Chasing Midnight

Chasing Midnight
Twenties Werewolf/Vampire series  —  Book 1
Harlequin (October 2007)
ISBN-13: 9780373772186 ♦ ISBN-10: 0373772181

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By day, Allie Chase lives among the artists and eccentrics of 1920’s Greenwich Village, in search of adventure. By night, she haunts the city’s back alleys and seedy speakeasies, driven by a more primal hunger.

Here, amid the glitz and unrestrained morals of jazz-age society, even a vampire can fall prey to the temptations of the flesh. One look into the golden eyes of the dashing Griffin Durant, and Allegra knows she’s not dealing with just a man….

Though their kinds have been enemies for centuries, Griffin has never encountered a vampire as independent, uninhibited or eager for his touch as Allegra. Yet their love is threatened by a jealous vampire master, and a race war seems inevitable. Griffin and Allegra must struggle to stay out of harm’s way–and hold onto their dream of an eternity of passion.

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Chasing Midnight

Chapter Two

With the coming of dusk the dark-loving creatures crawled out of the woodwork: bootleggers and racketeers strutting out on the town with their painted floozies; truck drivers whose innocuous-looking vehicles contained a wealth of contraband cargo; laughing young men and their short-skirted dates seeking the latest hot spot to indulge in their passion for illegal booze; crooked policemen patrolling their beats, ready to lend their protection to the “businesses” that so generously augmented their meager salaries.

Griffin remained relaxed but alert, sifting the air for the scents of those denizens of night he preferred to avoid. He almost missed the faint cry from the alley as he passed. The smell of fear stopped him in his tracks; he tossed Gemma’s box among a heap of empty crates at the alley’s mouth and plunged into the dim canyon, unbuttoning his coat as he ran.

Two men in dirty clothing were circling a slight figure crouched between a pair of overflowing garbage cans, knives clenched in their fists. One of them looked up as Griffin approached. He grabbed his companion by the sleeve. “Joe,” he hissed. “We got company.”

Griffin slowed to a walk, keeping on eye on the muggers as he edged toward the garbage cans. “Are you all right?” he called.

“Yes,” came the muffled female voice.

Joe’s friend glared at Griffin, passing his knife from hand to hand. “What we got here, Joe? Some cake-eater who’s lost his way to the Cotton Club?”

“Sure looks that way, Fritz,” Joe said. He rubbed his thumb along the ugly scar that ran from the corner of his eye to his chin. “Listen, chump, and take some friendly advice. Get outta here and mind your own business.”

“That’s right,” Joe said with a grin, “or me ‘n’ Fritz’ll carve you up real nice.”

“It seems we’re at an impasse,” Griffin said. “But I’ll give you one chance to avoid possibly serious injury. Leave now.”

Joe and Fritz exchanged incredulous glances. Fritz dropped his shoulders and hung his head as if in defeat. Joe lowered his knife. They held their submissive poses for all of five seconds before Fritz attacked.

Griffin **closed his eyes. It would have been so easy then to become the wolf and take the hoodlums down with teeth and claws and sheer lupine strength. So easy to lapse into the killer’s mind that had so often consumed him during the War, when he had taken revenge on those who’d slain his men in battle.

But he wouldn’t give in. Not this time. No while he had the safety of the civilized world around him.

Griffin caught Fritz’s arm on its downward swing, applied a little pressure, and neatly snapped the hoodlum’s wrist. Fritz’s shriek filled the alley like a siren. Griffin kicked his knife away and gently sidestepped Joe’s charge. He slipped up behind Joe before the mugger could catch his balance, seized Joe’s waistband and collar, and tossed him into a thick heap of refuse piled in the corner.

“I’ll kill her!”

Griffin looked up. Fritz stood with one arm hanging limp at his side and the other wrapped around the young woman’s throat, the edge of a switchblade pressed against her delicate skin.

The victim was none other than Miss Louise Moreau.

She met Griffin’s gaze, her eyes brave and calm in spite of her precarious situation. Griffin nodded slightly and returned his attention to Fritz.

“Let her go,” he said softly, “and I may let you live.”

Fritz tried to laugh and only managed a squeak. “Make one move,” he growled, “and I’ll slit her throat.”

Chasing Midnight

“You’ll do nothing of the kind,” Griffin said. “You see, you’re much too slow to stop me, Fritz. I’ll reach you before you can so much as twitch your little finger.”

“You’re crazy.” Fritz licked his lips. “I’ve got–-”

He never finished his sentence. Griffin crossed the space between them in one leap, wrenched the switchblade from Fritz’s hand and flung him against the brick wall. Fritz slumped to the ground. Griffin grabbed Miss Moreau just as she began to fall and guided her to one of the empty crates.

“Sit down, Miss Moreau,” he said. “I’ll make sure these men are incapable of any further mischief.”

Miss Moreau closed her eyes and took a deep breath. “Thank you so much, Mr. Durant.”

He squeezed her arm and walked back into the shadows, his legs shaking with reaction from the fight and the memories it had evoked. Joe still lay unconscious in the refuse heap; Griffin found a bit of rope and tied his hands behind his back. A moaning Fritz lay where he’d fallen, nursing his wrist. He wouldn’t be molesting anyone soon.

Just as he finished tying Fritz’s ankles together, Griffin sensed a sudden, unexpected motion behind him. He jumped to his feet and found himself staring into the concealed face of a woman, her head and body swathed in dark veils and a black velvet coat that fell to her ankles. Her tantalizing scent seeped into Griffin’s skin and raced through his blood like a dangerous drug.

“Lou,” the woman said, crouching to take Miss Moreau’s hands, “are you all right?”

Miss Moreau passed a shaking hand over her hair. “I’m fine, Allie. Thanks to this gentleman.”

The woman–-Allie–-scrutinized Miss Moreau’s face and touched the narrow line of blood at the base of her neck. “They hurt you.”

“It’s nothing. I’d just like to go home.”

“Of course. Just give me a minute.” Allie rose, glanced toward the hobbled men and fixed her attention on Griffin. “I owe you one, mister,” she said in a voice half silk and half steel, “but I can handle it from here.”

Griffin shook himself, hard. “I beg your pardon, Miss–-”

“You don’t have to beg anything. Just leave the rest to me.”

His equilibrium somewhat restored, Griffin turned back to Miss Moreau. “Is this the employer of whom you spoke?”

“Yes.” She began to rise. “Mr. Durant, may I present Miss Allegra Chase. Allegra–-”

“Sit down, Lou, before you fall down,” Miss Allegra Chase said sharply. She faced Griffin again. “What’s your name?”

He tipped his hat, not without a touch of irony. “Griffin Durant.”

“Oh yeah … the morally upright multi-millionaire.” Her mockery belied her terse thanks. “Well, Mr. Durant, if you’d like to keep playing the gentlemen, you could do me a favor and escort Lou out to the street until I’ve finished here.”

Griffin’s bemusement turned to foreboding. “Finished with what, Miss Moreau?”

Chasing Midnight

“Just what you started. Making sure these hoodlums don’t try this kind of thing again.”

Griffin stood very still, studying Miss Chase with astonishment. Such a casual reference to confronting a pair of street toughs would ordinarily have seemed absurd coming from a female swathed in a trailing black coat and tottering on high-heel pumps. She was petite, her head hardly reaching his shoulder, yet the swiftness of her appearance and the way she’d taken him by surprise spoke volumes; he’d been caught off guard that way only a few times in his life, and never by an ordinary woman.

Nevertheless …

“I would prefer not to leave you alone, Miss Chase,” he said firmly.

The blue-green eyes behind her veil glinted red. “Are your kind always so protective of people they’ve never met?”

Your kind. So she knew, as she must realize that he recognized her inhuman nature.

“I don’t regard a situation like this as a matter of species,” he said. “I wouldn’t leave any woman with men such as these … not even one of your kind.”

Miss Chase feigned surprise. “My kind, huh? What do you suppose he means by that, Lou?” She took Griffin’s elbow, sending an almost electric current through his arm, and drew him aside.

“Come on, Mr. Durant,” she said, purring his name. “You really think I can’t put a scare into a couple of humans?”

Griffin shivered as he felt the stirrings of physical sensations he usually kept under strict control. He remembered when his father had told him how leeches attracted their prey: something in their smell had an overwhelmingly erotic effect on humans, enticing them as certain carnivorous plants lured hapless insects into their gullets. Griffin had never had occasion to witness the phenomenon himself, but now it was all too evident that what worked on humans could also affect loups-garous.

His mind, however, was still clear enough to recognize that Miss Chase’s seductiveness was a pretense. She couldn’t help herself, ny more than she could help preying on hapless humans. As little as Griffin knew about the female of the vampire species, he presumed they were driven by the same instincts as their male counterparts.

Oh, this one could definitely put a scare into Joe and his companion. But she might not stop at that. Female though she most definitely was, she undoubtedly possessed ten times the strength of the strongest human, quite possibly greater than Griffin’s own.

But she was still a woman. And young. Too young in her manner and bearing to have been a vampire for long, clearly eager to prove herself by displaying that tough front so many modern women seemed to believe was necessary. Griffin knew the step from **belligerence to violence could be all too short.

He carefully freed his arm. “Better leave justice to the authorities, Miss Chase.”

Her easy manner vanished. “Sure,” she snapped. “And if these guys work for a boss, they’ll get off in no time.”

“I have a contact in the police department. He can see to it that they don’t escape so easily.” “A cop who isn’t corrupt? That I’ve gotta see.”

He held her gaze through the netting of the veil. “You’re too young for cynicism, Miss Chase. Your soul won’t profit by it.”

“What makes you think I have a soul?”

“A hunch, Miss Chase.”

“And how did you come to be so wise?”

“When you’ve lived a few more years–-”

“Until I become a doddering old graybeard, like you?”

“I trust you’ll never grow a beard, Miss Chase. It would not be an improvement.” He tested the steadiness of his hand and extended it to her. “Come along….”

She slapped his hand aside. Her coat flew open to reveal long legs in flesh-colored silk stockings, exposed from ankle to knee by her short dress. He was momentarily distracted by the brazenness of her garments and the flash of bare skin at her upper thigh.

“Enjoying the view?” she taunted. “Want a better look?”

Chasing Midnight

With one slender hand she lifted the veil from her face, and he finally saw the mysteries he had only guessed at before.

She was beautiful. Fair skin, so pale that it rivaled the moon at its whitest. Full lips enhanced with dark lip-rouge, contrasting vividly with the rest of her face. Aqua eyes, large and expressive, rimmed with kohl. Dark brows beneath the bangs of sleek black hair cut in a Louise Brooks bob just at the level of her stubborn, dimpled chin.

Griffin’s breath stopped. He knew the leeches tended to be handsome creatures, their appearances enhanced by transformation and the power of their natural magnetism. But in his rare dealings with them, he’d never met one quite so magnificent.

“Seen enough?” Allegra Chase demanded.

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