This debut is a highly entertaining and unique take on the vampire genre. Steel’s novel is sure to keep you guessing, especially after you think you have it figured out.
~ Romantic Times BOOKreviews
“I CAN’T STOP THE BLEEDING,” said her nighttime caller.
The intruder then compelled Dr. Lara West to remove the bullet from his shoulder. She treated his wound, but that quelled neither his desire for the sweet life pulsing through the flesh of her thigh, nor the rampant animal lust that defines his existence.
The darkness has just begun. Dr. West’s identity, what she wants—all stands in danger of being devoured. Nothing is ever the same for those inducted into the sinister world of vampires, be they newly turned monsters or the government agents sworn to destroy them. Lara West has tasted both power and passion, and a price must be paid. Yet she’s glimpsed salvation in the night. Hope still remains for…
Dr. Lara West’s brain replayed the day’s events in the ER, searching for a loophole, a mistake, some way she might’ve saved the child’s life. There was none. She remembered trying to help the parents accept their loss. How could they? Her stomach twisted into knots as she pulled on a nightshirt, crawled into bed and cried.
She didn’t remember the moment sleep overtook her, but when her cell phone rang at 4:00 A.M., it sounded like a fire bell. Her mind jumped into crystal clear focus. The hospital used her pager; the service used her house phone. That didn’t leave many options for people calling the cell. She didn’t have any real friends. She didn’t have time for them.
Her stomach still hurt from her earlier turmoil. Was this unrelenting pressure a constant companion for any head of ER? Should she withdraw from competition? No. Resolve washed over her. No way would she give up her dream to be chief of emergency medicine at Jefferson Memorial Hospital.
The continued ringing of the phone snapped her back. Propped on one elbow, Lara grabbed the cell and flipped it open. Its blue light shimmered in the dark bedroom. Only one bar appeared at the bottom of the screen. Damn. The cell beeped: low battery.
“West,” she answered.
“I need a doctor.”
She spoke fast, before her phone died. “Sir, if you’re ill, go to the nearest emergency room.”
“I can’t. I need you, Dr. West.”
She’d been around pain long enough to recognize it in the caller’s voice. He forced his words out, his breathing uneven. An unexpected chill snaked across Lara’s shoulders, and she shivered inside her summer nightshirt. “I don’t make house calls.”
“I can’t stop the bleeding.”
“Sir, if you’re bleeding, hang up and dial 911. You need immediate attention.”
“I know. Come downstairs.”
Adrenaline shot through Lara’s system. “What?”
“Dr. West, come downstairs. I don’t have much time.” Agony edged the words.
Lara’s eyes widened. Air poured into her lungs, and she held it. Her mind flipped into overdrive. She’d locked the front door when she came home. No windows were open. Had she checked the back sliders? If the call was coming from downstairs, the caller had forced his way in.
She glanced at the second-floor window, too high to climb out. Pins and needles ravaged one foot. Her sun tattoo burned on the small of her back.
Call 911, you dummy.
Panic rose in her throat and Lara shuddered. What if this man dies in my house? As a second-year med student, she’d witnessed a car accident, and fear of the unknown had prevented her from responding. That victim had died at the scene. She’d sworn she would never let it happen again.
As if he read her thoughts, the intruder said, “Would it help if I were already dead?”
“If you want my help, go outside and wait for me.”
“I can’t move.”
His presence belied that. The man was trying to lure her. He’d violated her home. No way would she respond.
“Come downstairs.” The words floated around her, weaving a delicate pattern in the air, searching for sympathy. “I’m in pain.”
Lara jumped, seized by compulsion. If this man was bleeding, possibly dying, did it matter that he’d broken into her house? She was a physician first, a victim second. Wasn’t that the Hippocratic oath? Hadn’t she sworn that upon graduation from Johns Hopkins?
She snatched the robe draped over the foot of her bed and fastened it somewhere between her belly and hips, a line less distinguishable in recent years. Darkness layered her bedroom; shadows swept in from the hall. Weight of the unknown pressed on her shoulders. She wanted to cry, but her eyes were dry. She had to go out there. Must she also help those who broke into her home?
Reason won. She ended the call with the intruder, then dialed 911 and pushed send. The cell beeped. Dead battery.
Undeterred, she seized the house phone from her nightstand, still intending to call the police. Breathing rasped on the line, then a voice, his voice, weaker, naked. “I won’t survive without help.”
The words preyed on Lara’s emotions. How could this intruder know what she felt?
I can’t go out there.
He’d used her house phone to call her cell. Her dead cell. Wait! She kept a spare battery and charger in her medical bag . . . downstairs on the kitchen counter.
A new thought came to her. She could save herself, and not at the expense of this man’s life. She’d go downstairs, grab her bag, slip in the new battery and dial 911. The police would arrive before she finished examining him.
The intruder coughed, struggling for breath. “I hear you moving around, Doctor. Please, are you coming?”
She had no time to reconsider.
Lara dropped the house phone on the bed. Her feet dragged across the carpet as if they had a will of their own, fighting her all the way down the hall. Below, a splash of lamplight shone in the living room. She hadn’t left one on.
She squeezed her cell phone, staring downward. Perspiration sliced past her ribs, and she fought to unclench her teeth. But fascination warred with fear. Lara’s bare feet continued to move toward the steps.
She spied the intruder slumped in an easy chair, his back to her. Because he sat in the shadows, she couldn’t distinguish his age. From behind, she could tell his left hand pressed against his right shoulder. She had to reach her medical bag.
She gripped her cell phone tighter and stared down the steps. Goose bumps traced across her flesh despite the lack of air conditioning. I am not going downstairs. True to her thoughts, Lara didn’t move.
“I don’t know if I can hold on.” The man spoke to her, but no longer over the phone. His words were hypnotic, drifting up from where he sat, tearing at her, compelling her to actions she didn’t want to perform. “I need your help.”
Lara surrendered. The carpet burned cold into the soles of her feet like an icy pond. Each tentative step tightened the embrace of duty—she navigated the stairs as if she approached an uncontained virus, but his words and need compelled her.
His arm and hand rested on the arm of the chair, his palm open. She recognized the house-phone extension. But how the hell had he gotten her cell number? With no time to wonder now, doctor mode kicked in. A dark stain spread across his shirt and seeped between the fingers of his hand. She had two goals: save the man, save herself.
Her hair spilled across her shoulders as Lara leaned closer and made a quick assessment. The intruder pushed out a shallow breath, his lips deathly pale and pressed together, his eyes dark but alert. His open hand trembled. Lara switched on the reading lamp next to the chair, and light glistened off her polished nails. The intruder twisted his head away. Jaw set hard, he refused to admit how much pain he felt.
An animal scent wafted from his clothing, and Lara’s nose twitched. “A patient break-in is a new experience for me.” Her voice steadied. She bent over and lifted the man’s blood-soaked fingers away from his shoulder, careful not to get gore on herself. “How’d you find me? No, never mind. What happened?”
His last finger finally conceded, came away from his wound, and Lara peered through the hole in his shirt before he could respond. “You’ve been shot!”
“A new experience for me.” The man’s voice slithered around Lara’s spine, winding itself into her soul.
Why did I come downstairs? What am I doing?
As blood gushed from the intruder’s wound, necessity forced all other thoughts into a tiny recess of Lara’s mind. She glanced around the room, still organized and neat. She stored towels, sheets, everything sanitary upstairs. But she couldn’t leave him. She turned away, unfastened her robe and shoved it off her shoulders.
“Doctor, some other time.” The intruder coughed. “I’m not up for that.”
I’m saving his life and he’s joking.
“Shut up,” she said. She pulled her nightshirt up and off, then replaced the robe. She turned around, then pressed the nightshirt against his wound and brought his hand back into place. His cold skin seared her flesh. Tension tightened the muscles in his arm.
She hadn’t fastened her robe securely, and it flopped open. She flushed as spring air danced across her bare breast. “Keep pressure on it,” she directed as she retied her sash. No time for ridiculous thoughts. She had to call the police, report a shooting. Blood had already soaked through the nightshirt.
Lara didn’t remember flipping her cell phone shut or slipping it into her robe pocket, but she felt it kick against her thigh. She grabbed for the house phone. “We need an ambulance.”
A hand grabbed her wrist and twisted it behind her back so fast she screamed. She screamed a second time when she realized the wounded man had one hand pressed against his shoulder and the other resting on the arm of the chair. Someone else was in her house.