The man rose, greeting them. The couple were the same people Tara had seen Brent meet at the cafe the other day. The woman was attractive—very—with sea-colored eyes and a length of beautiful hair that seemed a shade between brunette and blond. She had a warm, welcoming smile that seemed sincere. She didn’t appear at all averse to Brent’s friends coming to the table. She was apparently married to the tall man with the nearly black hair, since they shared a surname. He moved with an agile, sure, fluid power, even in the simple act of acquiring an extra chair; in manner—and in an elusive quality Tara couldn’t quite pinpoint—he had a similar magnetism to that of Brent Malone. Perhaps that was what disturbed her the most There was nothing about either man that should be alarming, yet she had the feeling that their reflexes would be faster than the speed of light, and that something that she couldn’t see or comprehend remained dangerous about them ...

“Nice to have you join us,” Lucian said, taking his chair again as they were seated. “So, Ann, this is your home.”

“Yes. I work in Paris, but live in the village. We have an old family ... well, it’s not a chateau in the grand sense of the word, but it’s a lovely family home out here.” Tara wanted to kick her cousin. She didn’t want these people knowing where they lived. But that was ridiculous. She hadn’t actually told him, but she was certain that Brent Malone knew where she was staying.

“You must come and visit while you’re here,” Ann continued.

Tara kicked her cousin. Ann yelped involuntarily, then stared at her across the table. Tara knew that Brent Malone was watching her, knew exactly what had happened, and remained amused. She was certain as well that he had lured the two of them to the table specifically to get an invitation to the chateau.

Now, they had it.

“A chateau, how lovely,” Jade said.

Lucian summoned a waiter, his French seeming as perfectly accented as any Tara had ever heard.

“Are you French?” she inquired.

Jade answered. “I’m originally from the New Orleans area,” she said. “And you?”

“New York,” she said, turning her attention pointedly back to Lucian. “And you?”

“Lucian likes to consider himself a citizen of the world,” Brent said.

“I’m not French, but I have lived here,” Lucian told her. “ I’ve called the States home for some time now.”

She turned her gaze hard on Brent to realize that he had never stopped watching her. “And me? I thought you would never ask. Originally, I come from Virginia,” he said.

“There’s a lot of French spoken in New Orleans, of course,” Lucian said. “It’s easy to keep up.”

“Naturally,” Tara said pleasantly, but turned her attention to Brent Malone. “But I haven’t heard of it being such a commonly spoken language in Virginia.”

His eyes didn’t waver from hers. “I happen to be a student of linguistics,” he said flatly.

“My French should be better,” Jade said. “But in New Orleans... I haven’t the purity of Lucian’s accent, because I’m afraid we have a patois. I guess, over here, it’s kind of a Southern-slash-French accent”

“That’s fine, you speak the language, comprehend what is said,” Ann told her. Tara saw that her cousin was flushed, and with the blush on her cheeks, she was even more attractive. She was chatting away at the table, but she seemed to be watching the back of the room. Tara tried to see what she was looking at, but the bar had gotten very crowded.

Now and then, Ann stared at her with amusement, and seemed to nudge her chair closer to Brent’s.

Tara couldn’t help it; she didn’t like it a bit.

She understood it; but she didn’t like it, any more than she liked the fact that the man at her side was too close—and closer with every move Ann made. In truth, he was a normal distance away, sitting as they were in such a tightly packed establishment But it was as if she could feel the whole of him. The stretch of his legs beneath the table, perfectly correct, yet if she shifted, she would brush against him. She hated the feet that a strange heat seemed to emanate from him, compelling her to move closer, as if she were cold.

She wasn’t cold.

His scent... whatever the aftershave or soap he wore ... remained compelling as well. Subtle. There was nothing overt about him at all. But it was there ... something that beckoned at a subliminal range.

And while it lured, it also sent lightning into her system, tremendous flashes that warned her to be wary.

A man was dead.

She knew he hadn’t done it.

Ah, but what if there had been a conspiracy? What if these “friends” of his who had just arrived had been in the tomb, what if they were the murderers? Surely, none of this talk of evil and vampires had been true, even though Jacques’ mind and the minds of these strangers were traveling along similar courses. Maybe they even knew something about Jacques, knew that she had been in the tomb because of his beliefs, and they were playing upon them?

“Tara!” Ann said.

She jumped. “What?”

“You’re a thousand miles away. I’m off with that tall fellow over there. We’re all going to dance. Brent has just asked you to join him.”

“Oh, sorry. I, uh, I think I’ll beg off,” she said.

Lucian and his wife were already standing. Ann was practically running—pushing and shoving her way—

heading toward the rear of the room. What tall fellow? Tara still didn’t know who her cousin had been watching.

“Tara?” Brent was watching her. There was a definite humorous edge in his eyes, and perhaps a challenge. His hand was stretched toward her.

She wanted to jump up and knock his hand aside. But suddenly, his long bronzed, work-roughened fingers lay on her arm.

“Sure you don’t want to join them?”

She tried to find her cousin on the dance floor. She couldn’t see her, and, perhaps unreasonably, she worried about her.

She stared down at Brent’s hand on her flesh.

She wanted to draw her arm back, but she didn’t. She felt her heart drumming.

“I don’t trust you any farther than I could throw you,” she told him flatly. “And I’m worried about my cousin.”

“I know.”

“Oh, you do?”

“You’re like an open book.”

“Then you should know that I’m thinking this as well—I want you to leave us alone.”

“Your cousin looks happy.”

“But she shouldn’t be. There’s something ... something slimy about all of you.” His lashes lowered over his curious eyes for a long moment. Then he stared at her again.


“It’s the best word I can summon to fit the feeling.”

“Slimy? Wow, I am ... crushed.”

“How can I possibly crush you? You barely know me. You’re an exaggerator. And a liar.”

“I don’t believe that I’ve lied to you,” he told her. “And I also don’t believe that you feel that you barely know me. Are you always this cold?”

“Only when I meet a man while another is being brutally murdered.”

“Look, I swear to you, we’re not slimy. But let’s see ... in that moment when you were lost to us, you were thinking that one of my companions might have slipped in and killed Jean-Luc while I was chasing after you in the tomb.”

She was so startled that he had divined her thoughts so accurately that she gasped aloud.

“Feel free to check their passports and airline tickets,” he said, removing his hand from her arm and leaning back. “They have just arrived.”

“Oh, really, and the authorities will give me that information?”

“I’m sure you can find a way to learn exactly what time—and from where—they arrived.”

“Great. I am going to speak with the police.”

“Don’t tell them you were there,” he said. The words were even. They were still a command—and a warning.

“I don’t understand you at all. You’re a fool. I could completely clear you.” He leaned forward, very close, and very intense. She was overwhelmed again by a strange sense of warmth. She told herself that she was not pulling back because she had no intention of giving in to such fantasies.

“Don’t let your name become involved with what happened,” he went on. “You don’t trust me as far as you can throw me—well, I’m telling you, I don’t trust Dubois. And we both know there is a murderer out there.”

“You know my grandfather, or something about him, don’t you?” she demanded. “You know his reputation as a writer, and you think he will be an ally of yours in insisting that there is pure evil in the ground. Well, there’s not There’s a murderer out there.”

“Tara, whether the murderer is human—or superhuman in some way—the danger would remain if you were to let your name become involved in the investigation.”

“Your name is surely involved—and here you are, out on the town, enjoying life with your friends.

Although how you managed to be in this part of town, I’m not at all sure.”

“I do need to see your grandfather.”

“I don’t want you near him.”

“I’m afraid that doesn’t matter to me.”

“He’s very old, and ill, and I’m not going to allow you to hurt him.” Steady eyes, appearing pure yellow, stared into her own. Despite herself, she found that she believed him when he said, “I wouldn’t hurt your grandfather for the world. In fact, I would defend him with my dying breath.”

“You don’t need to defend him. He has Ann, and he has me.”

“And what if you find that you do need help?”

“Then I’ll call the police.”

“And what if—-just what if—some of his talk—or mine—proved to be legitimate? Calling the police might not be the answer you need. You don’t know what you’re up against.”