Cynthia Leighton sped down the dark highway, hands clenched on the steering wheel, the roar of the engine drowning out the sound of her frantic breathing. Her eyes flicked anxiously from the nearly empty road to her rearview mirror, where a pair of headlights had suddenly appeared, racing closer in the predawn blackness. Already pounding adrenaline spiked even higher, as she floored the gas pedal and the big SUV leapt forward in a gratifying burst of speed. She stared at the headlights, low to the ground, the cool blue of an expensive sedan, and coming on way too fast. It would be on her in seconds. Was it him? Had he discovered her deception and come after her?
She gripped the wheel tighter, hands spasming a painful protest, as the sedan came up hard on her tail, so close she could barely see the headlights any longer. She swerved suddenly, trying to throw him off, convinced he would ram her if that’s what it took. The SUV threatened to roll, tilting on two wheels as she skidded into the next lane, the seat belt cutting into her neck as she struggled to keep him in view.
The big sedan zoomed past, the driver not even glancing her way as he sped on to his own destiny—one that had nothing to do with her. Cyn slumped in the driver’s seat, swallowing the hard ball of her fear, feeling the chill of the air conditioner as sweat coated her body. Why had she ever thought it was a good idea to get involved with more vampires? Had she expected them all to be like Raphael—beautiful, lying bastard that he was? Sure, he’d broken her heart, but all those Boy Scout virtues, like honorable and trustworthy, applied to him too. Powerful as he was, he ruled his territory with the loyalty and respect of his people, rather than fear.
But that’s not what she’d found in Texas. No, here she’d discovered the very face of evil—Jabril Karim, Vampire Lord of the Southern territories and as despicable and vile a creature as she’d ever met. A vampire who enslaved those he desired and destroyed anyone who got in his way. And right now, that included Cyn . . . and the vampire hiding in the cargo compartment behind her, a vampire whose very life depended on Cyn getting to the airport before Jabril discovered they were gone.
She pressed harder on the gas, treading a fine line between speed and caution. She dared a glance at the clock on the dash. It was nearly sunrise. If she could just make it until then, they’d be safe.
She drove faster.
Houston, Texas, four days earlier
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."
Text Copyright 2009 by D. B. Reynolds
Web Page Copyright 2009 by ImaJinn Books