Beyond Twilight (Wings in the Night #4)

Chapter 1

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He twisted away, but her hands were still there. Burning him. Whispering across his chest like wind over water. He shivered. He sweat. He gasped for air but inhaled only her scent. He reached for sanity and found his fingers entangled in short, satiny hair. He opened his eyes and found them captured by hers. Huge, dark, innocent. Imploring, hot, sexy eyes, staring down at him as he lay trembling with desire on his bed. And he knew he was lost. He lifted his arms, slid them around her small body to pull her down to his chest. Parted his lips to taste her succulent mouth…

And there was nothing there. He lay panting and alone, his torso and face coated in a slick sheen, his arms wrapped around themselves. He sat up fast, blinking in the gathering dusk, grabbing the first thing his fist closed on and hurling it into the opposite wall. Both hands pushed through his hair. Dammit, he was still shaking, still hotter than hell for some fantasy woman; a dreamworld pixie who looked more like Peter Pan's Tinkerbell than a swimsuit-issue cover girl.

What the hell was the matter with him?

"Pressure." He muttered the word to himself and slid naked from the bed for his ritual cold shower. The dreams had been coming for months on a regular basis.

"Stress," he added, stomping into the hotel bathroom, flicking the light, twisting the knobs.

It was the job. Hell, it would get to anyone. He'd failed his last mission, damned near got himself killed while he was at it.

His latest assignment had been handed down eight months ago and he still hadn't had any success. So many close calls, so many near misses. Every time he thought he had her, she pulled some trick out of her sleeve and slipped right through his fingers. And almost didn't cut the mustard with DPI. An agent for the CIA's secretive Division of Paranormal Investigations had to deliver the goods. He was closer than he'd ever been to doing just that. She was here, in this small, middle-of-nowhere town in northern Maine.

Stephen "Ramsey" Bachman was a hunter of sorts, but his quarry wasn't human. She was a vampire.

It was her house and she had finally come home to roost. The place was like something out of an old Vincent Price movie. Big and gothic and sadly in need of a coat of paint. The front door was unlocked. It was just before dusk.

Finally, he had her cornered, right in her own backyard. She'd been on DPI's Most Wanted List for more than a decade. He didn't know why. It wasn't his business to know why, just to bring her in. And he had a feeling he was about to do it.

He gripped a small leather satchel in his right hand. Inside were three syringes, each containing a dose of tranquilizer developed by legendary DPI researcher Curtis Rogers. His original formula had been lost when he had been killed, probably by one of them, though no one had ever proven it. But Bachman didn't need proof. They were all the same, ruthless killers who preyed on the innocent.

DPI's scientists had been painstakingly working to recreate Rogers's tranquilizer and they thought they'd finally succeeded. He swallowed hard.

Tonight would be its first actual test.

The huge, darkly stained door groaned when he pushed it open. His steps echoed on the dusty, time-dulled parquet. He ignored the baroque furnishings, the dark woodwork, the cobwebs, the dust, and he headed straight for the spiral staircase. It creaked with every step.

He'd cased this house early on, as soon as he'd learned she owned it. He knew the basement was prone to flooding and that there was only one room in the place with no windows. That room was where he was heading right now. It had been empty the first time he'd seen it, but he had a strong feeling it wouldn't be vacant tonight.

He reached the top of the stairs and started down the tall, narrow corridor, moving right past the rows of closed doors. He knew which door hid his nemesis.

When he reached it he paused with his hand on the knob.

His first inkling that something wasn't quite right came when he turned the knob and it gave without resistance. His feet planted, he stood still a moment, listened, feeling the very air around him for a warning, a sound.

Nothing.

He pushed the door inward and stepped slowly inside. Nightmarish candlelight illuminated the entire room. A hundred tapers danced and flickered, casting lively shadows on the walls, the ceiling, the floor. And there was music. The melodramatic chords of a ghostly pipe organ floated softly on the air. A little chill raced up his spine. Not one of fear, induced by the music and candles. But one of foreboding, as he wondered just what in hell she was up to this time.

The coffin gleamed black with shining brass trim from atop a flower-strewn bier.

He stepped forward, noting the dead roses at the head and foot. Nice touch. If he found her, he thought he'd choke her before he ever took her in. He was tired of this, tired of her games and jokes, all of them seemingly designed to make him look like a fool.

He approached the coffin, glancing over his shoulder every second or two, just in case.

A thick curtain of cobwebs stuck to his face and he swept it aside with an angry gesture. The music swelled a little louder, he thought as he put his hands on the lid.

Jaw clenching, he opened it.

Then he stood there, blinking in shock as he stared down at the most horrendous creature he'd ever seen. She had hair like a matted rat's nest, tight facial skin tinted blue, with black rings encircling the sunken, closed eyes. The cheeks were hollow, gaunt. The lips were pulled back in an almost snarl, baring the pointy tips of yellowed incisors. He could count the bones in the narrow hands that lay crossed upon her chest. The gruesome image, along with his own, was reflected in a mirror on the inside of the lid.

Ramsey poked a finger into the skin of her arm, then let his chin fall to his chest as he blew every bit of air from his lungs. She'd done it to him again, damn her. The body in the coffin was made of wax. And Cuyler Jade was probably a hundred miles away from here by now.

Soft laughter, like crystal water bubbling over smooth stones, filled the room.

He stiffened and spun around. The woman stood in the doorway, her hand over her mouth, her mischievous eyes twinkling with candlelight and mirth.

"If you could have seen your face…" She laughed some more, closing her eyes and tipping her head back.

She was tiny. Her gleaming black hair was cut short, with spiky bangs on her forehead and jagged ends laying on her neck. She brought her head level and tilted it slightly as she studied him. She looked like a pixie, like Peter Pan's Tinkerbell.

Impossible. It's your imagination, dammit. She's not the woman in your dreams.

He said nothing. She stepped into the room, bold as brass. "I'm kinda tired of this endless chase, Ramsey."

He blinked. "What did you call me?"

"Ramsey. Isn't that what all the guys in military school dubbed you? Stephen Bachman from Ramsey, Indiana, became Ramsey in the tenth grade, if I remember correctly." She smiled and moved closer. "Don't look so surprised. Isn't the first rule of all you secret agent types to know your enemy?"

He watched her approach until she stood only inches away from him. She wasn't the one he was after. She couldn't be. She was the imp from his dreams. The erotic, sexy, innocent-eyed devil that smiled as she touched him. The one that drove him half out of his head with pure animal lust. She wasn't a monster.

She offered a tiny hand, and as he closed his huge one around it she told him the last thing he wanted to hear. "I'm Cuyler Jade. The one you've been chasing all over the country for the past eight months."

He swallowed the sand-covered rock that seemed to have lodged in his throat, and quickly dropped her hand.

"So here I am," she told him. The impish light in her eyes was tempered with a hint of uncertainty. The brazen smile on her lips, a little unsteady. "Question is, Ramsey, now that you've got me, what are you gonna do with me?"

He stiffened his back. Okay, so she was a vampire. And he'd had recurring, wildly erotic dreams about her for the past several months. Almost as long as he'd been after her. So what? He had a job to do, and that was his priority-not his unruly libido.

"I'm going to arrest you." His voice sounded cold, harsh. Good. "You're now a federal prisoner, Ms. Jade. I'm taking you back to New York, to our headquarters in White Plains."

"Are you?"

God, her eyes were big. And dark. And those thick lashes made him think of Bambi, made him feel like the heartless hunter.

"Afraid so."

"And what if I won't go with you? You going to overpower me?"

She knew he couldn't do that. Remarkably, she stood still while he opened the satchel and brought out one of the syringes. "I could tranquilize you."

She frowned at the hypodermic. "That stuff work?"

He shrugged. "One way to find out."

He reached for her arm, but she danced away from him before he could grip it.

Tapping her chin with a coral-tipped finger, she faced him once again. "Suppose I was to come along peacefully?"

He studied her through narrowed eyes, all too aware of her knack for tricks and pranks. "Why would you do that?"

Her black eyes narrowed. She came back to him, leaned in so close her breath fanned his throat. One of her small hands came up and her fingertips danced over his nape. "'Cause you're not going to go through with it, Ramsey."

He swallowed again, hoping she wouldn't press any closer and accidentally discover the effect she was having on him. He shifted his stance and tried to remind himself what she was. She only looked like a woman. Beads of sweat popped out on his forehead, and he tried to summon the will to jab the needle into her arm before she could slip away again.

Instead he only managed, "What makes you think so?" His voice sounded coarse.

Not at all as intimidating as it ought to.

Her lips curved upward just a little. "I know about the dreams," she whispered.

He didn't let it shake him. All right, it shook him, but he didn't let it show.

"Because you caused them? Another one of your tricks?"

She shook her head. "I don't know what caused them, Ramsey. But I've been having them, too."

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