tipped forward suddenly, about to crash to the floor.

  Panicked, Savannah lunged, shooting her arms out and using her entire body to break the case's fall. As she caught it, taking the piece down with her onto her knees, the old leather hinges holding it together snapped apart with a soft pop-pop-pop.

  A length of cold, smooth steel tumbled out of the case and into Savannah's open hands.

  Her bare hands.

  The metal was a jolting chill against her palms. Heavy. Sharp-edged. Lethal.

  Startled, Savannah sucked in a breath, but couldn't move fast enough to avoid the prolonged contact or the power of her gift, which stirred to life inside her.

  The sword's history opened up to her, like a window into the past. A random moment, fused forever into the metal and now exploding in vivid, if scattered, detail in Savannah's mind.

  She saw a man holding the weapon before him as in combat.

  Tall and menacing, a mane of thick blond waves danced wildly around his head as he stared down an unseen opponent under a black-velvet, moonlit sky. His stance was unforgiving, the air about him as grim as death itself. Piercing blue eyes cut thr
ough the tendrils of sweat-dampened hair that drooped into the ruthless angles of his face and square-cut jaw.

  The man was immense, thick roped muscles bulging from broad shoulders and biceps beneath the loose drape of his ecru linen shirt. Smooth, fawn-colored trousers clung to his powerful thighs as he advanced on his quarry, blade poised to kill. Whoever the man was who'd once wielded this deadly weapon, he was not some post-Elizabethan dandy, but a warrior.

  Bold.

  Arrogant.

  Magnetic. Dangerously so.

  The swordsman closed in on his target, no mercy whatsoever in the hard line of his mouth, nor in the blazing blue eyes that narrowed with unswerving intent, seeming almost to glow with some inner fury that Savannah couldn't comprehend. A dark curiosity prickled inside her, against her better instincts.

  Who was this man?

  Where was he from? How had he lived?

  How many centuries ago must he have died?

  Through the lens of her mind's eye, Savannah watched the warrior come to a halt. He stared down at the one he now met in mortal combat. His broad mouth was flat, merciless. He raised his sword arm, prepared to strike.

  And then he did, driving home the blade in a swift, certain death blow.

  Savannah's heart raced, pounding frantically in her breast. She could hardly breathe for the combination of fear and fascination swirling inside her.

  She tried to see the swordsman's face in better detail, but his wild tangle of golden hair and the shadows of the night that surrounded him hid all but the most basic hints of his features.

  And now, as so often happened with her gift, the vision was beginning to fracture apart. The image started to splinter, breaking into scattered shards.

  She'd never been able to control her ability, not even when she tried. It was a powerful gift, but an elusive one too. Now was no different. Savannah struggled to hold on, but the glimpse the sword gave her was slipping. . . fading. . . drifting out of reach.

  As Savannah's mind cleared, she uncurled her fingers from their grip on the blade. She stared down at the length of polished steel resting across her open palms.

  She closed her eyes and tried to conjure the face of the swordsman from memory, but only the faintest impression of him remained within her grasp. Soon, even that was slipping away. Then it was gone.

  He was gone.

  Banished back to the past, where he belonged.

  And yet, a single, nagging question pulsed through her mind, through her veins. It demanded an answer, one she had little hope of resolving.

  Who was he?

  Chapter 2

  Broken glass and debris from the rotting rafters rained down in the dark as three members of the Order patrol team dropped through a filth-clouded skylight of the abandoned clothing factory in Chinatown. The surprise attack from above sent the group of feral-eyed, blood-addicted squatters in the old ruin of the building scrambling for cover.

  For all the good it would do them to run.

  Gideon and his two comrades had been tailing one member of this Rogue nest most of the night, waiting for the opportune moment to strike. Waiting for the suckhead to lead them to his lair, where the Order could take out not just one Bloodlust-crazed predator, but several. Half a dozen, by Gideon's quick count, as he, Dante and Conlan dropped in unannounced just after midnight.

  Gideon was on one of the Rogues as soon as his boots hit the rubbish-strewn floor. He leapt after the suckhead, grabbing a fistful of the vampire's dirty trench coat as it flew out behind him like a sail. He took the Rogue down in a hard tackle, pinning it with his forearm braced against the back of the rabid male's neck. With his free hand, Gideon reached for the shorter of the two blades he wore in combat. The twelve-inch length of razor-sharp, titanium-edged steel gleamed in the scant moonlight shining in from the open roof overhead.

  The Rogue began to fight and flail, snarling through its fangs as it struggled to get loose. Gideon didn't give the suckhead a chance to so much as hope it might escape him.

  Shifting his hold, Gideon clutched a hank of the Rogue's unkempt brown hair and wrenched its head back. The vampire's amber eyes glowed wild and unfocused, its open maw dripping sticky saliva as it growled and hissed in the mindless fury of its Bloodlust.

  Gideon plunged his dagger into the hollow at the base of the Rogue's exposed throat.

  Death from the blade might have been certain enough, but the titanium--fast-acting poison to the diseased blood system of a Rogue--sealed the deal. The vampire's body convulsed as the titanium entered its bloodstream, began devouring its cells from the inside out. It wouldn't take long--mere seconds before there was nothing left but bubbling ooze, then dried-up ash. Then nothing left at all.

  As the titanium did its worst on Gideon's kill, he wheeled around to gauge the situation with his comrades. Conlan was in pursuit of a suckhead who'd fled for a steel catwalk above the factory floor. The big Scot warrior dropped the Rogue with a titanium dagger shot from his hand like a bullet.

  A few yards away, Dante was engaged in hand-to-hand combat with a Rogue who'd had the bad sense to think he could fight the dark-haired warrior up close and personal. Dante calmly, but swiftly, eluded every careless strike before drawing a pair of savage, curved blades from their sheaths on his hips and slicing them across the attacking Rogue's chest. The suckhead howled in sudden agony, collapsing in a boneless heap at the warrior's feet.

  "Three down," Con called out in his thick brogue. "Another three to go. "

  Gideon nodded to his teammates. "Two heading for the back loading dock now. Don't let the bastards get away. "

  Conlan and Dante took off on his direction without question or hesitation. They'd run Rogue-hunting missions under Gideon's command for years, long enough to know that they could rely on his direction even in the thickest of urban combat.

  Gideon sheathed his short blade in favor of his sword, the weapon he'd mastered back in London, before his travels--and his vow--brought him to Boston to seek out Lucan Thorne and pledge his arm to the Order.

  Gideon swiveled his head, making a swift, sweeping search of the shadows and gloom of the old building. He saw the fourth Rogue in no time. It was fleeing toward the west side of the place, pausing here and there, ostensibly seeking a place to hide.

 
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