Deeper Than Midnight - By Lara Adrian

Chapter One
The club was private, very much off the beaten path, and for damned good reason. Located at the far end of a narrow, ice-encrusted back alley of Boston's Chinatown district, the place catered to an exclusive, if discriminating, crowd. The only humans permitted inside the old brick building were the stable of attractive young women - and a few pretty men - kept on hand to satisfy the late-night clientele's every craving.

Concealed within the shadows of an arched vestibule at street level, the unmarked metal door gave no indication of what lay behind it, not that any local or tourist in their right mind would pause to wonder. The thick slab of steel was shielded by a tall iron grate. Outside the entrance, a big guard loomed like a gargoyle in a knit skullcap and black leather. The male was Breed, as was the pair of warriors who emerged from the gloom of the alleyway. At the sound of their combat boots crunching in the snow and frozen filth of the pavement, the guard on watch lifted his head. Under a thick, bulbous nose, thin lips curled away from crooked teeth and the sharp tips of the vampire's fangs. Eyes narrowed at the uninvited newcomers, he exhaled a low snarl, his warm breath steaming from his nostrils to plume into the brittle December night air.

Hunter registered a current of tension in his patrol partner's movements as the two approached the vampire on guard. Sterling Chase had been twitchy ever since they'd left the Order's compound for tonight's mission. Now he walked at an aggressive pace, taking the lead, his fingers flexing and contracting where they rested none too subtly on the large-caliber semiautomatic pistol holstered on his weapons belt.

The guard took a step forward too, putting himself directly in their path. Large thighs spread, boots planted wide in warning on the pitted pavement as the vampire's big head lowered. The eyes that had been narrowed on them before in question now went tighter with recognition as they hit and settled on Chase. "You gotta be kidding me. What the hell do you want out here on Enforcement Agency turf, warrior?"

"Taggart," Chase said, more growl than greeting. "I see your career has been in no danger of improving since I quit the Agency. Reduced to playing doorman for the local sip-and-strip, eh?

What's next for you - security detail at the shopping mall?"

The agent pursed his lips around a ripe curse. "Takes some kind of balls to show your face, especially around here."

Chase's answering chuckle was neither threatened nor amused. "Try looking in a mirror sometime, then let's talk about who's got balls showing his face in public."

"This place is off-limits to all but the Enforcement Agency," the guard said, crossing beefy arms over a barrel chest. A barrel chest sporting the broad leather strap of a weapons holster, with still more hardware bristling around his waist. "The Order's got no business here."

"Yeah?" Chase grunted. "Tell that to Lucan Thorne. He's the one who will have your ass if you don't move it out of our way. Assuming the two of us standing here cooling our heels for no good reason don't decide to remove you ourselves."

Agent Taggart's mouth had clamped shut at the mention of Lucan, the Order's leader and one of the longest-lived, most formidable elders of the Breed nation. Now the wary gaze strayed from Chase to Hunter, who lingered behind his fellow warrior in measuring silence. Hunter had no quarrel with Taggart, but he had already calculated no less than five different ways to disable him - to kill him swiftly and surely, right where he stood - should the need arise. It was what Hunter had been trained to do. Born and bred to be a weapon wielded by the merciless hand of the Order's chief adversary, he was long accustomed to viewing the world in logical, unemotional terms.

He no longer served the villain called Dragos, but his deadly skills remained at the core of who, and what, he was. Hunter was lethal - unfailingly so - and in that instantaneous connection of his gaze and Taggart's, he saw that grim understanding reflected in the other male's eyes. Agent Taggart blinked, then took a step back, removing himself from Hunter's stare and clearing the path to the door of the club.

"I thought you might be willing to reconsider," Chase said, as he and Hunter strode to the iron grate and entered the Enforcement Agency hangout.

The door must