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Dark Salvation
by Jennifer Dunne

Category: Romance/Horror RWA Golden Heart Finalist, RWA Monterey Bay Chapter's Silver Heart Winner, Association of Electronically Published Romace Authors (ERA) Winner
Description: She has the power to save him ... if his secret doesn't destroy her first. Desmond Lacroix is on the front lines of a battle between science and magic, with the life of his young daughter at stake. When investigative reporter Rebecca Morgan tries to expose him, she is drawn into the battle ... and into his bed. Can he trust the secret of his existence to a woman who makes a career out of revealing secrets?
eBook Publisher: Hard Shell Word Factory, 2001 Hard Shell Word Factory
eBookwise Release Date: April 2002

eBookeBook

26 Reader Ratings:
Great Good OK Poor
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [381 KB]
Words: 86551
Reading time: 247-346 min.


"5 STARS! Dark Salvation is the most unique, fresh twist in the paranormal romance vampire genre that I've seen to date. Jennifer Dunne weaves Science and Magic smoothly together in the way of a superb storyteller. Dark Salvation is packed with excitement, suspense and paranormal elements that gives it a quality all of its own. Readers, if you love paranormal vampire romances you will love this book!"--Midnight Scribe

"RECOMMENDED. Jennifer Dunne has concocted a fast-paced, involving story with sympathetic and engaging characters. It's a vampire tale with a scientific twist, and should appeal to fans of vampire romances as well as those who like paranormal romances from other niches."--Katriena Knights, The Running River Reader

"Dark Salvation, by Jennifer Dunne, is sheer entertainment. She has adeptly taken a very old subject and put an entirely--if you'll excuse the expression--novel twist on it. Dark Salvation is for those who want a light read--no heavy messages here. Just plain fun. Dunne has given us a book with real bite."--US Times

"The engaging story line enables readers to believe. The lead protagonists are a charming pair, simultaneously struggling with their attraction, their doubts, and their responsibilities. The support cast augments the plot by making vampirism appear as a disease requiring modern day research to find a cure for it. Jennifer Dunne has written a twenty-first century vampire romance that will warm the blood of sub-genre fans."--Harriet Klausner, Book Browser


Chapter 1

DAMN LACROIX for not telling her about the underground garage! But it would take more than an underhanded trick to make her give up now.

Rebecca Morgan pressed her back against the smooth steel wall of the elevator, letting the metal's cold touch seep through her suit jacket and the rayon blouse clinging to her skin. Gradually, she stopped shaking.

The elevator chimed, and the doors began sliding closed. She lunged for the control panel. Slamming her finger against the door open button, she pressed it again and again until the doors slid open, revealing the glass-walled vestibule separating the elevator from the deserted parking area. She was safe. She wasn't trapped. And when she was ready, the elevator would whisk her up above ground.

She braced her palms against the reassuringly solid elevator walls and took a deep breath of the cool air, so different from the scorching heat of the Arizona desert above, and focused on the job she'd come here to do. If she played her cards right, this interview could be her ticket to freelance work for a major paper. She'd be a success, by her own efforts and on her own terms. Bringing down a con-artist like Lacroix in the process was just the icing on her congratulatory cake.

But first, she had to control her emotions. Much as she hated being underground, she'd stay in the elevator until she restored her composure. Overcoming her childhood fear would be easier than overcoming a bad first impression.

Closing her eyes, she listened to the soft whir of air forced through vents hidden in the vestibule ceiling, and lifted her face to the bright fluorescent light streaming in the open doors. Her pulse steadied and she took deep, calming breaths of the slightly metallic air. She was ready to tour the mysterious Prescott Institute and meet its reclusive director who, according to her research, didn't seem to exist.

Her pulse and breathing sped up again, but not from fear or anger this time. Desmond Lacroix existed. After countless calls and letters to the Institute, she'd finally spoken to him on the phone. Sparred with him on the phone was more like it. She'd tried to pin him down about Doctor Avram having worked at the Institute, Avram's alleged drug problem that he'd "narrowly escaped" having destroy his life, and his revolutionary new surgical methods that he'd said came to him in a "dream." Lacroix had sidestepped and dodged her every question, in a thick caramel voice that distracted her so much, she wasn't even certain what she'd said to prompt his invitation for a private tour of the Institute. But his invitation was burned in her memory.

"I suppose I've no choice but to give you a guided tour," he'd said. His soft chuckle had made her so weak she'd dropped her pen. "Or you'll sneak over my walls in the middle of the night. No telling what trouble you might get yourself in."

Even though she'd taken him up on his offer, she suspected she might be getting into trouble anyway. She recalled the way Avram's face had paled when she'd asked who he'd worked with in Arizona. After insisting once more that he'd done all the testing for his new procedure when he returned from Arizona, he'd ended the interview so quickly he'd practically thrown her out the door. At the time, she'd been too busy trying to follow up on his clues to wonder what had scared him. Now, when it was too late, she realized the narrow escape he'd referred to might not have been from drug addiction.

She glanced out through the glass-walled vestibule at her rental car, the only occupant of the underground visitors' parking lot. A sign indicated that employee parking was another level down, but she hadn't investigated further to see if any of the 730 people Lacroix claimed to employ were parked there. She'd preferred to go immediately to the oasis of safety promised by the open elevator. Had she made a mistake by coming here alone? How desperate was Lacroix to keep his secrets?

Bending down, she picked up her notepad and pen from the gleaming floor of the elevator. She felt half-dressed without her microcassette recorder and camera, something else for which she blamed Lacroix.

"You must come alone," he'd insisted. "And you may not use film or tape while on Institute property. Neither condition is negotiable."

She'd agreed because she needed the interview. Unless Lacroix himself gave her a clue, all she had was an intriguing mystery, not a feature story. She just hoped her knack for getting subjects to reveal more than they planned held out a little longer.

She turned her attention to the elevator panel. Aside from the usual "door open," "door close," "alarm," and "stop" symbols, only two buttons indicated floors. The bottom button read "P," as did the digital display at the top of the panel, so she pressed the button marked "M." The steel doors whispered shut, and a slight vibration carried through the soles of her dress pumps. In her notebook, she jotted the quick question, "Where's the employees' elevator?"

The doors slid open to reveal a marble foyer. Clusters of ferns and potted palms alternated with marble benches around a tinkling fountain, while even more plants lined the walls, blurring the edges of the room with green shadows. Her baked and heated skin absorbed the cool moisture of the fountain's spray as she inhaled the reassuringly familiar aroma of living plants.

The Prescott Institute continued to surprise her. She'd never expected to find such lush opulence concealed within the all but deserted farmhouse and windowless cinder block building she'd seen from outside. Of course, she also hadn't expected the dilapidated barn to conceal the entrance to an underground garage. She gripped her pen, anxious to discover what else the Institute concealed.

As her eyes adjusted to the room's diffused lighting, she made out the shape of a man in the shadows. Disregarding the benches, he lounged against the wall with one foot crossed in front of the other, like a GQ ad come to life. Shadows cloaked him, allowing her to see only his light linen suit that hinted at a powerful body beneath.

He stepped forward in silence, pushing away from the wall with fluid grace. Prepared to give him a single dismissive glance, her cheeks heated as she stared. The man's thick black hair fell in waves to his shoulders, and instead of the dress shirt she'd expected, he wore a dark green turtleneck that hugged his chest and made the linen jacket cling like a second skin.

Dragging her gaze up from his chest, she discovered him making a similar appraisal of her. A strange tingle of pleasure rippled through her at his half-smile of approval and the emerald sparks kindling in the depths of his eyes. Or maybe the chill air was making her shiver. Then he spoke.

"Ms. Morgan?"

Desmond Lacroix. She'd recognize that caramel cadence and timbre anywhere, even if she heard him reading the entries in a phone book. His resonant voice was even more devastating in person. It filled her mind with images of murmured endearments and passionate readings of Shakespearean sonnets.

Excitement coiled through her, quickening her pulse. She told herself it was because his measured pronunciation hinted at the remnants of a drawl. He'd probably taken voice lessons at some time in the past, hoping to disguise his origins. Another secret for her to discover. Another deception to expose. She looked forward to peeling away the layers of his disguise, and revealing the truth of the man.

She offered a professional smile and extended her hand.

"Mr. Lacroix. Thank you for taking the time to see me."

"My pleasure, I assure you." His words wrapped around her in a verbal caress, and he clasped her hand a moment longer than necessary. "Did you have any trouble finding the Institute?"

She thought back to the rutted dirt path she'd followed from the Interstate. She'd feared for her car's suspension with every bump, until the path snaked between two battered and faded farmhouses, and passed a bare cinder block building bigger than both houses combined. The path ended at the drooping red barn he'd told her to park in, and which concealed the entrance to the underground garage. "Your directions were quite clear."

Another half-smile touched his lips, acknowledging that she hadn't answered his question. Before he could exchange more pointed pleasantries, she flipped open her notebook, reminding him that she was here for business. His charm couldn't camouflage the fact that no records existed of a Mr. Desmond Lacroix, or that the Institute's paper trails ended with a holding company no one had ever heard of.

He gestured her toward the glass door on her left.

"The Prescott Institute is divided into three general areas of research," he began, sliding a plastic keycard through the reader beside the door. It hummed and released the lock with a loud click. He held the door open for her, letting her enter the sterile white corridor before him.

The corridor stretched for at least thirty feet before turning a corner, with doors on both sides. They must be in the cinder block building, then. But was the entire Institute contained in the one building, or were the three areas divided between the three buildings? They'd all looked equally lifeless from the road.

The air on the other side of the door stung her nose and throat with its antiseptic bite, and a heavy metallic taste clung to the inside of her mouth. Swallowing didn't help. A sudden whiff of spice pierced the hospital smell, and she turned to find Lacroix behind her. She'd overlooked the subtle, spicy-sweet fragrance of his cologne in the lush foyer. But it contrasted well with the sterile atmosphere of the hall, just as the warmth radiating from him contrasted with the overly-conditioned air.

"We research the blood and vascular system, blood-born contagions, and vascular applications, such as new methods to perform transplants and transfusions in greater safety," he elaborated, pausing to let her write everything down. "Because of the strict rules regarding sterile working conditions, I can't take you in to see any of the applications research. But your tour will cover the other two areas of the facility. Feel free to stop me if you have any questions."

He set off down the hall at a brisk pace, forcing her to scramble to catch up to him. So there were places she couldn't see. Were they manufacturing illegal drugs? That would match Doctor Avram's shady background. But illegal drug manufacturers were usually in it for the money, and wouldn't waste their profits on such an elaborate environment.

Maybe they were conducting illegal medical research, performing unsanctioned operations, or using unwilling test subjects. Kidnapped homeless people, perhaps. Or nosy reporters.

She shivered. No, it had to be drugs. She'd find a way to see those hidden areas later, after she'd taken the officially sanctioned tour. Forcing the issue now might jeopardize the concessions she'd already won.

He hurried her past featureless metal doors, each with a keycard scanner mounted in the wall beside it.

"What's in these rooms?"

"They're not part of the tour."

She couldn't pass up the chance to see one of the hidden rooms. Dropping a little ways behind him, she stopped and tested the door. The cold steel knob turned, but the door refused to budge. She pushed harder, and the scanner beside the door began squealing with a high-pitched repetitive tone more annoying than any car alarm she'd ever heard.

Lacroix stepped up and slashed his card through the scanner, instantly silencing the machine. "Leave the doors alone."

He turned to lead her back down the hall as the door unlocked with a loud click. It was the opportunity she'd been waiting for. She pushed open the door and stepped into the dimly lit lab.

A rough wooden table with brightly painted drawers filled the center of the tiny room. Narrow counters and desk spaces ran around the walls, with shrouded laboratory equipment stored neatly for their next use.

The door closed behind her with a bang, plunging the room into darkness. She started to tremble. She couldn't breathe.

Copyright © 2000 by Jennifer Dunne


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